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FYI Number 109: August 24, 2001

NRC Report Finds Air Force S&T Investment Inadequate

A new National Research Council report finds that the Air Force's investment in science and technology has fallen 46 percent in real terms since FY 1989. The report's authors conclude that "the Air Force's current (FY01) investments in air, space, and information systems S&T are too low to meet the challenges being presented by new and emerging threats," and recommend that funding be increased to "one-and-a half to two times" the current level. They also recommend better advocacy for S&T programs and investments within the Air Force, and actions to improve "the quality and retention" of the Air Force S&T workforce.

Reps. Tony Hall (D-OH) and Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) incorporated a provision in the FY 1999 DOD authorization act which mandated an NRC study of the DOD technology base in the areas of air and space systems and supporting information technology. Hall, in a press release, stated, "This is the most authoritative study yet that points to the inadequacies of the Air Force science and technology program.... With this report, the National Research Council adds its voice to earlier warnings of the Air Force Association, the Defense Science Board, and even the Air Force's own Scientific Advisory Board."

The report finds that "attempts to realize a post-Cold War peace dividend and to deal with federal budget deficits" have left the total DOD budget "about 25 percent lower in real terms than at the end of the Cold War." S&T funding within DOD fell during the 1990s but was restored in the past two fiscal years. It is now about two percent above its Cold War level in real terms, and currently represents three percent of total defense spending. While Army, Navy and defense research agency S&T budgets reflect the recent increases, the report states, "the sole exception is the Air Force, whose real S&T investment is down by 46 percent" from FY 1989 to FY 2001. The report adds, "The strength of S&T representation in the Air Force is weakened by the relatively small size of the S&T program compared with the Air Force's total program.... The relatively small size of the S&T investment affects perceptions of its value and the amount of attention paid to it."

The report's "Overarching Conclusions and Recommendations" are provided below:

INVESTMENT IN S&T:

Conclusion 1. "The committee believes that [post-Cold War] reductions made by the Air Force to its S&T investment since the end of the Cold War did not take into account the changing nature of the global threat and the S&T challenges it presents.... The committee believes that the Air Force's current (FY01) investments in air, space, and information systems S&T are too low to meet the challenges being presented by new and emerging threats."

Recommendation 1. The Defense and Air Force Secretaries "should continue to increase [Air Force S&T funding] to reach one-and-a- half to two times its current (FY01) level. Investments in S&T for air, space, and information systems should all be increased. Increasing one by decreasing the others will not satisfy current...shortcomings and may create new ones."

S&T REPRESENTATION AND ADVOCACY WITHIN THE AIR FORCE:

Conclusion 2. "The committee strongly believes that the Air Force needs authoritative, S&T-focused and dedicated representation and advocacy at the corporate policy and decision- making level...to help make informed trade-offs and budget decisions." Without such advocacy, "the committee believes that the Air Force faces undue risk that its S&T investment will not provide the technologies and systems needed to meet future threats." The committee praises recent Air Force actions to improve S&T advocacy.

Recommendation 2. The committee suggests possible additional actions "to further strengthen S&T representation," including (1) formally designating Air Force S&T as a corporate program, (2) having the Air Force Research Laboratory commander report directly to the Chief of Staff or sit on the Air Force Council, and (3) establishing an Air Force Council position "dedicated to, responsible for, and authorized to represent and advocate S&T within the Air Force."

S&T WORKFORCE:

Conclusion 3. Post-Cold War reductions in the Air Force S&T workforce, as well as hiring and personnel management rules, "have helped to undermine the quality and health of the Air Force's S&T program." In addition, the talents of technically- educated DOD officers "are not being fully exploited," and the number of DOD officers "who understand the importance of S&T to U.S. military superiority is decreasing."

Recommendation 3. The pilot program to revitalize the service laboratories should be extended. The Defense and service secretaries and chiefs of staff should find innovative ways to manage and "improve the quality and health of their [S&T] workforces," assure career-advancement opportunities for S&T officers, encourage officers to accept S&T assignments, and view such assignments positively for promotions. "Remedial actions" should be implemented, including personnel demonstration projects and various mechanisms to bring leading non-DOD scientists and engineers into DOD labs. With the help of Congress, Civil Service rules that "directly affect the quality and health of the science and technology workforce" should be modified.

President Bush's DOD budget request for FY 2002 would reduce aggregate Air Force Basic Research, Applied Research, and Advanced Technology Development by 5.1 percent, from $1.46 billion to $1.38 billion. Congressional appropriators have not yet drafted their FY 2002 defense bills.

"It is often said that reports in Washington, once released, are left to gather dust. I can assure you this one will not," Boehlet vowed. The report, "Review of the U.S. Department of Defense Air, Space, and Supporting Information Systems Science and Technology Program," is not yet available on the National Academies web site, but a prepublication copy of the Executive Summary is available on Rep. Hall's web site.

Audrey T. Leath Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
(301) 209-3094

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