FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

Letter to Deficit Reduction Committee Highlights Importance of Defense Research

Richard M. Jones
Number 130 - October 27, 2011  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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Yesterday the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction held a public hearing to receive testimony from Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf.  This hearing focused on defense and nondefense discretionary spending, which is determined through annual appropriations bills.

Discussion about discretionary spending was largely at the macro level, with few individual programs mentioned.  Elmendorf estimated there could be a potential reduction in defense spending of up to $882 billion during the next ten years as a result of this summer’s Budget Control Act.  The actual amount will depend on congressional appropriations and whether automatic funding reductions occur as a result of inaction.    

At the start of yesterday’s hearing, one of the committee’s co-chairs commented that the committee has received many recommendations from Members of Congress and congressional committees, individuals on deficitreduction.gov, and groups. 

The Coalition on National Security Research, to which the American Institute of Physics, the American Physical Society, and the Optical Society of America belong, sent the following letter to the committee earlier this month:

Dear Members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction:

As the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction continues its important work, the Coalition for National Security Research (CNSR) urges the development of a balanced bipartisan agreement that avoids the sequestration process as outlined in the Budget Control Act.  This agreement should also prioritize expenditures that provide economic growth and recognize the value of defense research to not only the warfighter, but the nation overall.

The Defense Science and Technology (S&T) portfolio is the incubator for the next generation of national security technologies.  The 6.1 basic research accounts support the long-term scientific discovery that provides the foundational knowledge for new technologies.  The 6.2 applied research accounts refine discoveries by exploring and determining the operational parameters and practicality of the technology to military needs.  The 6.3 advanced technology development accounts support the creation of larger-scale hardware and technology to be tested in realistic environments.

Investments in the Defense S&T program have yielded cutting edge technologies and innovations that have led to superiority on the battlefield, life-saving therapies for wounded soldiers, and better quality of life for civilians.  New sensor technologies help detect and neutralize threats on the battlefield from improvised explosive devices and enhance underwater monitoring capabilities.  Battlefield medical protocols and prosthetics have been revolutionized.  Furthermore, technologies once created solely for military use, such as the Internet and GPS, are now widely used around the globe.

Defense S&T investments also underpin our economic vitality.  Companies specializing in these technologies often originated in university labs and have become economic drivers that provide thousands of high-quality jobs across the country.  Since 2007, the number of workers in science and engineering occupations grew at an average annual rate of 6.2%, nearly 4 times the 1.6% growth rate for the total workforce older than age 18 during this period.  In addition, each job directly created in the chain of manufacturing activity generates, on average, another 2.5 jobs in such unrelated endeavors as operating restaurants, convenience stores, gas stations and banks.

Defense S&T programs also play a critical role in cultivating the next generation of talented engineers and scientists. Programs such as the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship Program and the National Defense Education Program which includes the Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation Scholarship, and the National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellowship Program provide education and technical workforce.

The threats facing our nation are complex, unconventional and constantly evolving.  The Department of Defense is in the process of assessing its ability to combat these threats while implementing $465 billion in reductions over the next 10 years, as mandated by the Budget Control Act.  Further reductions through the sequestration process could have serious consequences on the Department’s ability to fund into the next-generation of technologies that will help keep our nation secure.  The continued strength and global superiority of our defense system is rooted in the ability to develop a sophisticated technological response, which flows directly from the defense S&T pipeline.  As the Congress makes difficult decisions in light of the tough fiscal climate, the Coalition strongly urges that critical investments in defense research be designated a priority, not only because of their importance to our national security but also because of the long-term benefit they provide our national economy.

The committee must submit a plan by November 23, followed by its approval by Congress about a month later, to avoid automatic reductions in discretionary funding that would occur in January 2013.

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rjones@aip.org
301-209-3095