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Pentagon Research Gets Modest Increase

7 May 2009 4:27 pm
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The U.S. Department of Defense has requested $1.8 billion for basic research, a $100 million increase over the agency’s 2009 request. That total is $150 million higher than the earmark-free portion of the 2009 amount. The request for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is $3.2 billion, slightly lower than last year's request but about 4% more than what DARPA received in 2009. “We’re pleased that the Defense Secretary has continued into the new Administration his initiative to strengthen DOD-sponsored basic research," says Matt Owens of the Association of American Universities. “The request continues to restore the balance in the Defense budget between the 'R' and the 'D.' ”

However, the $1.8 billion figure is likely to disappoint some scientists who were encouraged by a plan drafted by Pentagon officials in late 2007, which called for the basic research budget to increase from $1.45 billion in 2007 to $2.5 billion in 2013. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates appeared to be moving in that direction in 2008 when he requested a bump of $250 million (17%) for FY2009. When Gates was kept on as secretary by President Barack Obama, researchers hoped he would seek an equivalent amount in new funding this year, too. What they’ve got is a more modest 6% increase.

“It’s not evident that Secretary Gates’s desire for significant growth to DOD’s basic research portfolio, initiated with the 2009 budget, is being carried forward,” says William Rees, who served as deputy under secretary for laboratories and basic science under the last Administration. “The agency’s basic research funding profile will demand sustained annual increases, comparable to that seen in FY '09, to achieve President Obama's recent commitment of 3% of GDP spending on R&D," he says. 

Some highlights: Social science research aimed at better understanding enemy behavior under the Human, Social, Culture, and Behavior Modeling program is set to receive $28 million, an increase of $8 million over last year. (The program started in 2007 with $10 million.) Also, the request for the National Defense Education Program, geared towards producing more homegrown scientists and engineers for the military, is up from $69 million in last year’s budget to $90 million in 2010.

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