Trump Budget Would Reduce Most Federal R&D

The Trump Administration budget request would cut federal spending on research and development in every major agency except for the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs, the Congressional Research Service said yesterday in a new report.

“Nearly every federal agency would see its R&D funding decrease under the President’s FY2018 request compared to their FY2016 levels,” the CRS report said.

“The largest declines (as measured in dollars) would occur in the budgets of HHS (down $6.099 billion, 18.9%), DOE (down $1.809 billion, 11.9%), USDA (down $666 million, 25.1%), NSF (down $639 million, 10.6%), and the EPA (down $239 million, 46.3%).”

Federal R&D is generally understood to provide support for scientific, medical, military and other research of economic, social, security or other value that would not normally be undertaken by the private sector. Reducing R&D therefore means foregoing the benefits that might otherwise accrue from such investment.

CRS noted that the Trump budget request is “largely silent” on funding for existing multiagency R&D initiatives such as the National Nanotechnology Initiative, Networking and Information Technology Research and Development program, U.S. Global Change Research Program, Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative, Precision Medicine Initiative, Cancer Moonshot, Materials Genome Initiative, National Robotics Initiative, and National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. The future of these programs, some of which have a statutory basis, is left uncertain in the Administration budget request.

However, the budget request is the first word, not the last word, in the budgeting process.

“Congress may opt to agree with none, part, or all of the request, and it may express different priorities through the appropriations process,” CRS said. “In particular, Congress will play a central role in determining the allocation of the federal R&D investment in a period of intense pressure on discretionary spending.”

See Federal Research and Development Funding: FY2018, July 31, 2017.

Other new or updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Bail: An Overview of Federal Criminal Law, updated July 31, 2017

The Federal Communications Commission: Current Structure and Its Role in the Changing Telecommunications Landscape, updated July 28, 2017

Ongoing Section 232 Steel and Aluminum InvestigationsCRS Insight, July 28, 2017

In Brief: Highlights of FY2018 Defense Appropriations Actions, July 31, 2017

NAFTA and Motor Vehicle Trade, July 28, 2017

Rwanda’s August 4 Presidential ElectionCRS Insight, July 31, 2017

Honduras: Background and U.S. Relations, updated July 28, 2017

U.S. Petroleum Trade with Venezuela: Financial and Economic Considerations Associated with Possible SanctionsCRS Insight, July 27, 2017

Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, updated July 24, 2017

Intelligence Budget Requests for FY2018 Published

The Trump Administration requested $57.7 billion for the National Intelligence Program in Fiscal Year 2018, up from a requested $54.9 billion in FY 2017.

The Administration requested $20.7 billion dollars for the Military Intelligence Program in FY 2018, up from a requested $18.5 billion in FY 2017. (The amounts actually appropriated in FY 2017 have not yet been disclosed.)

The intelligence budget request figures were published last week by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and by the Department of Defense.

The annual disclosure of the requested amount for the National Intelligence Program was mandated by Congress in the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY 2010. So disclosure is required regardless of the preferences of the current Administration. “As directed by statute,” wrote DNI Dan Coats this year in advance of his confirmation hearing, “I will ensure that the public release of figures representing aggregate funds requested by and appropriated for the IC is completed annually.”

Interestingly, however, there is no corresponding statutory requirement for disclosure of the requested amount for the Military Intelligence Program. The practice of voluntarily disclosing the MIP budget request was initiated by Gen. James R. Clapper when he was Under Secretary of Defense (Intelligence).

“I did that,” said then-DNI Clapper in December 2015. “I thought the public had a right to know.”

The Trump Defense Budget Proposals, and More from CRS

Would the Trump Administration’s defense budget proposals comply with the current Budget Control Act limits on defense spending?

“No,” answered the Congressional Research Service CRS in a new report, which was authored by CRS specialist Pat Towell and analyst Lynn M. Williams. See The Trump Administration’s March 2017 Defense Budget Proposals: Frequently Asked Questions, April 3, 2017.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

The War Powers Resolution: Concepts and Practice, updated March 28, 2017

FY2017 Defense Appropriations Fact Sheet: Selected Highlights of H.R. 5293, S. 3000, and H.R. 1301, updated March 28, 2017

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), updated March 31, 2017

The Army’s Sustainable Readiness Model (SRM), CRS Insight, March 31, 2017

Votes on Measures to Adjust the Statutory Debt Limit, 1978 to Present, updated March 30, 2017

Keystone XL Pipeline: Development Issues, CRS Insight, March 30, 2017

Expiring Funds for Primary Care, CRS Insight, March 30, 2017

Overview of CEQ Guidance on Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change, CRS Insight, updated March 30, 2017

The Civil Service Reform Act: Due Process and Misconduct-Related Adverse Actions, March 29, 2017

A Brief Overview of Rulemaking and Judicial Review, updated March 27, 2017

Major Disaster Assistance from the Disaster Relief Fund: State Profiles, updated March 29, 2017

Sub-Saharan Africa: Key Issues, Challenges, and U.S. Responses, March 21, 2017

Libya: Transition and U.S. Policy, updated March 29, 2017

Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, updated March 28, 2017

Burma’s Political Prisoners and U.S. Policy: In Brief, March 30, 2017

Iran Sanctions, updated March 31, 2017

China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities — Background and Issues for Congress, updated March 29, 2017

Talking About the Defense Budget, and More from CRS

The U.S. defense budget is comprised of several distinct components, including “base” and supplemental spending, nuclear weapons expenses, veterans benefits, and other defense-related costs.

When discussing “the defense budget,” it is therefore important to specify what is being described. Depending on what is included or excluded, “total” U.S. defense spending each year can vary by hundreds of millions of dollars.

This definitional question is neatly illustrated in a new graphic from the Congressional Research Service. See How People Talk About the FY2017 National Defense Budget.

Other new and updated publications from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Defense Primer: The National Defense Budget Function (050), CRS In Focus, March 17, 2017

Defense Primer: DOD Contractors, CRS In Focus, February 10, 2017

Defense Primer: Procurement, CRS In Focus, February 10, 2017

Military Transition Assistance Program (TAP): An Overview, CRS In Focus, March 15, 2017

Supreme Court Appointment Process: Consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee, updated March 17, 2017

Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations in Brief, updated March 17, 2017

Sanctuary Jurisdictions and Select Federal Grant Funding Issues: In Brief, March 16, 2017

The Decennial Census: Issues for 2020, March 16, 2017

A Survey of House and Senate Committee Rules on Subpoenas, updated March 16, 2017

Medicare Primer, updated March 16, 2017

Pending ACA Legal Challenges Face Uncertain Future, CRS Legal Sidebar, March 16, 2017

Statutory, Average, and Effective Marginal Tax Rates in the Federal Individual Income Tax: Background and Analysis, March 16, 2017

Should the U.S. Trade Deficit be Redefined?, CRS Insight, March 17, 2017

Moving On: TPP Signatories Meet in Chile, CRS Insight, March 16, 2017

Navy Lasers, Railgun, and Hypervelocity Projectile: Background and Issues for Congress, updated March 17, 2017

Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated March 17, 2017

Navy John Lewis (TAO-205) Class Oiler Shipbuilding Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated March 17, 2017

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated March 16, 2017

Spy Satellite Agency: Winter is Here

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) has modified its classification policies in favor of heightened secrecy, withholding budget records that were previously considered releasable and redesignating certain unclassified budget information as classified.

NRO is the U.S. intelligence agency that builds and operates the nation’s intelligence satellites.

Since 2006, and for most of the past decade, the NRO has released unclassified portions of its budget justification documents in response to requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

But in a January 23, 2017 letter, the NRO said it would no longer release that unclassified budget information, which it now deems classified.

“The NRO has determined that a series of unclassified items in the [FY 2016 budget justification] document in the aggregate reveals associations or relationships not otherwise revealed in the unclassified items individually; thus, in the aggregate, this information meets the standard for classification under E.O. 13526 Section 1.7(e),” wrote Patricia B. Cameresi, NRO FOIA Public Liaison, in her FOIA denial letter.

As a purely technical matter, the latter claim is probably a misreading of the Executive Order, which states in Section 1.7(e):

“Compilations of items of information that are individually unclassified may be classified if the compiled information reveals an additional association or relationship that:  (1) meets the standards for classification under this order; and (2) is not otherwise revealed in the individual items of information.”

Properly understood, the fact that various unclassified items reveal additional information in the aggregate does not mean that those items meet the standard for classification. That requires a separate determination which, in any case, is discretionary. Classifying compilations of unclassified budget information is a threshold which was never crossed in the past and which has not been explicitly justified by NRO here.

The NRO also invoked a statutory exemption in 10 USC 424, which says that NRO (along with DIA and NGA) cannot be compelled to disclose “any function” at all.

The upshot is that the NRO is abandoning the budget disclosure practices of the past decade, and is positioning itself to withhold anything and everything that it prefers not to release.

An administrative appeal of the NRO FOIA denial was filed yesterday.

Structure of the DoD Research Budget, & More from CRS

Nearly half of all federal research and development dollars go to the Department of Defense, a new report from the Congressional Research Service observes. The Pentagon research budget is more than twice that of the next largest recipient, the Department of Health and Human Services.

The structure of the DoD research budget, which has “its own unique taxonomy,” is described in the new CRS report. See Department of Defense Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E): Appropriations Structure, December 13, 2016.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Military Construction: Process and Outcomes, December 14, 2016

Women in Combat: Issues for Congress, updated December 13, 2016

Agency Final Rules Submitted on or After June 13, 2016, May Be Subject to Disapproval by the 115th Congress, CRS Insight, updated December 15, 2016

Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Incentives: A Summary of Federal Programs, updated December 14, 2016

Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) and Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) Compliance, CRS Insight, December 14, 2016

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS): In Brief, updated December 14, 2016

NASA: FY2017 Budget and Appropriations, updated December 13, 2016

Noncitizen Eligibility for Federal Public Assistance: Policy Overview, updated December 12, 2016

The First Day of a New Congress: A Guide to Proceedings on the House Floor, updated December 13, 2016

The First Day of a New Congress: A Guide to Proceedings on the Senate Floor, updated December 13, 2016

Department of Education’s Withdrawal of Its Recognition of ACICS as an Accrediting Agency, CRS Insight, December 14, 2016

Cyprus: Reunification Proving Elusive, updated December 15, 2016

Latin America: Terrorism Issues, updated December 15, 2016

U.S. International Broadcasting: Background and Issues for Reform, updated December 15, 2016

Intelligence Spending Increased in 2016

The amount of money appropriated for U.S. intelligence increased in 2016 by about 5 percent to a total of $70.7 billion, up from $66.8 billion the year before.

The total includes FY 2016 appropriations for both the National Intelligence Program (NIP) and the Military Intelligence Program (MIP), which were officially disclosed on October 28, as they have been each year since 2007.

Opponents of intelligence budget disclosure had argued for decades that release of the total budget figures would lead inexorably to further uncontrolled disclosures.

In 1976, former Director of Central Intelligence James Schlesinger told the Church Committee that “One of the problems here is the camel’s nose under the edge of the tent, and I think that that is the fundamental problem in the area. There are very few people who can articulately argue that the publication of those [budget] figures in and of themselves, if it stopped there, would be harmful. The argument is that then the pressure would build up to do something else, that once you have published for example the… budget, that the pressures would build up to reveal the kinds of systems that are being bought for that money, and it is regarded as the first step down a slippery slope for those who worry about those kinds of things.”

But that concern about a “slippery slope” appears to have been refuted in practice, and — aside from unauthorized disclosures — additional budget secrets have been effectively preserved.

Redacted Intelligence Budget Documents Released

For the coming decade, the Department of Defense Military Intelligence Program (MIP) will focus its new investments “on space protection, enhancing capabilities that provide intelligence in Anti-Access / Area Denial environments, improving intelligence support to Cyber operations, and improving Security.”

So says the FY 2016 Congressional Budget Justification Book for the MIP, which was released this week in heavily redacted form under the Freedom of Information Act.

Though the majority of the document has been withheld, the released portions nevertheless contain fragmentary observations of interest.

For example, “budget uncertainty impeded efforts to develop and maintain language professionals at the highest levels of proficiency to meet the challenges posed by our adversaries.”

“DoD fell two points short of meeting its FY 2014 target to fill 52% of Defense Intelligence Enterprise government authorized language-required positions with individuals possessing the required language proficiency, with a total fill rate of 49.4%.”

Earlier this month, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency also released minimal unclassified portions of its FY2015 Congressional Budget Justification Book.

Intelligence Budgets on a Downward Slope

Intelligence community budgets appear set to continue on the modest downward slope of the last several years.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said yesterday that it was requesting $53.5 billion for the National Intelligence Program (NIP) in FY 2017, a slight reduction from the $53.9 billion that was requested for the NIP in FY 2016. (The amount actually appropriated has not yet been disclosed.)

“Recognizing the challenges of this fiscal environment, the IC continues to review its operational, investment, and infrastructure programs to identify areas for savings. The Budget reflects the results of a deliberative process to ensure that the IC focuses on those programs that have the most impact and highest priority,” ODNI said in a fact sheet on the FY 2017 request.

Meanwhile, the Department of Defense said that it was requesting $16.8 billion for the Military Intelligence Program (MIP) in FY 2017, down from the $17.9 billion requested for the current fiscal year.

Public disclosure of the NIP budget request was required by Congress in the FY 2010 intelligence authorization act. But there is no corresponding requirement for DoD to publicly report the amount of its annual budget request for the MIP.

The practice of voluntarily declassifying and disclosing the MIP budget request was started by James R. Clapper when he was Under Secretary of Defense (Intelligence). Doing so “made sense,” he said recently, particularly since the NIP budget figure had to be released anyway.

Some Members of Congress expressed disappointment that the Obama Administration did not also voluntarily disclose the budget requests of individual intelligence agencies.

“There is no transparency there — they’re complying with the thinnest of laws about the [aggregate] number,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT). “Members of Congress and the American public really are learning nothing.” See “Obama Keeps Public in Dark About ‘Black Budget’ Requests” by Steven Nelson, U.S. News, February 9.

*    *    *

The U.S. Constitution in Article I (Section 9) requires a public “Statement and Account” of the government’s receipt and expenditure of all money.

Past attempts to invoke this requirement to challenge intelligence budget secrecy have foundered on a 1974 US Supreme Court ruling in U.S. v. Richardson which said that a taxpayer lacked “standing” to make the argument in court.

But in a recent law review article, Chapman University professor Lawrence Rosenthal argued that this is not, or should not be, the end of the story, and that the Statement and Account clause may still have potency against secret intelligence expenditures.

“In terms of its text, original meaning, and its place in constitutional ethos and structure, the [Statement and Account] clause is comprehensible only if it is understood as a mechanism that enables the people to effectively hold the government accountable for its use of public funds. Disclosing an aggregate figure without more makes the clause a bit of foolscap…. If the clause requires only a meaningless and ineffectual disclosure, however, it becomes impossible to explain what it is doing in the Constitution.”

“Perhaps the level of disclosure required if we take the clause seriously would put the United States at a disadvantage when compared to other nations that fund their intelligence communities in secret. Or perhaps the resulting accountability would make our intelligence community stronger; we will never know unless we adopt a more transparent regime. Ultimately, however, the constitutional question about disclosure of intelligence spending does not turn on considerations of policy but on the Statement and Account Clause itself. If we take the clause seriously, the current regime cannot stand.”

See “The Statement and Account Clause as a National Security Freedom of Information Act” by Lawrence Rosenthal, Loyola University Chicago Law Journal, Volume 47, No. 1, Fall 2015.

Some New Intelligence Budget Data Disclosed

U.S. intelligence spending remains at the frontier of national security classification and declassification policy, as some new scraps of intelligence budget information are divulged, most other information is withheld, and a simmering demand for greater disclosure persists in Congress and elsewhere.

Last month the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) released heavily redacted versions of its annual budget justification books for Fiscal Year 2012 and Fiscal Year 2013.

The declassified portions of the NGA budget documents reflect an emphasis on improved sharing of geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) products and an ongoing reliance on commercial satellite imagery.

“The FY 2013 budget request reflects a continuation of NGA’s Vision to provide on-line, on-demand access to GEOINT knowledge and to create new value by broadening and deepening analytic expertise.”

The documents allude briefly to development of “next-generation sensor/system collection capabilities” as well as a “next-generation exploitation capability [that] will enable analysts to [deleted].”

The documents were processed for declassification in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

(The control markings on the original budget documents included “RSEN,” which is an abbreviation for “Risk Sensitive.” This term “is used to protect especially sensitive imaging capabilities and exploitation techniques,” according to ODNI classification guidance.)

Also last month, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence disclosed the aggregate amount of national intelligence spending for Fiscal Year 2005: it was $39.8 billion. With this retrospective release, a full decade’s worth of official figures on U.S. intelligence spending from 2005 through 2014 have now been published.

That is not good enough, say some members of Congress, who have reintroduced legislation in the House and the Senate to require disclosure of each individual intelligence agency budget total.

“The biggest threat to the successful implementation of a vital national program is the combination of unlimited money with non-existent oversight,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) last month. “Requiring the public disclosure of top-line intelligence spending [at each intelligence agency] is an essential first step in assuring that our taxpayers and our national security interests are well served.”

“Disclosing the top-line budgets of each of our intelligence agencies promotes basic accountability among the agencies charged with protecting Americans without compromising our national security interests,” said Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo), who co-sponsored the legislation.

“Revealing the overall intelligence budget number has not jeopardized national security, as opponents of the proposal argued at the time, and has led to a more open and informed debate on national security spending,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). “My House colleagues and I are pushing to declassify the topline budget numbers for each intelligence agency to provide Americans with more information about how their tax dollars are spent, in a responsible manner that protects national security.”

Similar legislation was introduced in the previous Congress but was not acted upon.