ALI Releases Statement on the President’s FY2024
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Alliance for Learning Innovation (ALI) applauds the increases proposed for education research and development (R&D) and innovation in the President’s budget request. These include the $870.9 million proposed for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), including $75 million for a National Center for Advanced Development in Education (NCADE), the $405 million proposed for the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program and the $1.4 billion for the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Directorate for STEM Education. These investments represent real commitments to advancing an inclusive education research system that centers students, teachers, and communities.
These recommendations build upon the bipartisan interest in utilizing education R&D to accelerate learning recovery, increase student achievement, and ensure students and teachers are prepared for the continued impact technology will have on teaching and learning. National and economic security depends on the success of our students and ALI appreciates the priorities this budget request places on fostering innovations in education that will support U.S. competitiveness.
Dan Correa, CEO of the Federation of American Scientists and co-lead of ALI notes, “Investments in education research and development hold so much promise for dramatically improving gaps in student achievement. Learning recovery, workforce development, and global competition all demand a pool of talent that can only come from an education system that meets the needs of diverse learners. The President’s budget request recognizes that more robust education R&D is needed to support bold innovations that meet the needs of students, teachers, families, and communities.”
This budget will allow IES and other federal agencies the ability to build on boundary-pushing efforts like the National AI Institute for Exceptional Education, which is supporting advancements in AI, human-AI interaction, and learning science to improve educational outcomes for children with speech and language related challenges.
For too long, federal support for education R&D has languished while resources and attention have been devoted to R&D in health care, defense, energy, and other fields. Today’s budget represents a critical step forward in addressing this deficiency. The Alliance for Learning Innovation looks forward to championing the continued development of an education R&D ecosystem that will lead to the types of groundbreaking developments and advancements we see in health care and defense; thus affording students everywhere access to fulfilling futures.
For more information about the Alliance for Learning Innovation, please visit https://www.alicoalition.org/.
FAS Statement on President Biden’s FY2024 Budget Proposal
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Federation of American Scientists CEO Dan Correa released the following statement on President Joe Biden’s 2024 budget proposal:
“We’re pleased to see the Administration continuing its support for critical investments in science and technology. These investments are vital for achieving national goals like excelling in AI and the bioeconomy, managing wildfire risks, and enhancing STEM training opportunities. It is also crucial to expand funding for tech and innovation hubs across the country. Robust support for science and innovation agencies is necessary to fulfill the national competitiveness vision of CHIPS and Science. But the budget request is only a first step, and we look forward to working with Congress this year to achieve the investments that strengthen American prosperity.”
The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) is a nonprofit policy research and advocacy organization founded in 1945 to meet national security challenges with evidence-based, scientifically-driven, and nonpartisan policy, analysis, and research. The organization works to advance progress on a broad suite of contemporary issues where science, technology, and innovation policy can deliver dramatic progress, and seeks to ensure that scientific and technical expertise have a seat at the policymaking table.
Find more ideas aimed at today’s greatest challenges in FAS’ report: Science and Innovation in the 118th Congress. You can also explore further – or submit your own ideas through FAS’ Day One Project.
Pentagon Asks to Keep Future Spending Secret
The Department of Defense is quietly asking Congress to rescind the requirement to produce an unclassified version of the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) database.
Preparation of the unclassified FYDP, which provides estimates of defense spending for the next five years, has been required by law since 1989 (10 USC 221) and has become an integral part of the defense budget process.
But the Pentagon said that it should no longer have to offer such information in an unclassified format, according to a DoD legislative proposal for the pending FY 2021 national defense authorization act.
“The Department is concerned that attempting publication of unclassified FYDP data might inadvertently reveal sensitive information,” the Pentagon said in its March 6, 2020 proposal.
“With the ready availability of data mining tools and techniques, and the large volume of data on the Department’s operations and resources already available in the public domain, additional unclassified FYDP data, if it were released, potentially allows adversaries to derive sensitive information by compilation about the Department’s weapons development, force structure, and strategic plans.”
Therefore, DoD said, “This proposal would remove the statutory requirement to submit an Unclassified Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) to the Congress, the Congressional Budget Office, the Comptroller General of the United States, and the Congressional Research Service.” It follows that FYDP data would also not be included in the published DoD budget request, as it typically has been in the past.
The DoD proposal would preserve a classified FYDP for Congress but it would repeal the requirement that DoD officials “certify that the data used to construct the FYDP is accurate.” DoD said that “This requirement is unnecessary as information from these systems is already used to provide the President’s Budget.”
The unclassified FYDP helps inform budget analysis
At a time when it is clear to everyone that US national security spending is poorly aligned with actual threats to the nation, the DoD proposal would make it even harder for Congress and the public to refocus and reconstruct the defense budget.
Without an unclassified FYDP, Congress and the public would be deprived of unclassified analyses like “Long-Term Implications of the 2020 Future Years Defense Program” produced last year by the Congressional Budget Office. Other public reporting by GAO, CRS, the news media and independent analysts concerning the FYDP and future defense spending would also be undermined.
Some information in the FYDP — such as projected intelligence spending — has always been deemed sensitive enough that it can be classified.
But most information in the FYDP is unclassified and is properly the subject of public oversight. So, for example, the recent FY2021 defense budget request for military construction includes an “FY21 FYDP Project List” identifying numerous proposed construction projects across the country and around the world that are anticipated through 2025.
DoD no longer publishes its legislative proposals
Until two years ago, DoD published its legislative proposals to Congress on the website of the DoD General Counsel. (The proposals for FY 2019 are still online.) But that is no longer the case. As part of a broader retreat from public oversight and accountability, the Pentagon today does not make its legislative proposals easily accessible to the public.
A copy of the current package of DoD legislative proposals through March 6, 2020 was obtained by Secrecy News. A complete tabulation of the dozens of specific proposals is available here. A section-by-section description of all of the proposals is here.
Among the current batch is a proposed exemption from the Freedom of Information Act for certain unclassified documents concerning military tactics, techniques, or procedures.
That very same proposed FOIA exemption has previously been rejected by Congress on at least four prior occasions. So legislative approval of such requests is not necessarily a foregone conclusion.
Late last week, the House Armed Services Committee filed a preliminary version of the FY21 defense authorization act (HR 6395) based on the DoD legislative proposals. “When the Committee meets to consider the FY21 NDAA, the content of H.R. 6395 will be struck and replaced with subcommittee and full committee proposals,” according to a March 27 news release.
Update 1: On March 31, DoD posted its legislative proposals for the FY 21 defense authorization act.
Update 2: A DoD spokesman said the Pentagon’s proposal was not intended to limit public access to all future year spending data. “There will be no reduction in any currently provided information,” the spokesman said. See Pentagon denies it seeks to hide future budget information by Aaron Mehta, Defense News, April 3, 2020.
Tracking “Unobligated” Military Construction Funds
A new congressional tally of military construction projects that have unobligated fund balances turned up hundreds of current projects fitting that description. See “FY2017-2019 Military Construction Projects/Programs with Unobligated Balances.”
Because the President declared a national emergency, some of the funds for those military construction activities could be repurposed in order to pay for barriers along the border with Mexico, pursuant to 10 USC 2808.
Declaring that a national emergency exists made it possible “to secure additional resources” to construct barriers along the border, the Trump White House said on February 15.
The White House said that up to $3.6 billion in unobligated Department of Defense military construction funds would now “be available to build the border wall.”
Funds are said to be “obligated” as the result of a purchase, contract or other government action that incurs a legal obligation to pay them. Until that happens, they are “unobligated” even though they have been appropriated for a specific purpose.
There is a considerable amount of military construction money that has not been obligated.
“According to DOD information, the department reported unobligated balances in the military construction and family housing accounts totaling $13.3 billion at the end of FY2018,” the Congressional Research Service noted recently.
Even though the money may be legally available, it is not “free.”
“All of this money has been assigned for other purposes, so it really then comes to what can — what are you going to trade off, because when you say tradeoff, it really is a tradeoff,” said Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan on February 16.
The President’s declaration of national emergency faces a legislative challenge as well as pending litigation.
Accounting Board Okays Deceptive Budget Practices
Government agencies may remove or omit budget information from their public financial statements and may present expenditures that are associated with one budget line item as if they were associated with another line item in order to protect classified information, the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board concluded last week.
Under the newly approved standard, government agencies may “modify information required by other [financial] standards” in their public financial statements, omit otherwise required information, and misrepresent the actual spending amounts associated with specific line items so that classified information will not be disclosed. (Accurate and complete accounts are to be maintained separately so that they may be audited in a classified environment.)
See Classified Activities, Statement of Federal Financial Accounting Standards (SFFAS) 56, Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board, October 2018.
The new policy was favored by national security agencies as a prudent security measure, but it was opposed by some government overseers and accountants.
Allowing unacknowledged modifications to public financial statements “jeopardizes the financial statements’ usefulness and provides financial managers with an arbitrary method of reporting accounting information,” according to comments provided to the Board by the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General.
Properly classified information should be redacted, not misrepresented, said the accounting firm Kearney & Company. “Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) should not be modified to limit reporting of classified activities. Rather, GAAP reporting should remain the same as other Federal entities and redacted for public release or remain classified.”
The new policy, which extends deceptive budgeting practices that have long been employed in intelligence budgets, means that public budget documents must be viewed critically and with a new degree of skepticism.
A classified signals intelligence program dubbed “Vesper Lillet” that recently became the subject of a fraud indictment was ostensibly sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services, but in reality it involved a joint effort of the National Reconnaissance Office and the National Security Agency.
See “Feds allege contracting fraud within secret Colorado spy warehouse” by Tom Roeder, The Gazette (Colorado Springs), October 5, 2018.
Post-9/11 Costs of War Exceed $1.5 Trillion
“Since September 11, 2001, the Department of Defense (DoD) has obligated $1,500.8 billion for war-related costs.”
That’s the headline from the latest report to Congress on the post-9/11 costs of war, according to the Pentagon’s own reckoning. See Cost of War Update as of March 31, 2018 (FY 2018, Quarter 2).
Independent estimates of military spending that use a broader definition of the term yield a considerably higher total.
The new DoD report provides a detailed retrospective account of post-9/11 military spending, broken down by theater (Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria), by fiscal year, and by military service. A copy was obtained by Secrecy News.
The fraction of war-related funds that were appropriated to DoD in the post-9/11 period for classified purposes totaled $88 billion, the report said.
The 76-page DoD report itself exemplifies a certain financial profligacy, with a price tag that is orders of magnitude higher than one might have supposed. “The cost to the Department of Defense to prepare and assemble this report is approximately $209,000 for FY 2018,” the document states.
Bid to Rectify the “Black Budget” Fails
The so-called “black” budget — which refers to classified government spending on military procurement, operations, and intelligence — is not merely secret. It is actually deceptive and misleading, since it produces a distortion in the amount and the presentation of the published budget.
The amount of money that is purportedly appropriated for the US Air Force, for example, does not all go to the Air Force, the Senate Armed Services Committee recently observed.
“Each year, a significant portion of the Air Force budget contains funds that are passed on to, and managed by, other organizations within the Department of Defense. This portion of the budget, called ‘pass-through,’ cannot be altered or managed by the Air Force. It resides within the Air Force budget for the purposes of the President’s budget request and apportionment, but is then transferred out of the Service’s control,” according to a Senate report on the 2019 defense bill (S.Rept. 115-262).
Although the report does not say so, the Air Force budget may also include pass-through funding for the Central Intelligence Agency, which of course is not even part of the Department of Defense, as well as for other non-Air Force intelligence functions.
“In fiscal year 2018, the Air Force pass-through budget amounted to approximately $22.0 billion, or just less than half of the total Air Force procurement budget. The committee believes that the current Air Force pass-through budgeting process provides a misleading picture of the Air Force’s actual investment budget.”
The Senate therefore recommended that such “pass-through” funds be removed from the Air Force budget and included in Defense-wide appropriations.
But in the House-Senate conference on the FY2019 defense bill, this move was blocked and so the deceptive status quo will continue to prevail.
Earlier this month, the Director of National Intelligence and the Pentagon Comptroller wrote to Congress to present their views on the Senate provision. A copy of their letter, which presumably objected to the proposed move, has been requested but not yet released.
The logic of the Senate proposal was explained by Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute in “Time to Get the Black Out of the Blue,” Real Clear Defense, June 13.
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 Investigations, CRS 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 Election, CRS 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 Sanctions, CRS 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.