The DOE’s Proactive FY25 Budget Is Another Workforce Win On the Way to Staffing the Energy Transition

The DOE has spent considerable time in the last few years focused on how to strengthen the Department’s workforce and deliver on its mission – including running the largest basic science research engine in the country, and managing a wide range of decarbonization efforts through clean energy technology innovation, demonstration, and deployment. In general, their efforts have been successful – in no small part because they have been creative and have had access to tools like the Intergovernmental Personnel Act and the Direct Hire Authority that supported the Clean Energy Corps. 

It’s no surprise then, that the agency’s FY 2025 budget looks to continue investing in the current and future science and energy workforce. The budget suggests DOE offices are thinking proactively about departmental capacity – in both the federal workforce, and beyond it through workforce development programs that actively grow the pool of future scientists.

Current BIL and IRA Talent 

As seen below, several DOE offices across the science, innovation and infrastructure domains have requested increases in program direction funding in FY 2025. Program direction funds are an under-valued but critical resource for enabling the energy transition: DOE must be able to recruit and retain expert staff with a high level of technical proficiency who can meet the multi-faceted demands of public service – reviewing proposals, building bridges with industry, maintaining user facilities, and overseeing execution of complex federal technology programs.

DOE OfficeFY 2024 Program Direction Funds (in thousands)FY 2025 Request Program Direction Funds (in thousands)Percent Increase from FY 2024-25
Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response$28,000$32,00014.3%
Grid Deployment Office$6,000$11,78596.4%
Federal Energy Management Program$14,000$17,20022.9%
Manufacturing and Energy Supply Chains$1,000$20,0001900.0%
State and Community Energy Programs Office$22,000$40,00081.8%
Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations$27,500$80,000190.9%
Office of Indian Energy Programs and Policy$14,000$14,0000.0%
Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy$186,000$194,7924.7%
Office of Electricity$19,000$19,7003.7%
Office of Nuclear Energy$90,000$97,0007.8%
Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management$70,000$97,00038.6%
Office of Science$226,831$246,0008.5%
ARPA-E$40,000$42,0005.0%

These requests also reflect a larger strategy, motivated by the constraints put on federal management funding by IIJA and IRA. First, while those pieces of legislation poured resources into federal energy innovation, they also limited program direction funds to 3% of account spending, which was highly constraining from a talent perspective – even with the creative use of hiring mechanisms like IPAs and various fellowships. In the final energy spending bill for FY 2024, this was raised to 5% and extended the funds connected to IIJA funding from expiring in 2026 to FY 2029 – a much-needed adjustment to the legislation. 

Extensions to and increases in program direction funds are vital for DOE. If the levels of appropriated PD funds don’t match the programs and mandate of offices, it jeopardizes their ability to provide oversight, project management, and effective stewardship of taxpayer dollars. New program direction funding is similarly important for offices like the Grid Deployment Office, a new office formed from a combination of programs from IIJA and IRA and the Office of Electricity. The FY 2025 request includes a $40 million increase above FY 2023, including $30 million for a new microgrid initiative intended to strengthen grid reliability and resilience in high risk regions. The Office of Manufacturing and Energy Supply Chains is a more extreme example: because of its recent creation, it needs a sharp increase in program direction funds. In FY24 the office received only $1 million in PD funds, while its FY 2025 PD request is $20 million – a much more appropriate number to support the total office budget request of $113 million. These requests are important and necessary for the long-term ability of DOE to continue to fortify U.S. energy independence and innovation.

Future Workforce 

Offices are also focused on building pathways for early career scientists to grow their expertise. The Office of Science (SC), DOE’s central hub for basic science research and National Lab oversight, is a prime example. First, SC’s program direction funding is incredibly low for an office of its size and magnitude, and it has steadily declined over the past several years to less than 3% of the SC appropriations as of FY 2023. The FY 2025 request increase of 8% will help remedy this.

SC has also focused on increasing funding for their workforce development programs, and specifically the Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists (WDTS) and its Reaching a New Energy Sciences Workforce (RENEW) programs. Both received an increase of $1-2 million – although one of WDTS’s other programs, the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI), was reduced by about $1 million. For most of the WDTS programs, high housing and living costs are cited as a reason for the need for increasing support. These high costs have been cited as a barrier to workforce development at many of the National Labs as well. Congress should explore opportunities to be creative with stipends and program accessibility – to ensure that SC can continue to support workforce development at all levels.

DOE’s FY25 Budget Request Remains Committed to the U.S. Transition to Clean Energy

The Biden Administration has prioritized the clean energy transition as a core element of its governing agenda, via massive legislative victories like the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), and through its ongoing whole-of-government focus on clean innovation. The Administration has continued to push for further investments, but faces a difficult fiscal environment in Congress – which has meant shortfalls for many priority areas like funding for CHIPS and Science. In March, the Administration released the FY 2025 budget request for the Department of Energy (DOE), and with it seeks to extend the gains of the past few years. This blog post highlights a selection of priority proposals in the FY 2025 request.

Scaling Clean Energy Technologies

BIL and IRA gave DOE a new mandate to support the demonstration, deployment, and commercialization of clean energy technologies, and established the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations (OCED) to achieve this. OCED is tasked with managing a range of large-scale commercial demonstration programs, which provide cost-share funding on the order of $50 to $500 million. OCED’s $30 billion portfolio of BIL- and IRA-funded programs include the Industrial Demonstrations Program, which recently announced selections for award negotiations; the Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs; the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Projects; and others.

Now that the majority of its BIL and IRA funding has been awarded, OCED is looking to continue building on this momentum, but annual appropriations have not been easy. OCED last year sought to significantly ramp up its annual appropriations to $215 million, but appropriators ended up providing only $50 million in new funding to OCED – nearly 50% less than FY23. Such an outcome hinders OCED’s ability to launch first-of-a-kind demonstration programs in new areas or expand existing programs, particularly since several OCED programs (like most IIJA and IRA initiatives) are vastly oversubscribed. For instance, OCED’s Industrial Demonstrations program provided awards of $6.3 billion, but received 411 concept papers requesting over $60 billion in federal funding with $100 billion in matching private dollars. Other programs at OCED, including the Energy Improvements in Rural and Remote Areas and the Clean Hydrogen Hubs, were similarly oversubscribed. 

For FY 2025, OCED is again proposing a funding ramp-up to $180 million. This includes a new extreme heat demonstration program in collaboration with DOE’s Office of State and Community Energy Programs (SCEP). SCEP has requested $35 million to lead the planning and design phases, while OCED’s request of $70 million will fund the federal cost-share for three to six community-scale demonstration projects. The new program will provide much needed funding for solutions to address extreme heat, which is the top weather-related cause of death for Americans and is only expected to worsen with global temperatures increasing each year.

In addition to OCED’s portfolio, BIL funded a $5 billion Grid Innovation Program (GRIP) managed by the Grid Deployment Office (GDO). GRIP focuses on central grid infrastructure, but GDO also has a portfolio of work on microgrids, which improve resiliency by enabling communities to maintain electricity access even when the larger grid goes down. BIL established some programs that can be used to fund certain components of microgrids or to purchase microgrid capacity, but these programs are unable to fund full scale microgrid demonstration projects. For FY 2025, GDO is requesting $30 million for a new Microgrid Generation and Design Deployment Program that will fill that gap. 

Complementary to these large-scale demonstration programs are a suite of small-scale pilot demonstration programs managed by offices under the Under Secretary for Science and Innovation (S4), which provide grants that are typically less than $20 million. 

Within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), the Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) has been running a rolling funding opportunity for enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) pilot demonstrations, authorized by BIL and funded by annual appropriations. For FY 2025, GTO is requesting continued funding for this program so that they can support additional greenfield demonstration projects.

EGS is important as a future source of clean, firm energy, but it’s not the only promising next-generation geothermal technology, as closed-loop geothermal has also demonstrated the  potential to be cost-competitive with EGS. Currently, only EGS projects are eligible in GTO’s program, despite the fact that BIL and prior legislation intended a more inclusive approach. As such, the Federation of American Scientists has joined with the next-generation geothermal community—including organizations representing both EGS and closed-loop geothermal companies—to call on DOE to take a tech agnostic approach and expand the scope of the program to include all next-generation technologies. We also call on Congress to adopt report language directing DOE to include demonstration projects using closed-loop and other next-generation geothermal technologies, and to appropriate at least GTO’s full budget request of $156 million.

Other proposed demonstration activities across the DOE enterprise include:

Tech Transitions and FESI

The Office of Technology Transitions (OTT) was established in 2015 to get the most out of DOE’s RD&D portfolio by better aligning the Department’s science research enterprise with industry and public needs. A core part of OTT’s mission is to expand the commercial impact of DOE’s research investments by developing viable market pathways for technologies coming out of the National Labs. Despite having a relatively small budget, OTT’s mission is crucial for the rapid acceleration of the energy transition.  

In FY 2024, however, OTT’s budget was cut by 10% which put a damper on the Office’s ability to carry out its mission. In response, in FY25, OTT is seeking $7.1 million more than its $20 million budget from the previous fiscal year in an attempt to ramp up funding for its programs. This increase also includes a separate funding line item of $3 million for the Foundation of Energy Security and Innovation (FESI), the DOE-affiliated 501(c)3 nonprofit organization established in the CHIPS and Science Act. FESI has significant potential to complement DOE’s mission by being a flexible tool to accelerate clean energy innovation and commercialization. Since the Foundation is a non-federal entity, it can catalyze public-private collaboration and raise private and philanthropic capital to put towards specific projects like funding pilot wells for next-generation geothermal power or filling funding gaps for pilot-scale technologies along the innovation pipeline, for example.

In addition to overseeing the standing up of FESI, OTT facilitates five main programs including the Technology Commercialization Fund, the Energy I-Corps Program, the Lab Partnering Service, the EnergyTech University Prize, and the Technology Commercialization Internship Program. Each of these programs is designed to increase industry and innovator access to the Labs while also bolstering the commercial pathway for emerging energy technologies, and together they’re vital to the success of clean energy technology commercialization.

Opportunities for Support Through Congressional Control Points 

The FY 2025 DOE request also looks to support the vital work of several new offices by establishing Congressional control points – meaning they’d be treated as standalone entities in appropriations, rather than subaccounts of other offices. Last year’s request sought new control points for the Office of State and Community Energy Programs, Federal Energy Management Program, and Manufacturing and Energy Supply Chains, but Congress has yet to act.

It’s an incredibly wonky topic, but it’s actually pretty important: establishing control points for these offices can help create a baseline for future funding and maintain institutional consistency. Becoming standalone offices can also help them carry out their missions, by giving them the authority to engage with other partners including federal agencies, creating more pathways for collaboration with energy-intensive agencies like the Defense Department.

President Looks to Education Innovation in the FY25 Budget Request

On March 11, 2024, the President released his budget for Fiscal Year 2025, and it spells good news for advocates and educators who are concerned about research and development opportunities and infrastructure in the education sector. New funding caps imposed by the Fiscal Responsibility Act have tempered many advocates’ expectations. However, by requesting increases for key federal education R&D programs across multiple agencies, the Biden-Harris administration has signaled that it continues to value investments in education innovation, even in a budget-conscious political climate.

An analysis of the proposal by the Alliance for Learning Innovation (ALI) found a lot to like. The President’s Budget would send $815.5 million to the Institute for Education Sciences (IES) to invest in education research, development, dissemination, and evaluation. This is $22.5 million higher than IES received in Fiscal Year 2024. This includes $38.5 million for Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems, a 35 percent increase over Fiscal Year 2024. 

Agency/ProgramFY24 EnactedFY25 President’s Budget RequestIncrease% Change
Institute for Education Sciences$793M$815.5M$22.5M3%
Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems$28.5M$38.5M$10M35%
Accelerate, Transform, and Scale (ATS) Initiative$30M$52.7M$22.7M76%
Education Innovation and Research$259M$269M$10M4%
HBCU, TCCU, MSI R&D Infrastructure Grants$50M$100M$50M50%
National Science Foundation$1.72B$1.3B$128M11%

Notably, the President is asking for $52.7 million to grow the Accelerate, Transform, and Scale (ATS) Initiative at IES. This is 76 percent higher than the $30 million IES originally put into the initiative in 2023 when Congress directed the agency to “use a portion of its fiscal year 2023 appropriation to support a new funding opportunity for quick turnaround, high-reward scalable solutions intended to significantly improve outcomes for students.” 

The ATS Initiative, widely regarded as a pilot for a possible National Center for Advanced Development in Education, is inspired by Advanced Research Project Agencies  across the federal government – and around the world – that build insights from basic research to develop and scale breakthrough innovations. Like ARPAs, ATS invests in big ideas that emerge from interdisciplinary, outside-the-box collaboration. It aims to solve the nation’s steepest challenges in education.

The President’s request for ATS includes $2 million for a new research and development center on how generative artificial intelligence is being used in classrooms across the U.S. According to the Congressional Justification for IES, this new center will “develop and test innovative uses of this technology and will establish best practices for evidence building about generative AI in education that not only address the effectiveness of the technology for learning, but also consider issues of bias, fairness, transparency, trust and safety.”

Outside of IES, the President’s Budget calls for additional investments in education innovation. For example, it requests $269 million for the Education Innovation and Research program, housed at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. If fulfilled, this would be a $10 million increase over last year. The President also wants Congress to send $100 million to the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education to expand R&D infrastructure at four-year Historically Black Colleges or Universities, Tribally Controlled Colleges or Universities, and Minority-Serving Institutions.

The Biden-Harris administration’s support for education R&D is also reflected in its requests for the National Science Foundation (NSF). The President’s Budget requests $1.3 billion for the NSF’s Directorate for STEM Education – $128 million above its Fiscal Year 2024 level. Moreover, it includes $900 million to fund the important work of NSF’s newest directorate, authorized in the CHIPS and Science Act: the Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) Directorate. TIP runs important R&D initiatives, such as the VITAL Prize Challenge and America’s Seed Fund, that support teaching and learning innovations. 

ALI looks forward to advocating for a robust investment in education R&D in Fiscal Year 2025. The President’s Budget provides a solid marker for the coalition’s efforts.

Firefighting Workforce Benefits from FY25 Budget Request but Sustained Investments are Necessary to Address the Wildfire Crisis

Despite growing federal spending on wildfire suppression, wildfires continue to grow in size and severity in the U.S. Nearly 100,000 structures have been wiped out by wildfires nationwide in the last two decades. Impacts of fires go far beyond what the flames touch; smoke from uncontrolled fires is worsening human health from coast to coast. 

We know uncontrolled wildfire is costly, but a full accounting of just how costly is elusive given currently available data. Federal spending on wildfire suppression has exceeded $1 billion every year since 2011, with spending sometimes as high as $4 billion; longer-term costs imposed on livelihoods, ecosystem services, and health are estimated to be much higher.

Investments in prevention (including beneficial fire to reduce highly flammable vegetation) are essential for decreasing these skyrocketing costs in the long-term. The Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission, which submitted a detailed report to Congress in 2023 with recommendations for improving how we manage wildland fire, noted that the historic focus on putting out fires without substantial investment in risk mitigation “perpetuates a reactive and expensive cycle and consigns ourselves to an ever-increasing catalog of loss.” 

In the last decade, the U.S. has made significant investments to address the wildfire crisis, including the historic investments in hazardous fuels reduction through the IRA and IIJA. But discretionary funding via the annual appropriations cycle has provided additional opportunities for Congress to make down payments on a more wildfire-resilient future. These investments include doubling of wildfire funding for the Department of Interior (DOI) and the U.S. Forest Service from fiscal year 2011 to 2020 (although much of this funding was for suppression-related activities). 

The president’s FY 2025 budget would add to this growth via modest but important increases for sustaining or enhancing wildfire work at specific agencies. Areas of focused investment include increases to support pay, health and wellbeing, and housing for wildland firefighters in recognition that “the federal government must provide a level of pay that is competitive with the compensation provided by state, local, and private employers.” The FY 2025 budget would also include increased or sustained funds for certain programs at the Federation Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to improve community capacity for wildfire preparedness. It also supports certain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) programs that concern wildfire smoke. 

Wildfire in the FY25 Request

Below are a few highlights from the president’s FY 2025 budget concerning key activities at select agencies with relevance to wildfire. These highlights are just a sampling and do not constitute a comprehensive assessment of wildfire appropriations in the FY 2025 president’s budget at these or other agencies. The full spectrum of federal entities that undertake wildland fire activities is broader and includes NASA, NOAA, DOD, and CDC among others. 

U.S. Forest Service

Department of the Interior 

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Environmental Protection Agency 

The Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission released its report to Congress in September 2023, likely too late for its 148 recommendations to be considered thoroughly in agency budget development. While this budget request lays a foundation for important Commission recommendations such as pay increases and housing for federal wildland firefighters, significant additional investments will still be needed in the years to come. The Commission noted that “investments at a similar and sustained scale (to the IRA and IIJA) in federal land management agencies and programs are needed to successfully and proactively reduce growing wildfire risk,” and recommended strong support for wildland fire management through land management agencies to the tune of $85-95 billion total in the next decade (almost triple what has already been invested). Additionally, it recommended funding to support other agencies with critical roles in addressing the wildfire crisis including FEMA, NOAA, and EPA. 

While agency budget documents give us a general sense of the magnitude of investments in wildland fire at each agency, we don’t actually have a clear picture of wildfire spending across the federal government as a whole. As Taxpayers for Common Sense found, there is no single federal definition of what falls under the category of wildfire spending. Federal entities such as the Department of Agriculture, DOI, and FEMA use different budget structures to describe their direct and indirect spending on wildland fire (although DOI does package all of its wildfire spending into a department-wide budget).

Consequently, agencies, Congress, and the public are limited in their ability to assess wildland fire spending government-wide. An important Commission recommendation is thus that Congress “fund agency budgets offices to create crosscuts to better track all federal wildfire spending.” We highlighted this recommendation for Congress (along with other Commission recommendations on wildfire spending and budgeting) in a recent joint letter with The Pew Charitable Trusts, Taxpayers for Common Sense, and Megafire Action. 

There is no magic bullet for solving our wildfire crisis, but sustained investments that strategically leverage science, technology, data, and the workforce and emphasize prevention can pave the way to a more resilient future.

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

Updated below

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 GAOCRS, 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 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