FYI: Science Policy News

Final FY17 Appropriations: Department of Defense

MAY 08, 2017
The final appropriations agreement for fiscal year 2017 provides a 3.6 percent increase for the Defense Department’s Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation activities. Within that, funding for basic research is cut by 1.4 percent, applied research is increased by 6 percent, and advanced technology development is increased by 13.1 percent.
Will Thomas
Senior Science Policy Analyst

On Friday, President Trump signed into law Congress’ finalized appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2017, which provides a 3.6 percent increase to Department of Defense Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E) activities. The bill is the final product of some two years of legislative work, and the funding levels it mandates will prevail at least until the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Per custom, the bill is accompanied by an explanatory statement , which recommends specific line-item funding levels for the numerous projects and programs that draw from DOD’s RDT&E accounts. Much of the rest of Congress’ policy direction for DOD comes through the annual National Defense Authorization Act, the latest version of which passed in December. In addition, the explanatory statement also establishes that last year’s House and Senate appropriations committee reports provide similarly authoritative instructions concerning the intent of Congress.

S&T funding trending upward, basic research edges down

Congress is providing the following changes in funding for DOD’s Science and Technology accounts, comprising three of the seven RDT&E accounts: Basic Research, Applied Research, and Advanced Technology Development.

DOD S&T FY17 Appropriations by Character of Research
DOD S&T F&17 Appropriations by Service

Overall, S&T funding is increased by 7.8 percent to a level of $14.011 billion, which follows another sizeable increase in fiscal year 2016 . This year’s increases are generally higher than those proposed in either the House’s or Senate’s original appropriations bills, with Advanced Technology Development receiving the largest increase: $750 million, or 13.1 percent of its FY 2016 budget.

Basic research by contrast receives a 1.4 percent cut, which is, though, smaller than the cuts proposed by the Obama administration and in the House’s and Senate’s original appropriations bills. Much of this cut is attributable to a $109 million, or 16.2 percent, cut in the Navy’s basic research budget, bringing it to $563 million. The Army’s basic research funding is increased 3.8 percent to $487 million. The Air Force’s is increased 2.8 percent to $545 million. Funding for Defense-wide basic research programs is increased 6.8 percent to $681 million.

FY17 DOD RDT&E Appropriations Summary Table

Funding Line














Science & Technology







Basic Research (6.1)







Applied Research (6.2)







Advanced Technology Development (6.3)







All Other Accounts







All figures are in millions of nominal U.S. dollars and the percentages are calculated based on the unrounded figures. Overseas Contingency Operations funding is excluded.

Note that figures throughout this bulletin exclude any amounts allocated through DOD’s Overseas Contingency Operations fund. Further account-level breakdowns of the DOD S&T budget by service are available in the Federal Science Budget Tracker on FYI’s website. Below are selected highlights from the bill and its accompanying reports.

Other highlights

Basic Research:

  • Defense Research Sciences: Provides the Army $293.1 million, the Navy $422.7 million, the Air Force $380.8 million, and Defense-wide programs $362.3 million, which, combined, represents a decrease of over 2 percent from FY 2016. These program elements comprise extramural and in-house research programs, including in the physical sciences. For instance, the Air Force maintains research programs in complex electronics, fundamental quantum processes, plasma physics, and high energy density non-equilibrium processes, together totaling over $100 million.
  • University Research Initiatives: Provides the Army $69.2 million, the Navy $121.7 million, and the Air Force $150 million, which, combined, represents a decrease of over 5 percent from FY 2016. These program elements comprise research and education grant programs designed to foster university-based research capabilities relevant to the armed services.
  • In-House Laboratory Independent Research: Provides the Army $12.4 million and the Navy $18.5 million, which, combined, represents 4 percent decrease from FY 2016. This budget provides laboratory directors discretion in pursuing projects that are responsive to long-term military requirements, and it is often used to recruit highly skilled researchers with the lure of exciting work.
  • University and Industrial Research Centers: Provides the Army $112.3 million, which is an increase of almost 8 percent over FY 2016. This includes $5 million specifically directed to research on materials in extreme dynamic environments. This program element supports a variety of Army-university-industry partnerships, including Collaborative Technology Alliances, Collaborative Research Alliances, University Centers of Excellence, and University Affiliated Research Centers.
  • Defense-wide Basic Research Initiatives: Provides $68.2 million, which is $31.5 million more than requested but down about 5 percent from FY 2016.

Other selected line items and provisions:

  • Army Materials R&D: Provides $82.5 million, which is a more than 20 percent increase over FY 2016. This includes $20 million for research in high performance polymers. Both the House and Senate appropriations committee reports lauded the Army’s materials R&D program and the Army Research Laboratory’s expansion of its Open Campus initiative to encompass materials and manufacturing science laboratories.
  • Air Force Materials R&D: Provides $159.2 million for applied research, a 19 percent increase over FY 2016, specifying an $8 million increase for the Air Force’s electronics, optics, and survivability project and a $4 million increase for coating technologies R&D. In addition, provides $53.1 million for advanced materials for weapons systems, which is nearly a 14 percent increase over FY 2016.
  • Navy Electromagnetic Systems R&D: Provides $120.9 million in applied research funding, a 5 percent increase over FY 2016, and $26.4 million in advanced technology development funding, a 25 percent decrease from FY 2016. This program element includes R&D in electro-optical and infrared sensors, surveillance, electronic warfare, navigation, solid state electronics, vacuum electronics power amplifiers, and nanoelectronics.
  • Air Force Weather System Follow-On: Increases appropriations to about $94 million reflecting a ramped-up effort; also specifies $5 million for a commercial weather pilot program.
  • DIUx: Specifies $10 million for the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, a small organization championed by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter that aims to build relationships with innovative, non-traditional vendors. The Obama administration had requested $30 million for the unit. Congress’ final appropriation reflects its view that DOD’s strategic vision for DIUx is not fully developed.
  • FFRDCs: Section 8025 of the statute reduces funding to DOD’s federally funded research and development centers by $60 million. The section also bars DOD from establishing new FFRDCs, as has every Defense appropriations bill since 1993.
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