Funding for DOD Social Science Research Restored in House and Senate Defense Authorization Bills

Both the House and Senate’s drafts of the annual authorization bill for the Department of Defense (DOD), the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), include language preventing the elimination of funding for DOD’s basic social science research program, the Minerva Research Initiative, as proposed in the Administration’s budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2021. Both bills propose a total of $17 million in the Defense-Wide funding line for the Minerva initiative, which if enacted would be a sizeable increase over the $11.4 million the program received in FY 2020. While the Minerva Initiative receives some funding from the Navy and Air Force, Defense-Wide funding accounts for the majority of its budget.

Both bills include language in support of the Minerva Initiative and social science research at the Department of Defense more generally. They contain nearly-identical language asserting that maintaining America’s technological superiority “requires not only investing in physical sciences but also the integration of cross-disciplinary research that explores the social, cultural, behavioral, political, historical, and religious drivers of today’s increasingly complex global security environment.” In addition, both bills would require that DOD report back on how it plans to continue to cultivate the social sciences within the Department.

The Senate NDAA (report) was approved by the Armed Services Committee on June 23. Floor debate began on July 1 and continued until the Senate adjourned for a two-week recess on July 2. The Senate will resume consideration when it returns on July 20. Among the amendments proposed for consideration are a version of Senator Charles Schumer’s (D-NY) Endless Frontier Act, which as previously reported, proposes sweeping structural changes for the National Science Foundation (NSF). Should the amendment pass, it would fall to the conference committee to negotiate whether and in what form the legislation would be included in the final bill.

The House Armed Services Committee approved its version of the bill (Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities mark) on July 1. A timeline for consideration by the full House is unclear, but the NDAA is considered “must-pass” legislation by the end of the fiscal year on September 30.

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Posted in Issue 14 (July 7), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

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