Augustine: Defense R&D to Take Hit in Budget Battles
The Defense Department’s research and development accounts are likely to suffer as the nation looks for ways to pare down federal spending, said Norman Augustine, the retired CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp.
Augustine has spent a good deal of his retirement years warning about declining U.S. competitiveness. As a board member of a non-partisan think tank, the American Security Project, he co-signed a letter Jan. 20 asking Congress to boost, rather than cut, federal dollars spent on research and development.
“We have underinvested in the future,” said the letter, which noted that the 2.6 percent of GDP spent on basic R&D has dropped from the 3 percent norms of the 1960s. As one example, the letter noted that China spent $34.6 billion on clean energy research in 2009, and the United States only $18.6 billion.
R&D usually suffers when the Defense Department budget is cut, he said during a talk at the think tank in Washington, D.C.
“I suspect that it will be no different this time,” he said. “The research budget, particularly in defense, is so small, you could triple it and you wouldn’t even have to replot the defense budget.”
“Times have changed and it’s appropriate to put everything on the table, including defense, including R&D,” he said.
Basic research eventually leads to the development of products, but that can take years. Corporations are looking for short-term gains, and are not investing in technologies that won’t come to fruition for a decade or longer. Universities of late are just as cash-strapped as the government. They are laying off professors, he noted.
That leaves the government. Boosting R&D dollars doesn’t have an immediate dividend as far as adding jobs, he said. The science and engineering community is too small at .06 percent of the work force. But the innovation they provide eventually helps fuel employment for the remaining 99.4 percent of the nation, he added.
When he was rising through the corporate ranks in the 1960s as an aerospace engineer, the defense industry was the place to be for leading-edge technology programs.
“Not true anymore. Today the leading edge is out in Silicon Valley,” Augustine said.
Earlier in the week, House Armed Services Committee staffer Jenness Simler, also sounded an pessimistic note on defense R&D. It is difficult to find short-term budget reductions in the Defense Department, she said at a Precision Strike Association conference Jan. 17. It takes several years before cuts to major programs and personnel accounts take effect. There also isn’t a lot of room to slash operations and management budgets, either. That leaves research and development accounts as easy targets.
Unlike major weapons programs, they often do not have powerful lawmakers in Congress to protect them. “Their constituency is harder to identify,” she said.