Defense R&D: Congress Passes National Defense Authorization Act

Both the House and Senate have passed the fiscal year 2017 “National Defense Authorization Act.” The NDAA is a bill, passed annually, that authorizes and sets policy for defense programs at the Defense and Energy Departments, including defense R&D.

The federal budget process occurs in two stages: appropriations and authorizations. This is an authorization bill, which directs how federal funds should or should not be used. (It does not set overall spending limits, however, which are the subject of appropriations bills.) Authorizations are typically made for single fiscal years (October 1 through September 30 of the next year) but are often renewed in subsequent law.

Yesterday, the Senate passed the fiscal year 2017 “National Defense Authorization Act” (NDAA) conference bill with a vote of 92 to 7. The House passed the bill on Dec. 2 with a vote of 375 to 34. It now heads to President Obama, who is expected to sign it.

Each year’s NDAA contains numerous provisions and line-item funding authorizations that concern R&D and defense technologies.


More than 80% of U.S. R&D funds are spent on development and applied research, work that focuses on practical applications, new products, or novel processes. About 18% of U.S. R&D funds support the performance of basic research, work that primarily involves gaining comprehensive knowledge and understanding without a particular application in mind.

As of 2013, research funding  was disbursed 40% to industry, 33% to DoD laboratories, and 21% to academia. See the funding profiles for each agency here.


Subtitle A–Authorization of Appropriations

(Sec. 201) Authorizes appropriations for Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation at the levels identified in section 4201 of this bill.

Subtitle B–Program Requirements, Restrictions, and Limitations

(Sec. 211) Requires DOD to establish a Laboratory Quality Enhancement Program, under which panels will:

review and make recommendations with respect to: (1) existing policies and practices affecting the science and technology reinvention laboratories to improve the research output of the laboratories and (2) new initiatives proposed by the science and technology reinvention laboratories; support implementation of initiatives affecting the science and technology reinvention laboratories; and conduct assessments or data analysis on other issues as the Secretary determines to be appropriate. (Sec. 212) Amends the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2009 to modify the authority for defense laboratories to use funds for research and development of technologies for military missions. Sets the level of funding at 3% of funds available to the defense laboratory, eliminates the termination date for the authority, and allows certain federally funded research and development centers to utilize the authority.

(Sec. 213) Requires the Navy to notify Congress before initiating certain rapid prototyping, experimentation, or demonstration activities.

(Sec. 214) Directs DOD to: (1) implement a quality assurance and quality control program for any facility producing biological select agents and toxins, and (2) report to Congress on the potential consolidation of facilities that work with biological select agents and toxins.

Requires the GAO to report on DOD’s: (1) progress in carrying out the quality assurance and quality control program, and (2) actions to address the findings and recommendations of the Army report titled “Individual and Institutional Accountability for the Shipment of Viable Bacillus Anthracis from Dugway Proving Grounds.”

(Sec. 215) Requires DOD, in consultation with the Directors of National Intelligence and the Office of Personnel Management to: (1) develop and implement a new security clearance information technology architecture; and (2) issue guidance establishing the respective roles, responsibilities, and obligations of the Secretary and directors with respect to the development and implementation of the system.

Requires DOD to review laws, regulations, and executive orders relating to the maintenance of personnel security clearance information by the federal government.

(Sec. 216) Prohibits DOD from using FY2017 funds for research, development, and prototyping of the countering weapons of mass destruction situational awareness information system, known as ”Constellation” and requires the Chief Information Officer to report to Congress on the requirements and program plan for the system.

(Sec. 217) Limits the availability of funds for the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) until DOD submits a specified report to Congress on the DIUx.

(Sec. 218) Limits the availability of funds for the Tactical Combat Training System (TCTS) Increment II program until the Navy and Air Force submit to Congress a required report on the baseline and alternatives to the TCTS Increment II program of the Navy.

(Sec. 219) Requires the Army to: (1) discontinue development efforts for any component of the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) of the Army after Increment 1 where commercial software exists that is capable of fulfilling at least 80% of the system requirements, and (2) review the acquisition strategy to ensure commercial software procurement is the preferred method for meeting program requirements.

Prohibits the Army from awarding any contract for the development of any capability for the distributed common ground system if the capability is available for purchase on the commercial market, except for certain minor capabilities.

(Sec. 220) Requires the Secretary of Defense to designate a senior DOD official as the official with principal responsibility for the development and demonstration of directed energy weapons and sets forth the responsibilities of the official for the programs.

Subtitle C–Reports and Other Matters

(Sec. 231) Requires DOD to develop a strategy to ensure that it has assured access to trusted microelectronics by not later than September 30, 2020.

(Sec. 232) Requires the Defense Information Systems Agency to establish a pilot program to evaluate commercially available information technology tools to better understand and characterize their potential impact on DOD networks and computing environments through prototyping, experimentation, operational demonstration, military user assessment, or other means to obtain quantitative and qualitative feedback.

(Sec. 233) Requires the Assistant Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force to jointly carry out a pilot program to demonstrate methods for the more effective development of research, development, test, and evaluation functions.

(Sec. 234) Permits DOD to carry out a pilot program on the modernization of spectrum warfare systems and electronic warfare systems.

(Sec. 235) Requires the Navy to establish an independent review team to review the Navy’s data on, and mitigation efforts related to, the increase in F/A-18 physiological events since January 1, 2009.

(Sec. 236) Requires DOD to seek to enter into a contract with a federally funded research and development center to conduct a study on technologies with the potential to prevent and mitigate helicopter crashes.

(Sec. 237) Requires the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, acting through the Electronic Warfare Executive Committee, to report to Congress on DOD electronic warfare capabilities.

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