APA lobbies Capitol Hill on defense research, mental health and sexual assault programs

Both administration and Congress ignore spending caps and sequester — for now.

Washington heats up in more ways than one in June, as Congress returns from recess to tackle annual bills authorizing and funding federal science agencies, including the Department of Defense (DoD). APA’s Science Government Relations Office (Science GRO) is actively lobbying on and tracking a number of issues within the two fiscal year 2014 DoD authorization and appropriations bills, including research funding levels, mental health services and suicide prevention programs, the impact of federal travel restrictions and possible policy changes regarding military sexual assault.

As appropriations season gets underway, Science GRO is watching both the administration and Congress pursue what may be overly optimistic spending levels to say the least, given the sequester now in effect and the ongoing spending caps mandated by the 2011 debt limit law. The president sent Congress an FY 2014 budget request for DoD alone that was $52 billion above what the spending caps would legally allow. Responses from congressional leaders of the defense-related committees have varied. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said, “We have three budgets — House, Senate, White House — all of which assume no sequestration, but none of them in a way which is credible.” Levin and his committee’s Republican ranking member, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., have formally requested that DoD specify exactly how it would reduce its budget request by $52 billion to meet the spending cap, presumably to force a more realistic discussion of the sequester’s effects on the Pentagon.

On the House side, Chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Bill Young, R-Fla., said, “I do not see any path opening up to deal with sequestration. The Appropriations Committee position is — we are not going to deal with sequestration.” The House is scheduled to start moving both the defense authorization and appropriations bills this week.

In terms of support for research, Science GRO staff and APA’s defense research coalition colleagues estimate that the president’s FY 2014 budget request would result in a slight decrease to the overall DoD Science and Technology (S&T) account. Army, Navy and Air Force military service labs all would see cuts to their S&T programs overall, though in each case the fundamental (“6.1 level”) research accounts would increase. DoD’s medical research budget would take a substantial cut in the administration’s 2014 budget. Within these overall S&T accounts it is unclear at this point how human-centered, behavioral research programs specifically would fare in each of the military laboratories, defense-wide agencies and medical research programs under the president’s FY 2014 request. We assume that in the current budget environment, behavioral research accounts in the S&T line could expect to see level funding or in some cases, very small increases at best. Within the medical research programs, DoD is standing up large projects related to mental health (in particular, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide) which could increase the proportion of those accounts dedicated to human-centered science.

The FY 2014 defense authorization bill likely will contain language and possibly sweeping policy changes to DoD programs related to sexual assault prevention, treatment and prosecution. APA’s Science GRO is monitoring House and Senate hearings on these issues and tracking any language related to trauma research and services. We also continue to advocate for the entire spectrum of behavioral and mental health prevention and intervention programs within DoD, and to lead lobbying efforts within both the legislative and executive branches to remove travel restrictions for federal employees that continue to have an impact on the sharing of scientific knowledge and direct clinical care for military personnel and veterans.

For more information contact Heather O’Beirne Kelly.