This Month In Science

APA Advocates for Psychological Research within the Department of Defense

APA was given an important opportunity to brief Congress on the value of psychological research sponsored by DoD.

By Heather O'Beirne Kelly

For decades, psychologists have played vital roles within the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), as providers of clinical services to military personnel and their families, and as scientific researchers investigating a broad range of mission-targeted issues from airplane cockpit design and the recruitment, selection and training of personnel to cybersecurity and insider threat assessment. More than ever before, psychologists today bring unique and critical expertise to meeting the needs of the military and its personnel.

gavin-osheaOn Thursday, June 18th, APA was given an important opportunity to brief Congress on the value of psychological research sponsored by DoD. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense held its annual "public witness testimony" hearing, allowing outside experts and interested stakeholders a chance to weigh in on the Fiscal Year 2010 DoD budget. APA was offered a testimony slot, and called on member Gavan O'Shea, an industrial/organizational psychologist from the Human Resources Research Organization (HumRRO), headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, to deliver the APA testimony on Capitol Hill. O'Shea's military-oriented research and consulting has focused on issues related to organizational commitment, personnel selection, and leadership assessment.

In the oral testimony, O'Shea urged the Subcommittee to reverse President Obama's proposed cuts in the defense basic and applied research programs as the Senate "marks up" its annual funding bill this summer. Within DoD, the majority of behavioral, cognitive and social science is funded through the Army Research Institute and Army Research Laboratory; the Office of Naval Research; and the Air Force Research Laboratory; with additional, smaller human systems research programs funded through the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and DoD's Defense Intelligence Agency.

The President's budget request for Fiscal Year 2010 represents a dramatic reducation in support for defense research, including behavioral science portfolios within the larger DoD Science and Technology ("S&T") account. Defense S&T would fall from the estimated current level of $13.6 billion to $11.6 billion with cuts across the board. With the exception of a less than one-percent increase in Air Force basic research and an increase in basic research in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, all military labs would see cuts to their basic and applied research accounts, some as high as 50%.

A 2008 National Academies report on Human Behavior in Military Contexts recommended doubling the current budgets for basic and applied behavioral and social science research "across the U.S. military research agencies." It specifically called for enhanced research in six areas: intercultural competence; teams in complex environments; technology-based training; nonverbal behavior; emotion; and behavioral neurophysiology. This emphasis on the importance of behavioral and social science research within DoD is echoed by the Defense Science Board, an independent group of scientists and defense industry leaders whose charge is to advise the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on "scientific, technical, manufacturing, acquisition process, and other matters of special interest" to the Department of Defense. Within the Pentagon itself, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has also made a recent commitment to reestablishing important research links between DoD and the behavioral and social sciences through his Minerva Initiative, a large-scale grant program targeting specific national security concerns.

APA Science Directorate Government Relations staff and APA members with relevant expertise will continue to meet with members of Congress on the influential Appropriations Committees to ensure that cuts to behavioral science within DoD do not materialize in the eventual Senate and House bills or the final "conferenced" version that heads to the President for signature.

Heather O'Beirne Kelly is a Senior Legislative & Federal Affairs Officer in APA's Science Government Relations Office. Follow her updates on the intersection of psychological science and politics on Twitter at