White House Defense Tech Budget Questioned at House Hearing

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House Budget Committee members threw a series of sharp questions and critiques at Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist today about the Defense Department’s (DoD’s) proposed technology spending plans after he said DoD is prioritizing IT modernization, better cybersecurity, and tech innovation.

Norquist opened the hearing by highlighting the goals of the proposed $750 billion FY2020 Defense budget – two of which involve increasing cyber spending by 10 percent and accelerating defense technological capabilities, particularly in artificial intelligence (AI), hypersonic technology, and directed energy weapons.

The Democratic-majority committee, however, expressed concern about over-bloating both the overall Defense  budget and its Overseas Contingency Operations component, and several members said they want to ensure that DoD was effectively using its money on effective defense programs – particularly those that bolster strong technological and cybersecurity initiatives.

Norquist navigated certain questions about defense technology with relative ease. He agreed with Rep. Joseph Morelle, D-N.Y., that DoD will continue to further technological education efforts that the department finds critical to its goals, and he also told Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, that DoD would continue defending U.S. networks from threats posed by China-based equipment makers Huawei and ZTE.

Some representatives questioned the White House’s proposed research and defense (R&D) budget–which overall would cut government-wide R&D spending by $6.5 billion but increase DoD’s R&D funding by $9 billion–and if DoD would be able to push forth the technological innovations its budget strives for.

Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., pointed out that China aims to commit $150 billion to AI research and development by 2030, but that the Trump administration budgeted just $1.8 billion between DoD and the Energy Department for AI in FY2020. When Norquist voiced support for those funding levels, Moulton said that wasn’t enough to keep up with China.

“We are not keeping pace with this number in our budget,” Moulton said. “You’re committed at less than 10 percent over 10 years over what the Chinese are committed to. … That just does not seem competitive to me at all.”

Moulton also critiqued the Pentagon’s approval of the transfer of $1 billion to fund a southern border wall, which he said was more than DoD committed to advancing cybersecurity efforts.

“Our greatest national security adversaries are literally attacking us every single day through the internet,” Moulton said. “And we’re spending 25 percent more money on a fifth century defense technology on our southern border than we are on 21st century on cyber defenses for our entire country,” he said.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, also wanted to make sure that DoD moves forward with developing technology in a cost-effective way, and criticized a previous Pentagon move to issue a $7 million cloud computing contract to a one-person company.

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