The Defense Department’s research and development arm is poised to receive billions of dollars in funding originally intended for other agencies developing technology to counter China, without asking.
The flood of taxpayer money flows amid bipartisan fears that Beijing is engaging more government-funded scientists seeking American technical innovations. Those fears may soon translate into a huge budget increase for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
The Senate is considering amendments to Democratic Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s bill to fund technological innovation to overtake China. The bill initially proposed $ 100 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the federal agency in charge of basic scientific research. A bitter fight over funding ensued when Republicans such as Senator Rob Portman of Ohio and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida expressed concern that the money could end up in the pockets of scientists cooperating with the Chinese government.
Rubio then floated the idea of giving DARPA money and Sen. Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, offered an amendment this week to double DARPA’s budget to $ 7 billion.
DARPA officials told The Washington Times that they did not work with Republican lawmakers on the funding change, but that they would appreciate the cash inflow.
“DARPA representatives have not had any conversations with Senators Rubio and Sasse regarding the Competition and Innovation Act, and feel it would be inappropriate to comment on pending legislation other than noting that we deeply appreciate the legislators’ recognition of the ability. of the agency to drive innovation. , advance America’s interests and be good stewards of taxpayers’ money, ”said Jared Adams, a DARPA spokesman, in an email.
A Senate source said that the testimony of the leaders of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, on which Rubio and Sasse sit, played a key role in the massive funding increase proposed by DARPA. The commission recently issued a report warning that the United States must significantly increase its spending to avoid falling behind China on critical artificial intelligence technologies.
The commission, created by Congress in 2018, is chaired by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, with members elected by members of Congress, the secretary of defense and the secretary of commerce. The commission did not respond to requests for comment on how their input has affected the debate on the Schumer bill.
It is difficult to obtain details on the credits for research and development. DARPA representatives will meet in a closed-door hearing with a House Armed Services subcommittee on Thursday to discuss what they want for the upcoming fiscal year.
DARPA’s track record may have made lawmakers comfortable trusting it with more research money than NSF. DARPA has earned credit for contributing to the production of COVID-19 vaccines, while the NSF has faced scrutiny for its ability to safeguard government-funded research.
“[T]The first coronavirus vaccine to begin human testing came from a DARPA investment in Moderna. DARPA’s ability to contribute substantially to our nation’s response to pandemics is the product of more than half a century of [Department of Defense science and technology] funding, ”Rep. James Langevin, a Rhode Island Democrat and chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee, said in an open hearing Thursday. “If we hope to invest in science only when a crisis looms, then we will be setting the nation for failure.”
The NSF has repeatedly defended its security checks, previously telling The Washington Times that it has recovered millions of dollars since March 2020, when it created a position of chief investigative security, strategy and policy.
Last month, the Justice Department charged math professor and university researcher Mingqing Xiao with wire fraud and alleged that he withheld funds from the Chinese government while obtaining funds from the NSF.
He is not the only researched scientist funded by the United States government. The National Institutes of Health told Congress last month that 500 scientists were under investigation for being compromised by China and other foreign powers.