Massive U.S. defense bill includes a bevy of research-related provisions

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David Malakoff

Congress is poised to tell the U.S. military to identify bases that are most threatened by climate change and give it limited new authority to accelerate the use of battlefield medical treatments that have not been fully approved by safety regulators. The provisions are part of a mammoth defense policy bill that the House of Representatives approved on Tuesday.

The bill also calls for building a new heavy icebreaker able to operate in polar seas—an item long on the wish list of scientists who work in the Antarctic and Arctic. And it establishes a new pilot program that would enable government scientists working at federal defense laboratories to receive up to $500,000 per year in royalties if they produce a commercially valuable invention. But lawmakers rejected an effort to place limits on Congress’ ability to direct funding to specific medical research programs run by the military, and a proposal to create a new space warfare service dubbed the U.S. Space Corps.

Those are just some of the research-related provisions in the 2400-page National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2018, which is expected to become law later this year after passage by the Senate. The influential measure sets policy and budget levels for the Department of Defense (DOD) and related agencies (although a separate appropriations bill actually sets spending levels). Congress has passed and the president has signed an NDAA every year for more than 50 years, making it one of the few legislative sure bets.

This year’s NDAA calls for spending $692 billion on defense-related programs in the 2018 fiscal year that began on 1 October. That would be a 12%, $74 billion boost over current levels, and $26 billion above the White House’s request. But the bill also calls for spending about $77 billion more on defense than allowed by current caps on federal spending. Congress would have to reach a deal to break those caps before lawmakers can appropriate the full funding called for by the NDAA. It’s not yet clear whether such a deal will materialize; Democrats in Congress have called for any increases in defense spending to be accompanied by similar increases in civilian budgets.

Here are some research-related highlights from the bill:

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