Measuring Congressional Impact on Defense Acquisition Funding

Congress exercises its oversight authority on the executive branch’s defense policy via the appropriations process and can choose to match, modify, or eliminate the Department of Defense’s (DoD) requested funding levels for acquisition programs primarily funded by the procurement and research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) accounts. Congress’s decisions in this process can have a significant impact on the executive branch’s defense plans by making adjustments to acquisition projects’ program of record. This in turn can force DoD program management teams to alter schedules and contracting actions, causing second-order effects on private sector partners in the acquisition process.

To measure Congress’s impact on defense acquisition funding, this study compares the actual funding level for procurement and RDT&E accounts with the original level proposed in the administration’s budget request and identifies patterns in which accounts are regularly adjusted by Congress. It assesses procurement and RDT&E accounts between fiscal year (FY) 2001 and FY 2020 and conducts data cuts of acquisition funding at the account, category, military department, and budget activity levels. This analysis ultimately aims to inform defense planners, acquisition officials and program managers, and industry partners of trends in congressional appropriations for defense so they can better anticipate Congress’s impact on defense acquisition funding.

This report is made possible by project support from the Naval Postgraduate School’s Acquisition Research Program.

Todd Harrison

Todd Harrison

Former Senior Associate (Non-resident), Aerospace Security Project and Defense Budget Analysis