The 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) aims to address disparities in funding between historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), minority serving institutions (MSIs), and other higher education institutions in terms of research and development funding from the Department of Defense (DOD). The April 2022 National Academies (NA) report found that HBCUs and MSIs receive disproportionately smaller amounts of funding, with only 1.1% of the DOD’s research and development expenditures going to these institutions, compared to 1.9% from the Department of Energy and 2% from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Drawing from this research, the NDAA has set aside $131.7 million for the Pentagon to conduct a pilot program to deepen research and development partnerships between the DOD and HBCUs and MSIs, an increase from the $73.2 million allocated in the 2022 defense bill and $98.4 million more than the initial DOD budget request for 2023 by the Biden administration.
The legislation instructs the DOD to implement recommendations from the NA report, including increasing funding for MSI/HBCUs, deepening relationships between military departments and the institutions, expanding data collection, generating metrics to track progress and success, and developing true partnerships with the institutions. The bill aims to bring HBCUs to “very high research activity” status, calculated based on annual research expenditures, number of degrees awarded, and other criteria. The program could include stipends for students or post-doctoral scholars, research facility construction or renovation, new equipment, and other activities as determined by the Secretary of Defense.
The bill has bipartisan origins in the Senate, with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) introducing the HBCU Research, Innovation, Security, and Excellence (RISE) Act in April. The NA committee found no examples of incentivized or directed partnerships by the DOD, and the report argues that the DOD should demographically resemble the nation. Some Republican lawmakers have criticized the DOD’s emphasis on race and ethnicity, arguing that it cripples the agency’s ability to respond to global security threats.