Congress Passes and President Trump Signs FY 2020 NDAA


By Lewis-Burke Associates, LLC

After five months of contentious, painstaking negotiations, Congress passed, and the President signed into law, the conference agreement for the fiscal year (FY) 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  The House passed the final bill in a 377-48 vote on December 11 and the Senate passed the final bill in an 86-8 vote on December 17.  President Trump signed the NDAA into law on December 20 at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.

The NDAA, which authorizes funding and policies at the Department of Defense (DOD), has been passed before the end of the fiscal year in a bipartisan manner for the last 58 years. However, with Democrats now in charge of the House, Republicans controlling the Senate, and President Trump in the White House, the two parties had to resolve significant disagreements over a number of large issues, including the topline funding for the Department, DOD’s ability to transfer funds from other projects to support President Trump’s priority of constructing a border wall, the creation of a Space Force, and nuclear weapons modernization and posture, among other major issues.  Ultimately, many of these issues were settled in the conference report. For example, multiple sources note that Democrats and Republicans reached a deal to create a Space Force in exchange for a twelve-week family leave policy for all federal employees.

The bill authorizes DOD to spend $729.9 billion in discretionary funding, including $658.4 billion for base functions and $71.5 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO)—though it is important to note that DOD’s budget is approved through a separate defense appropriations bill, which was also signed into law on December 20. The FY 2020 NDAA authorizes $102.3 billion in research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) funds, an 11.5 percent increase over the FY 2019 level. The science and technology accounts will increase by 4.3 percent above the FY 2019 levels, with a similar increase to the basic research accounts.

The NDAA also contained several provisions of interest to HFES members:

Science and Security:

Protecting federally funded research, including topics sensitive to U.S. national security, remains a top science policy priority in Congress.  The bill contains language from the Securing American Science and Technology Act (SASTA), originally proposed by Rep. Mikie Sherril (D-NJ), to develop an interagency working group to protect federally funded research and development from foreign interference, cyberattacks, theft, or espionage and develop recommendations for best practices for federal agencies and grantee institutions.  This original bill earned support from a number of organizations within the research community.  Another provision requires DOD to develop, maintain, and share information on Chinese and Russian academic institutions that pose risks for illicit technology transfer of sensitive research.  In its explanatory statement, the bill also directs the Secretary of Defense to brief the defense committees on cooperative technology efforts with Russia and China, and risks of technology transfer.

Artificial Intelligence Education

The bill also requires DOD to develop an AI Education strategy.  This strategy will guide DOD’s efforts on how to integrate applications of and challenges from AI into a curriculum for military service members who would use AI technologies as part of their duties.  Aspects addressed by the strategy include the impact of AI on military strategy, as well as potential ethical issues, biases, and weaknesses in AI technology. 


Congress continues to raise concerns regarding cybersecurity, and the risks posed to DOD and the defense industrial base. Among many provisions pertaining to cybersecurity, the NDAA includes provisions requiring the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (USD(R&E)) to complete a roadmap regarding cybersecurity research needed to fulfill the Department’s technical needs, and to establish one more consortia of universities to advise the Secretary of Defense on cybersecurity issues. The bill also requires the Secretary of Defense to provide a report to the defense committees on the Department’s framework of efforts to strengthen the cybersecurity of the defense industrial base.

STEM Workforce

The bill also contained provisions addressing Congress’ priority to strengthen the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) workforce at DOD.  The bill establishes a technology and national security fellowship program to integrate civilians with STEM expertise into relevant positions in DOD and Congress. A provision from the House requires DOD to develop a plan to ensure access to qualified STEM personnel. The Conferees instead urged DOD to quickly replace STEM personnel as they retire to ensure DOD’s skills and knowledge base do not erode.


Sources and Additional Information:

  • A comprehensive analysis of the NDAA can be found here.
  • The text of the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act can be found here. The Conference Committee’s joint explanatory statement can be found here.
  • The Conference Committee’s summary of the bill can be found here.