Opening Statement Of Ranking Member Heinrich On National Labs, Contributions to Military Operations And Readiness

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities held a hearing, "Department of Defense Laboratories and Their Contributions to Military Operations and Readiness." Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) as prepared for delivery and a video is available here.

Let me begin by thanking Senator Ernst for holding this hearing on our nation's defense laboratories and technology innovation.  I know we both understand the significance of their impact on national security and the economy. 

Today's hearing will help us better understand the Department of Defense laboratory enterprise and how this committee can work together to help it flourish. 

The DOD lab enterprise is a network of roughly 60 individual laboratories across the country, including two in my home state of New Mexico, which is proud to host the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base and the Army Research Laboratory at White Sands Missile Range.

The thousands of men and women at the laboratories, both public servants and contractors, play several critical roles for the Department of Defense, including:

Rapidly deploying new equipment to the battlefield - for example, the Labs did the engineering work necessary to get the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles to theater as a rapid response to an operational need;

Supporting acquisition programs to make sure that DOD is a smart and technically-informed-buyer of advanced technologies and helping control costs of major weapons systems;

Performing cutting edge next generation science and engineering research at a network of labs across the country, as well as managing Research and Development programs in industry and universities, which have led to equipment and weapons systems that our warfighters depend on - like advanced radars, satellite systems, and munitions.

A recent Defense Science Board study of the labs stated that the Labs are the "core muscle the Department has to create, transition, and deploy technology to the warfighter." 

But we need to do more to make sure that those muscles are strong and healthy - and that is the focus of the hearing we are having today.

I know that all organizations suffer from constraints on their budget and the labs are no different.  I hope our witnesses can highlight the biggest budgetary challenges facing the labs - so that we can consider how we can address them as we work on this year's National Defense Authorization Act.

I am also interested in understanding how reductions to funding for civilian science agencies - like NASA and the National Science Foundation - will affect science and technology that is important to defense missions, and whether the labs could - with more resources - help address shortfalls in the nation's scientific enterprise that may be coming due to those budget cuts, for example in areas like STEM education or university research.

I also would like the witnesses to help the subcommittee understand how we can support the labs by streamlining laws and regulations and bureaucratic processes.  On the Armed Services Committee, we have done a lot in the past to make the hiring process easier at the labs - so that our labs can compete with places like Google and Tesla for the best technical talent.

I also know that there are major challenges in funding lab facilities and equipment and in untangling the labs from government red tape.  I would like to hear the witnesses' ideas on what red tape they encountered in their many years of service to the Labs, and how we can best cut it. 

Finally, I know that DOD leadership and this committee want to make sure that our warfighters benefit from the great spirit of American innovation, including private-public partnerships with Silicon Valley. 

I know that DOD has efforts like DARPA and DIUX that try to leverage commercial innovation for the benefit of DOD.  I think the labs can and should play a bigger role in those efforts- and I would like to hear the witnesses' views on how we can make that happen.

I look forward to your testimony.