Communities striving to cultivate defense manufacturing, either to offset a decline in their local manufacturing base over recent decades or to improve their capacity for advanced technologies considered critical to national security, would be eligible for financial and technical assistance, under a new program authorized in the fiscal 2019 defense authorization bill. The statute is intended to strengthen the national security innovation base by helping communities rebuild their manufacturing capacity. It would serve as a complement to an existing program, Manufacturing USA, which is focused more on R&D and commercialization of new technologies with defense applications.
Under the new program, partners in a consortium designated a defense manufacturing community could apply for funding for investments in equipment and facility upgrades; workforce training, recruitment and retention; business incubators; advanced research and commercialization; supply chain development; and small business assistance. Investments, though, would need to complement support provided by the eight DOD-led Manufacturing USA institutes. Those institutes — each focused on a critical technology, such as robotics manufacturing — also combine federal funding with investments by industry, academia and state governments.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced the new initiative as an amendment to the defense policy bill as a way of advancing her Made in America Manufacturing Communities Act. As a stand-alone bill, that measure had been aimed at rebuilding the nation’s manufacturing base by offering designated communities a preference for receiving federal economic development funding. The version she offered during committee markup was revised to apply only to investments in manufacturing communities intended to enhance the defense industrial base.
Section 846 of the authorization bill calls for DOD to use a competitive process to designate eligible consortiums as defense manufacturing communities for a five-year period, with the option for renewing the designation for up to two additional two-year periods. Eligible consortiums would include partners from academia, industry, and state and local government, and support “efforts in geographical regions that have capabilities in key technologies or industrial base supply chains that are determined critical to national security.” Applicants would need to demonstrate how the investments they plan to address gaps in the defense industrial base complement efforts of the defense manufacturing institutes.
Before DOD can establish the Defense Manufacturing Community Support program, the initiative will need to attract funding in the FY 2019 defense spending bill. Gillibrand is expected to offer an amendment funding the program to the defense spending bill which is being debated on the Senate floor this week as part of a package with the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations title. Adding a new allocation to a spending bill on the floor is a tall order, though, and there is a good chance the new initiative won’t start before FY 2020.
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