Be sure to catch up on today's pre-PDI happenings here.
Last week the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) approved the FY2016 Defense Authorization bill by a vote of 22-4. Four Democrats, including Ranking Member Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), voted against the bill. The House passed its version of the bill this week.
The bill authorizes force levels, programs, and policies (including military pay raises) for DoD budgets and the programs and policies for the Department of Energy (DoE) nuclear weapons program. Appropriations bills provide actual funding.
The SASC bill authorizes a total of $612 billion, including about $485 billion for the Department of Defense (DoD) base budget and $89 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). A provision in the bill would allow DoD to transfer $38 billion from OCO to the base budget if defense and nondefense funding caps are revised in legislation.
Sen. Reed, and other Senate Democrats are concerned that including the additional base budget funding in OCO to get around defense funding caps (set in the Budget Control Act) could lead to cuts to nondefense programs. They are pushing for a deal to revise these caps. The White House has threatened a presidential veto of any bill that increases defense funding at the expense of nondefense programs.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter also criticized this mechanism telling a Senate Committee that this approach is “a road to nowhere” that risks the incremental funding approach for OCO.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) SASC chairman, called the bill a “reform bill.” “It tackles acquisition reform, military retirement reform, personnel reform, headquarters and management reform,” he said. He stressed the reforms in the bill will yield savings that can be reinvested in military capabilities.
The SASC bill proposes a “multi-year effort” to improve DoD acquisition system’s structure and process. The SASC proposal is framed in five objectives: 1) establish effective accountability by streamlining decision making and giving a larger role to the service chiefs under performance agreements; 2) develop alternative acquisition pathways including “rapid prototyping and rapid fielding within five years; 3) improve access to non-traditional and commercial contractors by making it easier for such firms to do business with DoD; 4) deregulate and streamline processes by reducing unneeded requirements, reports, and certification; and 5) improve the acquisition workforce by reauthorizing the “Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund,” establishing direct hire authorities, and creating enhanced dual-track career paths.
The bill (similar to the House-passed bill) includes a recommendation from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission calling for a “blended” military retirement system. Under the bill, new service members would be automatically enrolled in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) with a matching contribution from DoD that could go to 5 percent, starting in FY2018. Current servicemembers could choose to join the plan.
The bill also proposes a management reform plan that would “focus limited resources on operations rather than administration.” The proposal would cut funding for “headquarters and administrative functions” DoD-wide by 7.5 percent each year for four years, saving $1.7 billion in FY2016 and reaching annual savings of $6.8 billion by the fourth year. The bill directs the Secretary of Defense to conduct a “comprehensive review of the management, headquarters, and organization of the Department of Defense” and directs the DoD Inspector General to “perform financial statement audits by contracting with independent external auditors.”
The SASC bill approves the president’s request for a 1.3 percent military pay raise, lower than the 2.3 percent military raise included in the House-passed bill.
Like the House, the SASC bill rejects administration proposals to set enrollment fees for TRICARE for Life beneficiaries or consolidate the TRICARE program, retire the A-10 attack jet fleet, and to initiate another Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round.
Unlike the House-passed bill, the SASC bill approves the president’s request to reduce the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) and to use commissary surcharge funds to purchase operating supplies.
Agreeing with the House, the bill also funds 12 more F/A-18E/F Hornet aircraft for the Navy (+$1.2 billion) and 6 more F-35B aircraft for the Marine Corps (+$1 billion), which were identified by the Services as unfunded priorities.
The full Senate is expected to take up the bill in June after returning from the Memorial Day recess.
The House passed its version of the FY2016 Defense Authorization bill, 269-151 last week. The vote was primarily along party lines as 228 Republicans were joined by 41 Democrats in voting for the bill. Only 8 Republicans voted against the bill.
The House bill authorizes $515 billion for the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Energy (DoE) nuclear weapons program. The authorized amount for the base DoD budget is about $496 billion.
The bill also authorizes $89 billion for FY2016 Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding. The president requested $50.9 billion for OCO. The additional $38.3 billion in the House bill is for O&M requirements from the base bill.
Including base funding in the OCO account (considered emergency and not counted against the budget caps) allows the House to authorize $585 billion ($496 billion in base funds and $89 billion in OCO) for DoD in FY2016. This is essentially the same as the president’s request for total DoD funding ($534 billion in base funding and $51 billion in OCO).
Most Democrats strongly disapprove of this approach because they say it could lead to large cuts in nondefense spending. They call for a solution to sequestration that would increase nondefense as well as defense funding.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter also decried the use of this method of increasing defense finding. In his testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee Carter said “while this approach clearly recognizes that the budget total we’ve requested is needed, the avenue it takes is just as clearly a road to nowhere.” Carter further said the House proposal “risks undermining support for a mechanism – OCO – meant to fund incremental costs of overseas conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.”
The White House reacted strongly to the House bill issuing a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) that threatened a presidential veto. The SAP expressed strong concerns that “shifting base budget resources into OCO…fails to provide a stable, multi-year budget on which defense planning is based.”
The House FY2016 Defense Authorization bill would provide military personnel with a 2.3 percent pay raise by allowing the current pay raise calculation procedures to go into effect, unless the president recommends an alternative. The president has requested a 1.3 percent military pay raise for FY2016.
The bill also rejects administration proposals to increase commissary prices to pay for operating costs, raise TRICARE fees, and lower the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). The bill denies the administration’s plan to retire the A-10 attack jet fleet and rejects a proposal to initiate another Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round.
The House bill includes a recommendation from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission that called for a “blended” military retirement system. Under the bill, new service members would be automatically enrolled in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) with a matching contribution from DoD starting in FY2018. The servicemember’s contribution (3 percent initially) would be matched by a 1 percent contribution by DoD (that could go up to 5 percent).
The bill also puts forward the first components of a plan to reform defense acquisition. The bill calls for streamlining the acquisition process, reducing the number of legal certifications, giving acquisition program managers greater flexibility to address programmatic risk, providing a “Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund,” and authorizing expedited authorities for hiring and training the acquisition workforce.
The bill also adds funds 12 more F/A 18-F Hornet aircraft for the Navy (+$1.2 billion) and 6 more F-35B aircraft for the Marine Corps (+$1 billion), which were identified by the services as unfunded priorities.
The full House considered more than 135 floor amendments approving all but a few. The House approved a floor amendment that would require the secretary of defense to certify that Army Active end strength levels below 490,000 will support the security strategy. Of broader interest to policymakers, the House rejected a Committee provision allowing children of illegal immigrants to serve in the armed forces in the future.
Dick Vincent Award $3,000 Recipient
Carolyn Prickett, Hampton Roads
Anthony Lara – Land of Lincoln
Antoinette Rosinski, Central NY Leatherstocking
Chante Haskins, Southside Virginia
Christina Diana Crisostomo, Land of Lincoln
Heather Crews, Indianapolis
Jennifer Miller, Mount Vernon
Kenneth Suazo, San Diego
Mahmud Islam, Buckeye
Teresa Kemp, Indianapolis
Todd Handy, Indianapolis