This week the Senate passed the FY2017 Defense Authorization bill by a large majority.
The bill authorizes force levels, programs, and policies (including military pay raises) for Department of Defense (DoD) budgets and the programs and policies for the Department of Energy (DoE) nuclear weapons program. Appropriations bills provide actual funding.
Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) chair Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) praised the bipartisan support for the bill saying “I’m very proud that the Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 with an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 85-13.” Forty-eight Republicans, thirty-six Democrats, and one Independent voted for the bill.
The House passed its version of the defense authorization bill in May 277-147.
The Senate bill would authorize a total of $602 billion, including $543 billion for the FY2017 DoD base budget. The bill also would provide $59 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) costs in FY2017, the same amount requested by the president for OCO.
The House bill also authorizes $543 billion for DoD, but provides another $23.1 billion in OCO funding to be used for base budget requirements. The House bill authorizes only $36 billion for OCO through April 2017.
The Senate failed (56-42) to garner the 60 votes needed to approve an amendment by Sen. McCain that would have added another $18 billion to the Senate bill. A proposal by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) to add $18 billion to nondefense budgets also failed.
The Senate bill would approve the president’s request for a 1.6 percent military pay raise, rather than the 2.1 percent military raise included in the House bill. The Senate also did not follow the House increases to the authorized active duty and reserve strength levels. Proposals to match the House bill's military pay raise and higher military end-strength levels failed on the Senate floor.
The Senate bill also differs fro the House bill in changes to TRICARE. The Senate would authorize three new TRICARE health plans—TRICARE Prime, TRICARE Choice, and TRICARE Supplemental, while the House bill provides two TRICARE options—TRICARE Prime and TRICARE Preferred.
The Senate bill would require the registration of women for the draft. The House Rules Committee did not allow House consideration of a narrowly approved (32-30) House Armed Services Committee proposal that supported draft registration for women.
The Senate did join the House in rejecting the administration's call for another Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round.
Sen. McCain emphasized the bill's support for DoD organization and acquisition reform, calling the bill “the most significant piece of defense reform legislation passed by the Senate in 30 years.”
The Senate bill would reset “the roles and missions of the senior officials in DoD, as well as their relationships with each other.” Legislation would limit the National Security Council (NSC) staff to 150, clarify the role of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS), and clarify the primary duties of the Combatant Commanders (COCOMs). The Senate would establish a Combatant Commanders Council (COCOMs, Chairman and Vice Chairman of the JCS, and the Secretary of Defense) to assist in the execution of strategy
The bill would lower the number of general and flag officers by 25 percent, reduce the number of authorized four-star billets from the current 41 to 27, cut the number of Senior Executive Service (SES) civilian employees by 25 percent, and reduce spending on contractors by 25 percent by January 2019 from a FY2016 baseline.
The Senate bill's acquisition reforms focus on accountability, new sources of innovation, and an improved acquisition workforce.
The bill would replace the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (AT&L) with an Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (R&E) and an Under Secretary of Defense of Management and Support and create a new Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition Policy and Oversight to set defense-wide acquisition and industrial base policy.
The bill would streamline the regulation of commercial items and off the-shelf commercial items and establish preferences for commercial services and fixed-price contracts.
The Senate would authorize more flexible hiring and compensation practices, improve the Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund, and establish competitively-selected senior military acquisition advisors in the Defense Acquisition Corps.
The White House, like it did with the House bill, issued a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) threatening a veto of the Senate bill as passed. The SAP expressed strong objections to the bill's organizational changes, rejection of another BRAC, prescription of contractual methods, and the restrictions regarding detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
House and Senate conferees will now have to adjudicate the differences in the two bills to try to achieve a bill the president will sign.