A compromise defense authorization unveiled Monday afternoon provides several assurances to the defense industrial base by restoring funding for maintenance availabilities canceled due to a lack of funding, supporting platform acquisition and highlighting industrial base preservation and small business participation.
The new bill combines the House-passed language, the bill passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee but stalled on the Senate floor, and dozens of amendments set to be offered on the Senate floor that were not allowed to be brought up. It allows for $552.1 billion in defense spending and $80.7 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funds, consistent with both the House and Senate bills and the administration’s request.
Though sequestration would still hit defense spending if the House and Senate budget committees do not act–which House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) made clear to reporters Monday evening was out of his control–the bill does seek to reduce the harm sequestration has had on the military’s readiness accounts.
“Heeding the repeated warnings of America’s senior commanders, the [National Defense Authorization Act] restores vital readiness accounts by replacing funds reprogrammed to cover underfunded combat operations and addressing other vital operations and maintenance programs; while remaining consistent with House budget levels,” according to a fact sheet HASC released Monday. The new bill provides for “replenishing readiness accounts raided in prior years to cover underfunded war costs. This includes restoring Army and Air Force flying hour programs, facilities sustainment, ship depot maintenance for each service, Army [operations tempo], depot maintenance, Navy critical spares and combat support forces equipment and sustainment, and provides for the stabilization of fuel rates.”
Aside from protecting current readiness, the bill seeks to look after longer-term interests by preserving new vehicle and weapon acquisition and taking industrial base health into consideration, according to the fact sheet. The bill includes authorization of “for a nuclear aircraft carrier, CVN-78; multi-year procurement for the E-2D Hawkeye and C-130J Super Hercules; modernization of the C-130H aircraft for the National Guard and Reserve; support for KC-46 tanker, the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B), additional funding for advance procurement of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the Marine Corps Amphibious Combat Vehicle; and additional investment in the Air Force MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial systems.”
The support does not come without some additional oversight, however–measures largely consistent with what the House included in its bill and its committee report, passed in June. It takes the House’s additional reporting requirements on the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship program and the multi-service Joint Strike Fighter, and it includes the House’s concern with the Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class Flight III destroyer design. It limits funding for the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle development until the Army secretary submits a status update to Congress, and it also requires the Army secretary to report on a strategy to improve the fuel efficiency of the M1 Abrams tank, both of which come from the House bill.
The compromise bill also maintains a concern for the ground vehicle industrial base, outlined in the House’s committee report from June. “The NDAA continues investment in the Army’s combat vehicle industrial base by providing additional funding for Abrams tank upgrades and heavy equipment improved recovery vehicles,” according to the fact sheet. “The additional funding will ensure we maintain a viable industrial base and avoid unnecessary national risk from relying solely on foreign military sales to sustain this critical national capability.”
It also includes House provisions to help small businesses grow and compete for Defense Department contracts, as well as to strengthen the Procurement Technical Assistance Cooperative Agreement Program.
To allow for these acquisition programs to continue despite tight budgets, the bill also seeks efficiencies in the military. It requires the defense secretary to develop a plan for the future of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) and to determine if the Air-Sea Battle Office is duplicative of Joint Staff efforts. It proposes changes and cuts to the staffs of the combatant commands, service secretaries and the defense secretary. And it cuts 24 flag officer billets.
All these gains for the industrial base, however, depends on Congress actually passing the bill. The House would have to pass it this week before it adjourns for the rest of the year on Friday, and then the Senate would have to pass it–with no amendments allowed–next week before it adjourns Dec. 20. Speaking to reporters on Monday evening, McKeon said the bill would be introduced in the “next couple days,” and he could not guarantee House leadership support for it–he said he had spoken to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) separately, but neither was willing to assure him he’d get a vote until they spoke to each other.
If the bill passes, it then goes to the Senate, where Republicans were not willing to pass the bill before Thanksgiving in part because Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was not willing to allow amendments to the bill. To pass the compromise bill by the end of the calendar year, the Senate would have to pass the exact same bill as the House, without amendments, so it is unclear if senators who took issue with the process before will block the bill again next week.
Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) told reporters at a Monday evening press conference that the situation is different now. Whereas before lawmakers had the luxury of arguing over the process, “I think these individuals are now looking at it as, it’s no longer the choice of do I get a process where my amendments are going to be considered or not; it’s, do I want a bill or do I not? And I think they are going to do the responsible thing and come to the conclusion that having a bill far outweighs” not having a bill, he said.
SASC Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said that the two committees “did a reasonably good job addressing the issues they wanted to address in the amendments in this freestanding bill,” so he hopes senators who had legitimate, defense-related issues they wanted to address via amendments feel like their views are reflected in this compromise bill.
“The only way that we’re going to be able to pass a defense bill is by reaching an agreement, which we have, with our House counterparts on a bill that at least has a chance of getting passed without amendment in both houses,” Levin said. “That is the best hope we have. … It’s not the way we obviously desire to legislate, we would have much more than a week to offer amendments if we could, but that’s not the world we live in.”