21 April 2016 Legislative News Update
weekly electronic newsletter, and is published
every Thursday when Congress is in session.
AUSA ON THE HILL
With Congress about to start writing the 2017 defense budget, the president and CEO of the Association of the U.S. Army met April 14 with a key House subcommittee chairman to talk about Army priorities.
Retired Army Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, AUSA’s leader since 1998, met with Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. Frelinghuysen, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, has been a member of AUSA since 1984.
In a discussion about the challenging global strategic situation and the current funding environment on Capitol Hill, Sullivan asked for the congressman’s help in providing budget stability for the Army. Sullivan urged an end to sequestration, the budget mechanism that cuts spending when Congress and the White House cannot agree on budget priorities, and he also requested help finding $2.5 billion to cover added personnel costs if the Army temporarily stops the drawdown.
AUSA supports the POSTURE Act, a bill that would stop reductions in the Regular Army, Army Guard and Army Reserve. Army leaders have expressed support for the bill, but are worried about how to cover the costs of having more soldiers than budgeted.
While making no specific promises, Frelinghuysen said his subcommittee would attempt to find money for the Army if the House Armed Services Committee stops or slows cuts.
Frelinghuysen cautioned there are many competing needs across the joint force, and there are limited resources. He would not make any commitments, but he assured Sullivan that the subcommittee works very closely with the authorizing committees. If the House Armed Services Committee bill pauses the end- strength drawdown, the defense appropriations subcommittee will look at it in detail to determine the necessary resources to keep the Army strong.
HOUSE DEFENSE PANEL RELEASES DRAFT POLICY BILL
The subcommittees of the House Armed Services Committee marked up their respective portions of the fiscal 2017 defense authorization bill this week ahead of the full committee’s consideration next week.
We know that the Personnel Subcommittee’s mark would increase the Army’s active duty end strength by 20,000 to 480,000, up from the 460,000 requested by the administration. The Army National Guard would get 15,000 new troops while the Army Reserve would increase by 10,000. The president’s budget requested 335,000 for the Guard and 195,000 for the Army Reserve.
The subcommittee would provide a 2.1 percent pay raise for military personnel. That is a half percentage point higher than the president’s request.
Much of the language released by the subcommittee dealt with changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. If it became law, retaliation for reporting sexual assaults and other offenses would be a crime. The bill would also expand the statute of limitations for child abuse offenses and fraudulent enlistment.
Language in the report would authorize the Secretary of Defense “to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to optimize practices across the defense commissary and exchange system that reduce the reliance of the system on appropriated funds without reducing the benefits to the patrons of the system.”
In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., said that the proposal would, “Reform the Commissary system in a way that preserves this valuable benefit, while also improving the system so it remains a good value for the shoppers, a good value for the taxpayer dollars invested within it, and can continue to support morale, welfare, and recreational activities.”
We don’t know what the highly anticipated military health care reform will be. Heck said the subcommittee was still “working to complete our reform of the military healthcare system” and that “I believe the health care reform package you will see next week reflects our commitment to ensure the military health system can sustain the readiness of both our military healthcare providers and the overall force while providing a quality health benefit that is valued by its beneficiaries.”
Members of the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee agreed with the report recently released by the National Commission on the Future of the Army who recommended that the National Guard be allowed to keep four of its eight AH-64 Apache battalions, instead of losing them all to the regular Army, as initially proposed in the Army Aviation Restructuring Initiative.
The committee also agreed to authorize multiyear procurement authorities for UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and support the realignment of funds within the European Reassurance Initiative to allow the Army to procure the most modernized and upgraded versions of Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, as requested by the Army.
Again this year, the Subcommittee on Readiness will reject the administration’s request for a new round of base realignment and closure. However, we expect to hear more about it as the bill moves forward because Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee has been very outspoken on the need to shed unneeded military assets.
Bolstering his argument is a Defense Department report recently provided to Congress that stated that DoD’s excess infrastructure is 22 percent. The report said that the Army’s infrastructure is 33 percent more than needed.
However, Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, questioned the report. He said, “No one believes that the current military force structure is adequate to meet the threats we face. Just this month, senior commanders testified that our military is too small. Assessing our capacity based on an inadequate force structure makes no sense. It would lock in a future where our stressed military becomes permanently gutted.”
Another item sure to be included in the authorization bill is language from H.R. 4741, The Acquisition Agility Act, H.R. 4741. Introduced by Chairman Thornberry in March, the bill includes “foundational reforms that are intended to help get better technology into the hands of the warfighter faster and more efficiently. It does that by simplifying the process and expanding the avenues of competition for suppliers of all sizes. Building on the lessons from successful military innovation of the past, these critical reforms will promote experimentation and prototyping, not only to field capability, but to learn and develop new operational concepts,” a statement released by the committee states.
The full committee markup of the defense authorization bill is scheduled for Wednesday, April 27.