Webb: Defense bill advances key initiatives
The bill was reported out unanimously by the Senate Committee on Armed Services yesterday and goes to the full Senate for consideration.
“As chair of the Personnel Subcommittee, I am gratified by the strong bipartisan support the committee demonstrated for the many important personnel measures contained in my subcommittee’s markup,” Sen. Webb said.
“Overall, the bill will sustain important quality-of-life programs for our people and their families, address the needs of our warfighters, and sharpen the Defense Department’s proper focus on advancing our national-security interests in the Pacific Region. Other provisions also will strengthen the Department’s stewardship of taxpayer dollars.”
The Committee’s markup agreement would authorize a 1.7 percent across-the-board pay raise for all members of the uniformed services, matching the annual increase in the Employment Cost Index. It also establishes a Commission to review military pay and benefits, including the retirement benefit. The NDAA blocks a controversial proposal by the Department of Defense to establish enrollment fees for TRICARE Standard and TRICARE for Life, or to increase TRICARE deductibles or the annual catastrophic cap. Following Webb’s strong opposition last year to proposed increases in health care fees for military retirees, the 2012 defense bill limited the annual increases of TRICARE Prime enrollment fees to the amount equal to the percentage increase in retired pay beginning October 1, 2012, which was lower than the administration’s original proposal. During a March 2012 Armed Services hearing, he demonstrated how the proposed increases would affect retirees at different income levels and warned about how such changes would be viewed by those currently serving in the military.
“As someone who grew up in the military and served in the military, I start from the presumption that lifetime health care for career military personnel is part of a moral contract between our government and those who have stepped forward to serve,” said Webb. “By rejecting these shortsighted and unfair new enrollment fees for TRICARE programs, the committee upheld this moral contract with our men and women in uniform, their families, and military retirees.”
Provisions for Realignment of U.S. Forces in East Asia and the Pacific
The NDAA includes several provisions championed by Webb regarding the realignment of U.S. military forces in East Asia to ensure a strong presence in the region, while reducing costs and impact on local communities. Last year, Webb drafted a set of basing recommendations that resulted in several major reporting provisions being incorporated in the 2012 NDAA and signed into law. Subsequently, the United States and Japan adopted major adjustments this year for the realignment of U.S. forces.
Sen. Webb’s recommendations were based on his long-standing interaction with the Pacific region that spans more than 40 years, including service as a Marine Corps infantry officer during the Vietnam war, a defense planner who wrote a region-wide facilities analysis for the Governor of Guam in 1974, a Department of Defense official whose responsibilities included evaluating mobilization scenarios for Secretary of Defense Weinberger, and a writer and journalist who has spent a great deal of time in Asia. As chairman of the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Webb has visited East and Southeast Asia regularly during his time in the U.S. Senate.
The 2013 NDAA restricts funds to implement the Department of Defense’s revised basing realignment until: (1) the Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command provides an assessment of the strategic and logistical resources needed to ensure the lay-down meets contingency operations plans; (2) the Secretary of Defense submits master plans for construction of facilities and infrastructure, including description of costs and schedules; (3) the Secretary of the Navy submits a plan for proposed investments and schedules to restore facilities and infrastructure at the Marine Corps base at Futenma; and (4) a plan coordinated by all federal agencies is submitted detailing work, costs, and schedule for completing construction, improvements, and repairs to non-military facilities and infrastructure on Guam affected by the realignment.
The NDAA expresses the Senate Armed Services Committee’s unwillingness to authorize funding for realignment plans until it is provided details needed to assess the strategic impact, feasibility, and affordability of the lay-down’s initiatives. The Government Accountability Office was directed to report on all costs of the realignment by March 1, 2013.
The NDAA also calls for a timeline for the identification of alternatives to the proposed replacement of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma with a new facility at Camp Schwab in Henoko, including the reconsideration of existing military air bases and other airport facilities in the area, in order to allow for prudent and critical investments in the current Marine Corps air station.
“The success of U.S. diplomatic, economic, and military relationships in Asia is guaranteed by the stability our forward-deployed military forces provide and by our continuing close alliances in the region,” said Webb, who has visited Okinawa three times in as many years, most recently in April 2012. “The failure to resolve a 15-year dispute surrounding U.S. military bases in Okinawa has resulted in a volatile political debate in Japan. It is in our national interest that this matter be resolved both quickly and smartly, for the well-being of our alliance and the stability of the region.”
Wartime Contracting Reform Provisions
The NDAA includes seven major provisions on wartime contracting drawn from legislation introduced earlier this year by Sens. Webb and Claire McCaskill, and from recommendations by the U.S. Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan—an independent, bipartisan panel Sens. Webb and McCaskill created through legislation introduced in 2007.
Included in these provisions is a requirement for DOD to prescribe in regulations the chain of authority and responsibility for policy, planning and execution of contract support for overseas contingency operations. It requires consideration of contract support for contingency operations in the DOD readiness reporting system, the contingency planning functions of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the curriculum for joint professional military education and the DOD structure for management of contract services. Another provision requires DOD to perform a comprehensive risk assessment and develop a risk mitigation plan for operational political risks associated with contractor performance of critical functions–including private security functions, training of foreign government personnel, and intelligence and information operations–in support of an overseas contingency operation.
“While recognizing the important work that has been done by the great majority of our wartime-support contractors, these provisions will improve government oversight, management, and accountability in the contracting processes, where past failures resulted in unacceptable costs, excessive waste, and substandard performance in far too many areas,” said Webb.
In addition, the NDAA includes provisions, which will directly benefit Virginians, including:
· Rejecting DOD’s request for two BRAC rounds in FY13 and FY15;
· Repealing flawed provisions in the FY12 NDAA relating to depot-level maintenance retroactive to date of enactment; this will benefit Virginia’s shipbuilding and ship-repair industries and workers;
· Funding 10 U.S. Navy ships, with advance procurement funding authorized to support buying an additional Virginia-class submarine in FY 2014, and a 10-ship, multi-year procurement contract for DDG-51 guided-missile destroyers that should generate enough savings to purchase an added ship in FY 2014; and
· Transferring land from Fort Lee to Petersburg National Battlefield.
Sen. Webb concluded by saying, “This is last defense authorization bill that I will help to develop as a member of the Armed Services Committee. During my tenure, I believe the Personnel Subcommittee has produced legislation that has significantly enhanced the quality of life of our active duty, National Guard, and Reserve members, DOD civilian personnel, and their families who stand by them. I have fought to restore proper rotational policies for our troops and to ensure that all those who serve receive fair and adequate compensation, benefits, and the world-class health care they have earned.”
Sen. Webb is also the author of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, which provides those who have served since 9/11 the most comprehensive educational benefits since World War II. To date, Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits have been awarded to more than 700,000 veterans.
A comprehensive report of the 2013 NDAA is available on the Senate Armed Services Committee’s website: http://armed-services.senate.gov/press/SASC.NDAA.052412.pdf.