Today, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) approved the FY2012 Defense Authorization Bill.  According to the committee press release, the HASC bill authorizes $553 billion for the Department of Defense (DoD), equal to the administration’s request.  The bill also authorizes $119 billion requested for overseas contingency operations in FY2012. 

The HASC bill approves the 1.6 percent military pay raise proposed by the president and authorizes troop strength levels request by the president.  The bill includes a small increase in the TRICARE Prime fee, but caps future increases at no more than the cost-of-living adjustment.  In past bills, Congress has usually prohibited such increases.

The committee approved an amendment offered by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) that could delay implementing repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy regarding gays serving openly in the military.  Under the bill, implementing the repeal could not proceed until all members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that repeal will not degrade the readiness of combat forces.  The FY2011 Defense Authorization Act repealed the policy and required such certification by only the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary of Defense, and the president.

The HASC bill, for the most part, supports DoD’s request for major weapons programs.  It authorizes building 10 ships and approves requested funding for all major aircraft procurement programs.  However, the committee did add $153 million for Bradley Mods and $272 million for Abrams tank upgrades and increased requested funding for the Ground Based Midcourse Defense program by $100 million.  The bill also would increase funding for Special Operations Forces requirements.

In a move that could revise the F-35 (JSF) alternative engine program, the bill would reopen competition for the engine if DoD asks Congress for more funds because the contractor failed to meet performance goals.  Secretary Gates has consistently argued against funding this program and had succeeded in getting Congress to exclude funds from the FY2011 DoD appropriations bill.  Recently, DoD issued a stop work order on the alternative engine.  Opponents of this provision are expected to try to strike this provision when the full House takes up the bill.

The bill approved funding increases for a number of O&M programs.  It added $1.3 billion for facilities sustainment, restoration, and modernization and increased funding for Army base operations by $230 million.  The committee also added funds for ship and aircraft depot maintenance and Guard and Reserve flight training.  However, this additional funding did not come without cost.  The bill makes a $1.7 billion undistributed reduction to O&M accounts due to high unobligated balances. 

The bill includes provisions related to DoD financial management oversight.  It would establish a financial management certification program and require DoD’s Chief Management Officer (CMO) to assess financial management personnel competency to identify requirements needed to perform financial, budgetary, and accounting processes and to maintain certification standards.  The bill would also require DoD to include specific lines in the budget for execution of the Financial Improvement and Audit Readiness (FIAR) plan, develop performance metrics to measure progress, and prepare strategies to mitigate failure to meet set deadlines.

The full House is expected to consider the bill before Memorial day.