The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) last week approved the FY2015 Defense Authorization Bill. The HASC bill authorizes $521.3 billion for the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Energy (DoE) nuclear weapons program.
The bill also authorizes $79.4 billion as a placeholder for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding in FY2014 (as requested) until the administration submits a detailed request.
The HASC bill provides military personnel with a 1.8 percent pay raise, almost twice the 1 percent raise requested in the president’s budget. The bill accepts the president’s proposal to freeze pay for General and Flag officers in FY2015. Last year (FY2014) the HASC also approved a 1.8 percent military pay raise, but saw its position overturned in conference with the Senate. The final FY2014 military pay raise was set at 1 percent.
The HASC bill rejects the president’s proposals to reduce the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), cut $1 billion from the annual commissary subsidy, and modernize and consolidate TRICARE programs for retirees under age 65, including some TRICARE co-pay increases.
The bill also rejects an administration proposal to initiate another Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round. HASC chair Rep. Buck McKeon’s position on BRAC (as stated in the committee bill summary) is that it would be “inappropriate at a time when the final size of the military and the structure needed to support it is still in flux.” HASC ranking minority leader Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) strongly disagreed and introduced an amendment to establish a base closure commission for another BRAC round in FY2017. However, he withdrew the amendment before a vote could be taken.
The HASC also denies administration proposals to terminate or reduce programs to save funds for higher priorities. The president’s FY2015 budget requested no funding for refueling USS George Washington, deferring a decision until the FY2016 budget. The HASC disagreed and included almost $800 million to refuel the aircraft carrier.
The committee-approved bill rejects the administration’s proposal to retire the A-10 fleet over five years and replace it with F-35’s. The chairman’s mark of the bill included a provision that would have put the A-10 in storage, but still available for use if needed. However, the full committee approved (41-20) an amendment by Rep. Ron Barber (D-AZ) that prohibits the Air Force from retiring the A-10 until after the General Accountability Office (GAO) completes a study evaluating the cost and capabilities of platforms used by the Air Force to conduct close air support missions. The GAO would also have to determine the ability of these platforms to carry out the mission.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reportedly is “not pleased” with the action taken by the HASC on the administration’s savings proposals. In a press briefing at the Pentagon last week, DoD Press Secretary Rear ADM John Kirby told reporters Secretary Hagel “resolutely stands by the budget we submitted” and hopes that Congress “will prove capable of seeing the wisdom in the decisions that we’ve made and being willing to make those same tough choices and putting national security first over parochial interests.”
The full committee approved 165 amendments to the chairman’s mark, one-third if which would require studies, plans, reports, reviews, briefings, evaluations, analyses or assessments regarding DoD programs.
An amendment by HASC chair Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) and Ranking Democrat Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) would reform the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) process to require tradeoff analyses between missions, risks, and resources and reshape the role of the National Defense Panel.
The full committee also accepted an amendment by Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) to create a DoD Audit Advisory Committee to monitor DoD’s progress on audit readiness.
A schedule for floor action on the bill has not yet been announced.