Last week the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) approved its version of the FY2012 Defense Authorization bill.  The Defense Authorization bill authorizes force levels, programs, and policies (including military pay raises) for DoD budgets.  Appropriations bills provide actual funding (appropriations) for DoD.

According to the committee press release, the SASC bill authorizes $547.1 billion for the Department of Defense (DoD) base budget, including military construction, $5.9 billion less that the president’s request. The bill would authorize $117 billion for overseas contingency operations (OCO) in FY2012, $.5 billion less than requested.  These authorization levels contrast with those in the bill passed by the House before Memorial Day.  The House-passed bill would authorize $553 billion, the president’s request for the DoD base budget, and $119 billion for OCO.

The SASC bill approves the 1.6 percent military pay raise proposed by the president and approved in the House-passed bill.  It would authorize requested troop strength levels, except for an increase in the number of some Marine Corps active duty officers (major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel).  The bill does not oppose a small increase in the TRICARE Prime fee (requested by the president), but caps future increases at no more than the percentage increase in retired pay.  The SASC bill also provides $32.2 billion for the Defense health Program, more than $100 million above the request.

The bill essentially authorizes the funding requested by the president for most major weapons systems.  The bill authorizes full funding for:  most shipbuilding programs; the Ohio-class replacement program; F-35 (Joint Strike Fighter) and C-130J aircraft; H-60 Blackhawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters; and the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) and STRYKER vehicle programs.  The SASC bill adds $322 million for 49 additional M1 Abrams tank upgrades.  Major program funding cuts proposed by the SASC include:  $495 million to the F/A-18E/F (due to funding in the FY2011 OCO account); $452 million to the Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System (EMAARS); and $200 million to the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS).  The bill would cut $407 million from the Ballistic Missile Defense program request by authorizing no funding for the Medium Extended Air Defense System.

The SASC bill does not authorize funding for an alternative engine for the F-35, a position strongly supported by Secretary Gates.  The House bill would limit funding for performance improvements to the F-35 engine unless there is a competitive development and production of such improvements.  The president has threatened to veto a bill that contains the House provision because it could reopen a second engine program.

The bill cuts Operations and Maintenance (O&M) programs by over $2 billion.  The bill proposes freezing funding for contract services at the FY2010 level, producing $1.1 billion in savings.  The committee explained that this move matches the freeze on the civilian workforce.  The bill would also cut $684 million for excess unobligated balances and $269 million from the Air Force for administration and other service-wide activities.  The SASC bill also cuts $230 million from DoD business systems funding.  The committee expects this cut to be achieved by eliminating funding to maintain obsolete or unneeded systems and implementing a new approval requirement for spending on business systems.  The bill does authorize an additional; $44 million for the DoD Inspector General (IG) to enable more effective oversight and identification of waste, fraud, and abuse (especially in procurement).

The SASC bill would reduce the military construction authorization request by over $1 billion.  Funding for incrementally-funded projects would be reduced by $500 million.  Funding for overseas construction projects considered “ahead of need” would be cut by $180 million and projects for the realigning Marine Corps forces from Okinawa to Guam are reduced by $150 million.

The SASC bill will now go to the Senate floor for consideration.