LEGION-RELATED LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS
The House and Senate were in session this week. Both chambers will be in recess next week for a home work period.
LEGISLATIVE DIVISION ACTIONS
House Armed Services Subcommittee Conducts Oversight Hearing
On April 16 the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities conducted an oversight hearing to investigate the Department of Defense’s (DOD) science and technology (S&T) programs. The witnesses included:
• Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, Chief of Naval Research, Navy, DOD
• Ms Mary Miller, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research & Technology, DOD
• Dr. Arati Prabhakar, Director, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
• Mr. Alan Shaffer, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, DOD
• Dr. David Walker, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Science, Technology and Engineering, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Acquisition, DOD
In his opening comments, Chairman Mac Thornberry (TX) said the money spent on S&T is the basis of the country’s future security. The good news is the proposed budgets for these programs are flat, so at least they are not decreasing.
Ranking Member Jim Langevin (RI) also said the health and vibrancy of the S&T programs are critical to the nation’s defense. He expressed deep concern over the effect of sequestration on these programs. DOD has an important role to play across the STEM spectrum. As DOD’s S&T programs become more sophisticated, they will need access to an increasingly sophisticated workforce. He asked whether congressional action is needed to ensure the vitality of any of DOD’s laboratory programs. He was particularly interested in the directed energy field. He also wanted to learn more about unmanned undersea vehicles and about DOD’s cyber-defense program.
Mr. Shaffer said the military’s scientists and engineers work to ensure the country’s service members have access to unmatched technologies to support their warfighting and other missions. As the war in Afghanistan winds down, the department is moving into budgetary uncertainty and reductions. The sequester takes about 9 percent from each S&T program line. This will result in a reduction of awards and grants and cause delays in a number of programs. Potentially, DOD could be forced to reduce the number of SMART scholarships awarded to zero. Pentagon leadership has made the choice to protect S&T programs as much as possible, in light of the global threat that still exists. S&T should do three things for national security. First, it should mitigate new and emerging capabilities that could denigrate US security. Second, it should affordably provide new capabilities to existing military platforms. Third, it should discover how new technologies apply to military needs and goals. He described various ways in which the S&T program addresses each of these goals.
Ms. Miller said the world has seen the benefit and impact technology brings to the battlefield. The Army’s program has directly addressed hard problems faced by soldiers. The Army’s future program depends upon solutions that are both affordable and versatile. Army S&T fosters innovation, maturation, and demonstration of increased capabilities for soldiers. Even while focusing on the future, the program also seeks any opportunity for transitioning new technologies to the current force. Budget uncertainties make it even more important for the Army S&T program to fully understand what it needs to develop for future needs, to face an enemy who is likely to be more capable than today’s enemies, such as along the Pacific Rim. The Army must fully understand its current capabilities as well as evolving threats. Thus, the Army has initiated a comprehensive strategic modernization strategy to better facilitate decision making based on long-term objectives within a resource-constrained environment. This forces a new look at what else they must do over the next 30 years. This is how they will identify key areas for stable investment. The FY 2014 budget shows a clear move away from advanced technology development in compliance with budgeting guidance. This resulted in many projects being slowed. There is an increase in efforts to assess the nation’s vulnerabilities. Investments in S&T are a critical hedge to obtaining an edge. This includes the development of the next generation of scientists and engineers. Sequestration impacts not only technology investment but also the ability to grow the future workforce. Miller stressed the importance of the Army leveraging the work of its sister forces and working together with them.
Admiral Klunder said his program strives to create game changing technologies while achieving affordability. Cyberwarfare challenges will only increase going into the future. Sequestration has meant the Navy has had to cancel some programs with universities. The Navy does have some weapons in development that address the very asymmetrical operational costs compared to what the enemy is using. One example of this is the laser weapon already in the prototype stage. He promised it works, with a testing rate of 12 for 12 with the prototype. The Navy is also working to make existing systems more affordable for them to operate.
Dr. Walker talked about the general threat around the world. The Air Force’s FY 2014 S&T budget is a slight increase over last year’s budget, with the request reflecting leadership’s strong support for the S&T program. He assured the Members the program fully supports warfighters’ needs. Dr. Walker further highlighted the Air Force’s work to fight cyberwarfare.
Dr. Prabhakar said DOD’s scientific success will rely upon not only the Armed Services’ programs but also upon partnerships with universities and commercial companies. DARPA has traditionally helped to develop those giant leaps in capability. In cyber, DARPA is helping to create entirely new ways and tools of fighting cyberwarfare. Advanced electronics and biological advances are showing promising ways to develop greater tools for leaders to defend the country. To continue DARPA’s mission, they will need ongoing budget certainty and enough resources. Prabhakar thanked the Members for the hiring flexibility providing to the agency last year. That has enabled DARPA to get the people they need so badly. Sequestration is requiring cuts of about 8 percent from each spending line. There will also be a department-wide furlough. She stressed that telling these driven people they cannot work one day a week is "corrosive" to the workforce’s morale.
Rep. Chris Gibson (NY) asked where the department is going on nanotechnology. Prabhakar said nanotechnology is a tool that is now revealing new ways of doing things. For example, it has allowed them to shrink MEUs much smaller for use in cybertechnology and defense. Shaffer explained that part of his job is to align the S&T programs across the Armed Services. His office leads meetings in which the services plan out and align their programs. These meetings help to eliminate duplication as well as to better target needs. As for nanotechnology, Shaffer agreed this area shows great promise in making equipment smaller and lighter. Klunder promised that lightening the load is a high priority for Navy and Marine Corps leadership. Gibson mused that it might be a good idea to create an FFRDC for nanotechnology or to take some other action to further research in this area.
Rep. Langevin was very concerned about the impact of DOD’s planned reprogramming of Defense funds upon S&T. Shaffer promised Pentagon leadership fully supports S&T and understands the need for a long-term, stable funding base. He does not believe there will be wholesale pilfering of S&T accounts for the reprogramming. The other witnesses also said their leadership fully supports and protects S&T and its funding requirements, except for Prabhakar, who said nothing.
In response to another question, Prabhakar explained DARPA’s responsibility in cyberwarfare is not operational. Instead, DARPA is looking for a new way to look at cybersecurity. Rather than make it as human intensive as it is today, their efforts are working at finding ways to automate more of those capabilities. They are also looking for ways to more fully integrate cyberwarfare into the overall warfight.
Rep. Vicky Hartzler (MO) asked about silicon nitrate. Miller said the Army is examining armor solutions for tactical vehicles. They are looking at six different competing companies. That will be narrowed down to two vendors for further development. Silicon nitrate is one of the possible armor solutions. At this point, it does not meet the Army’s needs, but the companies involved are continuing to work on the product. Hartzler also asked if the funding is adequate for the tactical vehicle armor program. Miller replied she does think the program is adequately funded. Klunder said the laser weapon system has been tested in several types of environments on various kinds of ships and platforms. That process is continuing.
Rep. Susan Davis (CA) brought up the threat of furloughs and the impact of spending reductions on DARPA’s work. Prabhakar explained there are a number of contracts with universities that will either be delayed or simply will not happen now. Davis commented the department is trying to consolidate some of the STEM programs. She asked if this is going to negatively impact schools or individual educational programs. Shaffer replied the Administration believes the consolidation will improve efficiency of STEM education. Preserving the workforce of the future is "incredibly important."
Rep. John Kline (MN) said there are over 200 STEM programs; he is sure there is room for at least some consolidation. Kline also took issue with the claim the President’s budget somehow does away with the need to impose sequestration cuts. He said the sequester is the law of the land and cannot simply be written off. Kline observed the proposed budget includes a new $45 million line item for applied research in military S&T programs. He questioned the creation of a new program when other programs are going to have to disappear to save money. Shaffer explained that eight programs are being consolidated into a single program. The resulting pot of money will now be up for bids from companies interested in resolving a wide range of issues. He envisions a number of small projects that can be combined for bigger impacts. Thus, this is a new program element but it is funded with "old money."
Rep. Langevin asked if any priority is given for "getting this stuff out of the labs" and fielded. Klunder answered that the collaboration across the Armed Services has been incredibly useful. For the laser system, he gave examples of various components that were developed or supported by the other organizations represented at the hearing. Langevin also asked how LRDP is used to improve the conditions of the labs. Klunder thanked the Member for the LRDP and said it has helped a great deal. For relatively small numbers, the authority allows the Navy to update its labs for new purposes without having to compete through the military construction process.
Rep. Rich Nugent (FL) asked about the directed energy program. Walker said the program is in development, and they have achieved some success. The process is now working to determine if the concept can be developed into a useful weapon. The timeline is a challenge, though, especially in this fiscal environment. Nugent asked for information on the improvements being made to C-RAMS. Miller said that the Army is working to develop more affordable missiles that can be used as interceptors. Right now, C-RAM is not the most cost effective solution, so they are continuing to work on this weapons system.
Legislative Staff Meet With Congressional VA Committee Members
The legislative office of The American Legion continues to meet with the leadership of the Veterans’ Affairs committees of the House and Senate. During this week’s meetings we met with Ranking Members Mike Michaud (ME) and Richard Burr (NC).
Both meetings focused primarily on VA backlog issues, policy, or legislative suggestions to address issues. Senator Burr expressed his frustration with the lack of progress to reduce the backlog percentage while recognizing that VA continues to process more records today than at any time in history. Burr also voiced his concern regarding VA property and facilities in his district that sit vacant because they are uninhabitable, or abandoned. He discussed the Major Construction portion of the VA budget and believes that the recent GAO decision, as highlighted in Legion testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives two week ago, is unreasonable and needs to be addressed directly by the President’s Office. In short, this recent GAO ruling "rescores" the way for which VA-leased facilities are budgeted. In the past, Congress needed only to budget for the years the budget request was addressing. CBO recently issued a ruling that Congress now needs to budget, up front, for the entire life of the lease, whether the lease is for 10, 20, or 25 years, which makes the leases unaffordable in a single year’s budget.
Representative Michaud also expressed frustration with the backlog and asked us what we thought about asking the VA to start considering "partial payments" as claims started getting adjudicated. As an example, if a veteran had 10 medical issues in their claim, rather than wait until all 10 issues are settled, start paying immediately on issues that are quickly approved, and add future percentages as the rest of the issues are approved (if approved). Michaud’s office also has asked for best practices and ideas, and in response our organization offered suggestions for rater scoring systems, and introduced the committee to The American Legion "Claims Coach." Rep. Michaud believes that DOD needs to adopt VISTA, the VA electronic medical records system, and is working with his committee to address the issue with the Armed Services Committee.
In other meetings, the Legion’s Legislative Division met with Ranking Member Dina Titus (NV) of the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs (DAMA); Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations (O&I); the chairman of the VA Committee, Chairman Jeff Miller (FL); discussed with Rep. Jim McDermott (WA) his proposal to create a Presidential Commission to recognize and promote America’s veterans; attended a Republican leader round table that was hosted by Rep. Miller to discuss veteran legislation; a round table hosted by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) to discuss veterans issues and propose future legislative options that support veterans; and met with Sen. Barbara Boxer (CA) to discuss "Check the Box for Vets," an initiative that would allow taxpayers to dedicate $1 of their federal tax returns to a fund that will assist homeless veterans. The American Legion passed Resolution No. 308: "Homeless Veterans Assistance" and so we fully support enacting S. 62, the Check the Box for Homeless Veterans Act of 2013.
House Armed Services Committee Holds FY 2014 Budget Oversight Hearing
On April 11 the committee held an oversight hearing to officially start considering the President’s fiscal year (FY) 2014 budget request. The committee could not hold this hearing earlier due to the delay in the President delivering his FY 2014 budget to Capitol Hill. Committee Chairman Howard McKeon (CA) said he is primarily concerned about the military’s ability to maintain readiness. [Legionnaires and other readers of this report should note that in McKeon’s comments, he included the statement that if maintaining readiness means TRICARE fees need to be increased slightly, or new ones imposed (such as on TRICARE for Life beneficiaries), then he is open to those possibilities.]
Witnesses included Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, accompanied by DOD Comptroller General Robert Hale, and General Martin Dempsey, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, DOD
Chairman McKeon questioned why the military is being asked again to make large sacrifices. He wondered how the President’s budget request could reduce another $120 billion from the budget without doing anything to fix the problems caused by the imposition of sequestration this year. He stressed that maintaining a strong military is a primary responsibility of the federal budget and cutting DOD’s budget is not the way to do it.
Ranking Member Adam Smith (WA) noted national security challenges remain globally and agreed the military must remain strong to keep the country safe. However, he stated, "our budget is a mess." He regretted the military must operate year to year in an uncertain and challenging budgetary environment. He called upon Congress and the President to act more responsibly. The military must know how much money it will have to spend from month to month; the situation as it has occurred in the last six months is simply not workable in the long run.
In his opening statement, Secretary Hagel praised the men and women in the Armed Forces. The nation has been at war for eleven years and these people have done an amazing job. Their well-being depends upon the decisions made in Congress. Even as the conflict in Afghanistan is ending, significant and serious threats remain in other parts of the world. They are often faceless and nameless, but threats nonetheless. This is the strategic environment facing the military as it enters a third year of flat budgets. The military is engaged in serious "belt-tightening." The department is taking this opportunity to reshape the force, and to restructure. They have stopped or reconfigured 30 modernization programs. The President’s budget request continues to support the national defense strategy and supports the all-volunteer force. He asked the Members to consider the impact of sequestration upon the military in FY 2013 when looking forward at the FY 2014 budget. He asked for Congress’ help in this time of uncertainty and thanked them for passage of the recent FY 2013 appropriations bill. DOD has been left with steep cuts in money available. Those cuts fall heavily upon O&M and modernization accounts. Even though warfighters are protected from these cuts, the programs that equip and train them for future operations are seriously affected. All DOD travel has been curtailed, as has most maintenance. More will need to be done, including civilian furloughs. Hagel bluntly said, "We are consuming our readiness." He said if the sequester is allowed to continue, DOD faces billions of dollars more in spending reductions. The President’s budget request includes the ability to de-trigger sequestration and he asked the Members to seriously consider this.
The budget request includes an $88.5 billion placeholder for overseas contingency operations (OCO). A final OCO budget will "soon" be submitted.
Thirty-two percent of the budget consists of personnel and health care costs. Compensation changes would save about $1.4 billion. These proposals include a smaller pay increase than had been planned – one percent. The proposed budget increases cost sharing under the TRICARE program. He stressed these increases will bring cost sharing levels closer to the 25 percent level envisioned and in existence when the program was first created by Congress. He also emphasized the importance of bringing these costs under control, before they take over the rest of the Defense budget. He spoke about various cost savings in the proposal. Significant reductions are planned for acquisitions. To reduce the impact upon local economies, DOD is proposing changes to its local assistance programs.
The military continues to plan to reduce end strengths. This is in agreement with current national defense strategy to no longer support extended ground conflicts. The budget emphasizes a rapidly deployable force, which means submarines and long-range bombers and other aircraft.
Hagel promised full support of family programs, sexual assault prevention, and suicide prevention.
He ordered a department-wide strategic review to guide future choices should sequestration remain in effect. He said this should identify areas of possible reform and likely cuts.
General Dempsey said the men and women in uniform are steadfast in their dedication to their mission. In Afghanistan, they are simultaneously fighting, training the Afghans, and transitioning out of the country. In other parts of the world, DOD is working with partners to aggressively combat Islamist extremism and instability. This budget supports a joint force; however, it does not fully implement sequestration. Nor does it completely eliminate all spending cuts. It also does not replace lost readiness due to cuts already taken. The budget ‘invests’ in the military’s top priorities. It lowers personnel costs and makes health care more sustainable. It maintains being the best led and equipped force as being non-negotiable.
For many veterans, returning home is a new front line. He emphasized the importance of continuing to care for them, for both seen and unseen wounds. The risks of military service "must not include sexual assault." He swore to eliminate this from military ranks.
The United States military must remain strong as a global leader and a reliable partner. To do this, they need budget certainty, time to evaluate budget tradeoffs, and flexibility to keep the force in balance. In closing he asked the Members to support a full investment in the nation’s defense.
Chairman McKeon started the question-and-answer portion of the hearing by noting the need for a good partner in Afghanistan to negotiate that country’s future. He does not want the nation to "abandon" Afghanistan. The witnesses talked about the role played by the US in the larger NATO coalition.
RM Smith noted many of the problems facing DOD right now result from Congressional action or inaction. Sequestration "is the gift that keeps on giving." Thus, if Congress will not act to de-trigger sequestration, then DOD will continue to have problems. At the same time Congress needs to stop allowing DOD to take action in areas such as base closings and personnel costs, especially increasing TRICARE cost sharing.
Hagel replied that if DOD is going to have to keep reducing spending, then it will have to plan, adjust, and review everything they do. The risk is sending the military out on missions without needed resources. "It is going to require some tough choices across the board."
Rep. Mac Thornberry (TX) challenged Hagel as to whether he is fighting to maintain Defense spending hard enough within the administration. The Secretary reminded the Member he has only held his job for six weeks, and he had little to do with sequestration and earlier cuts. Beyond that, he defended himself as an advocate for those who serve in the military. Realistically, sequestration is the law and he must plan to obey it and he must accept the cuts as determined by that.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez (CA) echoed RM Smith’s comments about Congress being responsible for the imposition of sequestration cuts upon DOD. She asked how DOD would ensure the reliability of ground-based interceptors (GBI) for missile defense. Hagel replied GBI testing is underway and no new ones will be deployed until DOD has full confidence in them.
Rep. Walter Jones (NC) wants to see less involvement of the military in countries "that could care less about freedom." He wants to see the military reformed and rebuilt to become more efficient but does not want to be involved in "foreign wars." Hagel said any decision made needs to be in the best interests of the men and women who serve. He would like to see the US work more with partners internationally. "Foreign policy guides everything." he said.
Hagel assured Rep. Mike McIntyre (NC) the budget includes enough money for the F-35 to meet national strategy requirements. He also said the reserve components are key parts of the operational force and will continue to be going forward. The ‘professionalization’ that has occurred within the Guard and Reserves "is historic," and must be maintained. McIntyre asked whether Iran and North Korea have the capability to reach the homeland, either with a warhead or a WMD. Hagel does not believe either country has that capacity now. That does not mean they are not working to obtain that ability.
Rep. Randy Forbes (VA) said DOD is violating religious freedom for Christians, particularly Evangelicals. Hagel promised that freedom of religion is taken seriously within the department. Among other charges, Forbes said DOD is issuing orders prohibiting commanders from talking about chaplain programs that support faith.
Rep. Robert Andrews (NJ) brought up the Air Force has grounded a number of aircraft squadrons. The witnesses agreed those planes would be flying if not for sequestration. Dempsey explained the Air Force is meeting near-term requirements at the expense of long-term ones. Hagel said if sequestration continues into FY 2014, actions such as grounding planes and not allowing ships to sail will have to increase. Hagel and Andrews talked about increased costs of transitioning out of Afghanistan, largely due to high transportation costs.
Rep. Joe Wilson (SC) asked if any decisions have been made about the new [drone] medal. Hagel promised a decision will be made next week, especially in regards to its ranking compared to others. Wilson brought up the surplus within the Military Health System (MHS) due to unexpected decreases in private sector costs. He said the FY 2013 to FY 2014 increase is less than one percent, and questioned how these costs could be "eating up" the Defense budget. Wilson stressed that beneficiaries are pleased with the program and he questioned why it should become more expensive for them. Hagel agreed some costs within the MHS have decreased. However, the proposed increases are "not significant" and they make the system sustainable into the long term. Comptroller General Hale added that about $1 billion will be saved through the fee increases. Those savings will have to be found elsewhere in the Defense program (such as modernization) if this action is not taken. Wilson was not convinced.
Rep. Susan Davis (CA) is pleased tuition assistance programs have been re-started, even though it puts pressure on the Armed Services financially. She observed this is a lesson in making tough decisions. Hagel agreed priorities must be balanced and each service needs to make hard decisions. Dempsey stressed that, when finding cuts, all aspects of the enterprise must be considered. Cutting tuition assistance could mean that several additional BCT training exercises could be held, for example.
Hale told Rep. Rob Bishop (UT) that all ICBM wing squadrons are being asked to submit environment impact statements. This is an overall examination without thought of closing down a particular wing. Hagel will let Bishop know whether the FAA consulted with DOD before it begins closing down the smaller control towers, given the impact upon the military’s use of that airspace.
Rep. Jim Langevin (RI) and Hagel spoke about the use of directed energy programs. Hagel promised the department will continue to be focused and engaged in this area.
Rep. Michael Turner (OH) discussed the personal effects of sequestration and expressed concern over the impacts of civilian furloughs. He warned Congress will be watching to ensure DOD does not "walk away" from missile defense, especially in Poland. There needs to be more of a missile defense presence with North Korea and Iran in mind, and more of a "look-shoot-look" capability. Hagel promised him the US continues to play a significant role in NATO. All aspects of the missile defense task in Poland are being examined to ensure what is there does the job and is worth the money being spent. Phase 4 is being removed because it did not meet those requirements, and the Poles are in on that decision.
Rep. Rick Larsen (WA) warned, "We’re headed into a famine" in funding electronic warfare efforts. On a question, Hagel promised Larsen DOD is commited to continuing to work with VA on creating seamless electronic records. "We are not near where we should be," he said, but will continue to work as a partner. Hagel emphasized the need for a seamless network and pursuing that was one of the first things he did upon taking on this job.
Rep. John Kline (MN) asked about the Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) backlog. The MN National Guard has 168 MEB cases pending. The average adjudication time for MN Guard cases is four and a half years and this is close to the national average. Kline said it is "incredible we have allowed the system to deteriorate in this way." Hagel agreed this is intolerable and unacceptable and promised to answer for the record about what is being done about this. In response to a second question, Hagel told Kline he is unaware of moves to combine the larger commands. Pieces of various combatant commands will "of course" be included in the larger strategic review. Dempsey agreed the combatant and component commands will all be examined.
Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (GU) talked to the witnesses about the role of Guam within the national defense strategy. Dempsey promised Guam will not be unprotected from the ballistic missile threat. Bordallo asked how ready the military forces are now, and how that is measured. Hagel promised her readiness is the first priority. All of the strategic reviews are being done with that in mind. The force must be agile, flexible, and capable. Everything is being done with that in mind.
Rep. Mike Rogers (AL) asked why employees at the depot in his district are being furloughed when the installation is fully funded for the rest of the fiscal year. Hale said that Congress has been notified of the possibility but no actual furlough notices have been sent to individuals. Hagel and Hale said some depots may be exempted, but decisions have yet to be made. All depots have cash flow problems and this could lead to furloughs. Hagel said no final decisions have been made on furloughs. The number of furlough days has been reduced from 21 days to 14 and could decrease further.
Rep. Joe Courtney (CT) and Hagel talked about the situation in Afghanistan. The Secretary agreed the "green on blue" attacks continue to be a serious concern and there are certainly a number of other security and other issues to be resolved.
Rep. Trent Franks (AZ) asked whether DOD is proactive enough in preventing other countries (such as Iran and North Korea) from developing nuclear weapons. Hagel said the President and US allies have been very clear about Iran developing a nuclear weapon, even if Iran is not cooperating. The US cannot control what is done internally in Iran but we can try to influence those leaders’ decisions. Franks thinks sanctions need to be backed up with something stronger. North Korea has been "sanctioned into near starvation for almost 50 years," and that does not seem to be working very well. Hagel was clear DOD does not agree with the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea.
Rep. Dave Loebsack (IA) stressed the importance of ensuring the viability of the defense industrial base, even during a time of peace. Hagel agreed preserving the base is critical to long-term viability and the ability to be ready to meet future contingencies. DOD will work towards this. Loebsack asked what role the reserve components will play in the future. Dempsey said the view will continue to be on the "total force," not on the active versus reserve components. Capabilities will be balanced across the entire force. Sequestration will be imposed across the entire force. Loebsack made a point of agreeing with Rep. Wilson by expressing concern over the proposed TRICARE increases.
Rep. Bill Shuster (PA) asked about funding of MEADS. Hagel explained the appropriations bill included funding and the [DOD] lawyers said DOD is obligated to fund the contract to the end. Shuster recommended Hagel get better lawyers. "This is foolish" to spend $400 million on a system that will never be deployed. "We write the laws; appropriations just cut the checks," said Shuster, very upset. Hagel said DOD will be able to use "a lot of things" from MEADS, even if the system itself is not deployed.
Rep. Niki Tsongas (MA) said Congress has given DOD and the Armed Services "a lot of tools" for combating sexual assault and to address perpetrators. She asked how Hagel will go about appointing people to the new panel on these issues who will be bold enough to recommend real changes. Hagel said he is currently reviewing a list of names that have been proposed for the panel. He can name five designates on the panel and he intends to name them "shortly." (Note: Congress will name four.)
Rep. Michael Conaway (TX) asked if the change in leadership will result in loss of momentum in DOD achieving auditability of its financial statements. Hagel promised he is as committed as Secretary Panetta was, even though he does not have as much experience. At this point, "everyone" is on schedule to meeting their targets. Mr. Conaway asked how the US would pay for going into Syria if a "red line" is crossed and the President decides to take direct action (such as the use of chemical weapons). Hagel and Dempsey agreed a supplemental spending bill would be required. DOD continues to prepare contingency plan options for the President for a variety of possibilities. The US has not detected any use of chemical weapons; if they are used that line is crossed and the situation has changed.
Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (HI) said she is "stuck" on the budget proposal’s assumption sequestration will be repealed. She also questioned the claim that the proposal includes the $487 billion in spending cuts required by the Budget Control Act, in addition to another $150 billion. Hagel explained DOD is trying to plan just in case sequestration stays in effect. However, the President’s Defense spending number is just about the same as the House’s budget resolution. Thus, the President’s number is not from "out of left field." As for the $487 billion, DOD has already started to absorb that over a ten-year period.
Rep. Doug Lamborn (CO) asked whether North Korea has missiles capable of reaching the US as Admiral Winnefield recently said. Hagel said he does not know whether the Admiral was talking about Hawaii, which, by the way, is part of the US. Dempsey stepped in and explained that some of the technology used to launch the satellite could migrate to North Korea’s ballistic missile program. When asked, Hagel said he would advise the President concerning the presence of a second carrier group in the Arabian Gulf based on advice from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and naval leaders. He does not think having only one carrier group there limits US capabilities in the region. Lamborn said some DOD components were told they had to plan for civilian furloughs, even if they did not initially do so. Hale said he was unaware of any such orders going out.
Rep. Tammy Duckworth (IL) brought up DOD’s acquisitions processes, especially with the F-35 and concurrent acquisitions process. She questioned contracting decisions on the littoral combat ship and the new ground combat vehicle. Hagel agreed that savings need to be found, and will be found, in the acquisitions process. Changes are being implemented in most of the systems named and they should result in savings going forward. Hale promised Ms. Duckworth DOD has learned its lessons as it starts the process for the 6th generation fighter.
Rep. Rob Wittman (VA) asked if, in a time of budget and strategic uncertainty, it is really the right time to do another round of base closings. Hagel said this question was asked and discussed a lot within the Pentagon. It is important to look at everything. If the force is being reduced and restructured, then it makes sense to examine whether existing bases are needed, and whether any could be consolidated. Over the last twelve years, command systems have been layered on top of each other as the military responds to the needs of war. It is now time for leadership to take a close look at the inventory and structure and determine if things are where and how they should be. Hale admitted there is no expectation for the next round of base closings to break even until 2018. The Department is saving $12 billion a year from past BRAC rounds. If another round is not done now, the additional money that could be saved in the out-years will not be available to leaders ten and twenty years from now.
Rep. Bill Enyart (IL) asked if DOD considered either giving equipment to the Afghans or destroying it, rather than paying to bring it back to the US. Dempsey said these considerations are being made on a daily basis, including whether to sell items to partner nations in the region. Part of the equation is the cost of resetting the force with new equipment.
Rep. Mike Coffman (CO) supports another round of base closures; however, he would like to see more done to decrease the permanent overseas footprint. Hagel agreed, and said DOD is already reviewing overseas basing. Coffman wants to see an increase in compensation for deployed personnel, such as hazardous duty pay. Dempsey said DOD is looking at every aspect of compensation, including all of the different kinds of special pays. Coffman suggested slowing down the promotion process. The "up or out" system forces out some very good people before they can earn retired pay or pension. Dempsey explained that promotion rates were artificially accelerated as the Army grew. Now that this growth is reversing, that is also reversing. He reminded Coffman that working to keep people in the Army competes with the larger goal to draw down the force.
Rep. Pete Gallego (TX) believes allowing sequestration to continue would harm national security. He stressed the importance of taking care of the people who serve and keeping them safe. Hagel replied every generation is faced with a set of challenges and threats. The question is how the country responds to those threats. He admitted there will be policy mistakes, but he can only hope to be wise enough to keep that to a minimum.
The hearing ended early due to votes on the floor. Despite waiting over three-and-a-half hours, some of the lower-ranking Members had to leave before they could question the witnesses.
House VA Panel Examines Implications of the Affordable Care Act on VA Healthcare
On Wednesday, April 24, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing aimed at examining the impacts that the Affordable Care Act is likely to have on VA health care. The one-panel hearing heard testimony from representatives of both the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and the U.S. Department of Treasury. The panel consisted of:
• The Honorable Dr. Robert A. Petzel, M.D., Under Secretary for Health Veterans, Health Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs
Accompanied by: Ms. Patricia Vandenberg MHA, BSN, Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Policy and Planning, Veterans Health Administration, VA
• Ms. Lynne Harbin, Deputy Chief Business Officer Member Services, Chief Business Office, Veterans Health Administration, VA
• Ms. Lisa Zarlenga, Tax Legislative Counsel, Department of the Treasury
Accompanied by: Mr. Jason Levitis, Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy, Department of the Treasury
Dr. Petzel’s testimony largely focused on the preparations the VA is making toward the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, specifically with regard to the potential influx of uninsured veterans. Given that VA enrollment will be, for the purposes of the legislation, considered to meet the minimum coverage requirement, and given that there are some 1.3 million veterans who are eligible for VA enrollment, but do not have other health care coverage, it is thought that there will be some 1 million veterans entering the VA system. However, he said, this is expected to be offset by a large number of veterans moving from the VA system onto other health plans, because, under the law, there will be a substantial tax credit to offset the costs of health coverage. In many cases, he said, it will be more beneficial for the veteran to move to other health coverage, and receive the tax credit. Therefore, VA expects that there will be a net increase of only 66,000 veterans into the VA health care system; an increase which Dr. Petzel claimed VA is prepared, or preparing, for.
Several lawmakers expressed doubt about the VA’s assumptions in this regard, however. Because it will be up to the veteran as to which health care they will utilize, some members noted that it was perhaps short-sighted on the part of VA to assume such a small increase – 66,000 – out of the 1.3 million veterans who are currently unemployed. Additionally, it is uncertain how many eligible veterans might lose their health care coverage once the law is implemented – some employers may opt to pay the fine rather than continue to offer health care – and therefore, it is uncertain whether the 1.3 million number will remain accurate. Therefore, there is a concern that the VA system will be burdened with an unexpected number of veterans moving from other coverage options to the VA health care system.
Letters of Support
The American Legion on April 24 sent a letter of support to Reps. Mike McCaul (TX) and Bennie Thompson (MS) – the chairman and ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, respectively – giving our organization’s support for H.R. 1344, the Helping Heroes Fly Act. This legislation would ensure that our nation’s wounded warriors and veterans are consistently screened by personnel of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in a manner befitting their service and sacrifice. The measure sets out a number of improvements to current practices, including requiring TSA to: provide privacy for the screened individual; consult with advocacy groups; provide its personnel with training for expedited screening protocols; maintain an operations center that wounded warriors and veterans can contact for assistance prior to their flights; and, report to Congress on its progress implementing the screening process. [Resolution 14-2012]
Update on Flag Amendment Bill
On January 18, House Joint Resolution (H.J. Res.) 19 was introduced by Representative Jo Ann Emerson (MO). This legislation is a proposed constitutional amendment to protect the American flag from physical desecration. Its text states simply: "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States."
The next task is finding cosponsors for this legislation. Please contact the offices of your representative and senators, and ask them to become cosponsors of the flag amendment in their respective chambers. [Res. 272-2012]