defense prevails

Defense Authorization Moves Forward, Despite Veto Threat

Following months of negotiations over differences between the House and Senate versions of the annual defense policy bill, last week negotiators struck a deal on a package that would bring significant reforms to military and civilian personnel and acquisition.

Despite being approved by Congress for 53 consecutive years, this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA; H.R. 1735) has progressed under a veto threat from President Obama.

The President, supported by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, objects to a budget “gimmick” contained in the policy bill that moves billions of dollars from DOD accounts into wartime accounts, which are not subject to sequestration.

Consequentially, the President has remained adamant that he will veto the legislation, despite warnings from critics on the Hill and in defense circles that doing so would be bad for national security.

The President is using leverage from the NDAA and Defense spending in a gambit to force Congress to reconsider spending limits set by the Budget Control Act, hoping for a full replacement or temporary relief from sequestration.

The split between Democrats and Republicans over the use of wartime spending accounts to bypass sequester limits on DOD spending was reflected in the House-Senate conference report on the legislation, which many Democrats did not sign, despite the fact that there is agreement on many of the other policy provisions in the bill.

The NDAA funds DOD, with the exception of the wartime funding, largely at levels consistent with the President’s budget request. The bill seeks to boost warfighter readiness, while cutting bloat and duplication, and committing to TRICARE reforms. 

It calls for a 25% reduction of headquarters staff by 2019 and a $10 billion reduction in funding for overall administrative support functions over the same time period.

The NDAA also would authorize the Defense Secretary to use performance as the primary basis for separating civilian employees during any reductions in force.  

The bill also maintains a provision that has reduced per diems for service members and Defense civilians on long-term temporary duty (TDY).

Additionally, it contains provisions to bolster military and civilian cyber capabilities across Defense.

The bill also contains significant acquisition reforms. It gives greater authority to military services in the acquisition process, and enhances the role of the service chiefs in the process. To ensure accountability for acquisitions, services chiefs, service secretaries, service acquisition executives, and program managers will sign up to binding management, requirement, and resource commitments.

The House approved the NDAA conference report, 270-156, last week. The Senate is set to take up the bill this week, setting up a potential veto confrontation with the President should the bill pass.

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