From Parade to Nukes, $717 Billion Defense Bill Has It All

May 10, 2018Roxana Tiron

This analysis was first available to Bloomberg Government subscribers.

The Pentagon would be allowed to spend $686 billion in fiscal 2019 and buy an additional Ford-class aircraft carrier made by Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. under the House Armed Services Committee’s defense authorization measure.

The annual defense policy bill, approved on a 60 to one vote by the Armed Services panel just after midnight early Thursday, would authorize a 2.6 percent pay raise for troops and back President Donald Trump’s plan for a large military parade in the nation’s capital.

With an appropriations agreement in place that sets discretionary national security spending at $716 billion for 2019, the committee focused on boosting everything from military training and aircraft to ships and spare parts. Under newly loosened budget caps this year, negotiations have swirled around more controversial issues, such as using Pentagon money to build a wall on the southern border, spending on a military parade, and a proposal by Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) to cut down Defense Department support agencies. The efforts didn’t amount to more than debate during the bill’s marathon consideration as amendments offered mostly by Democrats failed.

“This bill takes the crucial next steps to rebuilding our military and reforming the Pentagon,” Thornberry said. “We have not given them our best in the past, and we are still seeing some of the consequences of that failure.”

FUNDING BREAKDOWN: The defense authorization measure (H.R. 5515) sets military policy and authorizes spending levels for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. It also covers national security activities at the Energy Department. Overall, the bill would authorize $616.7 billion for the regular Pentagon budget and $69 billion for war operations, or the Overseas Contingency Operations account.

The national security activities at the Energy Department would be authorized to receive $22.1 billion. The bill also covers $8.9 billion in mandatory spending that brings the total to $717 billion.

NUCLEAR WARHEADS: The measure would also repeal a 15-year ban on developing and producing low-yield nuclear warheads without congressional authorization, a move that the panel’s Democrats opposed but couldn’t stop. Such warheads would be carried on submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

CLOUD CONTRACT: The measure would bar the Pentagon from spending half the money designated for a broad-based cloud computing contract until Defense Secretary Jim Mattis offers Congress more information about the project.

It also demands Mattis explain how the Defense Department will promote competition for a contract that may be valued in the billions of dollars, addressing the main complaint of an alliance of technology companies. They say the planned winner-take-all award to a single bidder will favor Amazon.com Inc., the dominant provider in cloud computing. Amazon Web Services won a $600 million cloud contract from the Central Intelligence Agency in 2013.

MILITARY PARADE: Trump said in February the parade would probably be on Veterans Day in November and take a route along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. Trump was impressed by the military display of armaments when he attended France’s Bastille Day parade last year and asked the Pentagon to come up with a plan for a similar event in Washington.

While the defense bill backs the parade plans, it would also prohibit the use of vehicles, planes and operational military units if Mattis determines their use in the parade would undermine readiness.

SHIPS: The measure would authorize funding for 13 ships, including CVN-81, the fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier, and two additional Littoral Combat Ships not requested by the Trump administration. The troubled LCS program is supposed to transition into a new frigate program, but still enjoys strong congressional support, especially in Alabama and Wisconsin where Austal Ltd. and a Lockheed Martin Corp.-Marinette Marine team build two versions of the ship.

The Pentagon requested funding for only one LCS ship in fiscal 2019. The bill would add $1 billion to the Virginia-class submarine program for advance purchase of materials to build future subs made by General Dynamics Corp.‘s Electric Boat unit and Huntington.

AIRCRAFT: The bill backs the Pentagon’s plan to buy 77 Lockheed F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and 24 Boeing Co. F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet aircraft. It would also allow the Navy to enter into new multiyear contracts for Boeing’s Super Hornet jets and radar-jamming Growler aircraft.

The legislation also would require changes to Boeing’s naval fighter aircraft to reduce instances of hypoxia—a deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the body’s tissues. The Navy has linked the deaths of four F/A-18 pilots over the last 10 years to hypoxia-like symptoms or similar physiological episodes.

Lawmakers also decided to keep the Air Force from scrapping the E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System overhaul and are directing the service to continue with plans to modernize that surveillance capability. To that purpose, the committee authorized $623 million.

ACCIDENTS: The Armed Services Panel also approved by voice vote a provision by ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) calling for the creation of an independent national commission to examine military aviation safety after a deadly string of military aircraft crashes. Nine members of the Puerto Rico Air National Guard died last week when their Lockheed Martin C-130 cargo aircraft crashed a few miles away from the Savannah, Ga. airport, the latest accident in a steady and deadly series of accidents this year.

The commission would review military aviation mishaps between 2013 and 2018 compared to historic averages; assess causes contributing to mishaps; and make recommendations on safety, training, maintenance and personnel. A second-degree amendment by Thornberry, also approved by voice vote, would expand the commission’s purview to examine causes of unexplained physiological episodes.

SLASHING BUREAUCRACY: Washington Headquarters Services would be no more, come Jan. 1, 2021, under the proposed legislation. The headquarters services is a support organization for the national capital region handling things as varied as facilities, transportation, and administrative work. Any essential functions under this organization would be transferred to the Defense secretary’s office under the proposed legislation.

The bill also would require the chief management officer to review the efficiency of each of the defense support agencies, also referred to as “the fourth estate,” and make recommendations by March 1, 2020, to eliminate some of the agencies and transfer their work to other units within the Pentagon.

The provisions designed to whittle down the Defense Department’s support agencies are tamer than initial legislation proposed by Thornberry. His original proposal would have eliminated seven defense agencies and overhauled several others. Such changes could place the contracts these agencies have with defense service companies at risk.

  • The panel approved, 33-28, a provision by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), that would keep the greater sage grouse bird off the federal endangered species list for 10 years.
  • Rep. Steve Knight (R-Calif.) won approval for his provision supporting the Test Resource Management Center by maintaining the statutory requirement to keep the assistance organization open. Thornberry had sought to eliminate that requirement for the center that assists with oversight and development of test and evaluation strategies and offers support to test ranges.

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