Senator's provisions will improve healthcare and benefits for military, increase contracting oversight, and address F/A-18 shortfall
Today, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill applauded the passage of a major defense policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2011, which was passed unanimously by the Senate this morning. The NDAA outlines funding levels for the Department of Defense (DoD) for the coming fiscal year and addresses major defense policy matters. When the bill passed the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCaskill, who serves as a member of the committee, was able to win inclusion of several important amendments in the bill that will help improve access to healthcare for the military and improve oversight of DoD contractors. Despite fairly significant changes to the bill before final passage, many of her measures were included in the final bill.
"So many of the measures in this bill will help improve the lives of servicemembers and increase oversight to make sure the billions of taxpayer dollars spent on contracting are being spent wisely. I'm glad my colleagues agreed to pass this important bill for our troops before we finished up this year," McCaskill said.
Several of McCaskill's provisions will increase DoD oversight of contracting, an issue she has pursued as Chair of the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, including a provision to require the Pentagon to increase oversight of private security contractors and to study the contracts that have been issued to train the Afghan National Police. McCaskill has held several hearings on both issues in her Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight.
In addition, McCaskill won inclusion of two amendments to help increase accessibility to healthcare for members of the military and their dependents. The bill will allow dependents of military members in TRICARE to be covered by the policy until age 26. Under the new healthcare bill, health insurance providers will be required to cover children until age 26, but because TRICARE programs are exempt from the bill, TRICARE was not required to extend coverage that extra three years. Thanks to efforts by McCaskill, the bill will also lay the foundation to expand access to licensed mental health counselors covered by TRICARE.
McCaskill also worked in support of the Navy signing a multi-year procurement deal with Boeing to continue production of the F/A-18 to meet the Navy's needs in a way that was more cost-efficient for the taxpayers. The Navy and Boeing went on to sign a contract for the multi-year procurement of F/A-18s and this bill furthers that effort.
Specifically, McCaskill won inclusion in the bill of provisions that would:
Address the F/A-18 Fighter Jet Shortfall
· Require the Secretary of the Navy to conduct a business case analysis of whether it is more fiscally responsible to buy new F/A-18 aircraft to address the serious shortfall in Navy carrier aircraft currently facing the Navy or to extend older F/A-18 aircraft beyond their projected service life. The Secretary must complete the analysis before he can pursue an extension of the life of the older aircraft. Many experts believe that it will prove cheaper, when evaluating the cost per flight hour, to buy new planes than to extend the life of old planes. New planes also have the advantage of possessing substantially improved technology. The amendment also limits the Navy's ability to reduce the number of aircraft it operationally deploys on aircraft carriers as a means of addressing its aircraft shortfall until it certifies whether there are risks to the readiness of our forces and to meeting global needs. As noted, McCaskill was a strong supporter of the multiyear F/A-18 contract signed with Boeing this year to help address the shortfall issue.
Improve access to healthcare and benefits for military service members and families
· Expand access to mental health counselors covered by TRICARE. Previously, McCaskill introduced legislation with Senators Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) to provide licensed mental health counselors with the same status as all other major groups of mental health counselors currently working in the TRICARE system. McCaskill has a lengthy record of fighting to expand access to mental healthcare for service members.
· Extend coverage for dependents of military members in the TRICARE system to age 26. This amendment is based on a bill that McCaskill, along with Senators Mark Udall (D-CO) and Mark Begich (D-AK), introduced earlier this year that would increase the maximum age from 23 to 26 for our troops and military retirees to keep their dependent children on their TRICARE coverage. Under the new healthcare bill, health insurance providers will be required to cover children until age 26, but because TRICARE programs are exempt from the bill, TRICARE is not required to extend coverage that extra three years.
Improve oversight and accountability for military contractors
· Require a DoD Inspector General study on the Afghan National Police Training Program and a Government Accountability Office report on the use of contractors and U.S. government personnel in overseeing the program. McCaskill held a hearing on the contract for this program in her Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight. There is a clear and pressing need for improved oversight of police training in Afghanistan, as well as a full evaluation of whether the way the U.S. military currently carries out police training is appropriate. McCaskill's amendment, which she introduced with then Senator Ted Kaufman (D-DE) and Senator Scott Brown (R-MA), will require an evaluation of whether it is appropriate for contractors to carry out this important function.
· Require additional oversight of private security contractors to address shortcomings in management of security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. In March, McCaskill participated in a hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee that highlighted serious concerns with private security contractors such as Paravant/Blackwater being awarded multi-billion contracts with little or no accountability and oversight. McCaskill also chaired a hearing of the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight that exposed substantial problems in the performance and oversight of a private security contractor at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan which led her to introduce legislation along with Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) that would require greater oversight of such contracts.
· Increase the DoD's ability to penalize contractors who harm U.S. Government employees and are able to avoid the jurisdiction of U.S. courts because of personal jurisdiction matters. McCaskill introduced legislation to allow military contractors who harm U.S. Government employees to be held accountable in the U.S. judicial system and also held a hearing about her legislation, which was inspired by LTC Dominic "Rocky" Baragona, who was killed in Iraq by a Kuwaiti-owned contractor of the U.S. Army. That contractor has refused to appear in U.S. court to answer for its negligent killing of LTC Baragona. McCaskill has continued to express outrage at this loophole in current law and this amendment helps ensure that future contractors will not be able to avoid any accountability for negligently killing U.S. service members.
· Prohibit small arms contracts from being awarded on a sole source basis and require those contracts be awarded based on full and open competition in order to get the best weapons for our troops in combat. This amendment, offered with Senators Kay Hagan (D-NC), Richard Burr (R-NC) and Scott Brown, breaks a cycle of decades of sole-source contracts that have hindered competition in the small arms industry. Many believe that the lack of competition has resulted in our troops having weapons in combat that don't fully meet their needs and that are not the best available weapons.