Early this morning, the House Armed Services Committee approved the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes funding and sets policy for the Department of Defense. The bill contains several provisions authored by Massachusetts Third District Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, including significant language to combat sexual assault in the military, develop lightweight body armor, support the mission of local military facilities and provide mental health research. The bill is expected to be considered by the full House of Representatives next week.
"The Armed Services Committee took significant steps today to protect and support our brave servicemembers against all types of enemies," said Congresswoman Niki Tsongas. "I commend my colleagues on this committee for a robust discussion and bipartisan cooperation that led to a comprehensive bill championing national security. I authored many provisions in this bill that will ultimately give the men and women of our armed forces state-of-the-art resources for their increased safety and success, as well as support the innovative businesses that develop them.
"In regard to the disturbing prevalence of sexual assault in the military, I have worked closely with Rep. Turner to develop legislation that fights back," Tsongas continued. "Our bills included in the FY2014 NDAA, which have bicameral support from Sen. McCaskill and Sen. Collins, change the powers of the commander within the military justice system and begin to create an environment that encourages victims to report these crimes and bring those responsible to justice. Given the widespread problem and the recent high profile incidents at every level of the armed forces, it has become painfully evident that saying the military has a cultural problem in regard to sexual assault and sexual misconduct, is a glaring understatement. This is clearly a systemic problem and accountability is needed at every level -- officer and enlisted alike. I look forward to continuing my work with Rep. Turner and our colleagues on this issue. Including these new requirements is an important step, but cannot be the last. We have to get this right."
The following is a list of Tsongas-authored provisions included in the FY14 NDAA, as passed by the House Armed Service Committee.
Military Sexual Assault
Tsongas has been fighting on behalf of victims of military sexual trauma since she was first elected to Congress in 2007. She has partnered across the aisle with Congressman Mike Turner (R-Ohio) to author several pieces of legislation that have become law and put many new tools in the toolbox for the military to combat its scourge of sexual assault, give support to survivors, and help them seek justice. With Mr. Turner, she established the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus and serves as its co-chair. They are the authors of the Defense STRONG Act, legislation passed into law in the FY12 NDAA that includes provisions to allow victims guaranteed access to legal assistance, enable expedited transfers for victims, maintain confidentiality when speaking with Victim Advocates, and provide greater training for sexual assault prevention at every level of the Armed Services.
Tsongas' FY14NDAA language continues to address military sexual assault and support survivors.
The BE SAFE Act:
Removes a commander's ability to change or dismiss a conviction by a jury, except in the case of minor offenses, and limits the commander's ability to change a sentencing decision.
Ensures that those who are convicted of sexual assault will absolutely be discharged or dismissed.
Previous efforts by Congresswoman Tsongas and Congressman Turner put in place a mechanism to allow victims of sexual assault to request a transfer away from the location of their attacker and have that request considered on an expedited basis. The BE SAFE Act now calls upon commanders to consider transferring the perpetrator if the victim prefers to remain with his / her unit.
The bill also eliminates the five-year statute of limitations on trial by Court-Martial for sexual assault and sexual assault of a child, and expands the legal assistance services available to military sexual assault victims.
Ensures that a victim's voice will be heard in clemency proceedings after the accused has been convicted.
Allows survivors of sexual assault and other victims to have an attorney or victim advocate present when they're interviewed by defense counsel.
Requires a DoD report to Congress containing an assessment of the current role of commanders in the administration of military justice.
Coast Guard STRONG Act:
Ensures that victims of sexual assault in the U.S. Coast Guard are granted the right to request a transfer away from the geographic location of their alleged assailant and have that transfer considered on an expedited basis
Congresswoman Tsongas has been a staunch supporter of increasing resources and support structures to protect the mental health of our military men and women, both active duty and veterans. For example, in last year's NDAA, Tsongas included language that encouraged the Army, Navy and Marine Corps to perform an assessment of the mental health of Unmanned Arial Vehicle (UAV) operators, a process that was currently undertaken only by the Air Force. She has worked to address and improve the quality and continuum of mental health care available to veterans, and also has introduced past legislation to require the VA to report vacancies in mental health positions to ensure these critical positions are being fully staffed.
Tsongas' FY14 NDAA language:
Requires a study to determine the most efficient and effective way to track suicides among military family members.
Congresswoman Tsongas has worked for several years to improve the body armor used by servicemembers. In last year's NDAA, as a result of Tsongas' work, the authorized funding levels for body armor research and development were tripled. She also authored a provision directing the Department of Defense - for the first time ever - to develop body armor for women and to evaluate any available commercial options.
Her language in this year's NDAA builds upon her previous successes in order to continue to seek the most efficient and effective ways to reduce body armor weight and create gender specific armor, all while maintaining the desired level of safety.
Tsongas' FY14 NDAA language:
Requires the Secretary of Defense to submit a comprehensive research and development (R&D) strategy for achieving significant weight reductions (20% or more) for both hard and soft body armor to the congressional defense committees, including an assessment of new materials which are currently being evaluated;
Requires the Government Accountability Office to perform a study on acquisition practices pertaining to lightweight body armor, which will prioritize reducing the weight of body armor in the contracting process;
Reiterated the requirement for the DoD Comptroller to establish procurement line items for body armor and other personal protective equipment (helmets, tactical goggles etc.) in order to improve oversight of the acquisitions process;
Secures robust funding for body armor research, development, testing and evaluation.
This past Mother's Day, Congresswoman Tsongas made her 5th visit to Afghanistan to meet with U.S. troops, military officials, Afghan officials and Afghan women leaders. These trips have allowed her to witness firsthand the exceptional work being done by United States servicemembers, as well as discuss with them the resources and support they need to better accomplish their mission. Tsongas has also been a longtime advocate for protecting the advancements made by Afghan women, as well as a supporter of the ways we can protect the gains made in Afghanistan upon U.S. troop withdrawal.
Tsongas' FY14NDAA language:
Provides special immigrant status -- asylum -- for Afghan allies. According to recent reports, as many as 5,000 Afghans are waiting to begin the visa process that lasts for two years. A number of them are translators who have worked with U.S. special operations forces, putting their lives in danger by participating in hundreds of high risk missions. This language would help expedite that process for those military allies.
Massachusetts military installations
Congresswoman Tsongas also authored several provisions that support Massachusetts' military installations, including Natick and Hanscom. As the only member of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation on the Armed Services Committee, Tsongas has been a staunch supporter of the state's military bases, working to foster and promote their exceptional innovation potential and the area's surplus of defense-related academic and business resources.
In past years, Tsongas authored language signed into law that provided critical congressional support to help ensure the retention of the military's mission at Hanscom Air Force Base and Lincoln Labs.
Her provisions in this year's NDAA support the high tech acquisitions process at facilities like Hanscom, ensuring that they remain a priority for the US military and have the funding and DoD backing to continue creating some of the military's most innovative resources.
Tsongas' FY14 NDAA language:
Secures $36 million for construction of an education facility at Hanscom Air Force Base;
Secures $19 million to fully fund new barracks at Camp Edwards.
Authorizes certain military research and development installations, such as Natick Soldier Systems Center, to put more of their funding towards small, commander-initiated construction projects, giving more autonomy and focused resource development at a time when regular military construction funding is scarce.
Reiterates that the reorganization of the Air Force Materiel Command must adhere to existing laws regarding Congressional notification, while requiring the Secretary of the Air Force to provide quarterly reports on how the reorganization is impacting Hanscom Air Force Base's mission;
Requires the Secretary of Defense to brief the Armed Services Committee on IT-specific acquisitions processes, such as those utilized at Hanscom Air Force Base.
Language urging the continued, long-term development of innovative Hanscom Air Force Base programs that are providing critical communications tools for our warfighters.