U.S. Congressman Mac Thornberry, the Vice Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, announced today that the Committee approved the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014, H.R. 1960, by a vote of 59 to 2. The legislation authorizes $552.1 billion in budget authority for the Department of Defense (DoD) and national security programs of the Department of Energy (DOE).
"We task our military forces, from the Joint Chiefs down to the newest recruits, with the first job of the federal government outlined in the U.S. Constitution - our national defense. That is why, even during times of tight budgets and spending cuts, it is our responsibility to give them the support they need," Thornberry said. "This Bill provides the funding, resources, training, and capabilities that they need to succeed in their mission today and prepare for emerging national security threats in the future," he continued.
Locally, the annual defense policy bill authorizes funding for programs at Bell Helicopter and Pantex. Bell Helicopter projects funded include a total of $2.091 billion for the V-22 Osprey program, $850.5 million for Huey and Cobra (UH-1Y/AH-1Z) helicopters, and $421.1 million for the Kiowa Warrior helicopter. These amounts include the purchase of new aircraft, upgrades and modifications to existing ones, and research and development. Bell Helicopter's Amarillo plant is the primary location for work conducted on the Osprey and Huey/Cobra programs. The facility also performs work on the Kiowa Warrior helicopters.
Pantex will see a 2.3 percent increase in its budget with this bill. In addition to fully funding that President's $604 million budget request, the House Armed Services Committee increased the funding provided for certain nuclear weapons activities--much of which is performed at Pantex--by $220 million.
"Pantex, Bell Helicopter, and their local employees play an important role in the support of the U.S. military and its defense capabilities, and the funding in this bill for each reflects that. The hard work and dedication of the workforces at both facilities helps ensure our military's readiness year after year," said Thornberry.
Included in the legislation is a 1.8 percent across-the-board pay raise for all members of the Armed Forces in 2014, higher than the 1 percent pay raise found in the President's budget proposal.
The overall bill also includes two measures introduced by Thornberry. The first, which was introduced along with Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), allows 170,000 military retirees and their families who live outside 40 miles of an active or former military base to keep Tricare Prime. The Pentagon proposed ending the service for such beneficiaries beginning in October 1, 2013.
"We've made promises to those who have served our country, and I do not believe that you change the rules in the middle of the game," said Thornberry. "So, I am encouraged to see that this defense bill includes the provision that prevents retirees from being forced off Tricare Prime and provides them and their families a one-time choice to stay on Prime or choose Tricare Standard, regardless of where they live. This issue is particularly important for retirees in rural areas like ours and in a state like Texas that has a very high number of military retirees," he said.
Thornberry's oversight of sensitive military operations legislation is also part of the defense policy bill. The measure would require prompt notification to the congressional defense committees of any overseas lethal or capture operation outside of Afghanistan -- including those conducted with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, commonly referred to as "drones." That measure is based on a bill, H.R. 1904, "Oversight of Sensitive Military Operations Act" that was introduced by Thornberry in May and enjoys strong bipartisan support in the House.
"As we work to keep Americans safe from evolving threats, we must ensure that every action is consistent with our civil liberties and freedoms. This type of oversight is one of the primary roles of Congress, and the American people need to know that their elected officials will hold President Obama and his Administration, or any administration, accountable for their actions," Thornberry said.
Included in the defense authorization bill are important reforms to combat sexual assault in the military. These reforms would strip commanders of their authority to dismiss a finding by a court martial - a power they have held since the earliest days of our military. It would also prohibit commanders from reducing guilty findings to guilty of a lesser offence. Recognizing that victim support is as vital as prosecution, the mark proposal would allow victims of sexual assault to apply for a permanent change of station or unit transfer, while authorizing the Secretary of Defense to inform commanders of their authority to remove or temporarily reassign service members who are the alleged perpetrators of sexual assault.