Today, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) voted for the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed the Armed Services Committee by a vote of 23-3. The annual bill authorizes all Department of Defense programs and major defense policy issues and includes a number of key provisions that were sponsored by Shaheen, Chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support.
"Our men and women in uniform and their families will continue to have the training, equipment, and support necessary to accomplish their missions because of our work on this bill," said Shaheen. "The Armed Services Committee's history of bipartisanship once again allowed us to make some important reforms, particularly with respect to our readiness challenges and sexual assault prevention and response. The willingness of members to come together on these issues is a real tribute to the example set by our service members."
Specific provisions in the final version of the bill that were introduced or supported by Shaheen include:
KC-46A Aerial Refueling Tanker
The bill provides full funding of $1.6 billion for continued development of the Air Force's next generation refueling tanker. The new plane is scheduled to replace the current fleet of 1950's era KC-135s. Senator Shaheen strongly supported the Air Force's decision earlier this year to designate Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire as one of the first bases in the country to host the new aircraft. Pease is scheduled to receive a total of 12 planes beginning 2018.
"Aerial refueling is a vital component of our military's ability to operate around the world," said Shaheen. "The new tanker program will dramatically improve our current capability while also reducing noise pollution and fuel consumption."
Senator Shaheen worked continually with fellow New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte to ensure a fair and open basing selection process for the KC-46, while also highlighting Pease's outstanding mission and performance record.
Virginia Class Submarines
The committee fully funded the Virginia-class submarine program, ensuring the construction of two new subs in FY14. Senator Shaheen has been a strong supporter of the Virginia class program throughout her career in the Senate. In 2012, she worked with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) to return funding to the defense bill for a second boat at the Navy's request.
"The effectiveness and flexibility of our attack submarine fleet continues to provide outstanding service to our Navy and excellent value to the taxpayer," said Shaheen. "Building two ships a year allows the Navy to save money on overhead and a variety of other costs. It will also mitigate the risk of additional submarine shortfalls in the Navy's 30-year shipbuilding plan."
Sexual Assault Reform
The Armed Services Committee included a number of bipartisan amendments in the bill, including three provisions authored by Shaheen. Collectively they address nearly every facet of current sexual assault prevention and response policies and within the Department of Defense.
"While I would have preferred even greater changes like those offered by Senator Gillibrand, we did make some progress with this bill," said Shaheen. "The fact is that the chain of command has been responsible for monitoring this crisis all along yet the culture hasn't changed since zero tolerance became a policy two decades ago. If we don't fundamentally change how we address this issue, we are going to be back here in another two decades having this same conversation. We can't let that happen."
The first Shaheen provision included in committee's final bill speaks to the urgency of military sexual assault by expediting the timeline of the report of the independent sexual assault review panel to no later than 12 months after the first meeting. Currently, the panel has 18 months to finalize its report, which is unsatisfactory given the need for immediate reform. The "Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel," as it is known, was established by last year's Defense Authorization to provide independent perspective on the shortcomings of our current systems and ensure accountability for their improvement.
The second Shaheen measure, designed to effect cultural change in the military, elevates the role of Sexual Assault Prevention Response (SAPR) officers to ensure the highest caliber candidates are assigned to those positions. Changes to the selection process will include a more rigorous screening and interview process than what is customary for those positions today.
"These commonsense changes will get much-needed answers to Congress in a timely manner consistent with the gravity of this issue and increases the value of SAPR positions to the level that they deserve," said Shaheen.
Counter Threat Reduction
The bill included several provisions taken from Shaheen's Next Generation Cooperative Threat Reduction Act of 2013 that will modernize the way the United States meets challenges posed by the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD's). Building on the successful model established by Senators Sam Nunn and Dick Lugar two decades ago under the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program, this new effort will require the President to establish a multi-year regional assistance strategy to coordinate cooperative threat reduction (CTR) in one of the most challenging security regions in the world: the Middle East and North Africa.
"The proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons is one of the gravest dangers we face as an international community, as evidenced by the evolving situation in Syria. It is imperative that we provide the necessary focus, time and resources to meet this threat," said Senator Shaheen. "We need to remain vigilant, to think ahead, and to anticipate where the next threats will come from."
"Nowhere is the proliferation challenge more glaring than in the countries of the Middle East and Africa, where well-connected terrorist groups operate amidst political instability. In addition, a growing collection of unsecured conventional and possible WMD-related weapons and materials have created a danger we cannot ignore," Shaheen added. "My legislation will appropriately expand our threat reduction programs to meet the threats of tomorrow."
The committee bill also included a plan introduced by Shaheen to reform the nation's classification systems by directing Department of Defense to cooperate in any future interagency classification reform efforts. The provision required Pentagon to evaluate and report to Congress on the recommendations of the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) for reforming its outdated classification systems.
"Our current classification system is outdated and needs to be reformed. We're keeping too much information from the public and the cost of securing this data has doubled over the last decade," said Shaheen. "Ensuring the Department of Defense is an active participant in this developing reform effort will go a long way toward achieving our goals of increased transparency and smarter spending."
Increased Funding for DOD Inspectors General
As Chair of the Readiness subcommittee, Shaheen increased funding for the Department of Defense's Inspectors General (IG's) by $35 million. In 2012 DOD IG's saved over $3.6 billion in tax payer funds and IG efforts have been credited with a nearly eleven dollar return on investment for every dollar appropriated.
"Inspectors General continue to be the primary tool for Congress to fight waste, fraud, and abuse throughout the federal government." said Shaheen. "The Department of Defense's budget is over $600 billion. We need to make sure we are investing adequate resources to manage these programs as efficiently as possible and IG's are critical to that effort."
The Full Committee bill also included a number of important provisions that Shaheen introduced as the Chair of the Readiness Subcommittee, including important investments in military readiness, provisions to help mitigate the impacts of sequestration, and reforms to the Department of Defense to save money and improve acquisition management. The Committee also approved a Shaheen-supported $11.5 million military construction project at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to consolidate its structural shops.
The bill will next move to the Senate floor for consideration by the entire chamber.