Senator McCaskill today applauded passage of the Fiscal Year 2010 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which will now be sent to the President to sign into law. In her role as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), McCaskill has championed better quality of life for our troops, tougher oversight of defense contracting and an end to the congressional earmarking process.
McCaskill has been a vocal advocate for wounded warriors since she first arrived in the Senate and continued in her efforts in this legislation. She won inclusion in the bill of a new requirement that all combat veterans receive face-to-face mental health screenings when they return home from war. This provision has long been sought by major veterans organizations. The bill also includes a provision that McCaskill strongly supported to provide troops a 3.4% pay raise, which is .5% more than recommended in the President's budget. A provision many Missouri National Guard members have long sought, making National Guard retirees eligible for TRICARE health care between the time they retire and age 60, when they become eligible to receive retirement benefits, is also included in the bill.
"It has been among my very highest priorities since the day I arrived in the Senate to advance the national security interests of our country and to fight for needs of the heroic men and women who serve our country in uniform," McCaskill said. "I believe that our combat veterans who experience the brutal realities of war should be evaluated by a mental health professional in person when they return from war in order to make sure we identify and treat things like PTSD right away."
McCaskill also advanced other longstanding priorities, such as empowering the Department of Defense Inspector General, who was granted the authority to subpoena witnesses in connection with ongoing investigations, and limiting the use of sole-source contracts. A provision in the bill makes it substantially more difficult to award sole-source contracts over the value of $20 million and partially closes a loophole in government contracting rules that allows government agencies to award no-bid contracts of unlimited value to Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs).
"Whether it be abusing sole-source contracts or making it hard for investigators to review contracting abuses, contractors have acted with too much impunity for years," McCaskill said. "The measures to reign in abusive actors and empower investigators in this bill are important steps forward in fighting against contract abuses."
Other key provisions in the legislation that McCaskill advocated for include:
A provision requiring heads of government agencies to provide written justification and public disclosure for sole-source contracts exceeding $20 million dollars.
Senator McCaskill has fought the proliferation of large sole source contracts and has championed the competitive bidding process as a more open, fair way to award contracts in DoD and across the U.S. government.
McCaskill held a hearing earlier this year in the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, which she chairs, about the potential for waste, fraud, and abuse created by special contracting preferences for Alaska Native Corporations. The most far reaching of these preferences is the ANCs' ability to be awarded no-bid federal contracts of unlimited value without any justification.
The provision effectively caps the ANCs' no-bid contracts at $20 million by requiring federal agencies to use the same procedures for sole-source contracts to ANCs worth more than $20 million that they would use for similar contracts to other large corporations.
A provision mandating a report on congressional DoD-related earmarks.
As one of the few Senators who does not earmark, Senator McCaskill proposed this provision in her continued effort to get to the bottom of how earmarks become institutionalized in the defense appropriations process.
The provision requires a report to be issued on earmarks that have been included in the NDAA by legislators for three or more years.
Earlier this year, McCaskill initiated an investigation by the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, which she chairs, of earmarks provided through the Department of Defense.
A provision authorizing expanded subpoena authority for the DoD Inspector General (DoDIG).
This measure gives the DoDIG the power to compel in-person testimony through subpoena with minimal bureaucratic hurdles, thereby enhancing the IG's ability to conduct investigations into fraud, waste and abuse at DoD.
McCaskill held a hearing in the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, of which she chairs, covering authorities inspectors general need to better do their jobs. Among those powers sought by the inspectors general was expanded subpoena authority.
A provision requiring DoD to overhaul the alcohol and drug abuse treatment programs for our troops.
McCaskill has been at the forefront of this issue following problems that were brought to her attention at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. She later introduced legislation to address the shortcomings in Department of Defense substance abuse programs.
The provision in the bill requires a comprehensive review, report and plan on prevention, diagnosis and treatment of substance abuse disorders in the military and calls for new DoD policies based on "best practices" that may emerge from the study. The provision closely tracks with McCaskill's legislation, which had won wide support from veterans and substance use disorder treatment groups.
A provision requiring In-Person Post Deployment Mental Health Assessments for combat veterans.
The provision will require service members to receive a face-to-face mental health screening before they deploy to combat, after they return home and every six months for the following two years. This provision was widely advocated for by major veterans groups and had initially been championed by Senator Max Baucus (MT). Senator McCaskill won inclusion of the provision in the defense bill in partnership with the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy (MA).
DoD currently predominantly uses written surveys as a screening method for post-deployment mental health issues.
A provision authorizing the purchase of 40 F/A-18's for FY2010, as well as a provision permitting DoD to enter into a conditional multi-year procurement contract for the F/A-18.
The bill authorizes the Secretary of the Navy to enter into a multi-year deal for procurement of F/A-18s by May 1, 2010, provided there are funds appropriated.
The F/A-18, which is made by Boeing in St. Louis, provides thousands of jobs in Missouri and provides affordable, high-value capability for our troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world.
McCaskill believes that a multi-year procurement deal could save taxpayers nearly $1 billion as compared to single year procurements and would address a dangerous projected shortfall in the nation's aircraft carrier-based fighter jet fleet.
A provision encouraging the U.S. to seek reliable sources of molybdenum-99 production.
McCaskill won inclusion of a Sense of the Senate that the U.S. should ensure reliable means to develop molybdenum-99, a major isotope used in medical tests, and pave the way for research and funding for domestic programs at universities producing molybdenum-99, including the University of Missouri.
The NDAA sets spending and policy guidelines for the Department of Defense (DoD) for fiscal year 2010 and covers all defense-related programs, including healthcare for active military members, housing and other services for military families, acquisition of weapons systems, oversight, emerging threats and military capabilities, and management of the Department of Defense.