This afternoon, Congresswoman Niki Tsongas supported and the House of Representatives approved the Fiscal Year 2013 Department of Defense Appropriations bill. The bill advances several initiatives championed by Tsongas by tripling the funding for body armor research and development, providing funding to develop body armor specifically for female soldiers, funding the Department of Defense Rapid Innovation Fund which allows small businesses to compete for government contracts, and the bill stipulates that no funding can be used to initiate a BRAC for the next year.
"Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are outfitted with body armor that weighs up to 40 pounds," said Congresswoman Tsongas. "Combined with helmets, rifles, ammunition, backpacks, and other equipment, the load that they are carrying on a day-to-day basis can exceed 120 pounds. Bearing such heavy loads can lead to a multitude of health challenges among servicemembers. Even more alarming, I've heard testimony from servicemembers who remove their body armor in combat because it is too heavy."
"Over the past few years, we've been working to accelerate the development of safer, lighter-weight body armor for our troops in the field," added Tsongas. "Today's bill triples the amount of funding for body armor research and development and reflects the concern of myself and many other members of Congress that we need to be doing more to develop the best possible body armor systems--even as we begin to draw down from Afghanistan."
A bill authored by Tsongas and ultimately signed into law by the President in 2009 established direct funding for research, development and procurement of body armor so that Congress could more easily address shortcomings with the current body armor programs and promote the development of body armor that is best suited to protecting our soldiers against current threats.
"In addition to this expanded financial commitment for body armor development, a provision I authored in this year's NDAA and echoed in today's bill recognizes the role that women are increasingly playing on the front lines of our battlefields by directing the DoD to develop body armor specifically for female soldiers," Tsongas explained. "Fourteen percent of the Army is now female, a figure that is expected to rise to 25% by 2025, and we can expect that women will see their combat roles expanded further in the years ahead. Our female soldiers should be provided the same level of protection as their male counterparts and the language included in the NDAA, coupled with the funding included in the bill we passed today, for the first time directs the development of gender-specific body armor to ensure that this life saving technology properly fits and protects all of our servicemembers."
"This bill also funds the Rapid Innovation Program which will give small businesses the opportunity to compete for Department of Defense grants to more rapidly meet critical national security needs," added Tsongas. "At the end of last year, we successfully extended the Small Business Innovative Research Program which has proven to be particularly critical to the Department of Defense, providing our military with a wide range of technologies that have directly improved the safety of our troops and our national security. I've supported the Rapid Innovation Program for the past three years because I believe it builds on the success of the SBIR program by supporting a critical sector of our economy while ensuring that our military is able to maintain its technological advantage over our enemies and competitors. I believe small, high-tech Massachusetts companies are well-positioned to benefit from this program."
"Despite the significant gains for Massachusetts and our troops contained in this bill, I am disappointed that House Republicans ignored the advice of our Generals and enacted defense spending levels that far exceed the needs of our military. This bill provides $3.1 billion in funding for the Defense Department above the Administration's request, which the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff both termed as unnecessary. I believe this comes at the cost of other vital priorities for our country such as rebuilding our infrastructure, making college more affordable, and reducing our deficit," Tsongas added.
"Finally, I did appreciate the robust debate on Afghanistan and supported several amendments reducing our commitment of troops in Afghanistan. However, I regret that none of those amendments were successful," Tsongas concluded.