11/16/2017 — 

Mr. President, I rise to discuss the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.  After several months of negotiations, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have arrived at a completed conference agreement.  This will be the 56th consecutive time that we pass a National Defense Authorization Act, which sets national security policy and provides important authorities to the Department of Defense.

Let me take a moment to begin by thanking my friend and colleague, Senator McCain, who has been an invaluable partner in this process and an unwavering ally of our service men and women.  As a member of the Armed Services Committee for three decades, Senator McCain has spent his entire career in the Senate working tirelessly on behalf of our military personnel and providing for our country’s national security.  Since assuming the chairmanship in 2015, Senator McCain has led the committee with a firm hand through countless hearings, briefings, and meetings to ensure that we are constantly working to improve the lives of those that serve our country.   This conference report is another example of the Chairman’s continued dedication to bipartisan deliberation, and I am grateful for his partnership.

I think this conference report will provide the authorities and resources the military needs to complete their missions, restore readiness, prepare for the future, and take care of our military families.  

I would just like to highlight a few of the areas I consider most important.

Budget:

This conference agreement authorizes a total of $692 billion, which includes $626.4 billion in base budget funding, for the Department of Defense and certain security activities of the Department of Energy, and $65.8 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding.  This includes the Administration’s $5.9 billion budget amendment we received earlier this month, which seeks an additional $4.7 billion in base budget funding to bolster missile defense and to repair two Navy ships after recent collisions, as well as $1.2 billion in OCO funding for operations in Afghanistan and for additional capabilities in the Central Command area of operations.  

The conference agreement includes significant increases in additional resources aimed at restoring full spectrum readiness as soon as possible across the military services.  Specifically, operation and maintenance funding, widely known as the lifeblood of readiness, was increased by $1.16 billion for the Army, $277.9 million for the Navy, $82.3 million for the Marine Corps, and $1.0 billion for the Air Force.

This conference agreement supports a topline of $700 billion for national defense (050) activities, which is roughly $150 billion over the Budget Control Act (BCA) cap.  If the cap is not adjusted and if this amount is fully funded by the Appropriators, then we would trigger the harmful across-the-board cuts of sequestration, just at the time when we are trying to restore readiness.  I want to be clear:  I agree that DOD needs additional resources.  But we must address the caps – for both defense and non-defense activities.  I remind my colleagues that under the BCA, national defense activities include certain programs at the FBI and the Coast Guard, while non-defense activities include the State Department, veterans’ care, Customs and Border Protection, and the TSA.  We need to look at our nation’s needs holistically and we must remain vigilant over the amount of money DOD can effectively utilize.

Overseas operations:

With regard to our overseas operations, the conference report authorizes the entirety of the funding request for our efforts in Afghanistan, including $1.7 billion to invest in critical aviation capabilities, such as close air support platforms and modernized rotary wing assets, and to continue to sustain and train the existing fleet.  The report also authorizes 3,500 Special Immigrant Visas to continue to uphold our commitments to the many brave Afghans who have provide critical support to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

The conference report continues robust support for our counterterrorism efforts against ISIS, al Qaeda, and other violent extremist groups, including approximately $1.8 billion for train and equip programs in Iraq and Syria. It also fully funds the Department’s budget request for U.S. Special Operations Command.

With this bill, we will enhance public transparency and congressional oversight of military operations and the policies that underpin them. Most notably, it requires a public articulation of the legal and policy frameworks governing the use of military force outside of declared war zones as well as additional reporting on civilian casualty incidents and DOD efforts to prevent them.

Russian interference:

The conference report includes a requirement for the Secretary of Defense to appoint a senior official in the Department to lead an effort to harness and integrate all of the Department’s capabilities to confront and defeat the kind of strategic influence operations that Russia conducted against us and our allies over the last 2 years.  It is vital that the Defense Department integrate its cyber capabilities with its information warfare experts to provide capabilities and options in time for next year’s election cycle in the United States and to support our allies in Europe against Russian operations directed against them. 

Additionally, the conference report includes a requirement for the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State to develop and report to Congress on a comprehensive, whole-of-government strategy to counter the Russian malign influence threat.  Such a detailed strategy must include measures to defend against and deter Russian activities relating to national security, including hybrid warfare, cyber attacks, and information operations.      

Security cooperation:

The 2018 NDAA also authorizes the Secretary of Defense to establish the Indo-Asia-Pacific Stability Initiative, which will be used to improve our posture in the Asia Pacific region and provide additional resources to increase partner capacity and multilateral exercises in the region. 

Submarines:

The Chief of Naval Operations’ Force Structure Assessment from last winter identified a goal of 355 ships, including 66 attack submarines.  This bill makes a good down payment on that goal by adding 5 ships to the budget, including 1 DDG-51 destroyer, 2 littoral combat ships, 1 LX(R) amphibious ship, and 1 expeditionary sea base.  

Perhaps not as dramatic, but no less important, is the addition of $698 million to the budget request to allow the Navy to begin expanding the submarine industrial base.  Achieving the CNO’s force structure goal will require adding 18 attack submarines to the previous force structure goal of 48 boats.  This will be no small challenge since retirements of older submarines will exceed deliveries of new submarines, during the ten-year period from 1991 to 2000, we ordered only 4 attack submarines (Connecticut, Jimmy Carter, Virginia, and Texas). 

Providing the resources for the Navy to expand the submarine industrial base in an orderly fashion will be a critical element of efficiently conducting any buildup of the fleet.  

Triad modernization:

The conference report fully supports the budget request for the modernization of the triad and its nuclear command and control to ensure we can deter existential threats to our homeland.  Our triad of submarines, ICBMs and bombers have been in service for decades and must be replaced.  Secretary Ash Carter put the situation eloquently when he said that a failure to do so “would mean losing confidence in our ability to deter, which we can’t afford in today’s volatile security environment.”

Technology and innovation:

In the area of technology and acquisition, I am pleased that this bill shows strong support for the Department's network of labs and test ranges - which help drive efforts to maintain our battlefield technological superiority.‎   In particular, I think this bill makes significant strides in enabling DOD to develop and buy the modern software and IT systems that are integral portion of every system, platform, and business system in the Department of Defense. Additionally, it reauthorizes the Defense Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research to expand the number of universities capable of working with the Pentagon on advanced research.

The bill also pushes DOD to make use of advanced "Big Data" technique to manage its business functions and processes. New ways of collecting, analyzing, and applying the lessons of data are revolutionizing the commercial world - it is time that DOD applied these same techniques to lower costs and save money and time.

Firearms:

The conference report also includes a provision that would allow the Army to transfer all excess firearms no longer actively issued for military service to an organic facility for the purpose of melting and repurposing.  This provision not only allows the Army to divest of these weapons, but it will also provide a steady stream of work to our organic foundries.  Furthermore, the provision will authorize the Secretary of the Army to annually designate additional excess firearms that are no longer in military use to be repurposed.  This common sense approach will allow the Army to save money on storage costs, as well as repurposing these excess weapons for higher priority needs identified by the Army.

Climate change:

I am also pleased the conference report builds on a markup amendment by Senator Nelson that directs the Department to conduct a threat assessment and deliver a master plan for climate change adaptation. The conference report includes House language from my colleague, Congressman Jim Langevin, that codifies several findings related to climate change and expresses the sense of Congress that climate change is a threat to our national security.

Personnel:

In the area of military personnel, the conference agreement accomplishes much on behalf of our service members and the Department of Defense.  The bill authorizes a 2.4 percent across-the-board pay raise for our troops, and extends authority to pay over 30 bonuses and special pays to encourage recruitment, retention, and continued service.   

It also includes authority for service secretaries to extend, by an additional year, the time that MAVNI recruits may remain in the Delayed Entry Program to ensure their background checks are completed, so that they are not unnecessarily separated due to the fault of the Government.

Additionally, the bill permanently extends the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance under the Survivor Benefit Plan, which was due to expire early next year. This ensures that widows of our veterans and service members who die of service-connected causes will continue to receive their monthly benefit, and authorizes annual cost of living adjustments to this benefit going forward.

Family care:

With regard to military family care, the report authorizes $50 million for impact aid, including $40 million in supplemental impact aid, and $10 million—twice the usual amount—for military children with severe disabilities. Furthermore, it requires the Department to improve pediatric care and related services for children of members of the military.

This bill will also improve military family readiness by addressing the shortage of qualified child-care workers, requiring that the realities of military life be considered in setting the operating hours of child-care centers, and by increasing flexibility for families when the military requires them to move. 

Closing:

Let me conclude, once again, by thanking Chairman McCain and my Senate colleagues on the committee for their thoughtful contributions to this process.  I would also like to thank my colleagues on the House Armed Services Committee, Chairman Mac Thornberry and Ranking Member Adam Smith, and I look forward to working with them in the next Congress. 

Finally, the conference agreement would not have been possible without the hard work of the entire committee staff who worked diligently to help finalize this agreement.  I would like to thank Chris Brose, Erik Swabb, and all the majority committee staff for their hard work this past year.  On the minority side, I want to thank my staff director, Elizabeth King.  I would also like to thank Gary Leeling, Creighton Greene, Carolyn Chuhta, Maggie McNamara, Jonathan Clark, Jonathan Epstein, Jorie Feldman, Ozge Guzelsu, Jody Bennett, Kirk McConnell, Bill Monahan, Mike Noblet, John Quirk, Arun Seraphin, and Jon Green.

I am deeply appreciative of all your efforts and commend you for a job well done.