Reed Further Discusses the 2021 NDAA on the Senate Floor
Madam President, I rise to further discuss the fiscal year 2021 national defense authorization bill. Senator Inhofe will be speaking later today on the bill, and I again want to thank him for his leadership and bipartisanship throughout the drafting of this very important legislation.
As I noted last week, the Committee on Armed Services adopted this bill with the strong bipartisan support of 25 to 2. I am hopeful that we can have a productive consideration of this bill on the floor this week, with votes on amendments and packages of cleared amendments, so that we can conduct further efforts to improve and amend this legislation. The bill authorizes $662.3 billion in base funding for the Department of Defense and Energy’s nuclear programs and an additional $69 billion for overseas contingency operations, which align with the caps established in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019. I want to applaud the chairman for providing the Department with the resources it needs while remaining within the constraints we set under the Budget Control Act.
The bill before us will provide much needed stability and predictability to the Department of Defense. For the Army, the bill supports many modernization objectives, including critical priorities such as Long Range Precision Fires and the Future Vertical Lift Program. It also fully funds critical legacy platforms such as the M1 Abrams tank that the Army needs until new systems are fielded in the future. Further, the bill includes resources for active protection systems for combat vehicles, as well as additional funding for the Army’s MultiDomain Task Force, which is critical to the Army’s efforts in the Pacific. For the Navy and Marine Corps, the bill would add roughly $900 million to authorize a number of unfunded priorities identified by the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant. I am disappointed that we could not, however, fully fund the CNO’s top unfunded priority—the 10th Virginia class submarine in the current multiyear procurement program. However, I am pleased that this bill provides sufficient funds to keep open the option for the 10th boat in fiscal year 2022 or 2023. It also mandates changes in the oversight and execution of shipbuilding and unmanned systems development programs—changes that should help instill more rigor and discipline within the Navy.
Turning to air power, the bill helps improve oversight of the Department by requiring the Secretary of Defense to submit an annual 30-year plan for the procurement of the aircraft in the Department of the Navy, the Department of the Air Force, and the Department of the Army. This is similar to the 30-year shipbuilding report that is already in statute. The bill also supports the Department’s efforts to achieve reduced operating and support costs of the F–35 program and perhaps motivates the Department to lower costs in other weapons systems overall, which will be a critical factor going forward.
In the area of special operations, our forces remain heavily engaged around the world, and I am pleased that the bill authorizes funding at the requested level of $13 billion, including increased funding for high-priority requirements identified by the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command necessary to reconstitute capabilities lost in combat over the past several years. Further, the bill also includes provisions designed to enable the Assistant Secretary for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict to more effectively fulfill advocacy and oversight responsibilities with regard to the Special Operations Forces.
Turning to personnel matters, the bill authorizes the active and reserve component end strengths necessary to meet national defense objectives, provides a 3-percent pay raise for the troops, and reauthorizes a number of bonus, special, and incentive pay authorities necessary to recruit and retain the highest quality individuals for military service. Further, the bill includes a number of additional provisions that support quality of life for our military personnel. It authorizes $75 million for the services to conduct better oversight of privatized housing and hire more staff in the housing arena. It also requires the Department of Defense inspector general to conduct an audit of the medical conditions of servicemembers and their families who lived in unhealthy military privatized housing.
I am particularly pleased that this bill authorizes $50 million for supplemental impact aid and $20 million in impact aid for severely disabled military children, and it rejects a proposal by the Department to cut 172 teachers from DOD schools. In addition, the bill includes a provision, sponsored by Senator GILLIBRAND, which would allow victims of sexual assault to report incidents without fear of being disciplined for minor misconduct that was collateral to the sexual assault. It further includes a provision to improve the tracking and response to child abuse on military installations. Turning to readiness, the bill authorizes an additional $79 million in Army operations and maintenance to replace child development center playground equipment, which will address safety issues and provides an additional $47 million in Army operations and maintenance for six key Child and Youth Services Program improvements across multiple installations.
To help counter the effects of climate change, the bill authorizes $50 million in planning and design for military installation resilience for climate change adaptation projects. It also adds $8 million to the Navy’s direct air capture and seawater carbon capture program. To reduce fuel use, the bill adds $65 million to the Operational Energy Capability Improvement Fund to pursue promising innovations to weapons platforms like hybrid electric drive for ships or improved turbine engines for aircraft that improve combat capability with less fuel. The bill also increases Air Force operational energy programs which reduce fuel, such as using smaller fins and streamlining the C–130 fuselage.
I am disappointed, however, that the committee did not accept an amendment, offered by Senator Shaheen, which would have deemed the chemicals PFAS and PFOA as hazardous and a pollutant under the DOD Environmental Restoration Program. Elevated levels of PFAS, a class of manmade chemicals that have been manufactured since the 1950s, may be contaminating drinking water in 33 States nationwide, including my State of Rhode Island. PFAS has been linked to a variety of cancers, weakened immunity, and other serious health problems. Senator Shaheen’s amendment would have also codified Secretary Esper’s PFAS task force; required blood testing of PFAS in servicemembers and their dependents as part of their existing annual checkups; stopped incineration of PFAS substances by DOD until final guidance following EPA rules are published; reported on remaining installations not yet tested for PFAS and all DOD locations of PFAS incineration; and also added $25 million in O&M for Air Force environmental restoration. I will continue to work with Senator Shaheen and other colleagues to gain acceptance of this legislation. I think it is vitally important that we do so as we debate this bill on the floor.
In the area of science and technology, I am pleased that the bill increases funding for important research activities and includes provisions to support Pentagon efforts to develop and deploy artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and emerging biotechnologies to protect our national security. It also includes several provisions that continue our efforts to reform antiquated Pentagon procurement practices and strengthen our domestic manufacturing and industrial base, including in critical sectors such as microelectronics, pharmaceuticals, and rare earth materials. In the area of spectrum management, this bill includes a provision sponsored by Senator Wicker, along with Chairman Inhofe, Senator Cantwell, and myself. I am pleased by the provision’s inclusion, which would aid development of a common database to allow executive branch agencies to share finite spectrum resources efficiently. This is an example of bipartisan work between two important committees— the Armed Services Committee and the Commerce Committee—and I hope we can continue to build upon it.
Turning to cyber security, I am pleased that this bill adopts 11 of the recommendations from the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, which was cochaired by Senator KING. I want to commend Senator King on extraordinary work. His insight, his ability to work with others, his grasp of not only the present situation but what is emerging quickly in the future is extraordinary and commendable. He has done a remarkable job. The Commission took on a tough issue and did a very, very thorough job. While we were able to include recommendations in the Armed Services Committee’s jurisdiction in our bill, the Commission has many more thoughtful recommendations that span across many committee jurisdictions, and I hope we can work together on the floor in this bill to incorporate those provisions. The bill also requires the Department to present a strategy to the White House and Congress to revive the manufacture of advanced microelectronics in the United States. This Defense authorization bill includes a number of provisions that enhance the United States’ ability to compete with near-peer competitors, and we are actively seeking ways in which we can prevent these competitors from undermining our national security and, indeed, the international order. With regard to Russia, this bill enhances our deterrence capabilities, including by fully funding the request for the European Deterrence Initiative.
In addition, the bill requires a report on Russian support to racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist groups in Europe and the United States. The problem of racially and ethnically motivated violent extremist groups is an emerging national security threat, not simply a law enforcement problem, as Russia and Russian agents or entities are working to advance Russian strategic objectives by co-opting, supporting, and amplifying these groups to sow divisions and threaten our democratic institutions. The bill also maintains strong support for Ukraine through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative and requires a 5-year plan for helping Ukraine build the capabilities it needs to defend itself from Russian aggression. Turning to China, the bill establishes the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, a new authority for the Department of Defense modeled after the European Deterrence Initiative, and authorizes $200 million in funding.
The bill also increases funding for the Indo-Pacific Maritime Security Initiative to ensure that our partner countries in South and Southeast Asia are able to respond effectively to Chinese coercion in the South China Sea and beyond. The bill also includes a provision that was adopted during markup, expressing the sense of the Congress that the USS Mercy and the USS Comfort should conduct port calls in Taiwan to collaborate on COVID–19 response and best practices. While I applaud Taiwan’s efforts on COVID–19, Taiwan is not a sovereign state, and conducting port calls is a larger policy issue that should be more fully discussed and debated. For those reasons, I voted against the amendment.
With respect to countering the continued threat by ISIS, the bill extends the Iraq and Syria Train and Equip Programs at the requested funding levels, while ensuring appropriate congressional oversight of the use of such funds. Specific to Iraq, the bill continues efforts to normalize security assistance to Iraq by transitioning funding to enduring authorities. For Afghanistan, the bill extends the authority to train and equip Afghan Security Forces at the requested funding level and enhances congressional oversight of such funds. It requires an assessment of the progress made on issues such as anti-corruption, recruitment and retention of security forces, and commitments made by the Afghanistan Government in support of peace negotiations. It also includes a specific reporting requirement should the Department elect to withhold any security assistance to Afghanistan. In addition, the bill includes a sense of the Senate provision, which I was proud to cosponsor, expressing concern that a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. military, diplomatic, and intelligence personnel from Afghanistan without effective, countervailing efforts to secure gains in Afghanistan may allow violent extremist groups to regenerate. These conditions would threaten the security of the Afghan people and create a security vacuum that could destabilize the region and provide ample safe haven for extremist groups seeking to conduct external attacks. It also requires a report on current and projected threats to the United States homeland and that of our allies emanating from Afghanistan.
Further, the bill includes a provision sponsored by Senator Shaheen to refine and clarify expectations for the Department on the implementation of the Women, Peace, and Security Act, which was adopted by unanimous consent during the committee’s markup. Turning to nuclear testing, I have concerns about the addition of a provision sponsored by Senator Cotton which holds $10 million to cover costs of reducing the time to conduct nuclear tests if they are deemed necessary. The United States has not conducted a nuclear test since 1992. Each year the three lab Directors of our National Laboratory give a written assessment of the stockpile and whether it needs testing. For 22 years, they have said that weapons do not need to be tested as long as we continue the Stockpile Stewardship Program. In addition, it would realistically take over 2 years and hundreds of millions of dollars to actually be ready for a test. I don’t believe we should be even signaling that the Nation is considering doing this without a full and lengthy debate of the issues by Congress, and that was one of the reasons I opposed the amendment.
For 18 years, the Senate Armed Services Committee has honestly struggled over the Defense Department’s detainee policy, particularly regarding the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. For many years, the policy remained unchanged, but for the past several years, the committee has adopted an amendment in markup that would allow detainees to be transferred to the United States for emergency medical treatment and then returned to the detention facility at Guantanamo. This is an aging population of detainees, and there are certain conditions that cannot be treated at Guantanamo, and moving all the medical equipment and specialty doctors to Guantanamo would be cost-prohibitive. However, I was very disappointed that this year the medical transfer amendment was defeated for the first time. Allowing detainees to be transferred to the United States for medical treatment is the most cost-effective and humane way forward to ensure we treat detainees with dignity and in accordance with our obligations under the Geneva Conventions. This is a problem that can only get more urgent as time passes, and I hope we can find a way forward on this issue.
Finally, it is impossible to discuss this bill without discussing the many crises facing our Nation. The crisis affecting every citizen is the exponential spread of COVID–19, and our military is not immune. As of today, 11,770 military personnel are infected. Adding in DOD families and civilians, the number is closer to 17,000. That number increased by over 1,500 individuals in the last 48 hours and continues to trend upward. That is a startling growth in these cases. Our National Guard members are most heavily impacted because they are on the frontlines of the pandemic. These infections affect the readiness of our force in their ability to train and deploy and to do so without worrying about the health of their families. The administration’s response to the pandemic has been woefully inadequate, and immediate steps must be taken to aid civilians and military personnel alike.
Our Nation has also been engulfed by protests over the senseless murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and others at the hands of police officers and some civilians. These deaths magnify centuries of injustice and brutality against African Americans. These protests have been occurring across the country and have been overwhelmingly peaceful, although there have been isolated exceptions. Our Nation is in pain, but rather than call for unity and calm, President Trump has threatened to bring military troops against peaceful protesters. While the President does have the authority to call up military personnel under the Insurrection Act, it does not mean he should. It is used quite rarely as an exception to the broad principle embedded deeply in American democracy and history that the Active Armed Forces should not be used to enforce State laws or to exercise police power reserved to the States unless absolutely necessary and as the very last resort. Therefore, I am pleased that this bill includes a provision that was overwhelmingly adopted during the markup to prohibit the use of DOD funds to take actions against U.S. citizens that would infringe on their First Amendment rights to assemble peaceably and to petition the government for redress of grievances. Senator Kaine of Virginia was instrumental in that bill, and Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut has additional legislation that is worthy of consideration.
In addition, the bill includes an amendment adopted by voice vote that requires the Defense Department within 3 years to implement the recommendations of a commission on how to remove all names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia from DOD assets that honor or commemorate the Confederacy. Such legislation is long overdue. Senior Department officials have all indicated they are open to changing these names. There is bipartisan cooperation on this issue. This is the right thing to do, and DOD needs to lead the way.
To conclude, let me again commend Chairman Inhofe for his efforts in getting us to this point. Let me thank my colleagues especially for all of their hard work on getting this bill out of the committee. I look forward to an open debate on the floor, voting on amendments, and getting this legislation passed. I look forward—in fact, look back at the days when that was a routine procedure, when our Defense bill was a way in which many people from different committees and different aspects of the Senate could come forward and offer legislation. We could debate legislation, vote, move forward, and at the end have a piece of legislation that this entire Senate was extraordinarily proud of, and that is my hope for this year.
With that, I thank you. I yield the floor