April 09, 2020

Keith's Congressional Corner

“These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value.”
- Thomas Paine, The Crisis

These are unprecedented times. Businesses are getting shuttered. Millions are unemployed. Food banks are over 

stressed. Some suggest we are on the precipice of either a recession or a depression, and millions are sacrificing their freedoms to save tens of thousands of lives.

World War II may have been a war of alliances against a common enemy; however, never in the history of modern “warfare” has the entire world aligned against a single enemy.  Not since the outbreak of last world war have we been so adversely, and collectively, impacted by an invisible enemy—COVID-19.

Similar to the attacks on our nation on 9/11, we are inspired as our nation comes together. We have watched unsung heroes lead from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and the U.S. Public Health Service led by the Surgeon General and his team. We applaud those healthcare workers that are caring for our fellow citizens.

Eventually, Congress came together to pass its third economic stimulus package, totaling $2 Trillion—the largest relief bill ever signed by a President. H.R. 748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, otherwise known as ‘The Care Act,’ included $20.2 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and $10 billion for the Department of Defense (DoD).

“VA has a world-class medical team doing incredible work on the frontlines of this fight. We will continue to share best practices and lessons learned with other government agencies and the private health care system as appropriate so we can defeat COVID-19 as a nation.”
- Robert Wilkie, Secretary of Veterans Affairs

I represented AFA on a call with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Mr. Robert Wilkie, on April 1st.  Secretary Wilkie thanked the participating Veterans Service Organizations stating that we are all in this fight. The VA closed down many of its hospitals and community centers and admittedly, cut off the most-deserving of the veterans. With the exception of routine appointments, they are still doing acute care and emergencies, however, they stopped doing elective surgery. Despite the setbacks, they are still seeing 110,000-125,0000 veterans each day; 160,000 on phone calls; and 10,000 on video visits.

As a result, the VA launched a Twitter campaign offering retired medical personnel dual compensation waivers if they can support medical staff in VA facilities.

“This stimulus package includes provisions important to our men and women in uniform and their families. It provides resources vital to the Military’s efforts to assist in pandemic response around the country, from deploying hospital ships to the search for a vaccine. It also provides resources needed to care for those in the military community who are infected with COVID-19. We need to give our military the resources it needs to get on with their important work.”- Rep. Mac Thornberry, Ranking Member, House Armed Services Committee

DoD has risen to the occasion and is selflessly doing all it can.

To assist industry, the Pentagon temporarily increased progress payments rates adding to $3 billion dollars for contractors for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.

Yet, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper warned, "If this pandemic continues at the scale and scope of what some are predicting, over time you could start seeing an impact on readiness."

Large field exercises were halted, recruiting has slowed, and military members are increasingly affected by the pandemic.

On March 27th, AFA’s president was on a call with the secretary of defense and military and veterans’ associations. They discussed the national and DoD response to COVID-19 challenges. Secretary Esper communicated the unknowns surrounding multiple impacts on our U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force readiness and families and stated that it was difficult to establish timelines for our families specific to PCS move implications.

The Air Force announced its first casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, a contractor from Robins Air Force Base in Georgia.

DoD is expecting its COVID-19 efforts to last a few months, at least.

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The U.S. Air Force will transfer 23 Air Force organizations and 1,840 billets in space-related missions to the U.S. Space Force within the next three to six months. The transfer won’t necessitate any physical movement for either units or their billets, and the 1,840 billets will not have to change services. However, in the future, they may have that opportunity to become U.S. Space Force professionals.

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In another unprecedented move and not seen since World War II, the Air Force Academy elected to graduate the Class of 2020 nearly two months early. This historical class has been resilient in the face of adversity and tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the them, their families and the entire Academy community.

We pray for those who are ill or who have lost loved ones from this pandemic threat and to those most adversely impacted.


Air Force and Space Force Highlights

COVID-19 shows why military health care shouldn’t be downsized
AirForceTimes.com | 31 Mar 2020 | by Orville Wright and Keith Zuegel
 
As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the world and our nation, one steadying and encouraging resource has been the nation’s military. The Department of Defense (DoD) activated thousands of National Guardsmen and Reservists, tapping into our nation’s largest source for medical surge capability.
 
Military medicine has long been a critically valuable source of research, insight, training and skill for the nation and now is no different. Yet even as leaders turn to the military for manpower, medics, and expertise, the Defense Department is engineering a reduction of that system. Following through on this plan would be a terrible mistake.
 
DoD’s so-called Military Health System (MHS) Reform would eliminate up to 18,000 military medical personnel — 4,000 from the Air Force, 7,000 from the Army, and 5,000 from the Navy. Dozens of Military Treatment Facilities (MTFs) would be downsized, with access limited to active duty personnel.
 
That would push 84,000 family members and 110,000 military retirees out of the MTFs and into already over-burdened civilian medical facilities unprepared for the increase. In some communities, DoD acknowledges, medical providers won’t even accept all of the military’s Tricare insurance programs. 

Goldfein: Expect Military Movement Ban to be Extended
AirForceMag.com | 6 Apr 2020 | by Rachel Cohen
 
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein expects the service’s stop-movement order will be extended past May 11 as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
 
AMC Prioritizing Bomber, Fighter Alert Support During Coronavirus Outbreak
AirForceMag.com | 3 Apr 2020 | by Brian Everstine
 
Air Mobility Command will soon stop some missions and cut back others to focus on what it has deemed essential, as the new coronavirus outbreak changes how the military operates globally.
 
Space Force Preps New Acquisition Ideas
AirForceMag.com | 3 Apr 2020 | by Rachel Cohen
 
The Space Force is wrapping up its report on how to build a successful new military space acquisition enterprise, posing 10 recommendations to Capitol Hill while starting to move out on pieces of the plan.
 
Six of the 10 recommendations would require legislative changes, according to Shawn Barnes, acting assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration. The report stops short of suggesting bill text, which could land in the fiscal 2021 defense policy bill, but highlights policies and approaches that need to change to streamline how the Space Force develops, buys, and upgrades its systems.

The pass-through has been a thin disguise, but with a big penalty.”
- Ms. Barbara Barrett, Secretary of the Air Force

The Budget and the Truth
AirForceMag.com | 1 Apr 2020 | by Amy McCullough

Pass-through funds inflate USAF spending by almost 25 percent, hiding the truth from friends and foes alike. Is this the year it finally ends?

The Department of the Air Force’s $207.2 billion top line in its fiscal 2021 budget request looks pretty good on paper, especially when compared to the $207.1 billion requested for the Department of the Navy or the $178 billion for the Army. But looks can be deceiving. 
 
In reality, the Department of the Air Force’s share of the budget pie is significantly smaller than those other services. That’s because the Air Force funding line includes $38 billion in proposed spending that will never be seen, used, or controlled by the Air Force. This is the so-called “non-Blue” budget, also known as the “pass-through,” because it is spending that passes through the Air Force, but is never under its control. This portion of the Air Force budget has artificially inflated the service’s top line for decades. 
 
Without the pass-through, the 2021 Air Force budget request seeks just $169 billion for the department, including $153.6 billion for the U.S. Air Force and $15.4 billion for the fledgling U.S. Space Force.
 
USAF Announces New KC-46 ‘Category One’ Deficiency
AirForcemag.com | 30 Mar 2020 | by Brian W. Everstine
 
The Air Force’s troubled new tanker has another serious deficiency—a fuel leak problem that Boeing must fix at its own cost.
 
The service’s KC-46 program office first discovered a fuel leak during a flight test in July 2019, and the Air Force announced March 30 the problem has been upgraded to a “Category One” deficiency, meaning it could cause severe damage.
 
The new deficiency is in addition to existing “Category One” deficiencies with the Remote Vision System and a problem with an actuator on the boom itself. The Remote Vision System—the series of cameras allowing the boom operator to refuel a trailing aircraft remotely—is plagued with problems relating to clarity, lighting, and depth of field. The actuator in the boom has proven problematic when connecting with aircraft that fly slower, such as the A-10. 

There are always concerns, but right now I have no major delays, and that’s due to fantastic people thinking creatively."
-  Will Roper, Air Force’s Assistant Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

Here’s how COVID-19 is impacting the US Air Force’s most important weapons programs
DefenseNews.com | 27 Mar 2020 | by Valerie Insinna
 
Over the past few weeks, U.S. defense contractors have watched the new coronavirus, known as COVID-19, transform from a looming threat into a national crisis. But so far there have been no significant negative impacts to Air Force weapons development programs, the service’s acquisition executive said.

DoD Response to COVID-19 - DoD ID Cards and Benefits
 
To ensure DoD ID card offices are postured to maintain continuity of operations, and to minimize the number of non-essential required visits at DoD ID card offices, the following guidance is in effect through September 30, 2020:
 
Common Access Cards (CAC)
- CAC transactions shall be limited to initial issuance or reissuance of an expiring CAC within 30 days of expiration; CACs shall not be reissued due to printed information changes (e.g., promotions, name changes).
- The policy memorandum allowing transferring DoD civilian employees to retain their CAC will be reissued.

Uniformed Services ID Cards (USID)
- If a cardholder's affiliation is unchanged, USID cards which expired on or after January 1, 2020, are authorized for continued benefit use through September 30, 2020.
- Termination of cardholder affiliation with the DoD or termination of benefit eligibility shall be verified electronically prior to confiscating an expired USID card with an expiration date on or after January 1, 2020.
- Remote USID card renewals and reissuance shall be expanded.
- Remote family member enrollment/eligibility updates are authorized.
- Remote USID card initial issuance for first-time issuance or replacement of lost/stolen ID card is authorized.
- All remotely-issued USID cards shall be issued with an expiration date not to exceed one year from the date of issuance.
- The minimum age for initial USID card issuance is increased from 10 to 14 years.
- Continued use of the Reserve USID card to obtain active duty benefits is authorized for mobilized Reservists and their eligible dependents.


Key Dates to Watch

2020

  • Sep 14-16 - AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference, Gaylord Conference Center, National Harbor, MD

If you have questions, please contact:

Keith Zuegel, (Ret.), USAF
Senior Director, Government Relations
Air Force Association (AFA)

GRL@afa.org