June 04, 2020

Keith's Congressional Corner

“There’s been a lot of death, pain, suffering throughout the entire country. So, the Secretary and the Department of Defense took those measures that were very strict in order to protect the force, and to protect the families, and it was exactly the right thing to do. Those efforts have proven to be effective.”
- Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

The U.S. military, like our nation, faces an unprecedented challenge fighting an invisible enemy. The national unemployment rate has now rounded 15 percent. That’s 40 million American’s out of work … 34 million in the last 14 weeks alone. About one-in-three Americans are suffering with anxiety or depression. Global travel is at a near standstill.

Every aspect of military readiness is affected. Recruiting is down by half,. exercises have been curtailed, and training is impaired. Supply chains have been disrupted and , flying hours have decreased, so readiness is at risk even as Airmen and Space Professionals remain deployed in defense of our nation. Child Development Centers (CDCs) are available only for “essential personnel.” and permanent change of station (PCS) moves are up in the air.

With U.S. airlines cutting flights, pilots expect to be furloughed, presenting a rare silver lining to the dark clouds: There may be a chance the Air Force can put a dent in its pilot shortage.

The Defense Department is making plans to deal with the coronavirus environment through Summer 2021, and fortunately, some sense of normalcy is returning.

“We all want to get back to normal or a new normal as soon as possible. We’ve all been cooped up at home. We’ve placed restrictions on our own movement. We’ve practiced, day in and day out, social distancing. Our families are feeling the same thing … We all face these unique situations. We are all anxious to get on with things as best we can. … It’s is all about protecting our force, our people.”
- The Honorable Dr. Mark Esper, Secretary of Defense

The Pentagon has started loosening some of its restrictions on travel, deployments, and PCS moves. Likewise, it has accelerated payments to support industry partners . At the U.S. Air Force Academy, about three-quarters of the cadet wing are returning to campus.

Meanwhile, China and Russia are influencing the budget debate. China’s military leaders rare seeking a large increase in defense spending to cope with challenges at home and their sense that the world is posturing against them. Rogue nations such as North Korea and Iran are formidable, irrational, and continue to sponsor extremist activity.

As Congress debates the Defense Authorization and Appropriations bills, the time is now to invest in our national defense! The Air Force and Space Force need sufficient, stable, and predictable funding over several years.

The United States must not allow this pandemic to degrade our Air and Space Forces. After trillions of dollars in COVID-19 pandemic stimulus spending, and with reduced tax revenues on the horizon, pressure to cut defense spending is growing, and with it threats to vital modernization and research. In this environment, flat defense budgets can be considered a win.

Air Force recruiting is on a dangerous path, says Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein. "I'm only taking about 50 percent of my usual recruits coming into the Air Force through basic training,” he said. “I certainly can't sustain 50 percent until we get a vaccine ... that concerns me."

Chief Master Sergeant Kaleth O. Wright announced that the Air Force will conduct a “full and independent review” of its military justice system.

Our nation lost a great Airman hero when former Representative Sam Johnson (R-TX) passed away on May 27th at the age of 89. A former Air Force pilot and Korean War veteran, Johnson was a Vietnamese prisoner of war (POW) for seven years, and as a member of Congress, one of the founders of the House Air Force Caucus.

  Required as part of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, the Air Force submitted to Congress nine recommendations for a new Space Force acquisition system. The report outlines initiatives that, “represent important new action to drive accelerated and efficient acquisition. Collectively, these nine features will enable the USSF to field capabilities rapidly and pivot quickly to match emerging threats.” The report stops short of recommending a separate service acquisition for space.

The deadline passed May 31 for Air Force personnel to apply for transfers into the U.S. Space Force. The newest service has received thousands of requests to transfer.

AFA takes part in weekly calls with the secretary of Veterans Affairs to discuss veteran’s issues. The VA has maintained the lowest infection rate in its hospitals and is staying well ahead of the curve. They have continued to address veterans’ health, primarily through its expanded Telehealth capabilities.

We’ve been busy working several issues on Capitol Hill to include overturning the Air Force’s pass-through, which deceptively masks approximately 20 percent of the Air Force’s budget—funds that are neither controlled nor used by the Air Force.

On the positive side, COVID-19 has stressed the importance of the Defense Health System and the imperative to save it from future budget cuts. In addition to AFA’s op-eds and letters, we helped draft a joint letter to Congress from The Military Coalition (TMC), comprised of 34 military and veterans organizations that represent 5.5 million members. We urged Congress to stop the planned cut of 18,000 military health personnel and plans to restrict access to dozens of Military Treatment Facilities to active duty members only.

Air National Guard Airmen received some good news last week. Their Title 32 orders, that detailed them to support COVID-19 logistics and support missions, were originally scheduled to expire on June 24, one day short of the 90 days needed to be awarded retirement and education benefits. The Air Force Association President, along with the President/CEO of the Association of the U.S. Army, sent letters to the President of the United States and Secretary of Defense to advocate for the extension of those orders. The President agreed and extended the orders into the summer, so they can continue their needed work.

For the last several months, we advocated against the current 180-Day Hiring Restriction that prevents some military veterans from retiring and pursuing government civilian positions until 180-days have elapsed. Waiting six months to hire well-qualified veterans, many with security clearances and vast experience, into civilian positions puts Air Force depots a disadvantage. In an attempt to level the playing field, we are working with Congress to produce a 5th generation workforce for the 5th generation Air Force.

Along with the TMC, we petitioned Congress to protect U.S. service members from unjust prosecution from the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Your Air Force Association remains actively engaged in our mission to promote dominant U.S. Air and Space Forces as the foundation of a strong National Defense; to honor and support our Airmen, Space Force Professionals, and their Families!

Air Force and Space Force Highlights

Funding two military services — with the resources for one — risks both
DefenseNews.com | 19 May 2020 | by Col. Keith Zuegel (ret.)  

The U.S. Defense Department’s budget is confusing — and misleading. On the surface, it appears that the departments of the Air Force, Army and Navy receive comparable shares of the budget. That’s false. There is a little understood provision referred to as the "pass-through” that quietly transfers more than 20 percent of the Department of the Air Force’s budget to programs outside its control.

The Department of the Air Force, with its two military services — the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Space Force — has been significantly underfunded for decades, resulting in significant shortfalls in readiness and modernization for both air and space forces. The pass-through funds that seemed to go to the Air Force for space were inaccessible for Air Force space investment.

In comparison, the Department of the Navy is provided a budget sufficient to fund the Marines Corps as a separate service, and its pass-through is only 1 percent. The Department of the Army’s pass-through is 3.2 percent.

Snapshot: DOD and COVID-19 - Number of COVID-19 cases in DOD, as of June 2nd.
AirForceMag.com | 2 Jun 2020 | by Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory

The F-22 imperative
DefenseNews.com | 28 May 2020 | by David A. Deptula and Douglas Birkey, Mitchell Institute 

These 5th generation stealth aircraft are the crown jewels in the nation’s military arsenal. The recent crash reinforces the need to double down on the F-22 force by fully funding necessary upgrades. No other capability — U.S. or foreign — will come close to the F-22 for years into the future. It is important that budget and inventory management decisions mirror that reality.

Because of its vast array of capabilities — not all known — the F-22 is our nation’s greatest conventional deterrent. While the current force size is small relative to other fighter forces, the F-22 has — at a minimum — an order of magnitude greater effect than any other fighter in the world.

Thousands defer plans to leave the military during crisis
MilitaryTimes.com | 18 May 2020 | by Lolita C. Baldor

Across the military, uncertainty about future jobs or college opportunities is driving more service members to re-enlist or at least postpone their scheduled departures. As unemployment, layoffs and a historic economic downturn grip the nation, the military — with its job security, steady paycheck and benefits — is looking much more appealing.

The Air Force is already expecting to fall short of its recruiting goal by as much as 5,800 as a result of the virus.

So far, the number of Air Force personnel who have withdrawn their requests to leave the service or have asked to extend their enlistment is 700 more than last year at this time, including 230 pilots and medical staff
[Note: COVID-19’s adverse impact on commercial aviation opportunities will likely improve the Air Force’s pilot shortage issue—at least for a while.]

Military families caught in COVID-19 financial straits could see relief under this proposal
MilitaryTimes.com | 9 May 2020 | by Karen Jowers

With thousands of military families in limbo during a virtual halt of permanent change of station moves, lawmakers introduced legislation Friday to address financial losses some families are facing.

Specifically, the proposal would change the law to allow service members — without penalty —to terminate a residential lease they’ve already entered into at a new location in anticipation of a PCS move, when that service member is affected by a stop movement order in response to a local, national or global emergency for a period of at least 30 days. The proposal would amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, or SCRA.

Note: AFA, along with The Military Coalition (TMC) has endorsed this legislation.

The Post-Pandemic Military Will Need to Improvise
DefenseOne.com | 8 May 2020 | by Bryan Clark and Dan Patt

The COVID-19 pandemic is still in its opening phases, but the disease and responses to it are already taking a disproportionate bite out of military innovation. While ship, aircraft, and vehicle construction continue, the U.S. military’s efforts to develop new technologies and tactics are slowing in the wake of cancelled exercises, postponed experiments, and idled laboratories. And when R&D can resume, the money needed to sustain it could instead be diverted to economic recovery.

As Guard, Reserve Members Face Disrupted Drill Periods, Some Call for Legal Fix
Military.com | 8 May 2020 | by Hope Hodge Seck

Now, as the nation contends with another extraordinary event in the form of the novel coronavirus pandemic, some are once again looking to Congress to step in and provide relief to Guard and Reserve members whose careers might be at risk due to circumstances outside their control.

Note: AFA, along with The Military Coalition (TMC) has endorsed this legislation.

Key Dates to Watch


  • Sep 12-13 - AFA's National Convention, Gaylord Conference Center, National Harbor, MD
  • 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)