June 01, 2018

Keith's Congressional Corner

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Mark Twain

Since the last update, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 (NDAA) passed the House, and the Senate Armed Services Committee marked up its version of the yearly authorization bill. We’ll know more details in a couple weeks when the Senate releases their mark. Per earlier budget cap agreement, both the House’s and Senate's versions authorize approximately $717 billion for defense,  including $639 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) war fund.

For 57 years in a row, the NDAA has been passed by Congress and signed into law. Although passage of the authorization bill is expected later this Fall, budget appropriations are another matter. Congress opines that they dislike short-term spending bills, and the president has made it clear that he will not sign another loaded omnibus appropriations bill. After this week’s Recess, Congress is expected to return to vote on a three-bill “minibus” that includes Energy-Water, Military Construction-VA, and Legislative Branch FY 2019 appropriations bills. However, many anticipate another continuing resolution (CR) will be needed to keep the government running on October 1st, the start of the new fiscal year.

“The future of our nation is forever bound up in the development of Air Power.”

General William “Billy” Mitchell

In a positive development, the Air Force notified Congress that an independent cost estimate highlighted that, “The Air Force estimates its planned multiyear procurement of 52 C-130J variants between fiscal years 2019 and 2023 will save about $572 million compared to an annual procurement approach.” Makes sense.

Just imagine if the Defense Department (DOD) was authorized and appropriated adequately by Congress—at the start of the fiscal year. DOD could negotiate the best per item cost with industry, buy economic orders of quantity (EOQs) of programs which would save costs and keep industrial base production lines viable, and accelerate purchases earlier in the life of the program. DOD would be better positioned to recapitalize costly older programs sooner. The warfighters would receive the needed weapon systems earlier, and taxpayers would save valuable tax dollars.

In a different interim report required by Congress, DOD presented several ongoing efforts to improve space acquisition, budgeting, and warfighting but did not include an evaluation of the Space Corps proposal.

Since the last update, President Trump nominated Robert Wilkie to be the Department of Veterans Affairs' next permanent Secretary. Mr. Wilkie served as the Acting Secretary of Veteran Affairs from March 28th until earlier this week. Prior to that, he spent the majority of his career as a Senate staffer and at the DOD, where he served as undersecretary for personnel and readiness. The VA and our nation’s 20 million veterans deserve a permanent leader in place.

Finally, I want to give a quick update on some of our engagements with Capitol Hill regarding issues important to our members. In the last couple months, AFA met with the leadership from the Exchange (AAFES), DeCA (Commissary), and the Armed Forces Retirement Home. All organizations are facing challenges and potential changes. AFA is also advocating for the end of sequestration, increased force levels, an ample military pay raise, and fairness in Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) regardless of housing-sharing status. We are seeking to extend authorization for Concurrent Retirement and Disability Payments (CRDP) to disabled retirees and for bringing earned benefits for 12304b missions to the Guard and Reserve in order to achieve parity with their Active Duty counterparts. We have also endorsed the permanency of the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA) in the 2018 NDAA. More to follow.

Air Force Highlights

Senate Armed Services Committee Passes FY 2019 NDAA

   - Adds $150 million for hypersonics

   - Adds $110 million for space constellation efforts
   - Prohibits DOD from contracting with Huawei Technologies or ZTE Corporation
   - Includes $4.2 billion to procure 47 F-35A fighters
   - Authorizes $2.3 billion to procure 14 KC-46 aircraft (1 fewer than request)
   - Authorizes $350 million to procure Air Force light attack aircraft
   - Fully funds development of the B-21 bomber
   - Prohibits the retirement of any E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar
     (JSTARs) aircraft while increasing funding for the Advanced Battle Management
     System, the JSTARs replacement program
   - Authorizes multiyear procurement for the C-130J aircraft program
   - Authorizes $144.2 million for the A-10 Wing Replacement Program, which is $65
     million more than the administration’s request
   - Authorizes a 2.6 percent pay raise for members of the Armed Forces
   - Authorizes Active Duty end strength at 325,720 in the Air Force
   - Allows officers in grades O-2 and above to extend careers to 40 years of service

The Pilot Shortage Quandary
AirForceMag.com | 1 Jun 2018 | by Amy McCullough
 
The Air Force is short roughly 2,000 pilots, and the service is working 66 different initiatives it hopes will bring on larger numbers of new pilots and retain more the of the pilots it does have. Changes include financial incentives, quality of life improvements, and more flying time, Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein told House appropriators in March. Read more.
 
The US is running out of bombs — and it may soon struggle to make more
DefenseNews.com | 22 May 2018 | by Aaron Mehta 
 
The Pentagon plans to invest more than $20 billion in munitions in its next budget. But whether the industrial base will be there to support such massive buys in the future is up in the air — at a time when America is expending munitions at increasingly intense rates. Read more.
 
Despite Shortage, Air Force Likely Won't Boost Enlisted Pilot Ranks
Military.com | 16 May 2018 | by Oriana Pawlyk
 
Even as the U.S. Air Force faces a long-term pilot shortage, there are no plans to grow the ranks of enlisted pilots, a top official said recently.
 
"We'll certainly see what the study says, but at this point, we have no intention to expand enlisted pilot positions beyond the Global Hawk" community, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told Military.com on May 4. Read more.
 
House Passes Sweeping Bill to Overhaul VA-Funded Private Care, Shutter Facilities
GovExec.com | 16 May 2018 | by Eric Katz
 
The House on Wednesday passed 347-70 a major overhaul to veterans’ health care, voting to expand their access to private sector care on the government’s dime and to bring the Veterans Affairs Department through a process that would close some of its federally run facilities.
 
The bill would provide veterans with access to private sector care when the services they are seeking are not offered at VA, there is no full-service medical facility in their state, they previously were eligible for outside care under the Veterans Choice Program or VA cannot meet its own standards of care in providing care to an individual veteran. Read more.  Note: AFA advocated for this landmark legislation, which is expected to be signed into law soon.
 
“We’re going to be watching that very carefully, to see...culturally, whether the Air Force could give the appropriate emphasis on space.”
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee
 
Air Force in “Testing Period” on Space, Thornberry Says
Air Force Magazine | 16 May 2018 | by Steve Hirsch
 
The Air Force is in a “testing period” as Congress considers whether to renew its push to set up a separate space corps, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said Tuesday. Speaking to a Bloomberg Government breakfast in Washington, Thornberry noted that the House proposal to set up such a corps in last year’s defense authorization legislation did not survive conference with the Senate, but legislators came out of the conference emphasizing to the Air Force that “you’d better show us that you’re going to take space seriously, with appropriate attention, resources, etc.” So, Thornberry said, “I kind of see this as a testing period for the Air Force.” Read more.
 
Officials to raise residents’ fees at troubled Armed Forces Retirement Home
MilitaryTimes.com | 10 Apr 2018 | by Karen Jowers
 
Many residents at the Armed Forces Retirement Home ― particularly those with higher incomes― will begin paying higher monthly fees in October as officials look to cover more of their operating costs, shore up AFRH finances and decrease the need for taxpayer dollar bailouts.
 
More than three-fourths of the residents live in independent living units, where the average monthly fees paid will increase by about 55 percent ― from $1,226 to $1,895. The cost of providing that independent living unit and associated services such as three meals a day, health care services, transportation and activities is $3,054. Read more.

QUOTES TO NOTE

“All of us in this room have more sensors in our pockets today than we would have in a whole city block at the time JSTARS was created, so we think there is a different way to solve the battle management problem.”
- The Honorable Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force
 
“This [cybersecurity] is the battlefield of today and our cyber forces are ready,”
- Maj. Gen. Chris Weggeman, AFCYBER commander
 
"We don't have a shortage of people who want to become pilots, so there's no shortage of recruits. The issue is retention at the 10- to 12-year point and the capacity of squadrons to absorb new pilots."
- The Honorable Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force
 
“As we’ve dug into the details and analyzed the issues, it really comes down to two areas that we are investing in and focused on. One is how many pilots we produce; and then, two, how many pilots we retain, because you have to get both of those right.”
- Gen. David Goldfein, Chief of Staff, US Air Force

YOUR AIR FORCE – DID YOU KNOW?

The Air Force is the only service that directly fought the Soviet Union. During WWII, the US and the Soviet Union had a dogfight over the Serbian town of Niš. Details remain classified by both governments, and the outcome is not clear.