August 02, 2018

Keith's Congressional Corner

"For Good or for ill, air mastery is today the supreme expression of military power and fleets and armies, hower vital and important, must accept a subordinate rank."
Winston Churchill, 1949

The last edition of AFA’s Legislative Update largely focused on the prospects for a new Space Force that would dramatically alter the current military services—especially the Air Force. Congress departed Washington for its August Recess, and despite not yet releasing its assessment or waiting for Congress, the Pentagon is moving forward on creating a Space Force.

Before departing town, Congress, motivated to go on August Recess and to campaign before their November elections, was ahead of its usual annual pace to complete defense bills. Yet, not one appropriations bill is finished, so this could be the 10th year in a row that the federal government starts the new fiscal year with a continuing resolution (CR) appropriations bill.

Congress did pass the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and it now goes to the President for his signature. Although the policy bill has passed and will become law for the 57th year in a row, the last time Congress passed it before the start of the fiscal year (1 October) was the 1997 NDAA—two decades ago.

“Air control can be established by superiority in numbers, by better employment, by better equipment, or by a combination of these factors.”
Gen Carl A. 'Tooey' Spaatz

The $717 billion bill authorizes the Air Force increased end strength (329,100 Active Duty), the highest military pay raise in nine years, 48 F-35s fighters; 15 KC-46A tankers; 18 C-130J airlifters; and 10 Combat Rescue helicopters. Reversing course, they did allow the Air Force to stop its Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) recapitalization while restricting retirement of the legacy E-8C JSTARS aircraft. In addition to plussing up the Air Force’s new Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS), they added $1.1 billion for the continued development of the Genesis electronic healthcare records system. Funds were also added to continue to develop the B-21 Raider bomber, Long Range Standoff (LRSO) weapon, and Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD). In a victory for our members, TRICARE fee increases were avoided, and Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) decreases were prevented. It directed the Secretary of the Army to take steps to extend the life of Arlington National Cemetery as an active cemetery well into the future. The Space Force was not authorized for next year.

The FY 2019 Military Construction (MILCON)/Department of Veterans Affairs appropriations bill is in final negotiations for passage.

Defense appropriators are also completing work on the FY 2019 Defense Appropriations bill. We have been advocating for the procurement of more F-35 aircraft, so we hope they ultimately increase the number above the NDAA's number. Our sources tell us that they expect it to be complete by the first week of October. The Air Force and its industry partners would be surprised to begin the next fiscal year without five continuing resolutions (CRs) and delayed funding to our warfighters, like this year.
 
News over the past month seemed to come full circle. Remember the acquisition nightmares years ago such as the $900 hammer? Well, that subsided…until the Air Force recently defended $10,000 replacement toilet seats on C-5 Galaxy aircraft. Luckily, 3D printing and other additive manufacturing measures will lead to future cost savings.

The Air Force’s new refueling aircraft program met some headwinds in the news, however, it seems to now be on a glide path for delivery starting in October of this year. By procuring only 15 or so per year, the KC-135s will be 80 plus years old when the Air Force takes delivery of the last of its new air refuelers. By comparison, commercial airlines’ aircraft average 10-years old. Like our older vehicles, maintenance costs increase dramatically for legacy aircraft. 

"With malice toward none, with charity for all ... let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan."
Present Abraham Lincoln

In positive news for our nation’s veterans, Mr. Robert Wilkie was sworn in as the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. He’ll have many headwinds before him in providing healthcare and benefits for millions of veterans. AFA looks forward to working with the new Secretary and the department on behalf of our members and the nation’s 20 million veterans.

Our advocacy in DC continues.
 
AFA supported a House Congressional Mobility Caucus event on Capitol Hill in which our Chairman of the Board, The Honorable Whit Peters, officiated. Then, our Government Relations (GRL) team was on Capitol Hill with our summer interns. We met with several congressional staffers and this year’s Air Force Fellows. Our Air Force is in good hands with these future leaders. In a coordinated effort, several chapter representatives met with their local federal congressional members to discuss AFA Legislative Issues - 2018.

I met with the House minority leader and six other representatives to discuss veterans’ issues. During the meeting we discussed the VA’s $49 billion shortfall for the new VA Mission Act. 

We also had a meeting in the Pentagon with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs (M&RA) and discussed several programs including the transferability of the Forever GI Bill, medical records, retirement, and compensation.

Previously we cited our work with the Exchange (AAFES) and DeCA (Commissary) leadership. On July 9th, DOD stood up its “Exchange/DeCA Joint Task Force” to examine the possible consolidation of back office functions. AFA received an update from the leader of the task force last week, and we were able to address some concerns. Although AFA supports efforts to realize savings, we are determined to protect against increased costs or decreased services for our members. We are also cautious of any attempts to alter the Morale, Welfare & Recreation (MWR) stipend, generated from Exchange profits, that provides funding for base-wide activities.
 
Our coordination with the field continues in developing AFA’s Top Issues for 2019.

Shortly after Congress’ return in early September, we’ll see many of you  at AFA’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference.

Have a great rest of your summer.

Air Force Highlights

House & Senate reach an agreement on defense authorization bill
GovMatters.tv | 25 Jul 2018 | by Andrew Wagner
 
Gen. Larry Spencer (USAF, Ret.), president of the Air Force Association, discusses the conferenced version of the National Defense Authorization Act, and the rollout of the KC-46 tanker. Watch TV Interview Here.

Pentagon To Start Creating Space Force — Even Before Congress Approves It
DefenseOne.com | 31 Jul 2018 | by Marcus Weisgerber
 
The U.S. Defense Department this week will take the first steps to create the Space Force, a new branch of the military ordered up by President Trump but not yet fully backed by Congress.
 
In coming months, Defense Department leaders plan to stand up three of the four components of the new Space Force: a new combatant command for space, a new joint agency to buy satellites for the military, and a new warfighting community that draws space operators from all service branches. These sweeping changes — on par with the past decade’s establishment of cyber forces — are the part the Pentagon can do without lawmakers’ approval. Read more.

Here’s why more veterans, caregivers may get commissary, exchange privileges by 2020
MilitaryTimes.com | 26 Jul 2018 | by Karen Jowers

Former prisoners of war, Purple Heart recipients, certain disabled veterans and caregivers for veterans are a step closer to being allowed to shop at commissaries and exchanges, and other retail facilities on military bases, such as military lodging. Read more.

Post-9/11 GI Bill Transferability Policy Will Change
A few weeks ago, the Department of Defense issued a substantive change to the policy on the transfer of Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits from service members to eligible family member recipients.

Key Points:

  • Next July, eligibility to transfer Post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefits ill be limited to members with less than 16 years of total service (Active Duty service and/or selected reserves as applicable). 
  • The provision that requires a service member to have at least six years of service to apply to transfer benefits remains unchanged.
  • All approvals for transferability of Post-9/11 GI bill will continue to require a four-year commitment in the Armed Forces and, more importantly, the member must be eligible to be retained for four years from the date of election, and not be precluded from serving for four more years prior to approval of their election by either standard policy (Department or Uniformed Service) or statute. Read more.

Centennial of honor: Silver Star, Distinguished Service Cross mark a milestone
MilitaryTimes.com | 9 Jul 2018 | by Kevin Lilley
 
When the Distinguished Service Cross and Citation Star — forerunner of the Silver Star Medal — were authorized in 1918, Congress declared that those who earned one would see a boost in their monthly military pay.

Many of those early recipients, like the nearly 150,000 who have followed, received their medals posthumously. Some earned them for acts of valor that came yearseven decades, before their honors came to light, or cleared any number of paperwork hurdles. Some earned multiple awards from actions separated by hours on the same battlefield, or by years over multiple conflicts. Read more.

“Our country has a natural advantage in our incredibly diverse population. We just need to maximize it.”
Gen David Goldfein, Chief of Staff, US Air Force

Air Force Faces Pilot Shortage
NPR.org | 7 Jul 2018
 
The Air Force has a severe shortage of pilots, particularly fighter pilots. The Air Force has a multibillion-dollar problem with one of its most expensive assets - pilots. The American military overall is facing serious problems filling its ranks. For some branches, that means shortages of new recruits. But in the Air Force, the issue is retaining pilots after years of costly training, even as the military spends hundreds of billions of dollars on new hardware. Read more.

Quotes to Note

  • “We can’t afford to lose our treasure [due to aircraft mishaps], and our treasure is our Airmen, first, and our aircraft and weapons systems our nation relies upon.”
    - Gen David Goldfein, Chief of Staff, US Air Force

  • “Recruiting and retaining diverse Airmen cultivates innovation.”
    - Gen David Goldfein, Chief of Staff, US Air Force

  • “They [Air Force Civilians] serve as the institutional memory for a force that is, by necessity, frequently deploying or changing permanent duty stations. Their corporate knowledge and expertise cannot be easily replaced or outsourced. Our civilians are a cornerstone of global reach, vigilance, and power.”
    - Ms. Lisa Disbrow, former Acting Secretary of the Air Force

Your Air Force - Did You Know?

35 men have earned the “Big Three” valor awards: A Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross (or Navy Cross) and Silver Star Medal. 15 served in the Army or Army Air Forces, 11 in the Navy, seven in the Marines, and two in the Air Force.
 
It costs $11 million to train just one new pilot in a plane like the F-22 Raptor. [That is a huge investment and why we need to retain the pilots]
 
More than 92 percent of Air Force civilians work at bases far from Washington, DC’s headquarters.
 
Military spouse unemployment is three times higher than their civilian counterparts.
 
Which Air Force pilot led a wonderful life graduating from Princeton, becoming an actor, enlisting in the Army Air Corps, was commissioned, became an instructor pilot, flew 20 official combat missions over Europe in B-24 Liberators during World War II, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and was promoted to Major General on the retired list? He retired from the Air Force 50 years ago last month and is still well known. One more hint…he was one of the founding members of the Air Force Association in 1946 and was one of its biggest supporters.

Key Dates to Watch

2018

  • Feb 12 - FY 2019 President's Budget Released
  • Aug 10 - Mitchell Institute Breakfast: Nuclear Deterrence, Missile Defense, and Space: Paths Forward with Gen Paul Selva, Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Capitol Hill Club
  • Sep 15-16 - AFA National Convention
  • Sep 17-19 - AFA Air, Space & Cyber Conference, Gaylord National Hotel, MD
  • Sep 18 - US Air Force's 71st Birthday
  • Oct 1 - FY 2019 Begins

2019

  • Feb 27-Mar 1 - AFA's Air Warfare Symposium, Orlando, FL

If you have questions, please contact:

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

GRL@afa.org