OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: House Armed Services begins defense bill markup

The Topline: The House Armed Services subcommittees on Tuesday started rolling out their markups of the fiscal year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act.

In all, four of the panel’s six subcommittees released legislation with language that could potentially make it into the final, overall bill.

Provisions of particular note include:

- The Military Personnel subcommittee rejected reducing benefits for military families, including increasing some fees under TRICARE, reducing housing allowances for troops, and cutting subsidies for military commissaries. It also incorporated military sexual assault reforms, such as including sexual assault prevention as part of military officers' performance appraisals. It also called for a Government Accountability Office review of the Pentagon's ethics programs. The Pentagon would also have additional reporting requirements to track suicide rates of military members. 

- The Strategic Forces Subcommittee called for spending at least $220 million over the next five years to develop an alternative rocket engine that isn’t Russian-made for national security space launched. The markup calls for keeping the Air Force's current five-year block buy, which uses the Russian-made rockets for launches through 2019. An Armed Services staffer said the government could be sued if that deal is broken.  

- The Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee sought Tuesday to prevent the 2016 retirement of one of the Navy's 11 aircraft carriers, by providing full funding for the refueling and complex overhaul (RCOH) of the USS George Washington.

- The Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee sought to strengthen oversight of cyber capabilities, including reports on efforts to prevent insider threats such as NSA leaker Edward Snowden. It also extends the "Section 1208" authority of U.S. special operations forces to combat terrorism through 2017, the secretary of Defense’s authority to establish rewards programs for information used in combating terrorists, and authorities for U.S. forces to conduct “non-conventional assisted recovery” missions to rescue isolated U.S. personnel in harm’s way around the globe.

The four panels will meet throughout the day tomorrow to go over the proposed legislation and offer members the opportunity to add amendments — though that has rarely happened in recent years with most lawmakers saving their proposed changes for the full committee hearings.

The remaining two subcommittees, Tactical Air and Land Forces and Readiness, will release the text of their markups tomorrow morning before convening on Thursday.

The full House Armed Services Committee is slated to take up the authorization bill on May 7.

 

McCain rails against A-10 retirement: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday voiced his anger over the Air Force’s proposed plan to retire it’s A-10 aircraft fleet.

The scheme to mothball the A-10, affectionately called the “Warthog,” to save roughly $3.5 billion has proven to be one of the most controversial decisions in the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2015 blueprint.

“You will not pursue the elimination of the finest close air support weapon system in the world with answers like that,” McCain told Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James when she suggested other platforms, including the B-1 bomber, could assume the Warthog’s duties.

The Arizona lawmaker also sparred with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, telling him that he had not met a single Army commander on the ground in Afghanistan “that believes that a B-1 or an F-16 replaces the capability of the A-10.”

 

Gillibrand questions gender survey changes: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) on Monday fired off a letter to the Pentagon asking why it decided to task an outside contractor with a biennial analysis of gender issues among active duty military members.

The Defense Department recently tapped the Rand Corp. to carry out the survey, rather than do it through an in-house agency as it has done since 1988.

Gillibrand wanred that changing the survey’s methodology would make it harder for the military to track and respond to reported sexual assaults.

“Changes to methodology, definitions or survey questions will preclude comparison to previous years, hiding any progress the Armed Forces may have made,” Gillibrand warned.

However, a defense official said that the decision to outsource the work would help insulate the process from any questions about its methods or accuracy.

“There were a lot of people questioning the survey, the accuracy, how it was done,” the official told The Hill.

The data from the survey will be delivered to the White House before the end of the year and released to the public next spring.

 

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Please send tips and comments to Kristina Wong, kwong@thehill.com and Martin Matishak, mmatishak@thehill.com.

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