OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: House Armed Services takes up defense bill

The Topline: The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday began its marathon markup of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act.

The panel likely will not wrap up its work on the defense spending blueprint until Thursday morning as members offer amendments to direct the Pentagon’s fiscal priorities and policies for the next year.

The committee began by breezing through the work put in last week by the Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities subpanel that fully supported the Pentagon’s $52 billion request for various information technology initiatives, including roughly $5.1 billion for U.S. Cyber Command.

The approved legislation directs Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to appoint an “executive agent” to coordinate and supervise cyber training and test ranges.

It also tasked the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress on efforts to protect government technology systems from insider threats, a direct response to the disclosure of National Security Agency surveillance programs by Edward Snowden.

The panel then made quick work of the measures reported out by the Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee. That body backed the Pentagon’s plan to buy 34 F-35 fighter jets and endorsed the Army’s effort to buy 197 new helicopters and the Marine Corps’ proposal to acquire 19 MV-22 Osprey tiltrotors.

Proceedings slowed when the committee took up legislation drawn up by the Readiness subcommittee, with members offering multiple amendments on DOD policy, including the use of green technology.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) introduced, and eventually withdrew, a measure that would push the Pentagon to release the results of investigations conducted by the agency’s inspector general into the misconduct of senior military leaders.

She cited several cases detailed in a Washington Post article earlier this year as troubling, including an incident where an Army commander called Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) “smoking hot” in an email.

Speier likely will reintroduce her measure when the authorization bill reaches the full House floor.

The full committee went on to pass the Readiness portion of the bill, which rejected a Pentagon request for a fresh round of base closures in 2017. Defense Department officials have asked Congress to appoint a commission that would have the authority to recommend shuttering excess military installations.

Members have ignored those pleas out of fear that the commission would drop the axe on sites in their home districts.

In its consideration of the Strategic Forces subcommittee’s work, the GOP-led panel approved an amendment put forward by Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) requiring military officials to brief lawmakers on the Long-Range Standoff Weapon.

The nuclear-capable cruise missile is set to replace the Air Force’s existing Air Launched Cruise missile in 2030.

Garamendi’s measure asks DOD to explain “why such a weapon is needed, including any potential redundancies with existing weapons,” provide a price tag for the system and what warheads it might carry.

In its last major act before breaking for dinner, the panel adopted the work of the Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee that blocked the Pentagon from retiring an aircraft carrier.

Instead, the measure directs the Defense Department to fuel and overhaul the USS George Washington aircraft carrier in 2015 to extend its service life another 25 years.

The full committee also nixed a Navy proposal to lay up 11 cruisers in an attempt to save money.

The panel is set to tackle other controversial elements of the defense budget, including the retirement of the A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft fleet, tonight.

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