Overnight Defense: Highlights from the House Armed Services subcommittees’ defense bill sections | Bill would ask troops if they’ve faced ‘racist, anti-Semitic or supremacist’ activity | Pompeo aide testifying next week on watchdog’s ouster
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THE TOPLINE: The House Armed Services Committee is in the thick of its National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) season.
All the subcommittees have released their portions of the bill, and two approved their sections Monday. The remaining four subcommittees will mark up their portions Tuesday, with a full committee markup scheduled for July 1.
Here are some highlights from each of the subcommittees:
Military personnel: This portion of the bill includes a provision adding questions to Pentagon workplace surveys about whether troops have have faced “racism, anti-Semitism and supremacism” on duty.
The bill would also require the Pentagon to develop a way to track and report supremacist, extremist and criminal gang activity in the armed forces.
The language comes at a time when the military is grappling with racial issues in the wake of nationwide protests over police violence and racial injustice. But a committee aide told reporters on a background call that the two provisions stem from a hearing the panel held in February on white supremacism in the military.
In addition to those two provisions, the bill would require each military branch to provide an annual report summarizing the gender and race of each officer who was recommended for promotion to the rank of major or lieutenant commander and above.
The subcommittee also has several provisions meant to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, including a requirement that troops have the necessary diagnostic equipment, testing capabilities and personal protective equipment for infectious diseases.
It would also authorize a 3 percent pay raise for troops.
Intelligence and emerging threats and capabilities: The intel subcommittee approved its portion Monday.
One provision in this part of the bill would direct the Government Accountability Office to report on the Pentagon’s ability to respond to chemical and biological events.
The review would look at the extent to which the department’s military and chemical and biological defense support units are prepared to counter chemical and biological weapons.
In a background call with reporters, committee aides framed the language as part of the panel’s efforts to improve pandemic preparedness in the wake of the government struggling to respond to the coronavirus crisis.
“At a time when the United States is struggling to respond to the spread of a highly infectious new virus, the committee is concerned about the preparedness of the U.S. Armed Forces to respond to a significant state-level weapons of mass destruction event,” a summary of the bill reads.
Strategic forces: This was the second subcommittee to approve its portion Monday.
One item of interest in this part of the bill is a new requirement for presidents to participate in a large-scale nuclear command and control exercise in the first year of each term.
In a background call, an aide said there was “strong interest” from members in both parties in ensuring a president has the opportunity to participate in at least one such exercise, “if not more.”
Tactical air and land forces: This portion of the NDAA would set conditions before the Air Force can retire some of its Global Hawk surveillance drones.
The bill would limit funds for the Advanced Battle Management System until the Air Force certifies that it will not retire any RQ-4 Global Hawks during fiscal year 2021; the Pentagon certifies that a replacement will cost less to operate and maintain, and have equal or greater capability; or the department certifies that increased capability will be worth greater costs.
The bill would also require certifications before the Air Force could retire EQ-4 Battlefield Airborne Communications Node variants from the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
Seapower and projection forces: This portion of the bill would authorize the Navy to buy eight battle-force ships: one Columbia-class submarine, two Virginia-class submarines, two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, one guided missile frigate and and two T-ATS towing, salvage and rescue ships.
In doing so, lawmakers would authorize one more Virginia-class submarine than the administration requested. Lawmakers fumed when the Trump administration’s budget request came in with just one Virginia-class submarine and had vowed to restore it in the defense bill.
The bill would also restrict 75 percent of operation and maintenance funds for the secretary of Defense until a required 30-year shipbuilding plan is delivered to Congress. The plan was due to Congress in February, but has yet to be delivered.
Readiness: The subcommittee’s portion of the bill has several provisions related to so-called “forever chemicals” found in military firefighting foam, including a requirement for a congressional notification when there has been an uncontrolled release of PFAS-containing firefighting agent and the establishment of a prize for research that results in a viable replacement of fighting foam without PFAS.
It would also require a report on efforts to reduce fossil fuel consumption and another report on implementation of a provision in last year’s bill to incorporate resilience against extreme weather, flooding and other environmental conditions into installations’ master plans.
The bill would also build on last year’s work to address hazardous conditions at military housing, which focused on privatized housing, by asking for a report on environmental hazards at government-owned housing.
POMPEO AIDE TO TESTIFY NEXT WEEK: A top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will testify before House lawmakers next week about the ousting of the State Department’s inspector general, a top Democrat announced Monday.
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Under Secretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao will appear before lawmakers on July 2.
The committee is probing the ousting of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, who was fired last month by President Trump at the request of Pompeo. Democrats are concerned Linick’s firing was an act of political retaliation, with the watchdog investigating if Pompeo and his wife misused federal funds and Pompeo’s role in last year’s emergency sale to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries without congressional approval.
Pompeo has defended the firing by saying Linick was a “bad actor” who undermined the mission of the State Department. The secretary has added that Linick refused to take his direction on investigations.
Engel on Monday said the reasons given by Pompeo and other senior officials amount to “smears and conspiracy theories.”
Who is Bulatao: Bulatao has emerged as a key figure in Linick’s firing.
Bulatao, along with Deputy Secretary of State Steve Biegun, delivered the news to Linick late on a Friday evening that he was fired. As under secretary of State for management, he was the official with the most contact with Linick about investigations.
Linick testified in front of House lawmakers that Bulatao attempted to bully him over the arms deal investigation and that the under secretary was aware of investigations into the secretary and his wife.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
The House Armed Services Committee will hold four subcommittee markups on the National Defense Authorization. The markups will be hybrid virtual and in-person sessions:
— The Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces at 11 a.m. https://bit.ly/3drhmzF
— The Subcommittee on Military Personnel at 1 p.m. https://bit.ly/3fOfz9e
— The Subcommittee on Readiness at 3 p.m. https://bit.ly/2Yqm2kZ
— The Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces at 4:30 p.m. https://bit.ly/2V6xOz1
A Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee subpanel will hold a virtual hearing on the recommendations of the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service at 2:30 p.m. https://bit.ly/3dqW70S
— The Hill: Protests force military reckoning on race
— The Hill: Trump nominee denounces past Islamophobic tweets
— New York Times: The lapses that let a Saudi extremist shoot up a U.S. Navy base
— Washington Post: The Stars and Stripes newspaper has long supported the troops. Now it needs Congress’s support.
— Stars and Stripes: Surge in coronavirus cases at Air Force base on Guam sparks probe into possible violations
— Reuters: Pentagon contracts to help COVID-hit defense firms reaches $472 million
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