Five things you should know about the Defense bill

After a dramatic showdown, the fiscal 2016 Defense authorization bill looks like it will finally become law.

After going through two iterations and a veto from President Barack Obama, a $5 billion lighter version of the bill passed the Senate Nov. 10 and now the President is expected to sign it into law.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest and Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook both confirmed earlier this week that the administration supports the bill becoming law, despite provisions that forbid the closing of Guantanamo Bay.

Now that the bill will go into the annals of history, here are five provisions that federal workers and service members should know about the legislation.

Job training and post-service placement

The Defense authorization bill requires the creation of a job training and post-service placement executive committee. The committee will review existing policies, procedures and practices of DoD and the military services, and identify changes to those policies to improve job training and placement.

The current unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was 7.2 percent in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number is about 2.2 percent higher than the national average.

The committee may help identify ways to improve the unemployment rate of post-service veterans.

The provision also calls for a joint DoD-Department of Veterans Affairs effort to create a list of drugs that may be prescribed by both departments to address psychiatric conditions, sleep disorders and pain management. The goal is to ensure veterans continue to receive the best care when they leave the service.

Cyber Command procurement dollars

Congress is entrusting U.S. Cyber Command with its own procurement fund to support its activities. The fund allows CYBERCOM to buy needed equipment quickly so it doesn’t have to wait for approval. U.S. Special Operations Command has a similar authority.

Proponents of the bill argue that because of the nature of the adversaries and environments, the command needs additional acquisition powers.

The provision offers just a trial balloon of $75 million for the fund, but it could expand in the future. CYBERCOM may use its fund purely for development and acquisition of cyber operations equipment and for the acquisition and sustainment of cyber capability equipment and services.

New TRICARE incentive program

The bill directs the Defense Secretary to create a pilot program to test whether a value-based incentive program will improve TRICARE.

The pilot program will see if incentivizing improvements slows the rate of DoD spending on health care, while enhancing the health systems.

Incentives will be based on quality of health care provided, the experience of those receiving health care and the health of those covered by TRICARE.

The program must start within 180 days of the bill’s enactment and will end at the close of 2019.

The provision asks that DoD take into consideration incentive programs adopted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services or any other government or commercial healthcare program.

New rules to receive unemployment compensation

The Defense authorization bill incorporates changes for how long a service member must serve before being considered federal service to receive unemployment compensation.

The bill increases the number of days reserve members must be on active duty to receive unemployment compensation to 180 days. Previously, reserve members only had to serve 90 days on active duty for the benefit.

The change will go into effect as soon as the bill is enacted.

Cyber Command recruitment and retention

Congress gives CYBERCOM more leeway when trying to retain and recruit technologically savvy talent. CYBERCOM Commander Adm. Mike Rogers has warned Congress numerous times that budget uncertainty is jeopardizing the government’s cyber workforce. He said that employees are tired of worrying about being furloughed when they could just go to the private sector and have better job security and pay.

The bill lets DoD adjust the basic pay of employees dealing with cyber missions. DoD may also create positions to carry out the responsibilities of CYBERCOM. DoD can provide employees with additional compensation, incentives and allowances as well.

The authority will become effective 30 days after the law is enacted.

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