Senate committee authorizes $750 billion defense budget, establishes space force

The Senate Armed Services Committee wants to authorize $750 billion for the Defense Department’s budget in 2020 and it’s acquiescing to the White House’s request to form a space force as a new military branch.

The 2020 defense authorization bill also continues tweaking DoD’s acquisition system. This year the committee focused on intellectual property and software procurement.

“We make these investments with the National Defense Strategy as our blueprint,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) reading remarks prepared by committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) at a press briefing in Washington. Inhofe could not attend the briefing because his wife broke her leg.

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“We aligned the budget and the resources of each service with our strategic priorities — addressing great power competition, regaining our combat advantage and making the Pentagon run more effectively and efficiently,” Reed said.

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The $750 billion authorization bill rejects the Trump administration’s attempt to circumvent the need for a budget deal.

The administration’s budget proposal put $98 billion of base funding into the overseas contingency operation’s (OCO) fund — a pool of money set aside for emergency war spending and not beholden to budget caps. The president’s request budgeted the base funding only to caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act as a means of not triggering sequestration.

The authorization bill rejects that tactic and moves that money back into the base budget — making the proposed base $665.6 billion. The bill adds $76 billion for OCO. Another $8.4 billion is expected to go to the defense budget, but is not under the jurisdiction of the authorization bill.

The bill only authorizes the use of $750 billion and does not actually appropriate the money, which would trigger sequestration. House appropriators already released their bill, which is $733 billion, and also puts the base budget above the caps. The Senate Appropriations Committee has not yet released its bill.

Both the authorization and appropriations bills that are public seem to indicate that Congress expects to come to some kind of budget deal to lift the sequestration caps.

Space Force

The committee establishes a space force within the Air Force, but the path to becoming a military branch differs from the White House’s proposal.

Instead of a space force chief of staff, the bill makes the commander of U.S. Space Command the head of the space force. That person would work under the Air Force chief of staff. After at least a year, the  Space Command and space force leader position would be separated into two jobs and the space force leader would join the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The bill also passes on the White House’s idea for an Air Force undersecretary for Space. In lieu of that proposal, the committee appoints the assistant defense secretary for space policy, a new position, to work on major space issues. Meanwhile, the bill redesignates the current principal assistant to the secretary of the Air Force for space as the principal assistant to the secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration. That position would oversee all space acquisition activities.

The bill also designates Air Force space operators as members of the space force. The bill prohibits adding additional military or civilian personnel to create the space force as a means of “minimizing bureaucracy,” according to a committee aide. The aide did not give details as to how the space force could be set up without the addition of new staff.

There is plenty of debate ahead. The House Armed Services Committee still has not released its plans for a space force and the House defense appropriations bill does not fund the $72 million requested by the White House to buildup the headquarters staff for a space force.

Personnel

The end strength numbers in the committee’s bill are consistent with the administration’s proposal. The bill increases the Army to 480,00 soldiers, bumps the Navy up to 340,500 sailors, the Marine Corps stays stagnate at 186,200 and the Air Force grows to 332,800.

The committee also paid homage to military spouses. The bill makes it easier for spouses to move their occupational licenses from one state to another. It also extends the authority of the military services to reimburse certification costs and encourages DoD to expand its Military Spouse Employment Partnership Program.

Acquisition

Despite calls from the Pentagon to slow down reforms to the acquisition system, the committee added a handful of new requirements.

“The chairman’s philosophy at the beginning of this for this mark this year is to stop sending so many reforms to the Pentagon that they can never catch up with what we are telling them to do,” a committee aide said. “We consciously sent only a few this year. Most of them are directed at tweaking what they’ve done or trying to get them to comply with what we already told them to do or to give us a couple of reports on what we told them to do is working.”

Those reforms are based around intellectual property and software.

The bill encourages a pilot program on intellectual property evaluation for acquisition program. It also modernizes contracting, risk assessment and mitigation processes to strengthen the defense industrial base.

It sets up processes to gain insight into foreign ownership, control and influence over defense contractors.

The bill establishes pathways for rapid acquisition of software and upgrades and authorizes additional funding for the Defense Digital Service to support modernization efforts on DoD IT systems.

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