The House and Senate armed services committees each finished their work on their versions of next year’s defense authorization bill within a day of one another, with both key committees approving overall funding levels that closely match the Biden administrations 2024 funding request of $842 billion in discretionary DoD spending.
The Senate Armed Service Committee’s bill, approved behind closed doors on Friday, would authorize $844 billion next year, while the House version, debated in a public session a day earlier, would match the administration’s request.
Another area of commonality: both committees endorsed the administration’s proposed pay increase for military service members, making it highly likely that they’ll receive a 2024 increase of 5.2%, the largest military pay raise since 2002.
For now, the measures do not include language that would grant the administration’s request for the same pay raise for federal civilian workers. A provision to achieve that could still be added when the bills reach the House and Senate floors, however, a large faction of House Republicans is pushing an alternative plan that would make all civil servants’ pay increases “merit based.”
For junior enlisted military members, both bills also have provisions that could raise their housing allowances. The Senate version includes a measure that would “delink” the allowance rates from specific housing types and make it easier to raise the allowances in areas with high housing demand, according to a summary provided by the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The House included a similar provision that would remove the requirement that DoD calculate junior members’ housing allowances based on annual local rent surveys. Since those surveys often lag behind actual housing prices, officials say the change would make it much easier for DoD to quickly increase the allowances in housing markets where rent costs are skyrocketing in any particular area in a given year.
And both bills would create a brand new personnel system for DoD’s newest military service — the Space Force — an idea the Defense Department has been pushing for the past two years.
Under the proposed system, the Space Force would become the first military service to manage all of its personnel within a single component. Rather than having separate active duty and reserve components, each of the service’s 9,400 members would be part of a single structure, with some serving on “sustained duty” — the rough equivalent of active status in the other services.
In their legislative proposal arguing for the new system, Defense officials argued the change would “allow talented, highly skilled Guardians to be developed on an individual basis, promoted based on their competency, and move on and off sustained active service in a way that accommodates both mission requirements and personal considerations.”
The House’s version of the NDAA would, however, also create a separate Space National Guard component. It’s unclear whether the Senate committee included a similar provision, since that chamber’s annual markup is conducted mostly in secret, however, the National Guard provision is not included in the Senate’s summary.
On the topic of DoD organization and management, the Senate summary does point to at least one area in which the two chambers are in direct conflict.
According to the staff document, Senators approved an amendment this week that would express the sense of the Senate that DoD’s office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) “is vital to U.S. defense acquisition.”
The amendment appeared to be a response to a provision in the House version that would eliminate CAPE entirely. The House bill does not specify exactly how CAPE should be wound down or what other offices its existing duties should be assigned to, but a senior House aide said lawmakers were confident DoD could find other ways to perform the office’s originally-intended duties.
“I think members have found CAPE to both slow down the acquisition process and keep adding money to programs or requirements to programs that Congress has already authorized and funded at certain levels,” the aide said. “So I think there is just a frustration among members that CAPE has gone further than its remit.”
If Congress were to disband CAPE, it would be the third time in seven years that lawmakers made significant changes to the organizational structure of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Indeed, some of CAPE’s current duties are a direct result of those changes.
In the 2017 NDAA, Congress created the position of DoD Chief Management Officer and made the office the third-highest ranking official in the department. But just two years after DoD finished the mandated reorganization, Congress eliminated the CMO and told the department to redistribute its functions to other offices.
One of those offices was CAPE, which, among other things, took on the responsibility for creating guidance for how the military services should design their forces and to conduct independent analyses on force development and readiness.
The force structure analysis responsibility appears to have been what caused friction with House members. In particular, the House aide said lawmakers were unhappy with what they felt was the office’s second-guessing of a statutory mandate that the Navy build and maintain at least 31 amphibious ships.
“Congress set a floor of 31 amphibs, and CAPE is studying whether or not that’s the right number. But Congress made that determination, and that’s the requirement for the Marines, and now CAPE is going in and telling members, ‘I don’t know if that’s the right number,’” the aide said. “I think members are very confused as why CAPE thinks they can come back and determine they’re not going to listen to Congress. I think that’s probably the biggest shining example [of the problem].”