White House says no to Senate defense bill

The White House listed 20 pages worth of qualms with the Senate 2017 defense authorization bill, including military health care reforms, acquisition policy chan...

The White House made it clear today that it would veto the Senate version of a bill that sets policy and authorizes more than $600 billion in funds for the Defense Department.

The Obama administration objects to everything including military health care reforms, acquisition policy changes and personnel tweaks that are in the nearly 1,700 page bill.

The administration stated last month it would veto the House version of the bill, mainly over the way the bill takes war funds and uses them to pay for base budget programs.

The Senate bill “would hinder DoD’s ability to execute the President’s defense strategy and the administration’s ability to carry out national security and foreign policy,” a June 7 statement of administrative policy stated.

One of the major qualms with the bill is the requirement to cut senior military billets, civilian executives and contractors.

The bill caps the size of the National Security Council’s staff at 150, reduces the number of flag officers by 25 percent, cuts Senior Executive Service civilian staff by 25 percent and caps the hiring of military and civilian headquarters staff.

The White House called the provisions “onerous” especially when DoD is already making a 25 percent cut to headquarters activities.

It calls the limitation on NSC staff “arbitrary” and claims it could inhibit the staff’s ability to advise the President. The administration has already reduced NSC staff by 12 percent in the last 18 months, the statement reads.

The White House took a softer view on the elimination of some SES staff. It agreed reductions are needed, but stated DoD should perform a review and analysis of the impact instead of “arbitrarily cut[ting] additional SES positions across the board.”

Goldwater-Nichols Reforms

One of the marquee provisions in the Senate version of the bill is its reorganization of DoD. The bill cuts the position of Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics and separates its functions in an attempt to free up research from day-to-day acquisition burdens.

The bill also creates a council to ease communications between the combatant commands.

The White House strongly objected to eliminating the position of acquisition chief, which is currently held by Frank Kendall.

The administrative policy states giving some of the responsibilities to the Undersecretary for Research and Engineering has some flaws.

The position would not oversee developmental testing, which the administration says is key to finding design problems in programs. The position would also have responsibility for contractor oversight and lifecycle sustainment costs.

That “would undermine DoD’s ability to control contractor costs and oversee performance through the life of a program,” the policy stated.

Health Care and Personnel

The administration had a slew of problems with the personnel side of the defense bill.

It was disappointed the bill did not include an enrollment fee for some TRICARE options, which the administration states would provide nearly $2.6 billion in additional savings over a five-year period.

The White House also objects to restructuring the military health system.

A battle was already brewing over TRICARE between the House and the Senate versions of the bill regarding enrollment fees. The Senate only requires fees from working military retirees, while the House version requires them from family members of active-duty service members.

“Nobody likes to pay higher fees for anything,” said a Senate committee staffer. “The way we have laid it out in our bill, we feel like is a very reasonable approach. … Anecdotally, I can tell you when I go out and talk to retirees and ask them, ‘Are you guys willing to pay more for your health care?’ They are like, ‘Of course we are.’”

The White House takes issue with a provision in the Senate bill that would change the way Basic Allowance for Housing is paid as well.

The provision would limit BAH to actual expenses like rent and utilities, instead of giving service members a flat rate depending on local rent costs and rank.

The White House claims the provision would hurt retention and recruitment and penalize dual military families.

Finally, the administration objects to a provision in the bill requiring the military to provide athletic shoes directly to military recruits upon entry into the service instead of providing a cash allowance.

“Forcing DoD into a ‘one size fits all’ approach to athletic footwear may contribute to a higher incidence of injury to new recruits during one of the most critical times in a member’s military training,” the policy states.

Last year President Barack Obama vetoed the 2016 defense authorization bill. A new bill was created and passed after a the 2015 budget agreement.

Both the majority and minority sides of the Senate Armed Services Committee were contacted for comment on this article, but did not provide a response in time for publication.

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