More defense money and reforms might be in the cards, Thornberry says

The House Armed Services Committee is drawing up its plans for the next year, which include possible military personnel reforms, more acquisition reforms and recouping the $15 billion it left behind in the 2017 defense authorization bill.

With Republicans holding both legislative houses and the White House, the committee is finding a much friendlier reception to increasing the military budget this year.

Congress scrapped an extra $15 billion the House built into the 2017 defense authorization bill, but with President Donald Trump promising to deliver a defense budget supplemental by March, some programs are back on the table.

“The place where I have suggested the administration start [with the supplemental] is look at the items that were in the House passed NDAA last year and that ultimately did not make it into the final conference report that was signed into law. I think in my view they ought to be at the top of the list, especially some modernization items,”  House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said in a Feb. 6 meeting with reporters.

The House bill called for 10 carrier wings, instead of the nine President Barack Obama requested. It would have procured 15 F-18s instead of two, 72 Blackhawk helicopters instead of 36 and 74 F-35s instead of 63.

The bill called for other aircraft procurements and a larger Navy, increasing battleships by three and Virginia Class Submarines by one.

The bill also increased funding for the Missile Defense Agency and the National Nuclear Security Agency.

Thornberry said the supplemental is needed to turn the corner on the readiness.

As for the 2018 budget, Thornberry said a $640 billion base budget is the minimum to increase readiness and end strength.

Despite what funding Thornberry wants, his committee’s bill can only authorize the top line that appropriators can spend.

The NDAA’s real power comes in setting policy.

Thornberry said he will continue his push to reform the defense acquisition system, something he and Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) worked on the past two years.

“I’m fully aware there is much, much more that needs to be done in a careful, thoughtful, but determined way,” Thornberry said. “Defense reform will be a part of my agenda as long as I’ve got this job.”

That also includes working with DoD to work out the kinks of the acquisition office reorganization the 2017 NDAA requires.

“I really look forward to working with Secretary [James] Mattis and the new team there, once he has a team, to talk about what makes most sense to push innovation, to make sure that all these different defense agencies have the proper leadership and that we implement the acquisition reform that Congress has enacted the last two years,” Thornberry said.

The committee chair added that some new personnel issues may be on the agenda for the 2018 defense bill as well.

In the past two years Congress changed the military retirement system, added TRICARE benefits and added some new fees for retirees.

Thornberry said the committee needs to follow through on those issues in the next NDAA. That includes oversight and working with DoD to implement the new programs.

But, as Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) takes over the gavel for the Military Personnel subcommittee, it may explore some new issues.

“A number of members are interested in updating some of our personnel policies. Force of the Future got a bad rap and probably wasn’t thought through adequately, probably had some ideas that were not the best, but the idea that whatever personnel policies that we have lived with whether it comes to promotions or making it easier for some folks to move into the military laterally are at least worth exploring,” Thornberry said. “Are we going to have a major rewrite of all that this year? I’m not sure, but I think there’s interest in exploring some of those things.”

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