House begins work on Defense authorization bill

language explicitly barring another BRAC round appeared last week in the House readiness subcommittee\'s contribution to the annual Defense authorization bill.

It’s that familiar time of year again: Trees budding, woodpeckers pecking, the smell of fresh rain on the spring soil, and Congress summarily dismissing the Pentagon’s requests for base closures.

Not that it was unexpected, but language explicitly barring another BRAC round appeared last week in the House readiness subcommittee’s contribution to the annual Defense authorization bill. The full House Armed Services Committee will begin to mark up the bill this week.

However, if the subcommittee’s language survives the full legislative process, Congress’ view on BRAC will have softened from “No, never, don’t even study it,” to “Maybe later.” The legislation would order DoD to draw up a 20-year plan that compares the force structure it expects to have with the precise categories of infrastructure it will need, indicating that lawmakers might be willing to consider some infrastructure consolidations once the department identifies where the excesses are in more granular detail.

Bearing in mind that we’re still in the earliest stage of the annual NDAA process, here are a few other items of note from the subcommittee markups released and approved this week:

  • The personnel subcommittee approved language that would reject DoD proposals to cut the rate of growth in service members’ housing allowances and reduce commissary subsidies, but endorsed reforms to the retirement system along the lines the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission recommended earlier this year. That plan would mix DoD’s 20- year pension plan with government matching contributions to the Thrift Savings Plan for all active duty service members.
  • The same subcommittee resurrected a longstanding proposal to create a unified medical command combining the health care administrative functions of the three military departments. DoD created the joint Defense Health Agency in 2013, but that organization is mainly charged with creating shared services for the three departments, and left the three departments’ surgeons general largely in charge of running their own organizations.
  • DoD and VA would be ordered to create a joint formulary that unifies the lists of prescription drugs covered by their health systems, particularly for pain control, sleep disorder and psychiatric medications commonly given to transitioning wounded warriors. Service members have commonly reported experiences with having a successful medication regime established by their DoD clinicians, only to find that some of those medicines aren’t covered in VA’s formulary once they leave the military.
  • GAO would begin a new project to identify “single points of failure” within DoD’s supply chain. Lawmakers are becoming increasingly concerned that too many key weapons systems are getting to the point where they rely on parts that are only made by one manufacturer, especially as the military’s systems get older and rely on increasingly-rare boutique subsystems.
  • Congress wants better information on the skills needed by DoD’s acquisition workforce. The department already must submit a plan every two years that identifies the most critical skills and competencies for all of its civilians. New language would require that plan to also account for the impact of changing procurement rules on its acquisition workforce in particular.

Again, the above provisions are just a handful of the contributions the HASC subcommittees made to this year’s process. There’s much more to come on Wednesday, when the full committee will begin its usual marathon session of debate and amendments. That session will also include Chairman Mac Thornberry’s (R-Texas) forthcoming “full committee mark,” which is expected to also include the latest version of his acquisition reform proposal. He introduced a discussion draft of the acquisition language a month ago so that members and outside organizations could offer their comments, and many have.

This post is part of Jared Serbu’s Inside the DoD Reporter’s Notebook feature. Read more from this edition of Jared’s Notebook.

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