The latest news and legislative activity affecting national defense

December 23, 2020
Legislative updates

The bill provides $696 billion in new, non-emergency discretionary spending authority for the Department of Defense. This is an increase of $2.6 billion above the FY20 enacted level, and $2.1 billion below President Trumps budget request. The bill provides $142.9 billion in total procurement spending, up from $143.7 billion in FY20, and $107.4 billion for research. Highlights include:

  • $3.5 billion for Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA)
  • $116 million funded above the request for upgrades to childcare facilities.
  • $284 million funded above the request to address public school infrastructure requirements on DoD installations.
  • $57.5 million funded above the request for sexual assault prevention and response programs.
  • $1.5 billion of total funding for environmental restoration programs
  • $60 million above the request for the Defense Community Infrastructure program.
  • $25 million above the request for Defense Manufacturing Communities.
  • $577.5 million funded above the request for cancer research.
  • Fully funds the 3.0 percent military pay raise.

Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDTE)

The bill provides $107.4 billion for RDTE, which is slightly higher than FY20 when Congress enacted $104.4 billion. The $107.4 billion includes investments in basic and applied scientific research, development, test and evaluation of new technologies and equipment, and supports research to develop systems and equipment needed in the future.

Defense Health Program (DHP)

DHP is funded with $33.68 billion and includes $542.5 million for cancer research. The total amount is distributed as follows:

  • $150 million for the breast cancer research program
  • $15 million for the pancreatic cancer research program
  • $110 million for the prostate cancer research program
  • $35 million for the ovarian cancer research program
  • $50 million for the kidney cancer research program
  • $20 million for the lung cancer research program
  • $30 million for the melanoma research program
  • $17.5 million for the rare cancer research program and
  • $115 million for the cancer research program

The legislation also adds $175 million for the peer-reviewed psychological health and traumatic brain injury research program, $40 million for spinal cord research, and adds $40 million for the joint warfighter medical research program.

Homeland Security Section

The bill provides $69.02 billion to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and agencies related to these functions. Of big interest is the cybersecurity efforts, especially with the recent discovery of the cyberattack back in March that was on-going and succeeded in significant and nefarious infiltration.

Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)

CISA funding level of $2.0 billion includes:

  • $92.8 million to further advance CISA’s Cyber Operations,
  • $43.3 million for the Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation program; and
  • $21.2 million for the National Cybersecurity Protection System.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

FEMA funding level of $21.67 billion is $604.1 million below the FY20 level and includes:

  • $17.14 billion for disaster response and recovery efforts
  • $610 million for the State Homeland Security Grant Program (SHSGP), including $90 million for the SHSGP Nonprofit Security Grants Program
  • $130 million for the Emergency Food and Shelter Program
  • $340.3 million for the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers
  • $765.6 million for the Science and Technology Directorate

Military Construction & Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) Section

The MilCon-VA section totals $113.1 billion for FY21. The Military Construction receives $8.06 billion, an increase of $250 million above the budget request.

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

It provides the VA with $243.2 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding, an increase of $25.3 billion above the FY20 level. This funding will help address many of the problems within the VA and provide greater access to healthcare for women Veterans, mental health, suicide prevention, claims processing, homeless prevention and care, opioid addiction, rural health, and medical research. It makes more National Guardsmen and their families eligible for some veterans’ benefits and provides $20 million to retrofit VA hospitals with women’s health spaces and makes permanent a program to provide childcare at VA facilities. Women are the fastest-growing demographic in the military, with the number using VA health care almost tripling since 2000, from 160,000 to 475,000, according to VA data. It also contains dozens of measures to aid student veterans, including more protections against for-profit colleges and a restoration of education benefits to students whose colleges closed or were disapproved by the VA. The bill also helps ensure veterans’ education benefits aren’t negatively affected by fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and makes it easier for organizations to work with the VA in serving homeless Veterans. Some health highlights include:

  • VA Medical Care is funded with $90 billion – providing for approximately 7.2 million patients to be treated in FY21, including:
  • $10.3 billion in mental healthcare services
  • $313 million for suicide prevention
  • $661 million for women’s healthcare
  • $1.9 billion for homeless assistance programs
  • $504 million for opioid abuse prevention
  • $300 million in rural healthcare
November 24, 2020
Legislative updates

Senate Foreign Relations

Senator Jim Risch (R-ID) is set to return as the Foreign Relations Committee’s top Republican and continue his focus on redefining U.S.-China relations. He also wants to invest in global health security to prevent future pandemics and build on U.S. alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Joining him at the top of the committee will likely be Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), whose leading priorities will include rolling back President Trump’s foreign policy and to increase diversity at all levels of foreign policy leadership. Risch and Menendez are concerned about China’s theft of U.S. intellectual property and the trade war between the two countries damaging the American economy. They could push for action during the lame-duck session on a bipartisan measure (S. 2641) that would impose sanctions against Turkey, a NATO ally, for its purchase of the Russian-made S400 missile system. The committee approved it by an 18-4 vote in December 2019. The lawmakers will also consider how to prevent Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, including the future of the Obama-era “P5+`1" deal that limited the country’s nuclear weapons development in exchange for sanctions relief, which the Trump administration withdrew from in opposition to Risch and Menendez.

House Armed Services Committee (HASC)

While Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) remains Chairman, the retirement of Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-CA) has made the race to be the next top Republican on HASC into a heated contest among some of the most vocal defense hawks. The most likely to win is either Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) or Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL). Both have served nine terms in the House and have chaired the subcommittee overseeing strategic forces. The Republican Steering Committee is expected to meet after Thanksgiving to vote on committee leadership posts. Meanwhile the negotiations on a final NDAA has begun and attempts to scramble Trump's plans to remove troops from Germany and Afghanistan, the renaming of bases with confederate names and top funding levels are the issues of contention. The four leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees are aiming to have a final bill ready for a vote by early December. Next year, we expect both HASC and SASC as well as House and Senate Homeland Security Committees to tackle cybersecurity and counterrorism in the new Congress, as the nation relies on online systems at an unprecedented level during the coronavirus pandemic. For example, the House-passed Information Technology Modernization Centers of Excellence Program Act (H.R. 5901 and S. 4200) would codify an AI Center of Excellence within the General Services Administration.

Pentagon Upheavals

Secretary Mark Esper was ousted and now the Pentagon is working to bring troop levels in Afghanistan and Iraq down to 2,500 by January 15, which has set off an uproar among the president’s GOP allies in Congress. Almost 800,000 U.S. troops have been deployed to Afghanistan over the last two decades, and over 2,400 died fighting a war widely ignored by the American public. However, sudden removal is opposed by many. Esper was fired in part for pushing back on the president's efforts to accelerate the Afghanistan drawdown against the advice of military commanders. Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY), one of Trump’s biggest allies, warned that the consequences of a premature American exit would likely be even worse than President Obama's withdrawal from Iraq back in 2011. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, agrees. Meanwhile for a third year in a row, the department has failed a comprehensive audit, but officials insisted that steady progress is being made to track its notoriously messy books.

October 13, 2020
Legislative updates

National Defense Authorization Act

Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) aims to bring the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to the House floor during the first week of December. Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (R-TX), who is retiring after 25 years, said the bill should be finalized soon after the elections. The House passed HR 2500 by 220-197 on July 12 and the Senate passed its version, S 4049, by 86-14 on July 23. Much of the public debate about this year’s NDAA has concentrated on the renaming of U.S. military installations named for Confederates, banning the flying of the confederate flag, revision of the Insurrection Act, and preventing the use of defense dollars to build President Trump’s border wall. Both chambers agree on the major parts of the bill, including starting the process of renaming installations and ships currently named after Confederate leaders, a stance that has prompted a veto threat from President Trump.

Of note, the operations and maintenance (O&M) funds are typically appropriated for one year at a time and any money left over at the end of the fiscal year is lost if not spent, thus causing the “spend it or lose it” frenzy in August-September each year. At almost $289 billion of $705 billion in total defense funding requested this year, the hurried expenditure of O&M dollars represents billions of dollars of inefficient spending over the years, concludes Rep. Thornberry. With the Chairman’s support, he has pushed to allow the Pentagon to spend 50 percent of unused O&M funds in the next fiscal year, which is allowed for many other federal agencies. However, this is battle of authorizers versus appropriators as it shifts control. Also of note, the Senate NDAA tries to get a better accounting of spending by setting up a process for the four defense committees to review proposed changes to the justification books by the Pentagon and address “pass through” spending that artificially inflates the Air Force’s topline and hurts its bottom line.

Both chambers eliminate the Pentagon’s Chief Management Officer (CMO) position by September 30, 2022 in their bills. After President Trump announced his intent to remove 9,500 American troops from Germany and cap the total number of military personnel in the country at 25,000, Congress has moved to stop this. Concerned the White House shipbuilding request falls short again and we do not have enough tactical aircraft for the Pentagon’s war plans, both chambers support the building of more ships and more aircraft fighters. The House and Senate bills currently are $2 billion apart on how much to spend on the F-35 and whether to procure a second Virginia-class attack submarine.  The Senate added $1.36 billion to buy 14 more Joint Strike Fighters. The House, on the other hand, wants to purchase the same number of F-35s as the Pentagon requested, and would cut funding for F-35 support infrastructure by $561 million. The difference is now left to be resolved in conference or by appropriators.

Pentagon and Covid-19

Most of the Joint Chiefs are in quarantine after the Coast Guard’s No. 2 tests positive for the coronavirus. The top military leaders may have been exposed in a meeting with Adm. Charles Ray, the vice commandant of the Coast Guard, who tested positive for Covid-19 on October 5. In total seven members of the Joint Chiefs, including the chair, Gen. Mark Milley, are in self-quarantine and being retested, as well as U.S. Cyber Command chief Gen. Paul Nakasone and Gen. Gary Thomas, the assistant Marine Corps commandant. Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite were traveling and did not attend the Pentagon meetings with Ray. Meanwhile, 34 people who have tested positive in the Trump Covid-19 outbreak continue to quarantine.

Pentagon’s Use of Coronavirus Funds

The House Armed Services chair has defended the Pentagon’s use of coronavirus relief funds to bolster the defense industry and says no probe is necessary. On October 9, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, the House Financial Services Committee and the House Oversight and Reform Committee launched an investigation Friday into whether the Pentagon inappropriately routed hundreds of millions of dollars to the defense industry instead of purchasing medical supplies and personal protective equipment. The probe was sparked by a report last month in The Washington Post, which Smith said “isn’t actually accurate.”

Defense Funds On Demand Pharmaceuticals

The DoD awarded a $20 million contract to On Demand Pharmaceuticals for domestic manufacturing of prescription drugs and ingredients as part of the government’s effort to avert drug shortages and price gouging during the pandemic. The Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) already funded the development of the company’s drug-making technology, and the company now is getting money set aside by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act for pandemic response projects. The press release says the award was done in collaboration with the HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, but the Defense Department awarded the money and DARPA oversees the project. The Defense Department long ago took an interest in funding technologies that allow for rapid responses to biological threats, and that biodefense initiative has merged with the pandemic response. A prime example is the Moderna coronavirus vaccine. The mRNA technology that Moderna is using for that vaccine was developed with Defense funding years ago. Also, the Defense Department handled most of the coronavirus vaccine contracts, even though the money came from HHS’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which received $3.5 billion from the CARES Act for developing, making and purchasing coronavirus vaccines, drugs and diagnostics.


On September 30, the House Armed Services Committee released “The Future of Defense Tasks Force Report” which urges the Trump Administration to expand visas for STEM students to incentivize them to stay and work in the United States. The report showed that international students return to their countries after their studies with critical knowledge and capacity. The report found that many would stay in the U.S. if allowed. In 2017, international students accounted for 54% of master’s degrees and 44% of doctorate degrees in the STEM fields in the United States. DoD is concerned about building the pipeline of STEM professionals for the military and regularly funds programs to address this issue.