Obama signs NDAA deal with pay raise, higher co-pays for troops

By Jory Heckman
& Michael O’Connell
Federal News Radio

President Barack Obama signed the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act Friday, which will give soldiers a 1 percent pay raise, as well as a $3 increase in most prescription co-pays. The bill is the result of a compromise in troop benefits reached by the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) released a summary of the ups and downs of this fiscal year’s $585 billion NDAA.

“While this proposal makes difficult choices, if trends are not reversed Congress will be called upon to make impossible choices in the years to come,” McKeon wrote in his fact sheet.

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Both armed services committees disputed some of the troop benefits requested by the Pentagon and President Barack Obama.

McKeon’s summary says the House and Senate committees agreed to reduce the basic allowance for housing by 1 percent, not the 5 percent that the Defense Department had asked for.

The committees also included a provision handed down by Obama and his senior military advisers to freeze pay for general and flag officers in FY 2015, as well as removing a retirement incentive for general offices that had been in place since 2006.

Of the $585 billion in the defense spending bill, $521.3 billion will be spend on base discretionary spending for national defense, while $63.7 billion will go toward Overseas Contingency Operations — $5.1 billion of which Obama had requested to cover the costs of fighting Islamic State militants.

McKeon’s report said both committees disagreed with Obama’s goal of shrinking the size of the military.

“Armed Services Members are not prepared to accept a smaller, less capable force at this time. Tough choices must be made,” McKeon wrote in his summary of the bill.

Below are highlights of the bill as detailed in McKeon’s summary:

Personnel

  • Military Compensation and the President’s Proposed Benefit Cuts: In his FY12 budget request, the President asked for cuts to TRICARE, but the House Armed Services Committee restored those cuts. The President called for cuts to TRICARE in his FY13 budget request and the FY13 NDAA restored half the funding to TRICARE and asked the President to find funding elsewhere for the remaining funds. This time around, DoD requested “significant increases” to military pharmaceutical co-pays. The committee rejected this request and approved a limited $3 increase for selected pharmacy co-pays.
  • Troop Pay & Allowances: The NDAA upholds the President’s request for a 1 percent pay increase in 2015 for military personnel and the pay freeze for General And Flag Officers in FY15. The NDAA also turned away DoD’s request for a 5 percent reduction in basic allowance for housing (BAH). Instead, it replaces that reduction with a 1 percent decrease. This will not affect veterans’ benefits.
  • Combating Sexual Assault in the Military: The NDAA includes a number of bipartisan reforms meant to help prevent sexual assaults within the military, provide support for victims and prosecute offenders.
  • Military Suicide: Under the FY14 NDAA, the Secretary of Defense is tasked with tracking the prevalence of suicide within the military. NDAA also adds $18.8 million to behavioral and psychological health programs and efforts aimed at Special Operations Forces.
  • Military Readiness: NDAA allocates $212 billion for operation and maintenance requirements. This would fund such activities as ship refueling and overall, as well as depot maintenance and the sustainment of facilities. “Members remained concerned however that if resource funds are not reversed soon, any tentative gains in these accounts will be diminished or eliminated,” McKeon wrote. “Consistently failing to meet appropriate levels of combat readiness places our troops at risk.”
  • Rehiring Federal Annuitants: NDAA includes a provision that would extend by five years agency heads’ authority to rehire federal annuitants without a salary offset. Prior to 2009, agencies had to request a waiver from the Office of Personnel Management to rehire an annuitant. If they did not obtain a waiver, the the re-hired annuitant’s salary would be offset by his or her annuity.

    “Over the last five years, this authority has proved important for the successful recruitment, retention and mentorship of our federal civil servants,” said NARFE National President Richard G. Thissen, in a press release. “This is especially important now, as agencies balance workloads amid an ongoing retirement wave and sequestration-level funding.”

Reforms:

  • Institutional Reform: Under FY14 NDAA, the Office of Net Assessment is restored to its independent status and it will report directly to the Secretary of Defense. ONA’s budget is increased by $10 million to a new budget of $18.9 million for FY15. The Secretary of Defense is directed to report on the feasibility of consolidating or reducing the combatant command functions by FY20.
  • Acquisition Reform: Under FY14 NDAA, senior acquisition executives in the Air Force and Navy, as well as the Under Secretary for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, must issue policies for the implementation of a standard checklist that must be completed before “the issuance of a solicitation for any new contract for services or exercising an option under an existing contract for servicing,” the summary said. The Comptroller General is also required to submit a report on the military services and DoD agencies’ implementation of the checklist by Jan. 30, 2016.
  • Strategy Reform: Committee Chairman McKeon and Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) added a provision in NDAA to overhaul the Quadrennial Defense Review. “Contrary to statutory requirements, 2014 QDR focused largely on the near-term, and it contained strategy that assumes increased risk to the force, without specifying the resources required to execute the strategy at a low-to- moderate level of risk,” McKeon wrote. “Armed Service Members believe that the time has come to reform the QDR process to make it a more useful oversight tool.”

Other

  • National Guard: FY14 NDAA added a provision that establishes the National Commission on the Future of the Army and prevents the transfer of National Guard Apache helicopters in FY15. Another provision calls for the Government Accountability Office to study the “appropriate balance” between the active force and the Guard.
  • Strengthening Cyber Operations and Information Technology Management: The NDAA aims to strengthen the tools DoD uses for cyber operations and IT management. NDAA directs the President to maintain a list of individuals or nation-states that use cyber tools for economic or industrial espionage. The President can then impose sanctions on those individuals or nation-states. NDAA directs the Secretary of Defense to designate two executive agencies, one for cyber test ranges and the other for cyber training ranges. In addition, a Major Force Program for cyber will be established to ensure better accounting of the budgeting and resourcing of cyber operations capabilities. Reporting penetrations of operationally critical contractor networks will now be mandatory under NDAA. Operational metrics for the performance of the Joint Information Environment will also be developed and implemented.

Savings Achieved and Added Spending

The House Armed Services Committee memo shows where money will be categorically saved or cut. Included in the savings:

  • $125 million cut from the tactical Warfighter Information Network.
  • $9.1 million cut from the Marine Corps Museum near Quantico Marines base in Virginia.

Both armed services committees also approved the following spending increases:

  • $1.25 billion added to National Guard and Reserve component equipment.
  • $331.1 million added to the A-10 jet program, which the Air Force would like to see retired to make way for its new fleet of Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters.
  • $100 million added to commissaries.
  • $92 million added to military health system modernization.
  • $80 million added to body armor spending.
  • $50 million added to the Stryker vehicle program.

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