House passes National Defense Authorization Act

House Passes National Defense Authorization Act

Legislation contains multiple provisions written by Shea-Porter and bars additional BRAC rounds, protecting PNSY

WASHINGTON, DC – Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2014. The bill, which passed with strong bipartisan support, includes multiple provisions written by Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter to help provide for a strong national defense, save taxpayers money, and strengthen services for America’s troops and military families.

“Congress’ solemn responsibility is to ensure the safety of our nation and the strength of our Armed Services,” Shea-Porter said. “While this bill is not perfect, it contains initiatives to help protect our troops and serve military families, address the problem of sexual assault in our Armed Forces, and provide for a strong military.”

The bill also includes a provision barring additional rounds of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), which protects the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. The legislation states: “nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize an additional Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round, and none of the funds appropriated pursuant to the authorization of appropriations contained in this Act may be used to propose, plan for, or execute an additional BRAC round.”

“I’m also pleased that the bill includes priorities I’ve focused on such as the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard continuing its vital work on behalf of our national defense, addressing PTSD, protecting soldiers’ health, and saving taxpayers money,” Shea-Porter noted.

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Congresswoman Shea-Porter worked to secure multiple key provisions and amendments that are included in the final bill and detailed below.

PROTECTING TROOPS AND SUPPORTING MILITARY FAMILIES

Protecting Troops from Toxic Burn Pits: Shea-Porter’s amendment, which was introduced as the Save Our Soldiers’ Lungs Act earlier this year, would expand the list of prohibited waste in open-air burn pits to include toxic material such as munitions, asbestos, tires, mercury, batteries, aerosol cans, and other waste. You can watch Congresswoman Shea-Porter debate the amendment here and read about the amendment in more detail here.

Providing Female Troops with Appropriate Equipment: In January 2013, the Department of Defense announced a new policy making female service members eligible for certain combat positions previously prohibited to them. After the announcement, female service members made Congresswoman Shea-Porter aware that the military services have not fielded individual equipment for women that is properly sized, weighted, and designed for them. Especially if women are to engage more broadly in combat roles, female service members must have equipment and clothing appropriate to their physical requirements so they can operate effectively without being hampered by equipment designed for men that is ill-fitting, uncomfortable, and potentially harmful during operations in the field.

Shea-Porter’s language directs the Department of Defense to detail its programs to develop and field individual equipment that is properly sized, weighted, and designed for use by all military women. The report is to include plans for a wider range of clothing sizes for women service members, and for rucksack frames and other carrying equipment designed specifically for women.

Addressing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury: Over the past decade, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) have created enormous difficulties for service members and their families. Recovering service members at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the National Intrepid Center of Excellence are reporting improvement in their PTSD and TBI symptoms after participating in service dog training programs that currently operate in those facilities. The Center runs a program in which service members suffering from PTSD and TBI learn how to train service dogs for physically disabled veterans. Shea-Porter’s amendment encourages the Secretary of Defense to study the effectiveness of this new therapy, and to consider making it more available to military members suffering from PTSD and TBI. DoD is directed to update the congressional defense committees on this research in 2015.

Fabric-Based Respiratory Protective Equipment: Often serving in sandy, smoky, and hazardous environments, service members are exposed to varied kinds of harmful or toxic airborne matter which may carry pathogens, carcinogens, lead (from gunfire), and infectious diseases. Constant and repeated exposure can harm their health. Deployed troops lack a flexible and wearable system to protect themselves from these inhaled hazards, and thus often resort to using shirts or other cloth to cover their face in dusty or smoky environments. We can’t do much to change the environment in which they operate, but we can develop and provide gear to mitigate these environmental dangers. A fabric could be developed and used to mitigate a significant amount of soldier exposure to the potentially hazardous effects of inhaling sand, dust, smoke, and pollutants such as diesel exhaust and lead. Congresswoman Shea-Porter believes that fabric-based solutions could provide a lower-cost, more flexible way for the Army to protect soldiers from some environmental hazards than continued reliance on cumbersome gas mask systems. Under the provision, the Secretary of the Army is directed to provide a report, not later than February 15, 2014, evaluating the potential utility of fabric-based solutions to address soldier exposure to inhalation of sand, dust, smoke, and pollutants.

Continuing Support for the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program: Shea-Porter’s amendment recommends that the Department of Defense ensure continuing support for the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, a program that provides service members and military families with financial planning services, logistical support, mental health counseling, and employment support throughout the deployment cycle, and maintains its ability to support the operational reserves. Shea-Porter’s language signals to the Department of Defense that the Yellow Ribbon program is a priority for Congress and the nation.

Expanding Military Families’ Access to Rehabilitative Therapies: Shea-Porter’s language would help military families receive access to alternative physical therapies under the TRICARE program. The provision was endorsed by the Military Officers Association of America, American Physical Therapy Association, Autism Speaks, Military Special Needs Network, National Military Family Association, Children’s Hospital Association, and the National Association of Pediatric Physicians.

PROVIDING FOR A STRONG NATIONAL DEFENSE

Protecting US National Security in the Arctic: The Navy currently estimates that between 2020 to 2030, the Arctic could be ice-free for one month during the summer, which may lead to an increase in trans-Arctic passage for vessels seeking to reduce transit distance by utilizing the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage. As a global nation, the United States needs to ensure that the Navy is adequately prepared to preserve U.S. national security interests and collaborate with other Arctic nations if and when the region will be open for passage with increased traffic. Shea-Porter’s language directs the Navy to provide a roadmap for future activities and costs for training and operating in the Arctic.

Identifying Troops’ Foreign Language Skills: Foreign-language training is expensive and time-consuming. Service members often acquire these valuable skills naturally while stationed overseas. Congresswoman Shea-Porter’s amendment recommends that the military ask service members returning from deployment or assignment to a non-English-speaking country about any language skills acquired or improved while overseas. Service members will be allowed to rate their own competence in speaking, oral understanding, reading, and/or writing a foreign language, using an easy-to-understand scale. Additionally, the amendment directs the military to create a uniform rule that allows service members who acquire foreign language skills to be tested on oral proficiency alone, if they so request. The information from these self-assessments and tests will help commanders identify candidates for advanced language training and address the needs of the force.

SAVING TAXPAYERS MONEY

Holding the Afghan Government Accountable: According to a recent audit, the Government of Afghanistan levied almost a billion dollars in taxes on US assistance to Afghanistan since 2008, even though Department of Defense, State Department, and USAID assistance to Afghanistan is supposed to be exempt from Afghan business taxes. These inappropriate and illegal taxes increase costs to American taxpayers.

Shea-Porter’s amendment would address the problem of Afghanistan improperly imposing taxes on Department of Defense aid. First, the amendment requires a report to the congressional defense committees on the amount of taxes assessed the previous year on US defense contractors, subcontractors, and grantees. Secondly, it requires that an amount equivalent to 100% of the total taxes assessed by the Afghan government on that assistance be withheld from funds appropriated for Afghanistan assistance for the succeeding fiscal year to the extent that such taxes have not been reimbursed. This penalty should encourage the Afghan government to cease levying improper taxes, thereby saving taxpayer dollars.

Bringing Transparency to Defense Contracting: For too long, the American people have been the victims of theft and fraud by contractors working in Afghanistan. Congress took steps to rein in these contractors by creating a database to track contractors and their subcontractors. Shea-Porter’s provision would require the Department of Defense to submit a report on contractor compliance in Iraq and Afghanistan. At a minimum, the report must include a detailed discussion of any outstanding contractor compliance issues or concerns, including any issues or concerns about the provision of information to contractor databases; a discussion of any lessons learned in Iraq or Afghanistan for improving contractor compliance in a combat environment; and best practice recommendations for ensuring contractor compliance in future contracting operations in war zones. Contractor noncompliance prevents oversight agencies from conducting proper audits and investigations. Therefore, it prevents these agencies from uncovering waste and contract fraud. Taxpayers are spending billions of dollars in Afghanistan. They deserve accountability.