The FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is working through the House and Senate – the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) released its full text early June 24, and MOAA’s government relations team has been poring over its 1,000-plus pages.
The early text and summaries from both chambers give us a glimpse at what we can expect the priorities to be for Congress and the administration in the new fiscal year. They also point to several MOAA-backed initiatives that will be part of NDAA negotiations going forward – we will need support from MOAA members and the wider military community to ensure these provisions reach the finish line.
Here’s a breakdown of what’s in the bill, what’s not, and what’s next:
The SASC on June 10 voted 25-2 to advance the NDAA to the Senate floor. Markups from the House Armed Service Committee are proceeding as scheduled, with the full committee markup scheduled for July 1.
The 2021 NDAA is focused on a theme of modernization, which includes the new Space Force service component and other readiness enhancements, moving the department away from existing legacy systems to more advanced technology platforms for conducting operations. Another common theme in each chamber: an assessment of our industrial base that requires a report in areas where we have an overreliance on China.
A growing national deficit from the COVID-19 pandemic response and recent increased military investments make the defense budget a likely candidate for future cuts. The good news is that MOAA’s Virtual Storming the Hill event and advocacy for our military community is already evident in the hearings and executive summaries. There are several promising provisions in the House and Senate versions of the NDAA that still must survive the NDAA conference to become law.
What’s In the NDAA So Far?
Both the House and Senate versions support a 3.0% pay raise tied to the Employment Cost Index.
Halting Cuts to the Military Health System
MOAA’s Virtual Storming the Hill efforts paid off with the inclusion of two provisions in the FY 2021 NDAA HASC Personnel Subcommittee mark that would temporarily halt medical billet cuts and military treatment facility (MTF) restructuring with new reporting requirements. They are:
- A review of medical manpower requirements related to homeland defense missions and pandemic response. The bill also would prohibit any realignment or reduction of military medical end strength for one year after the date of enactment of the FY 2021 NDAA and requires an analysis of availability of civilian health care and mitigation planning for any care to be eliminated from MTFs due to medical billet cuts.
- A requirement to address concerns raised by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the quality and availability of civilian providers. The bill also would prevent DoD from implementing the planned MTF restructuring for one year following a new report.
This is not a done deal, but it marks a positive development as MOAA seeks to halt cuts to military medicine to ensure congressional oversight of DoD’s efforts and access to high quality care for beneficiaries at impacted MTFs. It will still take all of us to engage at the right opportunities to shepherd these and other provisions through the amendment process, chamber floor votes, and the conference committee. Please stay tuned and be ready to call or email your legislators.
The executive summary of the SASC markup did not directly address MOAA’s Storming the Hill goal of halting MTF restructuring and medical billet cuts.
Improving Military Family Readiness
MOAA’s top military family priorities on childcare and the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) were included in the HASC Personnel Subcommittee mark. Items of note include:
- Standardization of EFMP across DoD, a proposal successfully influenced by MOAA’s testimony and advocacy. Language also includes a required report on rates of military family disputes for Free Appropriate Public Education (learn more about FAPE here).
- A basic needs allowance for servicemembers who are at poverty levels.
- Installation Housing preference for Family Child Care (FCC) in-home providers. This MOAA initiative works to establish this preference during the PCS process and would ensure a consistent size home to allow for the provision of child care. FCC providers are essential as part of the child care network available to servicemembers and part of fixing an overall shortage in child care providers. Additional provisions authorize flexible child care hours for shift work and recalculating fee assistance based on location.
Protecting the Service-Earned Commissary BenefitThe House markup seeks an updated business case analysis for the Defense Resale Enterprise’s proposal to consolidate the commissaries and exchanges after the GAO found significant problems in the proposed merger.
Military Family Priorities
The SASC executive summary identified a series of initiatives to improve the quality of life for military families, including some that overlap House provisions outlined above. Some examples:
- Support for military spouses to find employment and to establish interstate licensure compacts.
- Standardization and improvements to the EFMP (also part of the House markup).
- Military family considerations for future basing decisions (children’s education and spouse employment are top variables).
- Child care affordability and Installation Child Development Center safety measures.
- U.S. Transportation Command Defense Personal Property Program improvements.
- Language that encourages DoD to keep the commissary system open in the event of a government shutdown.
The HASC has NDAA language addressing the continued problems with military housing to include:
- Required reporting on the quality of on-base housing and health risks from substandard housing, including steps taken to inform families of those risks.
- A report on military privatized housing performance, standardization of quality metrics, and a status update on implementation of GAO recommendations.
SASC provisions to improve military housing include:
- Language that prohibits leasing identified substandard housing.
- A DoD Inspector General audit of medical conditions connected to military housing.
- A report on implementation of recommendations from the last DoD IG report on military housing.
National Guard and Reserve Component
The HASC included the following language on the reserve component:
- A pilot program for states to expand job placement programs for unemployed Guardsmen or Reservists.
- A talent optimization marketplace to improve assignments for Reserve and Guard service members.
SASC provisions on the topic include:
- A Space Force reserve component, but with a delay in establishing a Space National Guard until the completion of a study on the issue.
- Reserve retirement relief for servicemembers affected by the COVID-19 stop-movement order.
- Mental health and suicide prevention, including a GAO study on the delivery of federal, state, and private mental health services to reserve servicemembers, and reviewing efforts to prevent suicide among service members stationed at remote installations outside of the continental U.S.
Sexual Harassment and Assault
Last year’s NDAA required a DoD report on the feasibility of implementing the U.S. Air Force Academy’s “Safe to Report” program across the department. This year, both the HASC and SASC have provisions that would put the program in place. It will encourage reporting by victims without fear from punishment for minor collateral misconduct, such as underage drinking.
What Is Missing in This NDAA?
Provisions to address concurrent receipt of retirement pay and disability pay for those with 40% rated disability and below or medically retired before reaching 20 years are missing from the NDAA base language. The Military Coalition continues to advocate for fixing this problem, and champions in the House and Senate plan to propose an amendment to the NDAA to address concurrent receipt at first opportunity, such as the Major Richard Star act.
What Are the Next Steps With the NDAA?
Once markups are complete, the HASC and SASC will post the approved language, and a window will open for members to propose amendments to the NDAA. The House and Senate will then appoint conferees to meet and negotiate a final NDAA version that resolves differences in language.
At last year’s NDAA conference, the widows tax was finally repealed when the conferees voted to waive the budgetary “pay for” rule and fix that longstanding injustice. Although budgetary concerns are greater this year, MOAA will continue to advocate for our community throughout the process.
(Brenden McMahon, MOAA's Associate Director, Compensation and Legislation, contributed to this report.)