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Annual defense bill passes House, includes key portions authored by Rep. Tsongas

WASHINGTON, DC – July 26, 2018 – Today, the House of Representatives approved the final Conference Committee version of the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes funding and sets policy priorities for the Department of Defense.  The bill is also expected to pass the Senate and be signed by the President.

The FY19 bill contains numerous provisions authored by Massachusetts Third District Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (D-MA), a senior member of the committee and the Ranking Member of the Tactical Air and Land (TAL) Forces Subcommittee.  As Ranking Member of TAL, Congresswoman Tsongas worked closely with the subcommittee’s Chairman, Republican Mike Turner (R-OH), to formulate that subcommittee’s policy and funding proposal package, which was included in the overall NDAA.

The TAL Subcommittee is responsible for conducting oversight over Army and Air Force acquisition programs as well as all Navy and Marine Corps aviation programs including a substantial portion of all of the military’s research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E or R&D) funding. Massachusetts is home to several of the military’s premier installations where major R&D and acquisitions programs are developed and managed, including Hanscom Air Force Base in the Third Congressional District.

In addition to authoring key provisions aimed at providing increased oversight over some of DoD’s largest programs, Congresswoman Tsongas included new provisions to combat sexual assault in the military, support Massachusetts’ military installations and the greater Massachusetts economy, provide much-needed resources to female servicemembers and more (please see below for specific provisions). 

Rep. Tsongas served as a conferee to the NDAA Conference Committee, appointed by Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. The Conference Committee, comprised of appointees from both parties and both chambers, reconciled the differences between the House and Senate drafts and crafted one final piece of legislation.

The FY19 NDAA now awaits final passage by the Senate before moving on to the President for his signature.

Congresswoman Tsongas released the following statement:

“The annual defense bill is crafted each year to support and protect members of our military and their families, who sacrifice so much in service to this country. This year was no different, with the FY19 NDAA taking important steps toward providing our servicemembers with the policies and resources they need to stay safe and successful here at home and around the world.

“The Third District of Massachusetts has a longstanding tradition of military service, and our Commonwealth is home to a unique and vibrant innovation economy that is at the forefront of developing leading military technology and resources. My role as the Ranking Member of the Tactical Air and Land Subcommittee provided me a platform to support the mission at our region’s cutting-edge military facilities, as well as the other vital installations around the United States. Working in partnership with my colleague Chairman Mike Turner of Ohio, our subcommittee put forward a set of policies aimed at responsibly developing and improving critical systems and resources.

“For example, I have been following closely the alarming incidents threatening pilot safety in Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force tactical and training aircraft. Military aviation is an inherently risky activity and I greatly admire all who serve on our behalf. We owe it to them to do all we can to make sure the aircraft they are flying are safe and in working condition. One of the provisions included in the bill requires the Secretary of the Navy and the Secretary of the Air Force certify that any new aircraft will have the most recent technological advancements necessary to mitigate these episodes. Furthermore, the entire Committee supported the creation of an independent commission to investigate the cause of these persistent incidents.

“I also worked in partnership with my colleagues across the aisle to author a number of provisions to address the scourge of sexual assault in the military, including:working with Rep. Turner on the PERSIST against MST Act to help amplify the voices of sexual assault survivors so that they receive the services and representation they deserve and collaborating with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Senator Sonny Perdue (R-GA), and Representative Steve Knight (R-CA) on the START Act to include a provision to establish an intensive outpatient treatment pilot program for military sexual trauma survivors.

“In the age of #MeToo and an increased awareness of the prevalence of sexual assault in both public and private life, we owe it to the survivors and those who have bravely stepped forward to tell their stories to do everything in our power to combat sexual assault in the military. Although the military has made progress in confronting this egregious crime over the past decade, we continue to hear heartbreaking firsthand accounts from both women and men in uniform of continues assaults, as evidenced by the DoD’s most recent Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Office (SAPRO) report. There is clearly work yet to be done.

“More broadly, the FY19 NDAA takes additional steps to ensure that all servicemembers are utilizing the most cutting-edge equipment and resources available. This means we must continue to pursue the scientific gains and innovative research that provide modern, enhanced capabilities. I worked to include authorization and funding for key projects and modernization efforts to take place at our local facilities, like Natick Soldier Systems, Hanscom Air Force Base and MIT’s Lincoln Labs. Key provisions in the bill I championed will ensure that these installations and Federally Funded Research and Development facilities continue to develop world-class advancements that help keep our servicemembers safe around the world.

“Despite the many admirable provisions in this bill, I remain deeply concerned about the unrealistic increase in overall defense spending and what that means for our nation’s security and future. Among other provisions, I believe unnecessary funding for President Trump’s military parade, the planned development of low-yield nuclear weapons, and continued funding to keep the Detention Facility at Guantanamo Bay operating divert important resources from needed capabilities and compromise our national security. Over the last four years, the Majority has put forth an initial NDAA bill that prioritizes defense spending at a devastating cost to other important federal agencies and investments that are critical to maintaining our national security and national competitiveness.

“Ultimately, I supported the FY19 NDAA because it includes many legislative wins for servicemembers, their families, and the American people.  This is the last NDAA that I will have the privilege of helping craft.  It’s been my honor and good fortune to serve on the House Armed Services Committee throughout my tenure in Congress. I have especially appreciated, as have my constituents, the bipartisan tradition that annually allows us to come together to best protect our country and those who serve on our behalf. It is a model that would well serve all of Congress.”

The following is a list of some of the Tsongas-authored and/or sponsored provisions included in the FY19 NDAA:

Combating military sexual assault

Purposefully Expanding and Reinforcing the Statutes we Insist Support our Troops Against Military Sexual Trauma (PERSIST Against MST) Act

This bipartisan legislation, introduced by Reps. Tsongas and Turner, co-chairs of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, continues the lawmakers’ shared efforts to combat sexual assault in the military.

  • Requires the Secretary of Defense to designate a single official or entity within the Office of the Secretary of Defense to take on the principal responsibility for providing oversight of the registered sex offender management program
  • Ensures that victims of sexual assault in the military, even if their case is handled by the Family Advocacy Program, have the choice to request an expedited transfer to a different location 
  • Mandates the government hand over any information requested by an independent panel that provides oversight on sexual assault, the Defense Advisory Committee on Investigation, Prosecution, and Defense of Sexual Assault in the Armed Forces (DAC-IPAD), that the panel deems necessary to carry out its duties

Sexual Trauma Response and Treatment (START) Act

This bipartisan, bicameral legislation, introduced by Reps. Tsongas and Knight and Sens. Warren and Perdue, will help military sexual assault survivors access critical treatment and support.

  • Establishes a three-year pilot program designed to assess the feasibility of using intensive outpatient programs to treat servicemembers suffering from PTSD as a result of military sexual trauma (MST)
  • Requires participating institutions provide comprehensive treatment for psychological and neurological conditions that occur in the MST survivor population, including PTSD, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse, and depression, as well as to provide care and support for family members supporting the impacted servicemember
  • Requires DoD establish evaluation metrics at the beginning of the pilot and conduct an annual assessment of treatment outcomes
  • Requires partner institutions provide evidence-based and evidence-informed treatment strategies, and share clinical and outreach best practices with other organizations and institutions participating in the pilot program

Encouraging Servicemembers to Report Military Sexual Assault

  • Many survivors of military sexual assault do not come forward because they fear they will be punished for minor infractions, like underage drinking, that occurred at the time of the assault. In the military, these actions are often referred to as “collateral misconduct.” 
  • Congresswoman Tsongas worked with Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster and Congresswoman Jackie Speier on a provision that directs an independent panel to investigate the prevalence of collateral misconduct charges resulting from sexual assault investigations

Providing support and resources to better protect our servicemembers

  • Increases funding for body armor specifically designed for women in order to ensure that female servicemembers train in the same kind of personal protective equipment they use when they deploy
  • Advances the development and procurement of lighter, stronger and more advanced personal protective equipment systems for all warfighters

Providing support and resources for civilians

  • Requests a briefing from the Secretary of Defense on the availability and use of workplace accommodations like telework, alternative work schedules, and other reasonable flexibilities for the civilian Defense workforce

Ensuring the safety of our aviators

  • Takes several steps to address physiological episodes (PEs) in tactical and training aircraft. Physiological episodes are instances when a pilot experiences a loss in performance related to insufficient oxygen, depressurization or other factors present during flight. Specifically, this year’s bill requires the Secretary of the Navy to:
    • Upgrade the F/A-18’s onboard oxygen generation system that purifies air to pilots
    • Redesign the F/A-18’s life support system that is required to meet oxygen generation requirements
    • Install equipment to better monitor pilot vital signs and provide better alert systems in case of equipment malfunction
  • Creates an independent National Commission on Military Aviation Safety in order to understand exactly what causes are contributing to military aviation accidents, how current rates compare to historic averages, and what steps we can take to improve military aviation safety
  • Requires the Secretary of the Navy and the Secretary of the Air Force to certify that any new aircraft will have the most recent technological advancements necessary to mitigate PEs

Increasing government oversight

  • Requires the Secretary of Defense to provide a detailed cost estimate and schedule for efforts to continuously modernize the F-35 fighter and ensure it is as most capable as possible
  • Increases funding for the Office of the Inspector General within the Department of Defense, an independent organization aimed at uncovering fraud, waste and abuse within the DOD
  • Congresswoman Tsongas worked with Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) to increase funding for the Department of Defense Inspector General in order to clear out their backlog of whistleblower cases. 

Fighting the Opioid epidemic

  • Requires the Department of Defense to establish a prescription drug monitoring program and share information with state prescription drug monitoring programs in order prevent opioid abuse within the military.

Supporting Massachusetts defense installations

MIT Lincoln Labs

  • Funds the first phase of the MIT Lincoln Labs revitalization project. The project, which will be the largest Air Force military construction project in the country, will build two state-of-the-art facilities on the grounds of Hanscom Air Force Base in an effort to speed the latest research and development programs to our servicemembers. The second phase of the project, valued at close to $220 million, is scheduled to be approved in two years. In addition to the ground-breaking research the buildings will foster over the long term, the project will be a boon to the regional economy and create dozens of construction jobs in the immediate term.
  • Supports revising Air Force regulations to allow contractors like MIT Lincoln Labs to use part of their contracts to build new research facilities, a central part of MIT Lincoln Labs modernization plan.

Support for scientific research

  • Significantly increases resources for the Department of Defense’s effort to leverage the Massachusetts innovation economy through the Defense Innovation Unit – Experimental (DIUx) initiative. DIUx opened its Cambridge, Massachusetts office in 2016.
  • Provides $20 million for the STARBASE program, a DOD effort to expose our nation’s youth to the rewards of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) projects. Hanscom AFB hosts one of the nation’s premier STARBASE programs.

Modernization Efforts at Hanscom Air Force Base

  • Extends support for the current Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) platform.
  • Supports Air Force efforts to develop a 21st century JSTARS capability called the Advanced Battle-Management System (ABMS) that will help ensure better situational awareness for our servicemembers in some of the future’s most challenging environments
  • Supports installation-level innovation efforts aimed at giving servicemembers the resources they need to make small improvements aimed at saving the military service funding over time.
  • Funds AOC Pathfinder, an innovative software development program managed at Hanscom Air Force Base, which aims to improve the Air Force’s improvement practices.

Natick Soldier Systems Center

  • Increases Research and Development (R&D) funding for the Army’s Warfighter Technology Directorate by $5 million to better protect servicemembers with life-saving technological advancements.

For video of Congresswoman Tsongas’ floor speech in support of the FY19 National Defense Authorization Act:

For video of TAL Chairman Rep. Mike Turner’s (R-OH) comments on working in a bipartisan manner with Rep. Tsongas: