Defense Bill Brings Military Investment, Support to Alaska
Sen. Begich also helps eliminate wasteful DOD spending
Alaska’s military members and operations around the state are receiving support and investment as a result of work by U.S. Sen. Mark Begich on the Senate Armed Services Committee this week.
The committee completed its work on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 National Defense Authorization Act after two days of mark-ups on the budget for the Department of Defense, which includes a 1.6 percent pay raise for the military and facility investments totaling nearly $400 million at Alaska bases.
The total funding for the Department of Defense for FY 2012 in the bill reported by the committee is $6 billion less than the President's budget request of $688.9 billion at $682.5 billion. The committee found savings while still providing for military readiness.
Additionally, Sen. Begich helped lead the effort with Sen. John McCain to eliminate $804 million for an over-budget, and behind-schedule air defense research and development program called the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS). The U.S. military has no intention of purchasing the program which has been unable to meet schedule costs and targets for over two decades.
“As we continue to invest and expand meaningful and productive military systems and projects, we must also be mindful of wasteful spending and not continue to invest in projects like MEADS that are really just a drain on taxpayers,” Begich said. “While we focus on giving our military the resources and compensation necessary to meet our global commitments, continued funding of programs that will never deliver tangible benefits to our troops, like MEADS, is unacceptable.”
In addition to the 1.6 percent pay raise for military members, the bill includes several other provisions promoted by Sen. Begich including:
· Alaska’s Ground-based Midcourse Defense System – the only system capable of protecting America against a rogue missile fully funded at $1.2 billion;
· Expansion of Mental & Behavioral Telehealth Services for the Military - Waives state licensing requirements for fully credentialed Department of Defense (DoD) contractor, civilian or Tricare network provider mental health care professionals when they are performing federal behavioral and mental health duties, like telehealth. This will expand mental and behavioral health treatment to active duty, National Guardsmen, Reservists, veterans and military retirees in rural states like Alaska with a shortage of mental health care professionals, and allows military patients and retirees to be treated from home;
· Enhancing Benefits – Directs the DoD to improve the accuracy and efficiency of the process to determine Basic Housing Allowances. A recent report released by GAO done at the request of Senator Begich validated his concerns the current DoD process for determining housing allowance for our military doesn’t work in Alaska;
· Promoting Investment in Air Force Training Ranges – Directs the Secretary of the Air Force to conduct a study on the ability of major air test and training range infrastructure to support current and future Air Force requirements, as well as a funding strategy for required investments to keep the range viable. This provision will help ensure the viability of training ranges such as the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex;
· Benchmarks for Progress in Afghanistan – Requires the Administration to provide benchmarks to evaluate the progress being made toward the goal of transitioning security responsibilities in Afghanistan to the Government of Afghanistan by December 31, 2014 so U.S. troops can withdraw;
· Rare Earth –Expresses the concern of DoD reliance on foreign suppliers for these critical materials used in our nation’s most important weapons systems. Directs the DoD to incorporate the impact of recent market changes (export quotas from China) since the date of the last bill which required a report to Congress on DoD utilization and dependency of the materials;
- Preparing the National Guard for Homeland Missions – Directs the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy to provide a report on the appropriate structures and processes in place to ensure our National Guardsmen can support State missions like search and rescue;
· Promoting Smooth Transition – Authorizes the service secretaries to carry out one or more programs to provide service members with job training and employment skills.
Earlier this week, the Readiness Subcommittee approved nearly $400 million for military projects in Alaska (see attached release) which are included in the final bill passed by the SASC yesterday.
Additionally, the bill eliminates millions of dollars in military construction for Guam until a realistic and cost effective plan is in place for relocation of Marines to Guam. It also eliminates $150 million in overseas military construction and prohibits fund from being spent moving families to South Korea with a spouse until a comprehensive cost estimate and rationale is provided.