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Begich Secures One-Year Moratorium on Eielson Changes in Defense Authorization Act

Defense bill protects bases, Congressional oversight enhanced

Any potential change in the force structure at Alaska’s Eielson Air Force Base and at bases across the country would be hold for at least a year, pending enactment into law, as a result of work done by U.S. Sen. Mark Begich on the Senate Armed Services Committee this week.

The committee completed its work on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 National Defense Authorization Act after two days of mark-ups on the budget for the Department of Defense (DOD). The bill includes a one-year moratorium on implementing any action that would reduce the number of civilian personnel at a base to less than 300—like the relocation of the F16s from Eielson—to  achieve savings by drawing down the civilian work force. Installations with less than 300 civilians can be closed without congressional notification or a BRAC Commission.

The bill also requires the General Accounting Office to develop objective criteria to be used by DOD for making decisions related to realignments of units to ensure decisions are not biased and are appropriately analyzed.

“This is great news for Alaska as we would get at least another year to force the Air Force to prove up its claims that moving the F16 Aggressor Squadron from Eielson to JBER will ultimately save money across military branches,” Begich said. “I hold fast to my belief those cost-savings will not ultimately add up, and the F16s will stay put just like they did when a similar proposal was considered and rejected in 2005. This bill clearly expresses the intent of the Senate to reject a BRAC without BRAC authorization.”

Additionally, Senator Begich worked on securing the future of Eielson. He and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) worked on a provision which requires the Air Force to take into account Priority 1 and 2 air refueling missions, like those performed at Eielson,  in establishing criteria for future strategic basing decisions, like the next generation air refueler (KC-46). The Air Force would be required to report to Congress on how the scoring of these missions will be incorporated into its model.

The committee was able to find savings while still maintaining military readiness. The bill also authorizes a 1.7 percent across-the-board pay increase for all members of the military services.

There is also $18.3 million in Alaska military construction money, including:

·         $10.4 million               Modified Record Fire Range, Fort Wainwright

·         $ 7.9  million               Modified Record Fire Range, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson

The bill also prevents the Air Force from divesting Air National Guard C130s as proposed by the Air Force. As a result Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson will retain all of its C130s. Additionally, the bill prohibits cancellation of the C130 Avionics Modernization Program until the proposal and impact are thoroughly analyzed.

Working with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Begich also was again successful in eliminating funding for the over-budget and behind-schedule air defense research and development program called the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS). The defense bill provides no funding for the program, which the U.S. military has no intention of using, and saves taxpayers over $401 million in FY13. Senators Begich and McCain have continued to lead efforts to not fund the program, despite the Administration’s continued requests to fund a product the warfighter will never use.

“With limited resources, we need to fund the programs and military systems that can be used effectively by our service members and not continue to invest in projects like MEADS that is clearly wasteful spending,” Begich said. “Hopefully, the Administration will stop asking to fund a program that military leaders have already said they have no use for now or in the future.”

Other highlights of the defense bill championed by Begich include:

Space Available Equitable Travel for National Guard and Reserve Members –  A provision was included to give National Guard and Reserve members the same space available travel benefits as their active duty counterparts. Senator Begich has championed this effort during his tenure in the Senate. His bill, S.2112, has 31 cosponsors.

Full Funding for Ground-based Midcourse Defense for $903.172 million – Funding as requested by Sen. Begich and a statement of support for GMD including recognition of the importance of Alaska to the nation’s homeland defense against intercontinental ballistic missiles, need to continuously improve the system, need to hedge against future threats, and an expression of support for the Clear AFB radar upgrade.

Full Funding for Clear Radar Upgrade for $92 million – Funding as requested by Sen. Begich.

Arctic Significance to National Security – A Begich amendment adopted by the committee recognizes the increasing importance of the Arctic region to our broader national security; commends the DOD, specifically U.S. Northern Command and the U.S. Navy, for their work on the issue with the U.S. Coast Guard.

Rare Earth – Begich amendment adopted by the committee stating the importance of rare earth in defense systems which necessitates the need to thoroughly understand any supply chain disruptions and develop risk mitigation plans.

Anti-Hazing Report - Requires the service secretaries and chiefs to review and submit a report to Congress on hazing in the military.

Education Money – Authorizes $25 million in supplemental impact aid to local education agencies with military dependent children and $5 million in impact aid for schools with military dependent children with severe disabilities.

Other provisions include:

·          A proposed increase in Tricare fees and deductibles for service members and their families was rejected.

·         The bill includes no authorization for a Base Realignment and Closure Round. 

·         The bill includes an amendment from Sen. Begich and Sen. Kelly Ayotte requiring the DOD to provide a plan for adequately maintaining and sustaining overseas military cemeteries in honor of the nation’s fallen heroes.

The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration. Sen. Begich will continue working with the Alaska Congressional Delegation on efforts to explicitly prohibit funds from being appropriated in the Defense Appropriations Bill for the Eielson move.

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