Washington, DC – House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) announced that H.R. 5658, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009, was reported favorably by the committee on a vote of 61 to 0.

  H.R. 5658 authorizes $531.4 billion in budget authority for the Department of Defense (DoD) and the national security programs of the Department of Energy (DoE).  The bill also authorizes $70 billion to support ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan during fiscal year 2009. 

 In a statement released after the committee’s approval of the defense authorization bill, Skelton discussed some of the measure’s most significant provisions:

 “This defense bill reflects our commitment to support U.S. service members and to provide the necessary resources to protect the American people and our national interests.  The provisions of this year’s defense bill promote our main policy objectives: restoring military readiness; taking care of our troops and their families; increasing focus on the war in Afghanistan; and improving interagency cooperation, oversight, and accountability.

 “After more than six years of war, we must sustain our efforts to restore military readiness in order to meet current military challenges and prepare for the future.  The bill directs approximately $2 billion toward unfunded readiness initiatives requested by the services, which includes an additional $932 million to deal with equipment shortages and for equipment maintenance.  The bill also provides $800 million for National Guard and Reserve equipment and $650 million to keep defense facilities in good working order and to address urgent issues such as dilapidated military barracks.  To boost readiness and to reduce the strain on our forces, the bill increases the size of the military by 7,000 Army troops and 5,000 Marines, and prevents further military to civilian conversions in the medical field by authorizing an additional 1,023 Navy sailors and 450 Air Force personnel. 

 “To improve the quality of life for our forces and their families, the bill provides a 3.9 percent pay raise for all service members, which is .5 percent more than the President’s budget request, and extends the authority for the Defense Department to offer bonuses and incentive pay.  The bill also preserves important health benefits, by prohibiting fee increases in TRICARE and the TRICARE pharmacy program, and creates new preventive health care initiatives to improve the readiness of our force, keep service members and their families healthy, and to reduce the overall need for care.

 “To meet the changing needs of today’s service members and their families, the bill establishes a Career Intermission Pilot Program to allow a service member to be released from active duty for a maximum of three years to focus on personal or professional goals outside of the military.  The bill also provides tuition assistance to help military spouses establish their own careers, authorizes Impact Aid funding to assist schools with large enrollments of military children, and establishes a DoD School of Nursing to address the critical nursing shortage in our military services. 

 “The war in Afghanistan is a critical mission that demands greater attention.  To better coordinate military operations and achieve a unity of command whenever possible, the bill addresses the need to improve the command and control structure for military forces operating in Afghanistan.  The bill also provides funding needed to train and equip the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and requires more robust congressional reporting on the ANSF.  Additionally, the bill provides the funding needed for our commanders’ reconstruction projects and urges the President to appoint a Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), as required by law, at the earliest possible time.  

 “For greater transparency and accountability, the bill requires the administration to submit separate budget requests for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The bill also bans permanent U.S. bases in Iraq and bans U.S. control over Iraqi oil.  The bill increases Iraqi burden sharing by linking U.S. spending on reconstruction under the Commanders Emergency Reconstruction Program (CERP) to reconstruction contributions by the Government of Iraq and by banning the use of funds from the Iraqi Security Forces Fund to build infrastructure.  The bill also requires detailed reporting to Congress on any Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and how such agreements protect U.S. service members and affect U.S. operations in Iraq.

 “Interagency coordination and cooperation is increasingly important, and the performance of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Afghanistan and Iraq has shown the benefits and the difficulties of interagency relationships.  To ensure that PRTs are as effective as possible in supporting overall U.S. strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bill requires the President to develop and implement a system to measure the performance of U.S.-led PRTs.  The bill also requires reports on PRT personnel recruitment and training, planning for future requirements, security for PRTs, and planning for future stability operations.  

 “Regarding Building Partnership Capacity programs, the bill extends existing Train and Equip authority for two years and extends existing Security, Reconstruction, and Stabilization Assistance authority for DoD to provide funding to the State Department for two years.  The bill also extends existing authority to train and equip the Pakistan Frontier Corps for two years. 

 “Efforts to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction and to reduce the risk that these weapons could fall into terrorists’ hands are critical to our national security.  This year’s bill recognizes this by increasing funding to strengthen and expand the DoE National Nuclear Security Administration nonproliferation programs and the DoD Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program.
 “Contracting oversight and accountability issues remain a concern.  This bill implements several recommendations of the Gansler Commission to reform and improve the acquisition process, including an enhanced military career path in acquisition, expedited hiring authority for the acquisition workforce, and lifting the premium pay cap for civilians deploying to theater.  Due to concerns that contractor employees who work side-by-side with government employees are not subject to the same conflict of interest provisions, the bill requires DoD to develop a policy to prevent personal conflicts of interest in defense contracts.  The bill also requires the development of a single definition of an ‘inherently governmental function’ to be applied government-wide to help determine which jobs should only be performed by government personnel.  

 “Each year, members of the House Armed Services Committee work very hard to make this the best bill possible for our military and for our nation.  I want to thank all of our members for helping our committee continue the tradition of bipartisan cooperation as we fulfill our Constitutional obligation to raise and support the U.S. Armed Forces.”

 A detailed summary of H.R. 5658 as reported by the House Armed Services Committee is available at http://armedservices.house.gov/ .