KEITH'S CONGRESSIONAL CORNER


It’s heating up in Washington, both in temperature and in action on Capitol Hill. Congress only has about nine legislative weeks remaining to complete all 12 appropriations bills, and none of the Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations bills are close to conclusion. With additional issues to address, such as raising the debt limit and debating tax reform and healthcare, Congress has a great deal of work remaining.
 
Last week, Secretary of the Air Force Dr. Heather Wilson spoke at the inaugural AFA Breakfast Series Capitol Hill Edition. It was the Secretary’s first public address and was attended by more than 170 representatives from Congress, industry, Air Force, and AFA. She addressed technology, the B-21 bomber program, space, the attack aircraft experiment, cyber, basing, end strength, and innovation.  Read more.
 
AFA’s President Larry Spencer wrote attendees afterward, “AFA's core mission is to educate the public on the critical need for unmatched aerospace power and a technically superior workforce to ensure US national security. The AFA Breakfast Series Capitol Hill Edition is one of the many programs we use to achieve this mission.”
 
On June 6th, both the Secretary of the Air Force and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on their Fiscal Year 2018 Budget. Secretary Wilson testified that their priorities are to 1) Restore readiness and 2) focus on Modernization. We need to make the Air Force more lethal with fighters, tankers, and bombers.
 

Last week AFA Government Relations attended the Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) Advisory Committee meeting. With the current burial rate, ANC is expected to be closed to new interments by 2041. The Committee, association representatives, and congressional staffers discussed the current status and eligibility criteria, however, there are no easy answers to keep the cemetery active beyond the 2040s. The Secretary of the Army is looking at the Committee’s report and evaluating options such as land procurement and restricted burial eligibility criteria. AFA will keep you updated.

Congressional Budget Posture hearings have begun on next year’s budget. We’ll keep you posted. On Monday, the House Appropriations, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (MILCON-VA) Subcommittee marked-up, and passed by voice vote, its Fiscal Year 2018 spending bill, the least controversial appropriations bill. Note:  the Fiscal Year 2017 MILCON-VA bill was the only full-year appropriations bill enacted by the start of this fiscal year, beginning October 1, 2016.

Once again, we can expect either an OMNIBUS appropriations bill (best scenario) that combines all of the bills or another continuing resolution (CR) for federal funding beginning October 1, 2017.

Since 2010, the world has grown more dangerous and volatile. Yet the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 left the Air Force with artificial budget caps. This weakens the force by reducing its readiness, cuts needed research and development of advanced technologies and delays the acquisition of new weaponry. AFA’s current priority on Capitol Hill is advocating for an increase in the defense budget cap. The Air Force in particular needs stable and predictable (Regular Order) spending bills, at sufficient levels, necessary for the Total Force to grow their force, modernize their bases, and recapitalize aging weapon systems.

Happy Birthday to the US Army this week as they celebrate 242 years of proud heritage.


AIR FORCE HIGHLIGHTS
 
House Appropriations, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs Subcommittee Marks Up Fiscal Year 2018 Spending Bill
If their bill becomes law, both the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and military construction programs would gain funding increases. Military construction, family housing and Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) accounts would receive $10.2 billion, a $2.1 billion increase over the enacted level for this fiscal year.
 
The VA would receive $182.3 billion in mandatory and discretionary spending. Their discretionary spending would be $78.3 billion, a $3.9 billion increase over this year’s spending.  Read more.

 
The Pentagon wants to sweeten retirement benefits for senior enlisted troops
Andrew deGrandpre, June 11, 2017
Military Times
The Pentagon wants to upgrade its new retirement package, set to debut Jan. 1, so the military’s longest-serving enlisted personnel have greater incentive to remain in uniform. 
 
Introduced in late-May, the proposal calls for removing eligibility limits on the dollar-for-dollar contributions that will be made to troops’ 401(k)-style investment accounts, a key feature of the Defense Department’s new “blended” retirement plan. Current rules halt those payments once personnel reach 26 years of service. By lifting that cap, careerists who ascend to the military’s senior-most ranks could collect tens of thousands of dollars in additional retirement savings depending on the stock market’s performance over time.  Read more.


OP-ED: “Nation, Armed Forces Deserve Better from Congress”

Mark Tarpley, June 9, 2017
NewsOK
For the next several weeks, and potentially months, there will be the ever-present political gamesmanship as the competing political parties thrust and parry against each other for perceived political advantage. Flying underneath this cloud of turmoil will be a basic function of government required by our elected Washington officials — to provide a fully authorized, appropriated and passed budget for the next fiscal year by no later than Sept. 30. As basic and important as that function is, it hasn't been fully completed since 1996. The budgeting process is the bedrock function of government that, in terms of our nation's defense, provides a predictable, reliable and flexible means to organize, train and equip our armed forces. For the Air Force, this is an acute need. Since its founding 70 years ago, the Air Force has been a leading edge of deterrence. But it has been engaged in nonstop combat operations for the past 26 years, and today is in high demand by our allies.  Read more.

China Is 'Closing the Gap' in Air Power with U.S.

Bill Carey, June 8, 2017

AINOnline

The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) is “closing the gap rapidly” with Western air forces across a broad spectrum of capabilities, states the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on China’s military, released on June 6. “This development is gradually eroding the significant technical advantage held by the United States,” the report adds.  Read more.

Air Force Confirms Late KC-46 Delivery– ‘Late Spring’ Not December 
Colin Clark, June 8, 2017
Breaking Defense

WASHINGTON: Boeing will probably deliver the first of the “low risk” KC-46 airborne tankers at least six months later than planned, the Air Force said this morning.
 
“The Air Force will continue to support Boeing’s efforts to execute the program, however, the Air Force assessment predicts first aircraft delivery beyond Boeing’s forecast into late Spring of 2018,” says a statement from Capt. Emily Grabowski. There’s clearly some uncertainty about this date: Even though the statements says the Boeing delivery is likely by “late Spring,” it also says the service “expects to have greater confidence on the timeline in July.”
 
Since “late Spring” lasts until June 21st, the statement strongly implies the Air Force thinks there’s a pretty good chance Boeing won’t deliver the first plane until almost seven months after they were supposed to.
 
The good news is, that no matter how late Boeing might be and how much that time might cost, US taxpayers will not be affected: The fixed-price contract forces the company to absorb all the additional costs.  Read more.

DoD tries to calm Congress over new BRAC request

Scott Maucione, June 8, 2017

Federal News Radio

The Defense Department is trying to assuage lawmakers’ fears about closing bases that are unneeded by the department and are costing extra funds to run.

 

The Pentagon has been pleading with Congress to conduct another round of Base Realignment and Closures (BRAC) for years.  Read more.

 

Air Force leaders Discuss the Future of Air and Space Power [During Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Hearing]
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs, June 6, 2017

Air Force Website
 
WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen David L. Goldfein testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill June 6.

At the forefront were the efforts to restore readiness and increase the lethality of the force. Wilson said any objective evaluation of today’s Air Force reaches two conclusions:

“The Air Force is too small for the missions demanded of it,” she said in advance of the hearing. “And adversaries are modernizing and innovating faster than we are, putting America’s technological advantage in air and space at risk.”

Air Force in demand
Looking forward, Wilson and Goldfein do not envision the demand for air and space power diminishing in the coming decade.

Today, the Air Force is manned with 660,000 active, Guard, Reserve and civilian Airmen, a 30 percent decline since Operation Desert Storm 26 years ago.

“We have the same level of taskings today as we did during Desert Storm,” Wilson said. “But we have 55 squadrons rather than 134.”

The Air Force leaders said while the fiscal 18 budget request focuses on restoring readiness and increasing lethality, future budgets must focus on modernization and continued readiness recovery.  Read more.
 
Addressing the National Pilot Shortage
Congressman Mike Coffman (R-CO), June 6, 2017
For the 115th Congress that began on January 2017, I became the Chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee. In this new position, I deal with a wide range of issue that impact our national security. One somewhat surprising issue the committee is currently confronting is a growing military pilot shortage. Right now, the U.S. Air Force alone is short more than 1,500 pilots and the short fall is increasing yearly.
 
I am pushing the Air Force to take a look at placing more flying slots in the Air Force Reserve and in the Air National Guard. The Reserve and the Guard aircraft are largely flown by pilots who have completed their initial active duty obligation and are fully trained. Pilots in the Guard and the Reserve typically are now pursuing a commercial aviation career but are also willing to stay current as a military pilot and are willing to be mobilized, as needed.  Read more.

 

VA secretary announces decision on next-generation electronic health record
June 5, 2017
U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David J. Shulkin announced his decision on the next-generation electronic health record (EHR) system for the VA at a news briefing at VA headquarters in Washington.
 
[A Portion of ] Secretary Shulkin’s full prepared statement is below:
I am here today to announce my decision on the future of the VA’s Electronic Health Record system, otherwise known as EHR.
 
I wanted to say at the outset that from the day he selected me for this position, the president made clear that we’re going to do things differently for our Veterans, to include in the area of EHR.
 
I had said previously that I would be making a decision on our EHR by July 1st, and I am honoring that commitment today.
 
The health and safety of our Veterans is one of our highest national priorities.
 
Having a Veteran’s complete and accurate health record in a single common EHR system is critical to that care, and to improving patient safety.  Read more.
 

AAFES Invites Veterans to Begin Tax-Free Online Shopping
Starting June 5th, the Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) invited approximately 13 million Veterans to log on to www.VetVerify.org to take the first step to begin shopping tax-free with military exclusive pricing at www.shopmyexchange.com. The DoD-approved Veterans online shopping benefit begins this Veterans Day.
 
Veteran Unemployment Rate at 10-Year Low, 3.4 Percent in May
The Department of Labor, Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETS) confirmed that in May 2017, the veteran unemployment was 3.4 percent, the lowest in 10 years. In comparison, the non-veteran unemployment rate was 4.0 percent in May 2017 (not seasonally adjusted).
 
Blended Retirement System Begins in January 2018
Military Pay

On January 1, 2018, Air Force members will be eligible for the Blended Retirement System (BRS), which blends the traditional legacy retirement pension with a defined contribution to the Service member’s Thrift Savings Plan account. The Defense Department unveiled a new Blended Retirement System comparison calculator, intended to help eligible service members and their family make an informed decision about whether to opt in to the new system. Policy Highlights:
    ·  All members serving as of December 31, 2017, are grandfathered under the legacy retirement system. No one currently-serving will be automatically switched to the Blended Retirement System.
     ·  Though they are grandfathered under the legacy retirement system, Active Component Service members with fewer than 12 years since their Pay Entry Base Date, and Reserve Component Service members who have accrued fewer than 4,320 retirement points as of December 31, 2017, will have the option to opt into the Blended Retirement System. The opt-in/election period for the Blended Retirement System begins January 1, 2018, and concludes on December 31, 2018.
    ·  All Service members who enter the military on or after January 1, 2018, will automatically be enrolled in BRS. 
Read more.

VA: ELIGIBILITY DETERMINATIONS FOR BURIAL - IN ADVANCE OF NEED
Many individuals would like to know, in advance, whether they are eligible for burial in a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) national cemetery. To assist them, VA is launching an initiative, the “Pre-Need Eligibility Determination Program,” specifically aimed at helping individuals with burial planning and making sure their wishes are known.

VA will, upon request, make pre-need determinations of eligibility for burial in a VA national cemetery in advance of need. Having this information will help Veterans use the VA benefits they have earned, for their families and for themselves.

Once VA determines that individuals are eligible, those individuals will be entitled to the same benefits they would receive were a determination made at the time of need (time of death).  [VA Fact Sheet] 
Read more.


QUOTES TO NOTE

“More than anything else, we need [budget] predictability. The United States Air Force needs [budget] predictability.”
- Dr. Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force
 
“If you don’t provide relief from the Budget Control Act, we will hollow out the force and set ourselves back years. We have to get beyond the Budget Control Act.”
- Dr. Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force
 
“The Air Force is too small for what the nation expects of it.”
- Dr. Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force
 
"For all the heartache caused by the loss of our troops during these wars, no enemy in the field has done more to harm the readiness of our military than sequestration."
- General James Mattis, USMC, Retired, Secretary of Defense
 
"We have spent six years just getting by, asking more and more of those who serve, and putting off the choices that have to be made."
- Representative Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Chairman, House Armed Services Committee


KEY DATES TO WATCH
 
Jun 28:           House Armed Services Committee Mark-Up of FY 2018 NDAA
Jul 11:            AFA Capitol Hill Breakfast with ACC Commander General Holmes
Jul 26:            AFA Capitol Hill Breakfast with CSAF General Goldfein
Sep 18-20:     AFA’s Air, Space, & Cyber Conference, Washington, DC
Sep 30:          Fiscal Year 2017 (FY 2017) Ends
Oct 1:             Fiscal Year 2018 (FY 2018) Begins


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