Last week, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Conference convened between members of Congress and the Senate to review and debate provisions for the policy-setting legislation which authorizes the budget authority of the Department of Defense and the national security programs for the Department of Energy. On Thursday, December 8, 2011, the Reserve Officers Association submitted a letter to the leadership of the Conference, highlighting provisions that were included in the House-passed version of the bill. During this crucial time for the future of the Reserve Component, ROA maintained that an operational Reserve Component is a forefront issue to a new generation of citizen warriors that does not want to be placed back “on the shelf” in merely a strategic role. As a result, on Monday, December 12, 2011, Leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees announced that they had reached an agreement on the policy-setting legislation and released a $554 billion NDAA Conference Report for the Fiscal Year 2012 that melds the Senate and House versions of the NDAA into a single document.
Overall, the NDAA includes $530 billion for the Department of Defense and another $11.1 billion for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Another $115.5 billion was authorized by the conferees for overseas contingency operations. These funding levels were reduced from the House and Senate’s versions of the bill, as well as from President Obama’s FY2012 budget request. In addition, these cuts are keeping with the Budget Control Act’s requirement to cut Defense spending by $465 billion over the next ten years.
The Report included provisions for National Guardsmen and Reservists, some of which ROA supported. While the conferees promise to deliver a report that will compare the cost of the Reserve Component units and the Active Duty units, they were able to establish the following provisions:
- End strengths remain the same for all forces, except the Navy Reserve and the Air Force Reserve. These end strengths will increase by 700 and 200, respectfully.
- The Chief of the National Guard Bureau will formally become a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A Vice Chief of Staff will be reinstituted into the infrastructure of the Guard Bureau.
- Fully qualified National Guard flag and general officers must be considered for the position of the Commander, Army North Command or Commander, Air Force North Command.
- National Guard and Reserves are authorized $325 million for equipment.
- Title 10 Reserve Component members will be able to provide assistance domestically in response to natural or man-made disasters up to 120 days. A call-up authority will enable service secretaries to order up to 60,000 Reserve Component members for preplanned and budget missions in support of a combatant command. This provision comes after a four year effort to reach agreement on language between states and federal agencies.
- Employment rights established by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) will extend to certain National Guardsmen who were called to duty to respond to a national emergency that was supported by federal funds.
- The Secretary of Defense will be authorized to provide members of the Reserve Components access to mental health assessments by a licensed professional during periods of inactive duty training.
- The U.S. Comptroller General will submit a review of the Department of Defense system of space-available. This study will then determine the capacity, logistics impact, and any additional costs of the system.
- A death gratuity benefit to the survivors of Reserve Component members who die in the residences during a period of inactive-duty training will be established.
While it may seem that these provisions are moving forward in Congress, they may not be passed in the White House. The final bill contains language about detainees that reaffirms the military’s responsibility and authority to detain Al Qaeda terrorists. However, this detainee language goes against the White House and President Obama’s agenda. Therefore, President Obama has threatened to veto the bill. This would only delay a final passage until sometime in January, 2012.
With the complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq occurring in the next few weeks, as well as the drawdown from Afghanistan, time is of the essence for the armed forces and national security. Now is a time when a defense policy and budget needs to be established. As has already been witnessed, the Reserve Component plays a vital role in defense and national security and will increasingly continue to do so in the next year. With a more vital role, the men and women of our nation’s Reserve Component will face challenges equally unique to their role as citizen warriors. The Reserve Officers Association recognizes these issues and continues to address and to advocate for provisions that would benefit national security and the Reserve Component.