House and Senate Committees Reach Compromise on 2014 Defense Authorization Bill

House and Senate Committees Reach Compromise on 2014 Defense Authorization Bill

The chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees announced today that their committees, at least, have reached compromise on the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  The House passed its version in June, but the Senate version got stuck in partisan debate over amendments when it was brought to the floor for a vote just before Thanksgiving.

Republican House Armed Services Committees (HASC) chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) and Democratic Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) held a press conference today and released a fact sheet spelling out key aspects of the agreement.  While it is only between the committees at this point and does not ensure the bill will clear Congress by the end of this week, it could speed the process along.  The House currently plans to adjourn for the rest of the year on Friday.

The annual defense authorization bill is one of the few authorization bills that always clears Congress despite the depth of political gridlock.   It enjoys a 51-year record of success because members of both parties on both sides of Capitol Hill consider defense issues to be such a high priority.  Nonetheless, with the clock ticking, concern has been growing that this year might be the exception.

The plan apparently is for the House to pass the compromise bill this week before it leaves town and the Senate to pass it next week.  However, that would mean no changes could be made in the Senate since the House no longer will be in session to approve a revised version.  That could be a risky strategy since many Senators had amendments they wanted to offer to the SASC version of the bill.  That was the main obstacle in getting it through the Senate last month.  Still, if enough people want a bill, even one that is far from perfect, it could work.  Or if there were relatively minor changes, it is conceivable that the House could reconvene to consider an amended version, perhaps hoping to pass it by voice vote so not all members would need to return to town.

In any case, the nine page fact sheet makes several statements about certain national security space issues, but provides little other detail.  Under the heading Accountability for Vital Strategic Programs and Assets, it says: 

  • “The NDAA also reforms DOD’s business process with commercial satellite companies ensuring that strategic competitors do not gain inadvertent access to vital systems or information.”
  • “Additionally, the NDAA requires the DOD to develop a strategy to lower the cost, thorough [sic] through multi-year procurement, of commercial satellite services.”
  • “In order to protect national security, the NDAA prohibits the President from approving the installation of Russian satellite ground stations in the United States that pose a threat to U.S. national security.”
  • “Additionally, the NDAA supports key national security space activities, including an emphasis on space protection and Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) programs in light of increasing foreign threats, as well as support for fair competition on the evolved expendable launch vehicle program.”

Although the fact sheet does not provide details, the third bullet probably refers to the debate over whether monitor stations for Russia’s GLONASS navigation satellite system should be placed in the United States as proposed by the State Department but opposed by DOD and CIA.

The bill would fund DOD at $552.1 billion for FY2014, plus another $80.7 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (e.g. the war in Afghanistan).

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