Senate Defense Policy Bill Friendly to Guard

Washington Report

(September 19, 2017) With the Senate approval Monday of its fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, both chambers have now revealed their visions for the Defense Department. But they must now negotiate with each other to create one version to send to the White House.

While the NDAA gives the Defense Department a blueprint for what it can do, it provides no money. That will come later in appropriations bills, which will be tough fights in both the House and the Senate.

Both NDAA bills exceed the budget caps in place for fiscal 2018. The Senate bill authorizes $700 billion and the House version would provide $697 billion. Even the president’s budget request tops the caps by asking for about $670 billion. All figures include the base budget for the Pentagon, plus funds to continue the overseas fights in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

The House version includes a military pay raise of 2.4 percent, while the Senate approved a hike of 2.1 percent, which is the same as the president requested.

There are several amendments of importance to the National Guard that made it through the Senate. The NGAUS legislative staff is preparing a detailed analysis of the Senate bill that will be posted on the NGAUS website later this week, but here are a few amendment highlights.

One is an amendment from Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the co-chairman of the Senate National Guard Caucus, which requires the National Guard Bureau to study how to establish a pilot program that would address the unique mental-health issues found in the reserve component.

Another would provide TRICARE coverage for reserve-component members before and after they mobilize under 12304b authority.

Under the Senate bill, 12.6 percent of Guard dual-status technicians would be converted from Title 32 to Title 5 federal civilian status. The House version puts the figure at 4.8 percent. Current law requires 20 percent of the technicians to make the change. This will be part of the negotiations to reconcile the two bills. The conversion is currently scheduled to be complete by Oct. 1, although legislation pending would delay that for one year.

Members of National Guard funeral honor guard teams will not count in the end-strength numbers.

The Senate bill would also provide counseling and treatment for sexual trauma through the Department of Veterans Affairs for reserve-component members.