Congress Passes Bipartisan Fiscal Year 2012 Defense Authorization Bill

December 16, 2011

Government Relations Update - Defense

For the fiftieth consecutive year, the House and Senate Armed Services Committee successfully compromised on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual bill which authorizes the budget authority of the Department of Defense and the national security programs of the Department of Energy. All members of so-called Conference Committee signed the Conference Report, resulting in a bill that could not be amended in either body. The House then passed the report early Thursday 283-136 with the Senate following suit later in the day by a vote of 86-13.

The rare piece of bipartisan legislation had drawn veto threats from the Administration for earlier versions that contained terrorist detainee language that the White House found objectionable. As the debate on the language progressed over the past several weeks, liberal House Democrats and some members of the conservative House Republican Study Committee expressed reservations over the detainee language as well. After lengthy debate and discussion, the final conference report contained language allowing the President a waiver for “national security” reasons allowing for the transfer terrorist suspects from military to civilian custody.

Significantly, the final $669.5 billion version of the FY 12 NDAA is $19 billion below the FY 11 NDAA, $21.8 billion less than the original House-passed FY 12 NDAA, and $24.1 billion under the Administration’s FY 12 request. The final numbers for the $554 billion base budget and $115.5 billion for overseas contingency operations were driven in large part by the Budget Control Act and earlier defense budget cuts initiated under the former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. Due to mandatory sequestration resulting from the second tier of the Budget Control Act, close to $600 billion more will be trimmed from the defense budget from 2013-2023, unless some lawmakers are successful in their efforts to avoid the cuts triggered by sequestration.

Highlights from the Conference Report include significant funding reductions, restrictions, and reporting requirements for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program, a prohibition on requiring political contributions of companies being listed on acquisition response documents, and a 50% reduction in authorized funds for the Army Ground Combat Vehicle. Another notable provision in the report requires the Marine Corps to redo its plans to replace the terminated Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle before starting its perceived replacement program, the Marine Personnel Carrier.

End of Year Appropriations Agreement Set to Pass

A deal was brokered late Thursday night, resulting in Senate Democrats signing an Appropriations Conference Report which paves the way for the bill containing the nine remaining annual spending bills to pass both bodies of Congress. Providing funds for the Defense, Energy and Water, Financial Services, Homeland Security, Interior/Environment, Labor/Health and Human Services/Education, the Legislative Branch, Military Construction/Veterans Affairs (MILCON/VA), and State/Foreign Operations Appropriations Accounts, passage of the massive spending bills averts another close call on a government shutdown.

The House is expected to pass the bill today and the Senate may pass the bill late today or early Saturday. In the event of Saturday passage by the Senate, a one day Continuing Resolution would most likely be passed this evening by midnight.

The Defense portion of the omnibus spending packaging gives $518.1 billion for the base budget and $115 for overseas contingency operations and the MILCON/VA portion provides $13.1 billion for military construction and $58.1 billion for the VA. The defense base budget final funding number is approximately $5 billion more than last year’s appropriation level but nearly $21 billion below the President’s request. The legislation contains a 1.6% military pay raise, a $2.5 billion reduction from FY11’s Research and Development budget and a $2.5 billion plus up of the military’s equipment purchase accounts.

President Declares War in Iraq Over

Accompanied in Baghdad by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Army General Martin Dempsey and Central Command Commander, Marine General James Mattis, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta declared the Iraq War over on December 15th in a low key ceremony with a few hundred American military members in attendance. Officially described by the Armed Forces Press Service as an observation of “the official end of U.S. Forces Iraq’s mission here today after nearly nine years of conflict that claimed the lives of nearly 4,500 U.S. troops, and created a sovereign nation from the destruction of a brutal dictatorship,” the President and Administration officials began speaking this week of the next phase of America’s relationship with an independent Iraq.

4,000 U.S. troops have been left behind on a small number of bases in Iraq and the Defense Department plans to bring this last group home by the end of the year. Starting in 2012, the American presence in Iraq will be managed by the State Department. The Department will be overseeing an estimated force of 15,000 government civilians and contractors, operating out of the largest American Embassy in the world.

Quote of the Week

“We will stand with you against terrorists and others that threaten to undo what we have accomplished together, we will work with you to secure our common interests in a more peaceful and prosperous region…We’ve paid a great price here, and it has been a price worth paying.”

General Martin Dempsey, United States Army, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff speaking in Baghdad, Iraq


Notice: The purpose of this newsletter is to review the latest developments which are of interest to clients of Blank Rome. The information contained herein is abridged from legislation, court decisions, administrative rulings, and other sources and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion, and is not a substitute for the advice of counsel.