Reed Scores Big Wins for National Security & RI Workers in NDAA

Congress Approves Bipartisan NDAA to Enhance National Security, Support Troops, & Deliver Victories for Working Families

NDAA authorizes funding for 2 Virginia-class submarines; expands paid family leave for millions of workers; includes major military housing reforms; accelerates national security innovation, eliminates ‘widow’s tax’ on Gold Star families, and strengthens cyber defenses and oversight

WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to strengthen national security and help working families, the U.S. Senate voted 86 to 8 today to approve the conference agreement for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020.

The FY 2020 NDAA defense policy bill authorizes $658.4 billion for the Department of Defense and for national security programs of the U.S. Department of Energy, $71.5 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, and $5.3 billion in emergency funding to restore installations that were damaged by extreme weather and natural disasters. 

U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), the Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), worked on the bill with SASC Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK), and U.S. Representatives Adam Smith (D-WA) and Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committees (HASC).

Senator Reed, who co-authored and backed a number of key provisions in the bill to enhance national security, support our service members, and improve military training and readiness, stated: 

“This bill makes smart investments in our national security and recognizes the increasing strategic importance Rhode Island plays in our national defense.  It provides the Defense Department with the authorization, stability, and certainty to build the next generation of submarines.  These multi-mission submarines are essential for power projection, deterrence, intelligence, and sea control.  And I am proud of the contributions Rhode Island’s defense workers make to building them.  This bill will help create an estimated 1,500 jobs at Electric Boat in Rhode Island over the next five years.   

“And recognizing the critical link between the quality of life for our troops and their families, and the overall quality, retention, and readiness of our Armed Forces, this conference report includes critical reforms and protections needed to improve military housing and hold contractors accountable.  And it provides our troops with a much needed, well-deserved pay raise.  There are several environmental and Middle East policy items I fought for, but could not get past staunch Republican opposition.  Those will be back on my list of priorities as we start this process next year.”

Key provisions in the bill include:

Supports the Two Virginia-Class Submarine Build Rate: The bill fully supports the two submarine build rate for the Virginia-class submarine program and the Virginia Payload Module, an 80-foot section with four large-diameter payload tubes in the center of the Virginia-class submarines.  The bill authorizes $8.4 billion for the Virginia-class submarine program, which supports the nine boat, multi-year $22 billion contract that the Navy and Electric Boat signed earlier this month, which is expected to help create 1,500 jobs at Electric Boat in Rhode Island over the next several years.  Senator Reed also led the effort to include $8 million to support submarine industrial base workforce training and education initiatives.  This funding could help the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (DLT) continue its partnership with area schools, Electric Boat, and other employers to train the next generation of employees in the highly-skilled trades needed for submarine construction.

Provides Pay Raise for U.S. Troops: The bill authorizes a 3.1 percent pay raise for our troops, the largest in a decade.

Expands Paid Family Leave to Millions of Workers: The NDAA provides 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal employees for birth, adoption, or fostering a child.  Currently, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that does not have paid parental leave.

Senator Reed, a cosponsor of the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act to that would create a universal, gender-neutral paid family and medical leave program, who has long advocated for expanding paid family leave for all employees, stated:  “Including paid family leave is a victory for all workers because it will help push more employers in the right direction and ensure more workers get paid family leave.  Expanding access to paid family leave helps the health and economic well-being of individuals who have it and strengthens the ability of employers to retain their workers.”

Improves Privatized Military Housing and Increasing Oversight and Accountability: At the behest of Senators Reed and Inhofe, the bill also implements the most substantial overhaul of the Military Housing Privatization Initiative since the program’s creation in 1996.  It requires the services to establish a Tenant Bill of Rights for service members living in on-base housing that sets minimum acceptable livability standards, demands better communication, and creates greater transparency.  It bans private housing operators from using nondisclosure agreements in their leases, and requires DoD to set up new standardized assessments to monitor private on-base housing developments for health hazards like mold and lead, and enhances protections against reprisal for families who bring issues to light. 

“These needed reforms are essential to protecting the health and safety of military families.  Each and every day, our service members go above and beyond to defend our nation. And while our troops are out defending our nation, we have a solemn obligation to support and protect their families.  This bill is a step in the right direction.  But we must continue to press this issue to hold contractors and the military accountable,” said Reed, who has met with military families from across the country to hear directly about their experiences with military housing and convened a series of bipartisan hearings with Chairman Inhofe.

Repeals the Widow’s Tax: The bill repeals a law that for decades has unfairly shortchanged our nation’s Gold Star families by preventing them from receiving the full survivor benefits they have earned and paid for.  Since 1972, military widows and widowers who qualify for the VA’s Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) have been forced to take a dollar-for-dollar offset from the Survivors Benefits Plan (SBP) benefit, even though their spouses elected to pay into the program.  The NDAA repeal, which will be phased in over three years, will ensure our service members’ families receive the benefits they have paid for and earned.  Currently, about 62,000 Gold Star families are impacted by the ‘widow’s tax.’ 

Strengthens Cyber Defenses and Oversight: The NDAA strengthens congressional oversight of cyber operations and enhances the Department of Defense’s cybersecurity strategy and cyber warfare capabilities.  It directs the Secretary of Defense to develop a consistent, comprehensive framework to enhance the cybersecurity of the U.S. defense industrial base and requires development of metrics for the assessment of the readiness of the Cyber Mission Forces. 

Establishes the United States Space Force as Sixth Branch of the Military: The bill authorizes the establishment of a U.S. Space Force as an independent military branch under the Department of the Air Force, similar to how the Marine Corps operates as a service in the U.S. Department of the Navy.

Accelerates Defense Innovation: The NDAA establishes inclusive pathways for the most promising small businesses to commercialize their innovations for the DOD market.  The NDAA increases DOD’s engagement with innovation hubs across the country by establishing a Joint Reserve Detachment at Defense Innovation Unit locations and authorizing $75 million to the Defense Innovation Unit for the creation of a National Security Innovation Capital Fund.

Takes Steps to Address PFAS: The NDAA prohibits the use of firefighting foam containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) after October 1, 2024, with an exception for shipboard use, and immediately prohibits the uncontrolled release of fluorinated aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) and the use of AFFF in training exercises at military installations. It encourages the Secretary of Defense to finalize cooperative agreements with states to address contamination by these substances and authorizes the National Guard to access Defense Environmental Remediation Account funds for the limited purpose of addressing PFAS and PFOA exposure and contamination resulting from National Guard activities in and around National Guard bases.

Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Provision: Senator Reed included language to allow eligible Liberians in the U.S. currently on the temporary immigration status of Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) to continue living legally in the U.S. and get on a pathway to earning U.S. citizenship.  In order to be eligible to apply for permanent residency under the law, applicants must have been living in the U.S. continuously since November 20, 2014, not been absent for more than 180 days in aggregate, and be otherwise eligible and admissible for permanent residence.

“This provision will adjust the status of Liberians on DED and those formerly on TPS to enable them to apply for permanent residency.  Liberians who’ve legally lived here for years, paid taxes, and made so many positive contributions to their various communities, especially in Rhode Island, deserve the opportunity to get on a path to becoming full citizens.  Everything they have in America they’ve earned through hard work and hard work should be rewarded,” said Senator Reed.

Senator Reed highlighted a number of Rhode-Island related provisions in the NDAA that are good news for the state’s hardworking defense community, including:

  • $8.4 billion for the Virginia-class submarine program, which supports the nine boat, multi-year contract that the Navy and Electric Boat signed earlier this month;
  • $2.25 billion to fully support the Columbia-class (Ohio-class Replacement) Program, including an additional $123 million to support submarine industrial base expansion;
  • $8 million to support submarine industrial base workforce training and education initiatives.  This funding could help the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (DLT) continue its partnership with area schools, Electric Boat, and other employers to train the next generation of employees in the highly-skilled trades needed for submarine construction.
  • $11.6 million in military construction funding to replace a fuels storage facility at Quonset State Airport;
  • $156 million for the DDG-1000 Zumwalt destroyer program;
  • $10 million to accelerate undersea warfare applied research;
  • Impact Aid for schools with significant concentrations of military dependent children that is projected to provide Rhode Island public schools in Middletown and Portsmouth with over $215,000 for the coming year plus additional funding for districts enrolling military dependent children with severe disabilities.

The NDAA also reflects other priorities backed by Senator Reed to sustain and improve the quality of life for our men and women in uniform and their families, and the Department’s civilian workforce.  The bill includes a number of provisions to address employment challenges faced by military spouses and provides the authority for federal agencies to reimburse civilian employees for the tax-related consequences of government-provided moves, an issue especially important for DOD teachers stationed overseas, and ensures that the authority is retroactive to January 1, 2018. 

The bill also authorizes the Secretary of Defense to initiate a program to build the legal institutional capacity of foreign security forces so they operate consistently with the law of armed conflict and human rights law.  This initiative will draw substantially on the expertise of the Defense Institute for International Legal Studies located at Naval Station Newport.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 377-48 last week to approve the bill.  Now that it has passed the U.S. Senate, it goes to the President’s desk to be signed into law.  President Trump is expected to sign the bill into law.

The NDAA authorizes the expenditure of public funds and then the Appropriations Committee must determine the final level of defense spending.  Senator Reed is also a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.  Appropriators have until midnight on December 20 to reach an agreement on next steps for funding the federal government.

Congress has passed the NDAA for 58 straight years.