For Immediate Release
WASHINGTON, DC – Congresswomen Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo Counties) issued the following statement after the House Armed Services Committee passed sixteen amendments in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2017. They include amendments to provide $25 million for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) research, allow transgender veterans to change their names on discharge documents, expand protections for whistleblowers, prevent hazing, and protect military trainees from sexual assault.
“We had some victories and some losses,” said Speier. “All in all we took some major steps forward to protect the rights and dignity of children, transgender veterans, and military trainees; fund innovative science on the frontier of brain research; expand protections for whistleblowers; reduce waste, fraud, and abuse in military acquisitions; and enhance cybersecurity preparedness.
“Unfortunately, I could not support this bill that doesn’t make the difficult decisions necessary to promote our national defense. We need greater accountability to the taxpayers, including a serious topline budget that doesn’t require a supplement halfway through the year. Contractors shouldn’t be given license to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as rip off the federal taxpayer with bloated price tags on goods and services. It’s dangerous and irresponsible to release tens of thousands of handguns to the streets with no background checks. We can’t keep investing in broken and overpriced weapon systems that harm our national defense. I will continue to fight so the NDAA reflects both our values as a nation and the value of the taxpayer dollar.”
Full summary of the Congresswoman’s amendments are below, but highlights include:
• $25 million toward research in chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)
• Enabling transgender veterans to change their name on discharge documents
• Public release of misconduct reports for high ranking DoD officials
• Cancellation of wasteful $45 million JLENS program
• Increased funding and oversight of DoD innovation unit
• Notification for servicemembers that they can donate their brains for science research
PREVENTING WASTE, FRAUD, AND ABUSE
PASSED IN COMMITTEE
Public Release of Misconduct Reports
This amendment directs the DOD-IG to publically release any reports of administrative investigations of misconduct for high ranking DoD officials.
“Congress and the public shouldn’t rely on leaks to know about high level misconduct by DoD officials. Admiral Brian Losey, who was investigated five times for retaliation, was still considered for a promotion because those investigations were kept secret until they were revealed to the press. We need public accountability for findings of misconduct to ensure investigations are not swept under the rug.”
Modernized Burden of Proof to Protect Whistleblowers
This amendment expands whistleblower protections for members of the military by bringing the burden of proof for military whistleblowers claiming retaliation in line with civilian whistleblowers. As in the civilian world, an agency would have to show by “clear and convincing evidence” that its actions against a whistleblower were not retaliatory, instead of requiring the whistleblower to prove the agency’s intentions by a “preponderance of the evidence.”
“When 62% of military sexual trauma whistleblowers report retaliation, but the Department of Defense IG substantiates only 1 percent of the retaliation claims it receives, there is something wrong with the retaliation hearing system. Military whistleblowers have the decks stacked against them – I’m glad my colleagues have joined me to fight retaliation.”
This amendment reduces funding for the JLENS aerostat program for elimination of the program. The bill now includes only $2.5 million in funding, compared to the $45 million requested in the FY17 budget. Congresswoman Speier has been an outspoken critic of this wasteful program.
“I commend the Chairman for defunding JLENS as I have urged the committee repeatedly. This isn’t the first time we’ve tried to let the air out of this balloon – let’s hope this ‘zombie program’ stays dead this time. I look forward to working with my colleagues to put this money to use protecting our nation, rather than sending it to float away on a path of destruction from Maryland to Pennsylvania.”
Require F-35 Comparative Testing with Existing Aircraft Such as A-10
This amendment requires the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) to conduct comparative testing between the F-35 and existing aircraft such as the A-10.
“We need realistic testing of the F-35 against the aircraft it is supposed to replace. I don’t care if you support the F-35 or if you’re critical of the program: The way to enable Congress to make an informed decision is to have a realistic fly-off and let the chips fall where they may. If the F-35 is so good, its supporters should have nothing to fear from a fair competition—and our taxpayers and troops have everything to gain.”
Defective Spare Part Restitution
A February 23, 2016 DoD Inspector General Report found that the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) Aviation did not pursue or obtain restitution for at least $12.3 million in defective spare parts from contractors. This amendment directs the Comptroller General of the United States to evaluate and implement a DLA plan to ensure DOD properly identifies and removes defective parts, and tracks restitution for those parts.
“Defective parts put our servicemembers at risk and have wasted millions of taxpayer dollars. We shouldn’t leave these parts in warehouses for years without removal – DoD needs to seek restitution from contractors that give us dangerous and defective parts.”
Prevent Spending on Failed For-Profit Colleges
This amendment would close what is often known as the 90/10 loophole. It would prohibit for-profit colleges from counting Department of Defense educational program funds toward their required 10 percent non-federal sources of revenue.
“The existing law encourages for-profit colleges to target and prey on servicemembers and veterans. For these colleges, it’s all about the money and not about the quality of education. Marketers from the University of Phoenix have even confessed that they were required to ‘surreptitiously’ enter military bases to reach wounded servicemembers. That’s appalling.”
Barring Taxpayer Funded Legal Fees for Contractors
This amendment would prohibit the Department of Defense from entering into contracts that provide indemnification of contractors from damages resulting from gross negligence on the part of the contractor.
“Kellogg Brown and Root has been accused of exposing nearly a thousand soldiers to toxic chemicals – but guess who is on the hook for their legal fees? The US taxpayer. Unfortunately, clauses making the Pentagon liable for legal fees for contractors have been included in about 100 contracts over the last ten years. My amendment will put a stop to this outrageous practice that gives contractors every incentive to break the law. Taxpayers should not be held responsible for contractor incompetence under any circumstance.”
Support for LCS Downselect
This amendment would directs the Secretary of Defense to ensure that there will be no more than 40 total ships produced under the Littoral Combat Ship and frigate program of the Navy, and limit that production to one variant during FY2019.
“Somehow the current NDAA doesn’t just have us buying one, but two variants of the LCS that don’t meet mission or cost requirements. It’s time to buckle down and make the common sense choice to limit LCS purchases. My amendment supports Secretary Carter’s directive to reduce the total LCS purchase to 40 ships by reducing the purchase to a single variant. Perhaps with less on their plate, the Navy can salvage something out of these ships that are more overpriced, delayed, unreliable, lightly armored, and have limited offensive capabilities. We can't keep asking taxpayers and sailors to pay for the gross mismanagement of this program.”
This amendment would require cost and pricing justification for commercial items purchased by the Department of Defense that exceed $750,000 and do not have an existing record of sales to base a price on. This would close a wasteful loophole that allows companies to charge the Pentagon massive markups on items with no justification.
“Why would the Pentagon pay $2,286.00 for an aluminum sleeve that should have cost $10.00? More importantly, why would a vendor label a variant of the C-130 cargo plane as a commercial item? This ridiculous loophole allows companies to skirt pricing guidelines, and puts taxpayers on the hook for unexplained and unreasonable markups. We need to be smarter with our money.”
PROTECTING RIGHTS AND ACCESS
PASSED IN COMMITTEE
Allowing Name Changes on Discharge Documents for Transgender Veterans
Currently, veterans who change their name to reflect their gender identity after leaving the service cannot receive amended discharge documents, or what the DoD calls the DD214, to reflect that name change. Every time they use this paperwork, the veteran is forced to disclose their transgender status to prove their service to our nation. This amendment would allow a trans veteran to update their discharge papers to reflect their new name following a change in gender identity or expression.
“Our transgender veterans deserve to have accurate military documents that don’t force them to come out with every job, college, and mortgage application. A name change is so simple, and it’s the least we can do for their service to our nation. I am proud that we can provide the estimated 134,000 American transgender veterans with the respect they deserve.”
This amendment creates an anti-hazing database, implements anti-hazing training, and directs the Secretary of each military department to conduct surveys on hazing of service members. This amendment is based on legislation introduced by Congresswoman Judy Chu with Congresswoman Speier.
“We hear too many stories of hazing that harm soldiers’ mental health, can cause serious injury, diminish unit cohesion, and even cost lives. Unfortunately, for all these tragic examples, we still lack a clear understanding of hazing and the military’s response. The creation of a database of reported incidents of hazing, implementation of surveys, and the implementation of new anti-hazing training are the least we can do to ensure progress is made to fight hazing. We must act to honor the memory of those who we have lost to abuse at the hands of their fellow soldiers.”
Protecting Military Trainees from Trainer Sexual Misconduct
This amendment prohibits trainers and recruiters from engaging in sexual relationships with trainees and recruiters.
“The power structures of the military make trainees easy targets for predatory trainers. It is beaten into them from day one to do everything that their instructor tells them to do. Trainees I’ve met are young, naïve, and earnest – too often, they refuse to speak out or complain because they fear being ‘recycled’ to go through basic training all over again. Power makes these advances non-consensual, and I am glad my colleagues have joined me to protect trainees across the country.”
Child Abuse Reporting Requirements
This amendment requires the Department of Defense to include child abuse reporting statistics in its Family Advocacy Reports.
“I’ve been alarmed by reports of increased child abuse in military families. One of the first steps to fully understand the scope of this problem is through surveys and data collection. With this new information, we can take commonsense steps to combat abuse and neglect.”
Clarification of Gross Human Rights Definition to Stop Child Abuse
This amendment clarifies the meaning of the Leahy amendment to further define gross human rights violations. As reported by the New York Times in September 2015, soldiers were told to ignore the systemic sexual abuse of boys by members of the Afghan military, and the U.S. military was unable to do anything about it. The Leahy Amendment is a current law that prevents the United States from providing military assistance to a foreign country if that country has committed a "gross violation of human rights.” This amendment ensures that “gross violation of human rights” includes sexual abuse of children.
“Our troops should not be forced to stand by as foreign soldiers boast of sexually abusing children. The United States should not and cannot support foreign militaries that allow this horrible conduct to take place.”
Gender Grant Reporting
This amendment directs the Under Secretary to brief the Committee on efforts to improve demographic data collection in grant awards.
“Last December, the GAO found that parts of the Department of Defense did not collect complete demographic data on its grant recipients. This data is necessary to assess whether women and other demographic groups have truly equal access to funding opportunities throughout the DoD. Ensuring equal access to grants is good business: It means we know DoD is allocating funding to the best recipients possible, regardless of who they are.”
Lifting Facilities Ban on Access to Abortion for Servicemembers
This amendment would enable servicemembers and their dependents to receive abortion services at defense medical facilities (MTFs) if they personally provide funding. Since 1996, federal law has prohibited DoD from providing abortion care at MTFs except in cases of rape, incest, and when a woman’s life is endangered.
“It is ridiculous that servicewomen are less able to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion than the civilian women they fight to protect. Women who are deployed or are abroad to support their loved ones deserve access to this important healthcare option.”
CYBERSECURITY, INNOVATION, AND SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH
PASSED IN COMMITTEE
CTE Brain Injury Research Funding
Directs $25 million of the funds allocated for the Defense Health Program Advanced Development for Research to be spent for the purpose of grants to researchers pursuing early detection of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
“Ever since Dr. Bennet Omalu joined me for this year’s State of the Union Address, I have been concerned with the dangers of repetitive head injuries for our soldiers. The dangers of CTE are not confined to football or boxing: Exposure to explosive ordinance such as roadside IEDs mean that our servicemembers are exposed to brain trauma at higher rates than ever before. These grants will be an important step toward early detection and eventual treatment of CTE.”
Brain Donation Notification for Research
This amendment requires the Department of Defense to notify servicemembers during discharge processing of the option to opt into donating their brains for research after death. These brain donations go to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs-Boston University Brain Donation Registry for research into traumatic brain injury and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
“DoD estimates that 300,000 servicemembers have been diagnosed with a TBI. We need to push the frontiers of brain science to protect servicemembers from this far too mysterious health threat. Brain and spinal cord donations are essential for research in brain science, from CTE to concussions to PTSD. I applaud my colleagues for passing this commonsense amendment.”
Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) Funding and Reporting
DIUx was created last year to build partnerships between the Department of Defense (DoD) and the private commercial tech sector. Utilizing the innovative talent in areas such as Silicon Valley, DIUx breaks down the divide between our military leaders and industry leaders, providing talented innovators and entrepreneurs direct access and communication with our military leaders. This amendment funds DIUx at the President’s budget request, $44.665 million for FY2017, as well as requires DIUx to report to Congress on progress, mission success measurements, and how it plans to expand to other talent areas such as Boston and Austin.
“The battlefield of tomorrow will hold unexpected challenges for our warfighters, and preparing our troops with the most cutting edge support will ensure we give our forces the best support we can. By creating an accessible one stop shop, where innovation can connect directly to DoD needs, we can eliminate the wall that exists between the best and brightest of private innovation and billions of dollars of DoD research and development.”
This amendment expands a cybersecurity report to cover the cybersecurity of subcontractors, including a classified explanation of DOD’s reported policy to, “move toward a posture which tries harder to protect our information,” because they’re worried about hacks.
“The Defense Department’s network is only as strong as its weakest link – unfortunately, that link is often in our subcontractor base. All you need to do is look at China’s J-31, which looks virtually identical to our F-35. This is no accident: The J-31 is designed using technology stolen from our F-35 program. We need to ensure that subcontractors are doing everything they can to protect our networks, our weapon system schematics, and weapon system software.”
Red Team Staffing
This amendment directs the Department to ensure it maintains a supply of qualified Cyber Red Team operators to maintain cybersecurity readiness.
“We need to attract and retain qualified Cyber Red Team operators to ensure we’re ready for the threats of tomorrow. I am glad the committee recognizes the importance of these experts.”