SASC Chairman John McCain Statement on National Defense Authorization Act Conference Agreement

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released the following statement after the completion of the conference on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016, which authorizes funding for the Department of Defense and the national security programs of the Department of Energy: 

“I thank each of my colleagues – Senator Jack Reed, Rep. Mac Thornberry, and Rep. Adam Smith – for their hard work in a thoughtful and productive conference process. I can think of no better partners in upholding the Armed Services Committees’ proud tradition of bipartisan cooperation in support of the brave men and women of our Armed Forces.

“Rising to the challenge of a more dangerous world requires bold reform to our national defense. On acquisition policy, defense management, military retirement, reform is what the NDAA delivers. The bill identifies $11 billion in excessive and unnecessary spending and reinvests those savings in providing critical military capabilities for our warfighters, meeting unfunded priorities of our service chiefs and combatant commanders, and supporting critical national security priorities. Taken together, these provisions and many others make this year’s NDAA one of the most significant pieces of defense reform legislation in recent memory.”


Providing for the Common Defense

The NDAA fully supports President Obama’s budget request for national defense of $604 billion. The conference report authorizes $515 billion in base funding, including $496 billion for the Department of Defense and $19 billion for the Department of Energy. Consistent with the Senate Budget Resolution, the agreement authorizes $89 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding, which is composed of operations and maintenance funds that support readiness and training for our troops.

Eliminating Excessive and Unnecessary Spending

The NDAA identifies $11 billion in excessive and unnecessary spending resulting from bloated headquarters and administrative overhead, delayed or troubled weapons programs, and unjustified budget requests. The conference report reinvests those savings in providing critical military capabilities for our warfighters, meeting unfunded priorities of our service chiefs and combatant commanders, and supporting critical national security priorities. For example, the agreement supports:

  • Procurement of 12 additional F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and 6 additional F-35B Joint Strike Fighters to address dangerous strike fighter capacity shortfalls;
  • Accelerated Navy shipbuilding and modernization including authority for an additional Arleigh-Burke-class destroyer;
  • Increased procurement of high-use, high demand missiles such as the Tomahawk;
  • $300 million to provide security assistance and intelligence support the Ukrainian military and other security forces of Ukraine as they defend their sovereign territory against Russian aggression;
  • $200 million to strengthen the cyber defenses of the Department of Defense. 

Strengthening Military Capability, Capacity, and Readiness 

United States Navy. The NDAA directs billions in savings and efficiencies found throughout the budget request to bolster the Navy’s ability to deter adversaries, assure allies, and defend our national interests. In recognition of the looming Ohio-class replacement program and the need to increase the size of the Navy, the agreement adds $1.0 billion to accelerate shipbuilding funding for several programs. The agreement addresses the Navy’s strike fighter shortfall by adding 12 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. Amid budget constraints, the agreement emphasizes rigorous oversight to prevent further cost growth in major acquisition programs, including the Ford-class aircraft carrier and Littoral Combat Ship. The agreement also lays the groundwork for the future force by providing robust support for unmanned combat aircraft and unmanned underwater vehicles, directing a report on aircraft carrier alternatives, and directing independent studies of the Navy’s future fleet architecture and combat logistics force.

United States Marine Corps. The NDAA seeks to ensure that our Marines preserve their ability to project power and fight from the sea. The conference report authorizes procurement of 6 additional F-35B Joint Strike Fighters, additional funding for increased protection and survivability of the V-22 Osprey, and continued test and evaluation of the Amphibious Combat Vehicle.

United States Army. The NDAA confronts the downward spiral of Army capacity and readiness at a time of accumulating danger to America’s national security.  The NDAA invests in the development of lethality upgrades for Stryker combat vehicles, increases the survivability for Apache attack helicopter against new threats, and authorizes full funding for procurement of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.

United States Air Force. A quarter-century of near-continuous deployments, frequent aircraft divestments, and a decades-long procurement holiday has left us with the oldest and smallest Air Force in history. Therefore, the NDAA emphasizes the need to retain sufficient combat airpower capacity by establishing minimum required levels for the inventory of Air Force fighters at 1,900 total and 1,100 combat-coded aircraft. The conference report prohibits the retirement of the A-10 and places restrictions on the retirement of the EC-130H Compass Call, KC-10 Tanker, E-8 JSTARS, and E-3 AWACS.

Reforming Defense Acquisition

The NDAA contains the most sweeping acquisition reforms in a generation. Reform on this scale is needed because our Nation is at a key inflection point. Our military technological advantage is eroding precisely as we confront the most diverse and complex array of crises since the end of World War II. Changing course and maintaining our military technological advantage requires that we fix a broken acquisition system that takes too long and costs too much.

That work begins with accountability. In today’s vast acquisition bureaucracy, everyone is accountable, and no one is accountable. That’s why the NDAA gives greater authority to the military services to manage their own programs and enhances the role of the service chiefs in the acquisition process. In exchange for greater authority, the NDAA demands accountability and creates new mechanisms to deliver it. Services chiefs, service secretaries, service acquisition executives, and program managers will sign up to binding management, requirement, and resource commitments.

The NDAA also recognizes the need to improve access to non-traditional and commercial contactors. Our military must be able to access emerging innovations in cyber, robotics, and more that are increasingly likely not to come from the defense establishment. As a result, the NDAA adopts commercial buying practices for the Defense Department, making it easier for non-traditional firms to do business with the Pentagon.

Reforming Defense Management

From 2001 to 2012, the defense civilian workforce grew at five times the rate of the Active-Duty military. While staff at Army headquarters increased 60 percent over the past decade, the Army is now cutting brigade combat teams. The Air Force avoided mandated cuts to headquarters personnel by creating two new headquarters entities even as it complained it had insufficient personnel to maintain combat aircraft.

Therefore, the NDAA ensures the Department of Defense focuses its limited resources on operations rather than administration. The conference report includes a 25% reduction in headquarters staff by 2019 (with credit for legitimate cuts made last year) and a $10 billion reduction in funding for overall administrative support functions over the same period.

The NDAA also authorizes the Secretary of Defense to determine that performance will be the primary basis for separating employees during any reductions in force for civilian positions in the Department of Defense, in the competitive service, or the excepted service.

Supporting the All-Volunteer Force

In a world of multiplying threats and increasing danger, we count on young Americans to enlist or commit to serve in the All-Volunteer force that protects us and our families. The NDAA sustains the quality of life for the men and women of the total force and their families and addresses the needs of our wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers. For example, the conference report:

  • Authorizes a 1.3 percent across-the-board pay raise for members of the uniformed services in the grade of O-6 and below;
  • Reauthorizes over 30 types of bonuses and special pays aimed at encouraging enlistment, reenlistment, and continued service by active-duty and reserve component military personnel;
  • Modifies the Survivor Benefit Plan to allow for the election of a new spouse beneficiary after the death of a former spouse beneficiary;
  • Ensures portability of TRICARE’s health plans across TRICARE’s three regions in the United States, and gives military families access to urgent care facilities when traveling on leave and to locations of new assignments;
  • Requires the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to establish a Joint Uniform Formulary to ensure Service Members have access to the medicines they need as they transition from Active Duty to ensure continuity of care.

Modernizing and Improving Military Retirement

Under the current 70-year-old military retirement system, 83 percent of servicemembers leave the service without any retirement assets. The NDAA creates a modernized retirement system and extends retirement benefits to the vast majority of servicemembers through a new plan offering more value and choice. Under the new plan, over 80 percent of servicemembers would get benefits. In many cases, the overall benefit for those serving at least 20 years will be greater than the current system.

The conference report authorizes Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) matching contributions to all who enter their third year of service at an amount up to 5% of their pay for 26 years of service. Those servicemembers may take their TSP with them when they leave the service, and 100% would go to their survivors upon their passing. Retirement-eligible service-members may take either 25% or 50% of their retirement benefit in a “lump sum” to use as they choose – to transition to a new career, start a business, buy a home, or send their kids to college.

These reforms will achieve approximately $13 billion in discretionary savings over the next ten years and approximately $12 billion per year in steady state mandatory savings.

Committing to TRICARE Reform

The conference report includes a one-year increase in TRICARE pharmacy copays. This increase will achieve savings to improve military readiness and access to care and the experience of care in the military health system. The agreement makes clear that comprehensive reform of the military health care system is essential. In order to modernize and improve the military healthcare system, the conferees agreed that all elements of the current system must be re-evaluated, and that increases to fees and co-pays will be a necessary part of such a comprehensive reform effort.

Preventing and Responding to Sexual Assault

The conference report includes fifteen provisions to improve military justice, including sexual assault prevention and response.  These provisions provide additional tools to enhance support to victims of sexual assault, including needed protections to end retaliation against those who report sex-related offenses, or who intervene to support victims.  The conference report also strengthens and protects the authority and independence of Special Victims’ Counsel.  Furthermore, the agreement requires the Department of Defense to take strong, and long-needed measures to prevent sexual assault against male members of the Armed Forces.

Reforming the Commissary System

The conference report requires the Department of Defense to submit specific proposals to make the commissary and exchange system revenue neutral, including changes to pricing structure. 

Protecting Our Troops

In recent years, there have been too many painful reminders that our men and women in uniform can be targets here at home, as they often are abroad. Response times to active shooter attacks on U.S. military installations and facilities must be diminished in order to protect U.S. servicemembers and their families. Furthermore, commanders of U.S. military installations and facilities should take steps to arm additional personnel in order to diminish response times to active shooter attacks if they believe that arming those personnel will contribute to that goal.

Therefore, the NDAA includes a provision that would require the Secretary of Defense to establish a process by which the commander of a military installation in the United States, reserve center, recruiting center, or other defense facility may authorize a member of the Armed Forces who is assigned to the installation or facility to carry an appropriate firearm on the installation if the commander determines it necessary as a personal or force-protection measure. The provision requires the Secretary of Defense to consider the views of senior leadership of military installations in establishing the process.

Ending Torture

The Army Field Manual and its various editions have served America well through wars against both regular and irregular foes. The Manual embodies the values Americans have embraced for generations, while preserving the ability of our interrogators to extract critical intelligence from ruthless foes. It also recognizes that torture and cruel treatment are ineffective interrogation methods and stain our national honor. Therefore, the NDAA limits interrogation techniques to those in the Army Field Manual for individuals in the custody or under the effective control of an officer, employee, or agent of the United States Government in any armed conflict.

Establishing a Coherent Detention Policy

Since taking office, President Obama has said that he wants to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, but six and a half years later, his Administration has never provided a plan to do so. Worse, as the United States continues to fight terrorists around the world, the Administration has no coherent policy for dealing with law of war detainees.

The NDAA requires a comprehensive detention strategy to be provided to the congressional defense committees setting forth the details of such a detention strategy for current and future individuals captured and held pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force pending the end of hostilities. That strategy would have to include an explanation of the Department of Defense’s plan for the disposition of all detainees held at Guantanamo, on a case-by-case basis, and the costs associated with each element of that plan.

The NDAA prohibits transfer or release of detainee at Guantanamo to or within the United States. The agreement would also prohibit transfer or release of detainee at Guantanamo to Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia. The NDAA requires the Secretary of Defense to certify that the transfer of any detainee at Guantanamo to a foreign country is in the national security interests of the United States.

Meeting Urgent National Security Priorities

The NDAA recognizes that a strong national defense requires supporting our friends and allies in responding to common threats. The conference report:

  • Authorizes $300 million for the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Secretary of State, to provide security assistance and intelligence support to military and other security forces of Ukraine. The agreement would require $50 million of the funds authorized to be available only for lethal assistance and counterartillery radars;
  • Authorizes $50 million for the Secretary of Defense, with the concurrence of the Secretary of State, to provide assistance and training to Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam for the purposes of increasing maritime security and the maritime domain awareness in the South China Sea;
  • Authorizes $3.8 billion for the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund to preserve the gains of the past decade and continue to degrade and defeat terrorist organizations with operational reach and intent to harm U.S. national security interests;
  • Authorizes the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Secretary of State, to provide military assistance to Kurdish and tribal security forces and other local security forces in Iraq to more effectively counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) if it is determined that the Government of Iraq fails to increase political inclusiveness and address the grievances of ethnic and sectarian minorities.

Reducing Dependence on Russian Rocket Engines

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the NDAA imposes restrictions on the use of Russian rocket engines. The agreement allows for the purchase of no more than four additional Russian RD-180 rocket engines. It allows for up to a total of nine launches that require an RD-180, but five of those nine rocket engines must have been fully paid for by the contractor or covered by a legally binding commitment of the contract to fully pay for such engines prior to February 1, 2014.

Securing the U.S. Southern Border

The NDAA ensures that our Armed Forces have the tools they need to anticipate and respond to very real threats from terrorists and transnational criminal organizations to the U.S. southern border while protecting the safety and security of border communities across the United States. The NDAA includes provisions that would:

  • Provide $45 million for Operation Phalanx, which would increase border security operations by the National Guard along the southern border and could result in an approximately 60 percent increase in aerial surveillance of the region;
  • Authorize the Secretary of Defense to provide up to $75 million in additional assistance to Customs and Border Protection operations to secure the southern border, which may include the deployment of personnel, surveillance assets, and intelligence support;
  • Authorize an additional $50 million to address U.S. Southern Command's unfunded priorities to increase surveillance and interdiction operations in Central America, a primary transit point for illicit trafficking into the United States;
  • Authorize the Secretary of Defense to transfer excess defense articles and equipment to the Department of Homeland Security for border security activities.

Strengthening Cybersecurity

In just the past year, the United States has been attacked in cyberspace by Iran, North Korea, China, and Russia. Recent attacks against the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon, and the Office of Personnel Management are just the latest examples of the growing boldness of our adversaries and their desire to push the limits of acceptable behavior in cyberspace. As these trends grow worse, the NDAA takes steps to strengthen our cyber defenses and increases pressure on the White House to produce an integrated cyber policy to deter our adversaries. Specifically, the conference agreement:

  • Limits funding for Department of Defense support services to the Executive Office of the President until the President submits to the congressional defense committees the integrated policy to deter adversaries in cyberspace required by section 941 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014;
  • The agreement requires an evaluation of the cyber vulnerabilities of every major Department of Defense weapons system by not later than December 31, 2019;
  • The agreement authorizes the Secretary of Defense to develop, prepare, coordinate, and (when authorized by the President to do so) to conduct a military cyber operation in response to malicious cyber activity carried out against the United States or a United States person by a foreign power;
  • The agreement authorizes limited acquisition authority for the Commander of United States Cyber Command (CYBERCOM);
  • The agreement directs the Secretary of Defense to designate within 90 days of the date of enactment a military department to be responsible for the acquisition of critical cyber capabilities to include: (1) the unified platform, (2) a persistent cyber training environment, and (3) a cyber situational awareness and battle management system.


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