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Courtney Statement on Passage of FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Conference Report

December 11, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02), Chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, made the following statement today after voting to pass the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) conference report. Courtney was a conferee appointed to the committee responsible for negotiating the final bill. The FY 2020 NDAA conference report passed the House on a bipartisan basis by a vote of 376-48.

“This bipartisan and bicameral agreement sends a clear and powerful message that the House is getting its work done,” Courtney said. “I’m proud to see the results that the House Armed Services, led by Chairman Adam Smith, has achieved for our servicemembers and their families in this final bill. The inclusion of paid parental leave for our federal employees is a great step in achieving parity between members of the military and the civilian workforce that supports them. And, the repeal of the ‘Widow’s Tax,” sought for two decades, will bring long overdue fairness to our military survivors. Chairman Smith fought hard for these priorities, and I am proud to support this agreement.”

“I’m particularly proud that as I close out my first year as Chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, this agreement includes many of the priorities I fought for to invest in our nations capabilities on, above and under the seas,” Courtney added. “In addition to fully backing the recently announced Block V submarine contract, this agreement provides full throated support for the tenth ‘option’ boat to address the consistent and urgent needs of our combatant commanders. This agreement also largely endorses the subcommittee’s work to address the future of our domestic sealift capabilities, which are the backbone of our nation’s ability to respond around the world. Overall, this agreement reflects the hard work and bipartisan input of our subcommittee, and I am proud to have led the panel in making a strong mark on our nation’s seapower and projection forces priorities.”

Key provisions that Courtney championed in the 2020 NDAA:

Seapower and Projection Forces Priorities

In his first year as Chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee, Courtney has advocated for Navy, Air Force, and maritime priorities important to Connecticut and the nation, including:

Virginia Class Submarine – The agreement authorizes $8.5 billion for two Virginia class submarines in 2020 and advanced procurement for additional submarines in 2021 and 2022. The conference report reflects adjustments to the budget request needed support the recently-announced Block V contract, including $522 million to restore the Virginia Payload Module removed from one of the 2020 submarines in the President's budget request. The conference report includes a strong statement in Congressional support for construction of ten boats across the 2019-2023 contract, and authorizes an additional $200 million in advanced procurement specifically to support the tenth option boat. The agreement also authorizes an additional $100 million to accelerate development of additional capabilities in future submarines.

Columbia Class Ballistic Missile Submarines – The conference report authorizes nearly $2.4 billion for the Columbia class submarine, including $1.8 billion in advanced procurement to support construction start of next year and $548 million for continued research and development. The total includes an additional $123 million Courtney helped to secure for continued development of the submarine supplier base to shore up critical suppliers in preparation for the growth in submarine construction work in the coming decade.

Submarine industrial base workforce training - the agreement authorizes $8 million to support workforce training programs to help support expansion of the skilled submarine workforce as the industrial base ramps up construction of the Columbia class program. Courtney has strongly supported workforce development efforts in the region to support hiring at Electric Boat and the supply chain.

Submarine Maintenance – The final report authorizes an additional $653 million to support Navy ship and submarine depot maintenance requirements, including much-needed depot-level maintenance on three Los Angeles-class submarines - the Hartford, Boise and Columbus. Two of these submarine maintenance availabilities are planned be completed in private shipyards, an option Courtney has long pressed the Navy to take advantage of as our public shipyards are above capacity and private shipyards are ramping up for construction of the first Columbia class submarine.

C-130H Modernization – The measure continues Congressman Courtney’s efforts to accelerate the modernization of the C-130H cargo aircraft fleet, like those flown by the Connecticut Air National Guard. In addition to fully supporting the efforts to upgrade and modernize the avionics of the fleet, the final agreement retains the House-passed authorization Courtney secured for $134 million for critical modernization upgrades, including $79 million for higher efficiency engines and $55 million for procurement of new NP2000 propellers, built by UTC Aerospace, that will improve performance of the fleet.

Long Range Strike Bomber – The bill fully supports the requested $3 billion for continued development of the B-21 Raider. Pratt & Whitney is a partner in the next-generation long range strike bomber program.

KC-46A Tanker – The bill authorizes about $2.2 billion for 12 KC-46A tanker aircraft, which are powered by Pratt & Whitney engines.

KMAX – The bill responds to an unfunded priority request from the Marine Corps by included Courtney’s request for authorization of $18.5 million to continue development of unmanned logistics capabilities with the CQ-24A helicopter manufactured by Bloomfield-based Kaman Aerospace.

Navy Shipbuilding – Overall, the final report authorizes more than $23 billion to procure 12 battle force ships. The bill authorizes the procurement of two Virginia-class submarines, three DDG 51 Arleigh Burke destroyers, one Guided Missile Frigate, one LPD Flight II amphibious ship and one LHD amphibious ship, both through incremental funding authority, two T-AO 205 oilers, and two T-ATS towing, salvage, and rescue ships. In addition, the report restores funding for the refueling of the USS Harry S. Truman to allow the carrier to continue to contribute to our national defense over its full, 50-year service life - the Trump Administration proposed retiring the carrier with nearly half its service lift left, and later reversed the plan in the face of bipartisan opposition in Congress.

Recapitalization of our Domestic Sealift Capabilities – The report includes several Courtney-led investments in the recapitalization of our domestic sealift and maritime response capabilities, responding to increasingly urgent testimony from leaders at the Maritime Administration and Transportation Command. The bill includes a long-term reauthorization of the Maritime Security Program, establishment of a new-build domestic sealift vessel program based on an existing design and well-established shipbuilding practice, and requires a report on or nation’s dependence on foreign-flagged tanker vessels to support our fleet. This conference report also rejects the Administration’s efforts to cut funding for the National Security Multi-mission Vessel (NSMV), a program Courtney helped to initiate in 2016 that is critical to training the pipeline of mariners needed to support our sealift capabilities.

Improving Safety in the Maritime Sector – The report includes a provision championed by Courtney to permanently establish the Maritime Occupational Safety and Health Advisory Committee (MACOSH). This committee makes recommendations to the Secretary of Labor on matters related to the health and safety of workers in the maritime sector, including shipbuilding, ship repair, and longshoring. The provision would mean that this important committee does not need to be reestablished every two years as previously structured.

Academic Partnerships for Undersea Research – The report retains the House-passed authorization for $10 million to support partnerships with academic institutions that conduct research on undersea unmanned warfare and energy technology, such as the National Institute for Undersea Vehicle Technology, a collaborative program between the University of Connecticut and the University of Rhode Island.

Additional Courtney priorities included:

Preserving GI Bill Transferability – The agreement includes Courtney's amendment that would prevent the Secretary of Defense from restricting the ability of servicemembers with more than sixteen years of service to transfer their Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits to eligible dependents. In June, Courtney led a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper encouraging the Department to delay the implementation of a planned policy that would restrict these servicemembers with more than sixteen years of service from transferring their benefits, which the Department agreed to do until January 12, 2020. Now that Courtney’s provision is set to become law, our longest-serving servicemembers will be able to continue to make use of this critical benefit.

Pier Construction at New London Submarine Base — The report includes $72.3 million to replace the aging Pier 32 at Naval Submarine Base New London. The new pier will be longer and wider that than the existing pier, allowing adequate space to fully support modern Virginia-class submarines and allow vehicle traffic to traverse the pier more safely.

Defense Impact Aid – authorizes $50 million for the DOD Supplemental Impact Aid program, which provides support to local school districts with high proportions of military children, including Groton public schools. No funding was requested in the Trump Administration's budget. This program is in addition to the primary Impact Aid program funded through the Department of Education, which does not fall within the jurisdiction of the House Armed Services Committee.

Joint Strike Fighter – The report authorizes $9.05 billion for the procurement of 90 F-35s, 12 more than requested by the Trump Administration, and includes additional flexibility to procure additional aircraft within the authorized amount if production savings are found.

Blackhawks – The report authorizes about $1.4 bullion for 73 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters, a significant increase over FY19.

CH-53K – The report authorizes $808 million for the new Marine heavy-lift helicopter, the procurement of 6 aircraft, and $517 million for continued research and development.

Combat Search and Rescue Helicopter – The report includes total funding of $1.1 billion for procurement of 12 aircraft and continued development of the HH-60W Air Force search and rescue helicopter.

VH-92A Presidential Helicopter – The report supports the Administration’s request for $647 million for procurement of 6 replacement presidential helicopters, and continued development of the aircraft.

Countering Russia – The report reverses President Trump’s cuts to the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI), providing $6.4 billion – an increase of $734 million over the budget request - for military construction, anti-submarine warfare, and other urgent priorities to deter Russia and work with U.S. allies and partners. The agreement also increases funding for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which provides support and assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, by $50 million, to a total of $300 million.

Procurement Technical Assistant Program – The agreement follows a Courtney request to increase support for Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs) to $45 million from the requested level of $25 million. PTACs, like the one based in Groton, help small businesses understand and meet the requirements in order to do business with the Department of Defense.

Other Notable Provisions

Paid Leave for Federal Workers – The agreement provides 12 weeks of paid family leave to all federal employees. This provision, which was originally included in the House-passed bill, would benefit nearly 8,000 federal workers in Connecticut.

Repeal of the “Widow’s Tax” - After more than 20 years of advocacy by veterans organizations, the agreement repeals the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP)/Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) offset, commonly known as the “Widows’ Tax.” This report includes a 3 year incremental phase-out of the offset, which will allow our surviving spouses and families to receive both the SBP and DIC benefits in full beginning on January 1, 2023.

Military Housing Reform – The agreement includes several provisions to improve oversight of privatized military housing, including a requirement that the Department of Defense develop a health and safety hazard assessment tool for housing and that a summary report be made available to potential occupants. The report would also ban the use of non-disclosure agreements in privatized military housing leases.

BRAC – The report does not authorize a base closing round.

Military Pay Raise – The report provides a 3.1% pay raise for the military, in line with a statutory requirement to keep pace with private sector wage growth.

Climate Change Resiliency – The report requires DOD to consider the potential effects of climate change on military installations in current and future military construction projects to ensure responsible energy use and resilience against possible future extreme weather events.

Defense Community Infrastructure Program – Authorizes $75 million for the program, allowing DOD to help states and local governments fund off-base infrastructure projects that support operations and the base community. Infrastructure improvements could include transportation projects, schools, first responder facilities, and utility projects.

Reduce the Environmental and Health Risks of Fluorinated Compounds around Military installations – The agreement bans the DOD’s use of firefighting agents containing perfluorooctanoic acid and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) by 2024 and mandates that the DOD prioritize the effort to find a safer alternative. This bill also bans the use of PFAS chemicals in the packaging of Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), keeping our servicemen and women healthier when consuming meals in the field or in training. Finally, this year’s NDAA would require the DOD to ensure that when disposing of aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) and supplies used to remediate PFAS contamination, such as water filters, it does so in a manner that is safe and ensures that disposal does not create further contamination.

Afghan Special Immigrant Visas – This year’s NDAA would allocate an additional 4,000 visas to allow Afghans and their families, whose service to our warfighters puts them at great personal risk, to immigrate to the United States. Facing local reprisal for a variety of services such as translation that often proves invaluable to men and women in combat zones, these special visas will demonstrate our commitment to the men and women who jeopardized their safety to support U.S. troops and our partners.