Friday, June 17, 2011

McCaskill Amendments Included in Defense Policy Bill

Days after she held the first open markup of a portion of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in 15 years, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill today applauded passage of the bill by the full Senate Armed Services Committee. The bill sets defense policy and spending levels at the Department of Defense (DOD) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012, which includes everything from the war in Afghanistan to housing for our troops and their families. McCaskill fought for and won passage of several amendments to the bill, including measures that strengthen the Department of Defense’s ability to respond to cases of sexual assault in the military, cut spending at the Pentagon, and express support for the moratorium on earmarks.
For the fifth year in a row, Senator McCaskill fought to open the Committee's consideration of the bill to the public. While some senators claim that the negotiations on the bill need to be conducted in secret in order to protect classified information that may be discussed, McCaskill has repeatedly pointed out that the public should have a right to see what goes on during the NDAA markup and the committee can easily move into closed session for any necessary classified discussions. This year McCaskill held the markup of the portion of the NDAA within the jurisdiction of the Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support, which she chairs, in open session. Her subsequent effort to open the full committee debate received 9 bipartisan votes but fell short of passing.
McCaskill sponsored amendments that were included in the final bill that would:
Improve the Pentagon’s response to sexual assault in the military
Last year nearly 3,000 incidents of sexual assault were reported throughout the U.S. Armed Forces. However, the Pentagon estimates only 13 percent of sexual crimes were actually reported. While the Pentagon has made progress in recent years to improve response to reported incidents of sexual assault, McCaskill has been fighting to provide victims with a safe environment to come forward and to improve the response to and prosecution of reported cases of sexual assault in the military. She introduced two amendments to that end that would:
· Improve the military’s response to sexual assault. The amendment, introduced by McCaskill, along with Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), will provide training of sexual assault response coordinators at the Pentagon and increase support for the head of the DOD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. Based on the STRONG Act, which was introduced by Senators Collins and John Kerry (D-MA), it also enhances support for victims of sexual assault in the military;
· Require the Department of Defense to keep evidence in sexual assault cases for a longer period of time in order to improve victims’ ability to bring their assailant to justice. Similar to the Support for Survivors Act, which McCaskill introduced earlier this year with Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the amendment would require that DOD keep rape kits for a minimum of five years, which is required in civilian cases, and electronically maintain documentation related to sexual assault for a minimum of five years. Providing victims with better documentation will help improve the rate of cases that are prosecuted and the success rate of conviction, both of which have been significantly below levels in the civilian justice system.
Preserve the Readiness of Our Troops
McCaskill’s Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee portion of the bill, which was accepted by the Committee, ensures vital funding and authorities so our troops have what they need to accomplish their missions and training in Afghanistan, Iraq, elsewhere in the world, and here at home.
Cut Spending at the Pentagon and Eliminate Defense Earmarks
Cutting Spending: McCaskill believes that when it comes to cutting back federal spending, nothing should be off the table, including the Pentagon. She has fought to find efficiencies within DOD without affecting the readiness or needs of our troops and their families. In the portion of the bill within the Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support’s jurisdiction, McCaskill included $3 billion in targeted, responsible cuts to the Department’s budget, including a freeze on spending on service contracts at FY 2010 levels.
Blocking Earmarks: McCaskill also won passage of an amendment that expresses support for enforcing the congressional moratorium on earmarks (congressionally-directed spending). Last month, McCaskill sent a letter to the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee expressing strong opposition to the process used in the House markup of its version of the legislation to circumvent the ban on earmarks. McCaskill opposes earmarks and has fought to end the process, which has been notorious for its secrecy and lack of oversight or accountability, with funding for pet projects often being awarded based on political influence instead of on merit.
Protect our Troops and Set Benchmarks for Progress in Afghanistan
Benchmarks in Afghanistan: McCaskill also cosponsored an amendment with Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) that would require DOD to produce benchmarks for progress in Afghanistan, similar to the important series of benchmarks that were set for Iraq.
Preventing Contracting with the Enemy: McCaskill also supported a provision to prevent “contracting with the enemy” in Afghanistan by empowering General David Petraeus, Commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, to void contracts with contractors found to be actively opposing U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Improve Accountability and Oversight at the Pentagon
Addressing Costly Improper Payments and Auditing: McCaskill co-sponsored a successful amendment introduced by Senator Collins to require DOD to comply with legislation passed last year that required federal agencies to identify and eliminate improper payments. According to the DOD Inspector General, the Pentagon does not yet have an adequate estimate of payment errors to begin this process. McCaskill and Collins’s amendment would ensure that the DOD does a thorough review and estimate of payment errors, including the full range of transactions, and validates the accuracy of future payments before they are made. McCaskill also won inclusion of related language encouraging the Pentagon to pass an audit, which it currently cannot do, and to improve its financial accounting systems.
Disclosure of Political Contributions by Contractors: A provision introduced by Senator Collins was also supported by McCaskill and passed by the committee to prohibit defense contractors from having to disclose political contributions as part of the application process to compete for a federal contract. McCaskill believes that requiring the disclosure of this information, which legally cannot be included in the consideration of a contract bid, creates the appearance of impropriety and adds to the already overworked federal acquisition workforce’s burden. McCaskill thinks provisions in the DISCLOSE Act that address government contractors are a more appropriate way to address government contractor political contributions.
Ensuring the DoD Inspector General Has Resources to Fight Fraud, Waste and Abuse: McCaskill also won inclusion of additional resources for the DOD Inspector General’s office to enable the IG to provide more effective oversight and help identify fraud, waste and abuse in Pentagon programs.

No comments: