Chairman Visclosky Statement at Full Committee Markup of FY 2021 Defense Funding Bill
WASHINGTON — Congressman Pete Visclosky (IN-01), Chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Appropriations Committee's markup of the fiscal year 2021 Defense bill:
Before I begin with my remarks on the fiscal year (FY) 2021 bill, I reluctantly have to acknowledge that this will be my final opening statement before the House Appropriations Committee. To paraphrase President Truman’s farewell address, I have no new revelations to make. But for those of you who will remain on this Committee there are simply a few things in my heart that I would like to say.
Being a part of this Committee for over 35 years, first as an associate staffer and then as a Member, has been the greatest professional privilege in my life. I will forever be grateful for the voters of Indiana’s First Congressional District and the circumstances that allowed me to serve them to the best of my abilities on this Committee. Although, I spent my first 6 years 9 months and 9 days as a Member of Congress desperately trying to become an Appropriator, those struggles only gave me a greater appreciation for the work we do. I thank each and every one of my colleagues, the professional staff, and associate staff for their lasting friendship and commitment to making our country a better place.
Moving on to the matter before us, the FY21 bill, I need to thank Ranking Member Calvert for his continued commitment to collegiality, transparency, and bipartisanship. The value of his partnership cannot be overstated.
I also would like to express my gratitude to Chairwoman Lowey, Ranking Member Granger, and the other Members of the Subcommittee for their efforts.
And thank you to the Subcommittee staff, particularly the Majority Clerk, Becky Leggieri, and her Minority Counterpart, Johnnie Kaberle, and the associate staff, for their hard work. Also, I would like to recognize the 2020 military fellows for their contributions. Under normal operating conditions, the product these staffers put together requires a herculean effort. Having to assemble the bulk of the bill and report remotely increased the degree of difficulty substantially. I commend them on their professionalism and acumen.
The bill would provide $694.6 billion for the Department of Defense budget, which is $1.3 billion above the fiscal year 2020 enacted level and $3.7 billion below the request. The base funding recommendation is $626.2 billion, which is $3.5 billion above the fiscal year 2020 enacted level and $3.5 billion below the request. The overseas contingency operations recommendation is $68.4 billion, which is $2.2 billion below the fiscal year 2020 enacted level and $215 million below the request.
This legislation recognizes the complex challenges the members of our Armed Forces and intelligence community face every day throughout the world, and it aims to ensure that they are able to continue to meet these challenges and complete their missions to the best of their abilities. To support this forward-looking posture, the bill makes major investments in operations and maintenance, procurement, and research and development. Those investments are detailed in a summary document shared by the Committee, so I will not spend much time on those in my remarks.
However, I do think it is important to highlight some investments the Committee has made with regards to the current COVID-19 pandemic. This legislation would provide:
- $758 million in procurement for COVID-19 recovery for second, third, and fourth tier suppliers;
- $450 million in operation and maintenance for COVID-19 recovery and resupply;
- and $150 million in the Defense Health Program for COVID-19 response.
In addition to the funding enumerated above, the legislation places several reporting requirements on the Department specific to COVID-19. The budgetary impacts of the pandemic on the Department are still largely undetermined. Some programs will have schedule delays and will cost more. However, there will be savings attained through delayed or cancelled events or activities, such as training, exercises, or deployments. It is imperative that the Committee and Congress have as much detail as possible to allocate funding and to conduct oversight.
Most important to me personally is that this bill continues the Committee’s focus on the well-being and morale of those in uniform, their families, DoD civilians, and defense communities.
- The bill provides an additional $116 million for upgrades to childcare facilities and the report contains language directing the military services to present innovative ideas to address the backlog for childcare.
- The bill provides $1.49 billion for environmental restoration activities, which is $413 million above the request. This increased funding will help DoD address the significant and salient public health risks associated with PFOS/PFOA.
- The bill and report take steps to stop the Department from closing military treatment facilities and from reducing military health care billets. These plans were poorly justified prior to the pandemic and even harder to defend under current conditions.
- The bill provides $327 million to address the ongoing epidemic of sexual assault in the military and at the Service academies, which is $49 million more than requested. I must express my personal upset on this issue. The most recent Department report found the number of sexual assaults in the military rose by 38 percent from 2016 to 2018 with roughly 20,500 servicemembers experiencing sexual assault, up from an estimated 14,900 in 2016. The report also found the sexual assault rate for women jumped a shocking 50 percent. Despite these dire findings the Department’s budget for sexual assault prevention and response remains stagnant. That is unacceptable and runs counter to the statements I have heard repeatedly from senior leaders that this is a priority. It is unconscionable that those who volunteer to put on a uniform are not safe within their own units.
These efforts and several others within the bill will have an immediate positive impact on people’s quality of life.
There are other carryovers from the FY20 bill. The bill again contains several provisions to rein in the Department’s now habitual redirection of funding in contravention of Congressional intent. I am not going to rehash the arguments as to why I believe the Department’s actions are unlawful, however, I do want to express my upset with how these actions have irreparably damaged the Department’s credibility with the Committee. One DOD official referred to the transfers as anomalies. I refer to them as habitual abuses.
In recent years, Department leadership has not missed an opportunity to claim that a three to five percent annual real growth in the defense budget is necessary to support the national defense strategy. But at the same time, those same leaders facilitated the transfer of nearly $10 billion to non-defense activities not enumerated within the National Defense Strategy. And while this was happening, they also have had the temerity to repeatedly request more flexibility from Congress for executing their budget and for reprogramming authorities. The sense of entitlement in these actions is galling and I hope that at some point the Department will have the leadership in place who recognize Congress’ constitutional prerogative and restore trust to the appropriations process.
In closing, I would like to again reiterate what a privilege it has been to serve on this Committee. And my thanks to Members and staff that logged the long hard hours required to put this product together. As we move along in the FY 2021 process, I look forward to continuing to work with the members of the Committee to complete our work.
Thank you again, Madam Chairwoman for the time.