Washington, DC – House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) delivered the following remarks during general debate on H.R. 5658, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009:
“Mr. Chairman, today the House begins consideration of H.R. 5658, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009. H.R. 5658 is a collective effort in the bipartisan tradition of the House Armed Services Committee, which approved the bill in markup by a vote of 61 to 0.
“This is an excellent bill and I want to thank the members of the House Armed Services Committee, particularly our subcommittee chairmen and ranking members, for their outstanding work. I would also like to recognize the Ranking Member and former Chairman, Duncan Hunter, for once again being a great partner in this bill. I’m very proud that Duncan and I have worked so well together through the years, always with the common goal of enhancing U.S. national security. It is only fitting that as Duncan plans to retire at the end of this Congress, our committee colleagues voted unanimously to name this bill in his honor, recognizing Duncan Hunter’s many years of service on the Armed Services Committee and his unfailing support of our men and women in uniform.
“Let me discuss several significant provisions of this year’s defense authorization bill. This bill reflects our committee’s view that restoring military readiness must be our number one priority. After more than six years of war, our efforts to restore military readiness must be sustained in order to meet current military challenges and prepare for the unexpected conflicts we may face in the future.
“The bill directs approximately $2 billion toward unfunded readiness initiatives requested by the services, which includes an additional $932 million to deal with equipment shortages and for equipment maintenance. The bill also provides $800 million for National Guard and Reserve equipment and $650 million to keep defense facilities in good working order and to address urgent issues such as dilapidated military barracks.
“To boost readiness and to reduce the strain on our forces, the bill increases the size of the military by 7,000 Army troops and 5,000 Marines, and prevents further military to civilian conversions in the medical field by authorizing an additional 1,023 Navy sailors and 450 Air Force personnel.
“This bill also maintains our efforts to support and honor the men and women who serve our nation in uniform and their families, providing a much-needed 3.9 percent pay increase and again prohibiting increases in health care fees, among a range of other initiatives.
“This defense authorization bill also keeps our focus on Afghanistan, which is the primary front in the war on terror. The bill requires the administration to submit separate budget requests to clearly lay out requirements for the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq. It requires a system to be set up to measure the success of the U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams, and requires more robust congressional reporting on the training of the Afghan Security Force. Finally, the bill requires the Department of Defense to address the issue of the command and control structure for forces in Afghanistan operating under Operation Enduring Freedom as well as the NATO International Security Assistance Force.
“The bill authorizes a $70 billion bridge for the fights in Iraq and Afghanistan. But we remain convinced that it is well past time for the Iraqis to step up and contribute more substantially to their own security and prosperity. With the Iraqis’ overwhelming budget and capital account surpluses, the bill requires the Iraqis to invest more in their own reconstruction and security efforts, which are currently being shouldered by the U.S. military.
“This bill also continues to take steps forward in contracting reform after the substantial improvements in the law enacted by the Congress in last year’s bill. This year we require the Department to address the problems with contracting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait by developing more contracting experts within the military who can be deployed to handle contracting during contingency operations, and we provide the Department with the authority to hire and appropriately pay similarly trained civilians willing to deploy.
“We also tackle personal services contracts and the area of contractor conflicts of interest where we believe the line between inherently governmental functions and the appropriate functions of the contractors has become blurred. And we take a significant step to protect information critical to national security by codifying and enhancing the requirements for DOD to manage industry’s facility clearances and to monitor foreign ownership, control, and influence.
“The bill also underlines our commitment to preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, adding $31 million for the Cooperative Threat Reduction programs of the Department of Defense and $215 million for the Department of Energy’s nonproliferation programs. These programs are the most cost-effective ways of reducing the risk of such weapons falling into terrorist hands.
“Finally, I want to say a word about the need for reforms in the way our government sets, coordinates, and executes its national security policy. Many here in Congress and in the executive branch are working to improve our interagency system. This is a massive effort that cannot be accomplished in a single year. But at the appropriate time during the bill’s consideration, I hope to offer an amendment with Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman and Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Nita Lowey to establish a standing advisory board to work with the Secretaries of Defense and State on interagency matters and to report to Congress with recommendations. This amendment is an important step to improve how our nation engages with the rest of the world.
“Before I reserve the balance of my time, let me pay tribute to those members who plan to leave Congress at the end of this session and for whom this will be their final defense authorization bill. In addition to the retirement of Ranking Member Duncan Hunter, I want to express my appreciation to two other senior committee members who plan to retire, Congressman Jim Saxton and Congressman Terry Everett. Both of these gentlemen have made important contributions to our committee through the years and have been wonderful partners and friends.
“In addition, two of the most capable and committed members of our committee, Congressman Rob Andrews and Congressman Mark Udall, plan to leave in order to seek other offices. The House and our committee are better for your service here. We wish all of these members well in their future endeavors, but they will very much be missed.
“This is a critical time in the defense of our nation and this is an important bill. I urge the members of this House to support this defense authorization bill that does so much to restore readiness, to support our men and women in uniform, and to protect the American people.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I reserve the balance of my time.”