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Senate Begins Work on FY2010 Defense Authorization Bill

This week, the Senate began consideration of the FY2010 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1390). The Senate Armed Services Committee approved the legislation on June 25. The House also approved its version of the Defense Authorization bill on June 25 (see The Source, 6/26/09).

According to the committee report, S. 1390 would authorize $679.8 billion for defense discretionary programs, $375.2 million less than the administration’s request. This amount includes $551.064 billion in the base bill and $129.3 billion for overseas contingency operations.

The measure would provide $12.738 billion for military construction, $7.876 billion for base realignment and closure (BRAC), and $2.309 billion for family housing (a total of $22.923 billion, not including prior year savings). The total is $135.343 million less than the administration’s request; the House bill would provide $23.26 billion for such programs (not including prior year savings).

The defense health program would receive $29.913 billion under the Senate bill, $10.7 million more than the president’s request and $3.013 million more than the House bill.

The bill would provide $135.616 billion for military personnel programs, $400 million less than President Obama’s request. The House bill would provide $135.724 billion.

Military Sexual Assault- The report language establishes December 1, 2009, as the deadline for the Department of Defense (DoD) Task Force on Sexual Assault to issue its report. The committee notes, “While significant advances have been made by the Department in responding to the problem of sexual assaults in the armed forces, the committee remains concerned about continuing reports of lack of uniformity by the military departments in implementing Department of Defense sexual assault policies, inadequate data collection, and the inability of the Department of Defense to develop standardized reports of incidents of sexual assault which can be used to measure progress. The committee looks forward to receipt of the report of the Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military Services and encourages expedited review of the findings and recommendations of this task force and implementation of appropriate recommendations. Further delays in completing this important work must be avoided” (p. 150).

Dependent Military Children- Expressing its concern for children of deployed or deploying service members, the committee would require the secretary of Defense to “undertake a comprehensive assessment of the impacts of military deployment on dependent children of service members.” The report would “include separate assessments on preschool-age children, elementary-school age children, and teenage or adolescent children.” The secretary also would report on mental health care and counseling services available to such children (p. 148).

The secretary of Defense also would be required to report to Congress regarding the “judicial cases involving child custody disputes in which the service of a deployed or deploying member of the armed forces, active or reserve, was an issue in a child custody dispute” (p. 149).

Health- The report language would reduce funding for the Breast Cancer Center of Excellence by $5.3 million, citing “higher medical research priorities for the Department of Defense, including addressing critical infectious disease, combat casualty care, and warfighter psychological health issues,” and the fact that the “National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute has requested a FY2010 budget of over $5.0 billion” (p. 223).

“The committee is also concerned that military families cite lack of timely access to health care, and specifically to mental health care, for military children.” Therefore, the committee would require the “secretary [of Defense] to conduct a comprehensive review of the mental health care and counseling services available to children of service members, to include: the access to, quality, and effectiveness of such services in military treatment facilities, family assistance centers, under TRICARE, and in Department of Defense dependents’ schools; whether the status of a service member as active duty or reserve affects the access of a military child to such services; and whether, and to what extent, waiting lists, geographic distance, and other factors may obstruct military children’s receipt of such services” (p. 149).

Education- The report contains a sense of the Senate commending the 21 states that have enacted the Interstate Compact on Education Opportunity for Military Children and urging the remaining states to do so (p. 146). The compact helps families deployed across state borders and local education agencies (LEAs) address issues such as “transfer of educational records; recalculation of grades to consider the weights of different educational institutions; waiver of specific courses required for graduation if similar course work has been satisfactorily completed in another educational institution; and recognition of an appointed guardian as a custodial parent while the child’s parent or parents are deployed.”

The bill also would continue the authority to assist LEAs affected by military deployments; such assistance currently totals $30 million.

During consideration of the bill, the Senate adopted, by voice vote, an amendment by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to provide federal assistance to state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies to prosecute hate crimes, after adopting, 78-13, an amendment by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) to clarify that the hate crimes provision would not restrict First Amendment protections of speech and religious freedoms. The Leahy amendment would amend existing hate crimes legislation to include crimes motivated by gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

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