In September, 2019 both the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) and Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) will Report out of a joint Conference Committee between the two Houses, a Bill reconciling the versions of the Fiscal Year 2020 NDAA, National Defense Authorization Act, H.R.2500 and S.1790.
While the final version and outcome is not decided, it will include review by the President as to whether he will sign the bill into Public Law or Veto the provisions or funding level that is not acceptable to the Administration.
In early September, (9/4/19) Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Russell T. Vought, sent letters to the leadership of the HASC and SASC with 49 provision in the Senate bill that the White House wanted changed. The two bills have differences in the funding levels for all of the National Defense categories contained in the legislation, with the House (HASC) version at $724.9B and the Senate(SASC) version at $724.9 with the President advocating a $750B level for consideration.
Final decisions in the next 30-60 days on this major defense related bill rest with a rather narrow body of House and Senate leaders/staffs who will make decisions on weapon systems, foreign military assistance, military personnel and a host of Defense Department and Intelligence agency operations that is some cases will project 5 to 10 years into the future. Are you prepared to influence the outcome of this Conference Committee after following the “journey” of these two bills through the budget and legislative process, from the Pentagon/White House to Committee passage?
For 2019 the targets here are 27 Members on the SASC with their top staff and 57 House Members on the HASC with their top staff.
For the Conference Committee the following key points are based on past precedent in NDAA bills passed and signed into Public Law:
- The Speaker of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi(D-CA) will appoint most of the HASC as “Conferees” but also include the Chairs and Ranking Members of most House Committee “assigned” sections of the bill of interest to them. Last year the Speaker appointed over 34 House members in this regard, with their top staff .For example, there is a very small provision in HR2500 that deals with “Size Standards for small businesses,” and the House Small Business leadership will be in attendance. This is also relevant to the Foreign Affairs Committee and others. The Speaker can also appoint individual Members(and has done so in the past)who are strong on one issue or more and want to attend. In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell(R-KY) appoints the SASC as conferees.
- The larger “Conference” will not last very long. In fact, most of these meetings are held quite quickly, with key decisions made by what is called the “Big Four,” the Chair and Ranking Members of HASC and SASC and their top staffs.
- The Conference focuses on differences between the two versions, on provisions in one bill and not the other, or in different language and policy. They are “ranked” for importance, and in many cases the large number of amendments permitted to be added to the bill during passage will not be included.
- The final “Conference Report,” which will include the final “joint” NDAA bill(either using the House or Senate version as the basis)will be sent for quick review and passage in the House and Senate. “Usually” these Conference Reports and NDAA bill is not amendable and is considered on an up or down vote. Rarely(It happened on December 28,2007) does the President veto the bill, but if he does the issues are resolved(in the case of the 12/28/07 Veto of the NDAAFY08, it was passed as another bill with approval of the WH and signed into aw 30-days later(PL110-181,January 28,2008).
The Conference Committee is a very key objective for all of those interested in the final NDAA Authorization outcome. Targeting the right person at the right time before the Conference Committee meets and to engage with the “Big Four” on a regular basis also before the deliberations as the bills move thru the House and Senate is required.
No matter what the NDAA final provisions are, all good political science student know that this is merely the start of a process that includes the following key “next steps:”
- Even though a “PE”(Program Element”) or project is “authorized”, the appropriations process is the duel track for achieving success. A critical “outcome” for approval in the winding road of NDAA is to preare and implement along the way an appropriations strategy to get the project or policy funded. Without appropriated funds, only various options remain such as reprogramming or an Unfunded Requirements List by the Services or “passbacks” from OMB and other budgeting techniques.
- With one NDAA at it’s final stages, another is in the process for the next Fiscal Year 2021 cycle. The next year’s programs and DoD requests will be finalized by OMB and the President in the next 90-120 days, in time for presentation to the Congress after the 2020 State of the Union. While it is a bit late to include FY2021 issues, it is not impossible.
- Major changes are taking place in the Pentagon and service’s leadership that will impact the next round of NDAA decisions. For the FY2021 NDAA and FY2022, there are also major impacts that the November, 2020 national elections will have on HASC and SASC. These need to be “watched” and impacted upon for successful outcomes.
In the NDAA process to begin in January-February, 2020, some of the key points to consider and prepare for now, are knowing,
- The importance of the HASC and SASC leadership positions on proposed amendments or language for the new bill;
- How the “en bloc” amendment process works when the bill comes before the House or Senate floor;
- How to influence the House Rules Committee, who will decide on the amendments to be permitted to be added to the bill(this cycle the NDAA generated in the House over 600 amendments with around 420 permitted by the Rules Committee). Concentration on the Chair and Ranking Member on SASC in the Senate for a similar influence outcome.
The NDAA is a vital part of the Congressional process to support the warfighter and protect our Nation. Are you prepared for the complex journey to its eventual outcome and final decisions? The McKeon Group is.
For questions or comments, please reach out to:
John Chwat, Sr.VP McKeon Group