Notes from the defense authorization bill debate

WASHINGTON — Sweeping sexual assault reforms were the biggest news from yesterday’s House committee debate on the annual defense authorization bill, but the 16-hour legislative marathon also included a host of smaller items of note:

Common camouflage

An amendment from Illinois Democratic Reps. Bill Enyart and Tammy Duckworth would mandate the military develop a joint camouflage pattern in coming years, in response to criticism that the uniform rivalry among the services has gotten out of hand.

Lawmakers said at least 10 different types of camouflage are in use, and several more are under development.

If the Senate agrees to the amendment, service officials would be prohibited from adopting any new combat uniforms until a new, joint one is fielded. Special operations forces would be exempt.

Future of JIEDDO

Among a host of studies and surveys they mandated in the bill draft, lawmakers are asking the Pentagon to develop a plan for the future role of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, and agency that has spent tens of billions of dollars over the last decade to combat the problem of roadside bombs.

But, with the end of the war in Afghanistan on the horizon, House lawmakers shuffled JIEDDO into their list of potentially outdated and wasteful programs. Pentagon officials will have to develop a plan to justify its existence post-Afghanistan.

Better body armor

Even with fighting winding down overseas, lawmakers are pushing for better body armor for troops. The bill mandates “development of ever more functional, lighter, and more protective body armor” by requiring the services to fund future development in the same way they do weapons systems.

That means steady procurement contracts and building on “successive generations of innovation and investment.” Lawmakers also want a study on ways to improve body armor for female troops, both to make it more comfortable and more effective.

Purple Hearts for Fort Hood shooting victims

Committee members without any debate approved a measure approving Purple Hearts for troops wounded in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, effectively labeling their wounds as battlefield injuries. It’s been a controversial item in the past, prompting debate about the definition of terrorism and the value of military medals.

However, even with the House’s calm acceptance this year, it’s unlikely to become law. Members of the Senate have removed the language from the final authorization bill draft each of the last three years, and there is no indication it will survive this time either.

Chaplains praying in Jesus’ name

Lawmakers approved along party lines a provision to protect military chaplains’ ability to pray “according to their conscience.” Conservatives argued that with the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” many chaplains are being forced to adopt politically correct speech and avoid specific references to their religion. Critics say the provision is a really an attempt to attack homosexuality, despite military regulations against discrimination.

The issue has surfaced in different forms over the last few years, and, as with the Purple Hearts measure, likely will not survive negotiations with the Senate.

No base closures

Lawmakers soundly rejected Defense Department efforts to launch another round of base closures, calling it too expensive and disruptive for the military. The bill prohibits DOD from “proposing, planning, or initiating another round of BRAC.”

That language worried some Democrats, who said military officials should at least be able to discuss the idea, even if Congress ultimately rejects it. Republicans on the committee disagreed, saying they don’t want any time or money spent on the idea, no matter how small.


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