5 things to know about the Senate Defense Appropriations Bill

As Congress struggles to do its primary job of providing resources for federal government operations, the Senate Appropriations Committee has produced its fiscal year 2022 bills. Following are five highlights from the defense bill.

First, the top-line number for defense. The Senate appropriators joined the House and Senate authorizers in increasing proposed defense spending over the President’s request. There is a $23 billion delta between House and Senate appropriators as they look toward conferencing their bills. Whereas House appropriators produced a partisan bill at the level requested by the administration, the Senate appropriators added funds critical for readiness (+$4.3 billion) and modernization and to address buying power that DOD was set to lose due to economic assumptions that would have made things like daily operations, fuel, and health care more expensive than budgeted (+$2.7 billion). The ongoing debate about the large infrastructure and social benefits bills — and the reconciliation necessary to support a budget agreement on discretionary top-line spending — leaves the work done by the appropriators in limbo for now as the end of the continuing resolution under which the government is currently operating looms on December 3.

U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, October 21, 2021. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

Second, a focus on Indo-Pacific and military capabilities necessary to counter China and support the National Defense Strategy. The committee notes that its oversight activities brought to light a number of opportunities to “accelerate the pace of change.” Specifically, the committee provided more than $6 billion in increases for security and deterrence in the Indo-Pacific region, space and cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, and infrastructure and public shipyard improvements. Of note for US Indo-Pacific Command, the committee provides $141 million for development and procurement funds supporting the installation of homeland defense radars on Hawaii and Guam; $750 million to deploy a missile tracking satellite demonstration system; nearly $85 million for sustainment and upgrades to the Mission Partner Environment; $88 million for advanced analytic war-gaming tools; and $28 million to enhance Military Information Support Operations.

Third, the committee supported the new Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve (RDER) the Department requested after submission of the budget earlier this year. The committee transfers funding for four similar modernization efforts to a single budget line and increases support for RDER by $100 million. Though a good step, such a fund would have to be much bigger to really push the cultural change necessary for speed and for bridging the technological “valley of death” inside the Department.

Fourth, the Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution (PPBE) Commission. The committee supports a provision in the Senate Defense Authorization bill that would establish a commission to provide an independent review of the PPBE process while noting that: “Discussion of PPBE reform should first distinguish between the mechanics of a process, as opposed to the values and priorities that direct the process.” The committee explains that “a nimble and efficient PPBE process would still result in capability gaps with advanced adversaries if departmental priorities were focused on overseas contingency operations rather than modernization of the force.”

As the authorization and appropriations committees conference their various provisions into final bills, it would be useful to have such a commission address overall barriers to defense modernization, including PPBE, since there are many cultural, incentive, policy, process, and legislative practices that inhibit accomplishing the foundational mission of getting capability to the warfighter quickly.

And finally, non-defense spending. Unfortunately, the Senate appropriators continued the trend of diverting defense funding and attention to programs that are not consistent with the DOD core mission or competencies. For example, the committee adds $1.2 billion for the Congressional Directed Medical Research Program, much of which is duplicative of programs managed by the National Institutes of Health.

The committee also added funds to address drinking water contamination while acknowledging there is currently no plan for the use of such funds.

As negotiations on conference agreements take place this month, Congress will have a chance to demonstrate its relevancy by agreeing to and then passing a defense funding bill that actually supports the nation’s security and those that provide it.

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