Visclosky Opening Statement from the House Appropriations Committee Consideration of the Fiscal Year 2019 Defense Appropriations Act
Washington, DC – Below is the opening statement of Congressman Pete Visclosky from today’s House Appropriations Committee consideration of the Fiscal Year 2019 Defense Appropriations Act, as prepared for delivery.
I have a tremendous appreciation for how Chairwoman Granger has conducted the business of the Defense Subcommittee. The Chairwoman’s abiding priority remains the safety, effectiveness, and efficiency of every man and woman in uniform. Additionally, she has taken a thoughtful and bipartisan approach to our work and is a fierce defender of the oversight responsibilities and constitutional prerogative of the Subcommittee.
I also would like to express my gratitude to Chairman Frelinghuysen, Ranking Member Lowey, and the other Members of the Subcommittee for their efforts. And thank you to the Subcommittee staff and the associate staff for their hard work.
I would like to begin by calling attention to an issue of great importance to me – the full integration of women in the military. Female servicemembers are invaluable to the defense of our nation. For the majority of the time they have been allowed in the military, women have had to assimilate into a culture not established with them in mind. This is not the best way to maximize the effectiveness of our armed services.
While I appreciate the opening of combat career fields to women and the Department of Defense’s (DoD) emerging efforts to ensure that combat equipment is designed and fitted for female servicemembers, I would submit that these are immediate-term solutions.
Put bluntly, the rate at which women leave the service is a detriment to readiness. Some of the reasons for their departures are glaringly obvious and will be difficult to overcome because they will require cultural and significant policy changes. I am pleased that the House Armed Services Committee, in their FY 2019 authorization bill, has taken a step to establish a female retention baseline and develop ways to improve female retention. Initiatives like these help the Committee to better focus funding where it can be most effective and improve overall readiness.
Specific to our bill, the Chairwoman has provided an accurate summary, but there are a few areas I would like to highlight. This bill increases funding by almost $200 million above the budget request for several important environmental clean-up accounts. The Subcommittee, under Chairwoman Granger and previously under Chairman Frelinghuysen, has been proactive on emerging environmental issues, including those caused by firefighting chemicals. Those living on and near military facilities, and everyone throughout our country for that matter, should not have to worry about access to clean drinking water.
Oversight of the management and expenditure of the $674 billion that is provided to the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community is a core function of the Defense Subcommittee. I believe good oversight is fostered by constructive and informed dialogue between the Committee and the agencies. Oversight cannot be effective when proposals are presented at the last minute with the intention of forcing a decision. Oversight cannot be effective when complex changes to a program are first communicated to the Legislative Branch through the media. As such, while I appreciate all the hard work that the services are putting towards readiness, modernization, and lethality, this report contains several sections encouraging the Department, as a whole, and with a special focus on the Army, to adhere to Congressional direction, increase transparency for budget exhibits, and improve quality and timeliness of communication.
And speaking of timeliness, Congress has its own issues to deal with. Particularly the inability to enact Appropriations bills anywhere close to the start of the fiscal year (FY). For the Department of Defense, and for any agency, the lack of predictable appropriations is a major obstacle to the planning and execution of programs.
I was cautiously optimistic that the Bipartisan Budget Agreement, which provided relief from the Budget Control Act (BCA), would provide a pathway for completing the FY 2019 bills in a somewhat timely manner. The members of the Committee, particularly the Chair and Ranking, are doing their best to get our work done.
Unfortunately, the next two fiscal years present daunting obstacles that make it even more important to complete our FY 2019 work as soon as possible. Most obvious is the return of the BCA caps in FY 2020, which if left unchanged, will require the Department’s base funding for FY 2020 to be reduced by $71 billion from the level provided in this bill. A reduction of that magnitude would cause unfathomable disruption and I know that senior leaders in the Pentagon are already identifying programs that have a lower return on investment to cut in this scenario. I would prefer to have those individuals focused on other matters and the sooner Congress bellies up to the bar and provides a fifth round of statutory relief for the last two years of the BCA, the better.
Additionally, senior military leaders have testified that arresting the erosion of our military’s competitive advantage requires real budget growth of at least three percent above inflation through 2023. Increasing that competitive advantage would require even higher growth. I agree with this sobering assessment, but unless we someday act responsibly on the revenue side of the budget and address entitlements in a meaningful fashion, the money will not be there.
We also must consider that maintaining our competitive advantage in defense also requires other investments that we do not immediately equate with military matters. As only 29 percent of Americans aged 17-24 qualify for military service, investments in our youth, difficult-to-retain populations, education, and public health are equally important.
Finally, I remain concerned that while we have seen plenty of long-awaited, long-term planning and strategy documents generated by the Pentagon and the White House over the last 500 days, the bulk of our ongoing military operations continue to be authorized by legislation from 17 years ago. There have been four Presidential elections and eight Congressional elections since the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). It is a shame that this Congress cannot muster the will to even debate an updated AUMF. I hope we will be successful this year.
In closing, I am happy to be here marking up the ninth bill for fiscal year 2019. I again thank the Chairwoman for her great effort and partnership. I look forward to working with the Committee in completing the task ahead.