U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, praised the committee passage of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which was reported out of committee by a vote of 25-2, and announced provisions that will directly benefit Oklahoma installations and communities.
“The National Defense Authorization Act is the most important piece of legislation that Congress will consider all year. It sets our national security policy for the year, looks after service members and their families, and makes sure our troops have the training, resources and equipment they need to complete their mission and return home safely. This year’s bill fully funds our national defense and includes important provisions to ensure the national missions at each of Oklahoma’s military installations remain strong by cutting red tape and increasing innovation. The NDAA also looks out for service members and their families with a 3.1 percent pay increase—the largest in 10 years—and making needed reforms to improve the quality of on-base housing. I am proud the FY20 NDAA received broad bipartisan support and look forward to its swift consideration by the Senate.”
Oklahoma specific provisions are as follows:
Reforms to Privatized Military Housing
The NDAA takes meaningful steps to address serious issues with the Military Housing Privatization Initiative, including: improving quality of life for service members and their families living in privatized military housing by creating a Tenant Bill of Rights, setting up a dispute resolution process, and increasing transparency; holding private military housing companies accountable, ensuring they set high standards for construction, mitigate and stop health and hazard violations, and quickly address any problems with housing; and strengthening management of military housing within the chain of command and at the Department of Defense, including ensuring each installation has the necessary government housing employees and implementing thorough oversight and planning measures.
Janna Driver, a former resident of Tinker Air Force Base and witness at a SASC Hearing on privatized housing that sparked the Armed Forces to make critical changes, acknowledged the Chairman’s work: “My family has suffered immensely due to the conditions of our on-base privatized housing. I am extremely grateful to have had Chairman Inhofe as a voice in Washington to enact change for military families in Oklahoma and around the country,” Driver said. “We are hopeful that the changes made in this year’s NDAA-including the Tenant Bill of Rights, dispute resolution process, added transparency and strengthening the chain of command- will help to increase the accountability that has been lacking and necessary in making living conditions safe and healthy for our military families who sacrifice so much for this country.”
No BRAC Round
The FY2020 NDAA explicitly prohibits a base realignment and closure (BRAC) round, ensuring the vital missions at all Oklahoma bases can continue to grow. After years of budgetary instability during the Obama Administration, readiness declined to a dangerously low level. Inhofe’s provision in the NDAA ensures it will not be reduced any further while we rebuild the force and its readiness.
Direct Hire Authority
Last year, Inhofe authored language that extends civilian hiring authority for depots, shipyards, plants and arsenals to help maintain and grow the workforce at Tinker Air Force Base and the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant. However, the implementation of the provision has been inconsistent, resulting in continued delays and underutilization. Inhofe corrected that in the FY20 NDAA by authoring language to clarify that direct hire authority can come from Secretaries of Military Departments, Directors of Defense Field Activities and Directors of Defense Agencies.
The civilian workforce maintains aging equipment, adopts new technologies and is consistently recognized by industry as the benchmark of success. Because of its abilities, the workload demands continue to grow along with the need for higher levels of technological skill sets.
“The Direct Hire Authority has been essential in aiding employment needs at McAlester Army Ammunition Plant. Previous to the Direct Hire Authority, McAlester was operating with 1,700 employees; since implementing they have increased to more than 2,000. This increase has benefited the local economy immensely and has decreased the workload gap,” said Jessica Gregg, Executive Director, McAlester Defense Support Association.
“McAlester Chamber of Commerce is pleased to share a reported increase of sales tax within our community of business owners over the past year,” said Krystal Bess, Executive Director of the McAlester Area Chamber of Commerce. “With our understanding of the direct hire authority, MCAAP has added an additional 300 jobs. As an organization, supporting local industry is a priority and we are grateful for the advancements MCAAP has been able to obtain through the Direct Hire Authority and the benefits our members have seen.
“We understand the need for the base to expedite the hiring of civilian personnel into key positions including those that support depot maintenance, cybersecurity, acquisition, and science, technology, and engineering,” said Roy Williams, President and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. “The Direct Hire Authority, if fully utilized, ensures these critical positions can be filled more efficiently with qualified personnel. It directly benefits the base, force readiness, and overall national security.”
Inhofe authored language that fully authorized the president’s budget request for the Paladin Integrated Management (PIM) program, the primary indirect fire weapons platform in the U.S. Army’s Armored Brigade Combat Teams (ABCT). The PIM, assembled in Elgin, Oklahoma, and used at Fort Sill, will improve force performance and survivability, while also reducing the logistics burden for soldiers.
“The PIM is a critical part of reviving our outdated field artillery systems,” said Albert Johnson, Jr., Chairman, Lawton Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce. “PIM provides the basis for tactical-level Cross Functional Team (CFT) focus on Extended Range Cannon Artillery and addresses the Army’s number one priority for modernization. This seamless process is mostly being done in Southwest Oklahoma where we are able to test, fire and retrofit the howitzer. Now more than ever funding is required to keep this program moving forward.”
Advanced Pilot Training (T-X)
Pilots, like those at Vance Air Force Base, need to train on the newest and most advanced platforms in order to be prepared for the next-generation of fighter and bomber aircraft. Inhofe authored language in the NDAA that will support procurement for the T-X advanced pilot training system, replacing the legacy T-38 trainers that have become outdated and led to increased training times.
“We applaud Senator Inhofe’s support of additional funding for the research and development of advanced pilot training,” said Mike Cooper, Chairman of the Oklahoma Strategic Military Planning Commission. “Vance Air Force Base, with at least a 34 percent increase in pilot training, will benefit from having its pilots train on the new T-X system, leading the way in developing improved and efficient methods to increase the number of trained pilots for the U.S. Air Force.”
Inhofe supported increased funding and procurement of three additional KC-46 aircraft, bringing the total FY20 procurement to 15 KC-46 aircraft. The KC-46 tankers ensure our military’s ability to engage in operations around the globe. Altus Air Force Base is programmed to receive 8 KC-46 aircraft and will provide training for all KC-46 pilots and boom operators. Tinker Air Force Base has been selected to provide all depot maintenance for the KC-46 with construction underway for KC–46 maintenance and fuel hangars.
“On behalf of the Altus community, we applaud Senator Inhofe’s tireless commitment to policy and funding in the FY20 NDAA to continue fundamental KC-46A program stability and support to meet the Air Force mission,” said Dr. Joe Leverett, Chairman of the Altus Military Affairs Committee. “Our nation’s air refueling aircraft are crucial to the future of our national security and the KC-46A ‘Pegasus’ has started the process of replacing our aging tanker aircraft inventory. Senator Jim Inhofe’s tenacious work as the Chairman of the United States Senate Armed Services Committee has been nothing short of remarkable in support of the United States Air Force and his commitment to the delivery and support of the KC-46. The men and women in our nation’s armed forces deserve our absolute best effort and Senator Jim Inhofe has been the champion for readiness, enhanced military capabilities, and predictable budgeting for stabilized National Defense Strategy and execution. With the addition of the KC-46A mission set at Altus AFB, the tanker and mobility community will be able to capitalize on the synergistic training benefit to both meet and exceed global force requirements for our nation’s security.”
Supporting Organic Industrial Base
As part of the organic industrial base, defense maintenance depots, like the Air Logistics Center at Tinker Air Force Base, are developing new technologies to repair damaged parts quickly and without distortion. Inhofe authored language in the NDAA that would allow the Air Force Research Lab and the Air Force Depot Innovation Centers to work with private sector partners to bring new skills and processes into full time use to repair and get Air Force systems back in service faster.
Additionally, our organic industrial bases, like Tinker, have faced challenges due to recent changes in acquisition processes—despite being recognized as critical parts of our national security infrastructure. Inhofe’s NDAA requires a report from the DOD to understand the impact of the recent changes to ensure the future of the organic industrial base.
“Sustainment of the nation’s weapon systems is critical to the overall readiness of our forces,” said Roy Williams, President and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. “Tinker Air Force Base plays a key role in sustaining that readiness for critical weapon systems and the supply chains that support them. The community fully supports the base and its commercial partners to continually improve their organic maintenance capabilities and effectiveness. We look forward to the completed assessment of the entire DoD organic industrial base as well as the identification of any priorities or resources that would be required to maintain the base as a premiere provider of weapon system support.”
Retired Members of Armed Forces to DOD Positions
Retired members of the military still have much to contribute to the DOD in a civilian capacity, and their specialized skills and experiences make them suited for key positions. However, they cannot even begin the DOD hiring process for 180 days, causing many to take jobs in the private sector. We see this skills loss at Oklahoma installations like Tinker because of red tape. Inhofe authored a provision that would encourage the use of waivers to bring skilled retirees into the DOD civilian workforce within the 180 day window.
“We continue to support the appointment of retired members of the armed forces to positions in the DoD’s civil service,” said Roy Williams, President and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. “Through these appointments, the base has been able to quickly hire qualified applicants into key positions. These retirees are not only highly qualified with expertise in key skillsets, but, in many cases, also have required certifications and security clearances prior to appointment. They are an invaluable resource that supports the base’s efforts to provide mission ready weapon systems to our warfighters.”
Low-Cost Attributable Aircraft Technology
Unmanned wingman aircraft, like the Oklahoma City-built Valkyrie, are an important part of the future of U.S. air superiority. To promote continued research and development in this field, Inhofe increased funding for the Air Force’s Low Cost Attributable Aircraft Technology program, which would support eventual collaboration between manned and unmanned technology.
“We are proud of our nationally-recognized leadership in aerospace—and even more proud when that leadership can support our military,” said Vic Bird, Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission Director. “The inclusion of unmanned loyal wingman aircraft will not only make our nation safer, but will benefit innovation here in Oklahoma City.”
Counter UAS University Research
Throughout the last few years, DOD and Congress have recognized the growing use and capabilities of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Absent a comprehensive response, research universities are important partners in providing military and civilian agencies with reliable threat assessments and technology evaluation. Inhofe included a provision in the NDAA that would increase funding to universities, like Oklahoma State University, to work with the DOD and rapidly respond to advancements in drone technology.
"Our unmanned aerial vehicle experts here at Oklahoma State University have been increasingly focusing on tools and technologies to detect and counter bad actors using drones," said Kenneth Sewell, Vice President for Research. "Investments to accelerate counter-UAS R&D will not only generate better tools for law enforcement and military application, it will also save American lives."
Healthy Base Initiative, Impact Aid and STARBASE
The DOD has been working since 2014 to expand nutritious food options on base, but too often, service members don’t take advantage of base dining halls. Inhofe secured language in the NDAA that will work to modernize food options on-base, encouraging service members to choose healthy options and improve the food environment.
“During my tenure as a career civil servant, it was my honor and privilege to serve as the lead for the Healthy Base Initiative (HBI) at Fort Sill,” said Brenda Spencer-Ragland, President and CEO, Lawton Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce. “By working with our community partners we made enormous progress by implementing many HBI initiatives, including partnering with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to improve the health and wellness of the schoolchildren at Freedom Elementary School – the only DoD school on a military installation to achieve ‘Gold’ level recognition. We know there is much more to be done to combat the obesity crisis, and we are pleased the legislation includes provisions to audit what has been done, is being done and will look for opportunities to hopefully expand HBI into Lawton and other military communities that will improve the health and wellness of the entire population, including many military members.”
Inhofe was successful in including language that fully funds supplemental Impact Aid to local educational agencies and schools with military dependent children as well as specific Impact Aid for schools with military dependent children with severe disabilities.
“Impact Aid enhances our ability to provide quality education in support of the children of our nation’s heroes, and provides communities like Lawton-Fort Sill much needed resources that ensures our next generation of leaders are ready to meet the challenges of tomorrow,” said Albert Johnson, Jr., Chairman, Lawton Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce. “These families deserve the best and this is made possible through continued funding of Impact Aid.”
Inhofe also supported language that reauthorizes STARBASE, a program to educate and motivate students to explore Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. STARBASE currently operates at 76 locations in 40 states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, primarily on military installations. The Oklahoma National Guard runs the STARBASE program out of four locations, the Will Rogers Air National Guard Base, the Tulsa Air National Guard Base, Tinker Air Force Base and Burns Flat.
"The Oklahoma National Guard is very excited to see continued support and funding for the Department of Defense STARBASE program,” said Brigadier General Louis Wilham, Assistant Adjutant General-Army, Oklahoma National Guard. “This year, STARBASE celebrates 25 years of providing a ‘hands-on, minds-on’ science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program to underserved youth. We are proud to operate one of the premier STARBASE program's in the country and expose Oklahoma's youth to the technological environments and positive military role models found in our Oklahoma National Guard and Active Duty military installations. "
Cyber Centers of Academic Excellence
Inhofe secured several provisions in the NDAA to ensure DOD works directly with academic institutions that have National Security Agency cyber centers of academic excellence designations. Because of the University of Tulsa’s existing leadership in cybersecurity research and education, they are well suited to engage in these efforts.
"Sen. Inhofe's provision to promote Cyber Centers of Academic Excellence in the NDAA is good news for the University of Tulsa," said TU President, Dr. Gerry Clancy. "The University of Tulsa is already a leader in cybersecurity research and education, and is well positioned for this opportunity to work with the DOD on the most pressing cyber issues facing our nation."
Military Spouse Professional Development
Military spouses serve and sacrifice alongside their service member, facing frequent moves and long deployments that often result in barriers to meaningful professional employment. To support military families, Inhofe authored two provisions to promote professional development opportunities for military spouses. First, he extends a DOD program that reimburses spouses for the cost of obtaining a new professional license or credential after a permanent change of station. Too many spouses face extended unemployment after a relocation because of the time and resources it takes to reestablish professional licenses and Inhofe’s provision would alleviate some of the barriers they face.
“The National Military Family Association is encouraged to see an extension of the relicensure reimbursement pilot program beyond the current 2022 sunset date,” said Joyce Raezer, Executive Director, National Military Family Association. “We believe that extending the program will allow for a more comprehensive assessment of the need for this reimbursement. According to Department of Defense data, over 30 percent of employed military spouses work in fields that require a license or certification. Reimbursing spouses for fees sustained in efforts to maintain steady employment when moving across state lines at the pleasure of the government, will encourage employment efforts and enhance the financial resilience of the military family.”
Additionally, Inhofe included language that requires DOD to review expanding the My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) program. The program is designed to jumpstart careers for junior military spouses by providing a scholarship that would cover certain education benefits. Inhofe asked DOD to review expanding the eligibility criteria of the program to include more spouses, and to include vocational schools, professional licensing exams and costs and supervision hours as education covered by the scholarship Inhofe looks forward to receiving DOD’s review of how most effectively and efficiently the program can be expanded.
“The National Military Family Association is encouraged to see an expansion of the MyCareer Advancement Account (MyCAA) Program,” said Joyce Raezer, Executive Director, National Military Family Association. “Including additional ranks will allow more military spouses to utilize funds to further their educational and professional aspirations. Additionally, expanding the program to cover critical elements such as professional licensure and clinical supervision hours will encourage spouses seeking a career in a field requiring a professional license and greatly assist those pursuing a career in the medical and mental health fields.”
Civil Air Patrol
Inhofe supported legislation that fully funds Civil Air Patrol operations, providing crucial aircraft and national communications upgrades. Civil Air Patrol is a congressionally chartered, nonprofit corporation serving as official auxiliary of the Air Force and continues to play an important role in Oklahoma. With operating locations in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Lawton, Norman and Muskogee, volunteers perform emergency and disaster relief operations, aerospace, counter-drug and homeland security and courier service missions.
"We appreciate the leadership of Sen. Inhofe on the NDAA and his unwavering support of Civil Air Patrol,” said Col. David L. Roberts, CAP, Oklahoma Wing Commander. “The continued funding provided through the act will allow the Oklahoma Wing to continue to perform missions for the state of Oklahoma that are critical to multiple state agencies."
Other Military Construction Projects for Oklahoma
Inhofe supported authorization to fully fund the second phase of the Advanced Individual Training Barracks Complex at Fort Sill and the Fuels Storage Complex at the Tulsa International Airport for the Oklahoma Air National Guard.