The Association of Defense Communities continued its Summit Series on Thursday with a keynote session on the topic of the Politics of Defense.
The first speaker was Representative Adam Smith, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
The conversation started with a discussion on Congress’ National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Although ongoing legislative actions including the new supreme court nomination, the upcoming presidential election and the pressing need to pass a comprehensive COVID-19 relief package may seem to stymie the passing of the NDAA, Rep. was confident that the House and Senate would come to a compromise.
“Discussions are ongoing,” said Rep. Smith. “I am optimistic that we will get the bill passed.”
He touched on the more controversial provisions of this year’s NDAA including renaming military bases named after Confederate generals and diverting funds to military construction to fund the border wall.
“If we don’t have at least one veto in the bill we’re not doing our job,” said Rep. Smith discussing an adage he attributes to Senator Carl Levin. “We can’t get everything we want, it’s a working relationship.”
The conversation then shifted to how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the service members and military families. “There were a couple of bumps early on,” he said. DoD has been very responsive issuing PPE and testing equipment they need; they’ve instituted sensible social distance practices and have done a decent job of keeping the disease in control within our ranks.”
Rep. Smith also stressed the importance of defense communities, in particular the Defense Community Infrastructure Program (DCIP). “We want to build on DCIP and expand it,” said Rep. Smith.
Finally, Smith touched on how a potential Biden presidential would affect the defense budget. He said that a Biden administration would not seek any cuts to the defense budget and disagrees with members of his party pushing for cuts up to 20 percent of the DoD’s budget.
The next speakers were Senator James Inhofe and former ADC president Mike Cooper.
“When you look at the NDAA, it’s the largest and most popular piece of legislation that comes out every year,” said Sen. Inhofe. It’s the 60th consecutive year Congress will be passing the annual defense spending bill. Inhofe described that last year the focus was on Russian deterrents, this year he said the focus is on the Pacific deterrents (e.g. South China Sea).
Inhofe said the NDAA must be passed by Dec. 31 in order to ensure hazard pay and flight pay for the nation’s service members.
ADC President Joe Driskill then announced a new partnership with Booz Allen Hamilton entitled “One Military, One Community.”
Matt Borron and Andrea Inserra, Executive Vice President at Booz Allen Hamilton described the new initiative as a new national conversation within the greater military community working to ensure that every military family arriving at their new duty station will never have to face racism, intolerance or inequality.
More details on the “One Military, One Community” initiative will be outlined in an upcoming On Base article.
Borron and Inserra then spoke with Rep. Anthony Brown on the topic of racial inequality in the military.
“When George Floyd was murdered it was a moment of reckoning for this nation,” said Rep. Brown. “It highlighted the disparities from mistreatment from police; disparities in education, health care, the labor market… it also showed disparities within the military.”
Brown described that while up to 43 percent of military personnel come from communities of color, diversity is lacking in the services’ highest ranks. “We are doing really well in recruiting in diverse communities… were doing a poor job in retention.”
Rep. Brown and colleagues recommended to the Secretary of Defense the creation of a mentorship program in order to create a more diverse pool of officers to go into career fields that help service members be promoted to higher ranks.
The final segment of the day included a panel of defense policy experts including Bryan Bender, Senior National Correspondent and Anchor of Morning Defense at POLITICO; Mackenzie Eaglen, Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute; and Andrew Holland Chief Operating Officer at the American Security Project.
The three panelists said they were confident that, despite its divisive provisions, the NDAA would be passed by Congress.
Andrew Holland discussed the threat of climate change and climate threats to military installations. “I don’t know if any portion of the U.S. government is doing enough to prepare for climate change,” said Holland. “The Department of Defense knows the future is coming. And we should know what it looks like and how it will affect the military.”
Mackenzie Eaglen briefly discussed the effect of COVID-19 on the military. “In the early days of the pandemic, like rest of the government, the Department of Defense was caught off guard from the virus and shutdown,” she said. Eaglan said that DoD is better prepared at present, but the “pandemic playbook” was built on preparation/knowledge from the Swine Flu. Furthermore, she described how DoD was able to adapt to teleworking practices during the pandemic, increasing initial remote working personnel from 90,000 to close to 1 million personnel.
The panel also described the effect the upcoming election result will have on DoD.
“There are changes coming regardless of who wins,” said Bryan Bender.
Bender said that climate change would be an emphasis in a Biden administration. Furthermore, he said a Biden administration would overturn the transgender ban in the military. “I don’t think that there will a huge slash and burn of the defense budget,” said Bender.