Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (TX-16), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, voted for H.R. 6395, the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2021.
This bipartisan bill authorizes $741 billion in discretionary spending for our national defense for FY 2021, including approximately $69 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). This critical legislation supports our brave servicemembers, honors El Paso’s values, strengthens our security, and advances America’s leadership in the world.
“The FY21 NDAA is a strong bipartisan bill that honors our promise to our brave men and women in uniform in El Paso and across the globe and advances a smart national defense strategy,” said Congresswoman Escobar.
“As a member of the Armed Services Committee, I am immensely proud of the House of Representatives for approving – with a veto-proof majority – a robust defense bill that confronts our nation’s history, fosters diversity, responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, and answers women, families, and Vietnam veterans’ calls for action. As the Senate considers the legislation, I look forward to strong bicameral support and hope that the President signs the FY21 NDAA into law immediately.”
Below is an overview of some of the key provisions included in the FY21 NDAA:
Bolsters the Quality of Life for Our Brave Servicemembers and their Families
The FY21 NDAA includes the authorization of a 3.0 percent increase in basic pay for service members and increases certain hazardous duty and incentive pay for members of the uniformed services. The FY21 NDAA also makes technical corrections to the paid parental leave benefit provided through the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act to ensure that federal employees at the Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, and others will also receive the parental leave benefit. Additionally, the FY21 NDAA includes a provision that makes the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass available, at no cost, to members of Gold Star Families.
Improves Military Housing:
The FY21 NDAA takes several steps to improve military housing, including updating minimum health and safety standards for all military base housing, repealing a provision that currently allows DoD to place families in substandard housing units, and requiring DoD to implement Comptroller General recommendations for improvement of military family housing.
Protects and Uplifts Women and their Families:
In addition to the technical corrections to the paid parental leave benefit provided through the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, the FY21 NDAA includes key wins for women and their families. The FY21 NDAA includes improvements to childcare services, a health care provision to improve breast cancer screening, and a bipartisan provision modeled after Congresswoman Escobar’s Defeat Infant and Maternal Mortality Act (DIMMA), which was introduced in April 2020. This critical provision draws on the military health system’s achievements of improved health outcomes for mothers and infants and encourages the Department of Defense (DoD) to share with state and local health authorities information on infant and maternal health care practices in order to address the United States’ infant and maternity health crisis that could be exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Prevents Sexual Assault:
The FY21 NDAA includes key provisions championed by Congresswoman Escobar to prevent sexual assault and improve response. The FY21 NDAA includes language to create a task force to study and make recommendations on domestic violence within the military services, enables victims of sexual harassment to make confidential reports of sexual harassment outside of the chain of command and EO/IG channels, require the Secretary of Defense to implement a Safe To Report Policy across the Services enabling victims to report sexual assaults without fear of punishment for certain minor collateral misconduct, and requires the Secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs to jointly develop, implement, and maintain a standard of coordinated care for members of the Armed Forces who are survivors of sexual trauma.
Eliminates Persistent Stigma Against Mental Health:
The FY21 NDAA includes a provision authored by Congresswoman Escobar to help Congress assess whether current military accession policy harms efforts to eliminate persistent stigma against those seeking mental health care. This provision directs the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to the Committees on Armed Services of the Senate and the House of Representatives by January 31, 2021, that provides data related to military accession standards and mental health care for individuals seeking accession into the Armed Forces. This report would also specify the overall number of potential enlistees designated as military dependents who were disqualified for accession because of a mental health condition.
Supports Vietnam War Veterans:
The FY21 NDAA provides a long-sought after benefit for tens of thousands of Vietnam-era veterans who are struggling with certain health complications after being exposed to Agent Orange while serving their country. The FY21 NDAA adds Parkinsonism, bladder cancer, and hypothyroidism to the list of diseases associated with exposure to certain herbicide agents, and mandates that the Department of Veterans Affairs provides benefits to veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and later diagnosed with Bladder cancer, Parkinsonism or hypothyroidism.
Supports UTEP and Other Research Institutions:
The FY21 NDAA includes language authored by Congresswoman Escobar establishing a National Institute for Space Research as a university consortium in support of the newly established Space Force. This ensures our military’s newest service gets the same excellence in research that universities, like the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), provide as partners in national security. This provision engages universities with significant expertise in aerospace and defense competencies and creates new opportunities for our clearance-ready, advanced student population. Additionally, the FY21 NDAA includes $20 million in funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions encourages the DoD to include these institutions in the establishment of these consortia and direct that the report required include how many of these institutions are consortia members.
Expands Advanced Manufacturing in El Paso:
Additive manufacturing holds immense promise for the military and the El Paso region, that is why Congresswoman Escobar worked to secure funding to expand additive manufacturing training at UTEP’s W.M. Keck Center. The FY21 NDAA adds over $330 million for science and technology, including funding for additive manufacturing technology, research and training, and encourages the DoD to continue to support cutting edge technologies like additive manufacturing and machine learning.
Upholds El Paso’s Values:
The FY21 NDAA does not backfill military construction funds stolen for the border wall and amends the national emergency military construction authority to set an annual limit of $100 million for the domestic use of the authority and $500 million for overseas projects, with an exception for medical projects that may be necessary to support response to a health emergency or pandemic. Additionally, the FY21 NDAA modifies the authority to assist Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the southern border to require enumeration of costs, a certification that there will be no impact to military readiness, and additional Congressional oversight.
Invests in Critical Mobilization Infrastructure at Fort Bliss:
The FY21 NDAA includes a provision championed by Congresswoman Escobar to encourage prioritization of mobilization infrastructure investments at Fort Bliss and other primary power projection platforms. Substantial infrastructure investment will ensure Fort Bliss remains viable to mobilize forces for critical overseas contingency operations.
Addresses Climate Change and Energy Resiliency:
The FY21 NDAA includes key climate change and energy resiliency priorities including provisions to require an update to the Department of Defense Climate Change Roadmap, a report on the implementation of provisions from the FY2020 NDAA related to installation master planning, updates to the Unified Facilities Criteria (building codes), sea-level rise modeling, and climate assessment tools.
Additionally, the FY21 NDAA includes an alternative fuel vehicle pilot program that will require the military departments to expand their use of alternative fuel non-tactical vehicles to increase the use of hybrid and EV vehicles and requires the DoD to submit a report on its greenhouse gas emission for the last 10 years within 180 days of enactment.
Fosters Installation Resiliency:
The FY21 NDAA includes a provision championed by Congresswoman Escobar, and supported by El Paso Water, requiring the DoD to provide a report on water and sewage resiliency at Fort Bliss and other military installations. This report will include the degree to which the Department has assessed the resiliency of these systems, opportunities for public-private partnerships, and barriers to addressing water and sewage resiliency gaps. It also advances execution of the Defense Community Infrastructure Program (DCIP), which Congresswoman Escobar has championed to bolster investment in communities surrounding military installations.
Promotes Robust Oversight:
The FY21 NDAA includes several reporting requirements championed by Congresswoman Escobar to ensure judicious use of taxpayer resources. These requirements will assist the committee with oversight on various programs including F-35 operations, performance metrics, and sustainment, Air Force use of contract air support services, aviation and ship maintenance, Dynamic Force Employment, and Coast Guard Reimbursement for Defense Activities.
Boosts Diversity and Inclusion:
The FY21 NDAA includes several historical provisions led or championed by Congresswoman Escobar to promote and foster diversity within the military. One such provision would establish an independent commission to make binding recommendations to the Secretary of Defense for the modification or removal of all names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederate States of America.
The FY21 NDAA also includes critical components of the Diversity in Defense Act, a bipartisan and bicameral bill co-led by Congresswoman Escobar. This includes the creation of Chief Diversity Officer position and Senior Advisor for Diversity and Inclusions for each Military Service to include the Coast Guard, and the incorporation of diversity and inclusion reporting requirements with progress report as part of the National Defense Strategy.
Additionally, the FY21 NDAA requires the DoD IG to establish a mechanism to track and report supremacist, extremist and criminal gang activity in the Armed Forces. Another provision requires questions regarding racism, anti-Semitism and supremacism be incorporated into DoD surveys.
The conference report is available here, and an overview of key priorities included in the FY21 NDAA is available here.