House panel advances FY2021 DOD spending bill

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House panel advances FY2021 DOD spending bill

The House Appropriations Committee passed its 2021 defense spending bill on July 14 along party lines, 30-22, after long debates over border wall funding and other contentious issues.

House Republicans made it clear early on in the committee’s markup that they would not support the bill, debating amendments that would limit the Defense Department from reprogramming funds (namely to fund U.S.-Mexico border wall construction), retire the use of the Sept. 11-era authorization for the use of military force and prevent military action against Iran without a congressionally vetted reason.

The debates largely skirted the technological components in the bill, which allotted $694.6 billion for DOD -- $1.3 billion more than fiscal 2020 funds but about $4 billion less than requested. However, funding numbers showed appropriators are invested in DOD and military services’ plans for developing new technologies.

Research and development received about $2 billion less than the budget request, landing at $104.3 billion, with the basic and applied research getting multimillion-dollar boosts across the services. The Army was the only branch to get a research funding boost over 2020 figures -- about a half-billion more than it requested, coming in at $13.1 billion, according to the committee’s recommendations. The Air Force and Navy got approximately a billion dollars less than requested at $36 billion and $20.6 billion, respectively.

Support for cyber workforce, zero trust networks

The bill also pushed for the Navy to work with higher education institutions, particularly those serving people of color, “to develop programs for Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps midshipmen to prepare more students in critical cybersecurity skillsets.”

Moreover, the committee asked the defense secretary to increase its civilian cyber workforce by recruiting college and university upperclassmen and working with academic institutions to ensure qualified students will have the appropriate security clearance upon graduation. The defense secretary would also be required to submit a report in September on DOD-wide efforts to increase cyber recruitment and increase the number of security clearances.

Appropriators also added a provision that called for the defense secretary to adopt zero trust architecture to boost DOD’s cybersecurity.

“The Committee encourages the Secretary of Defense to implement a Zero Trust Architecture to increase its cybersecurity posture and enhance the Department’s ability to protect its systems and data,” the committee wrote.

Pandemic funding

House appropriators recommended $758 million in COVID-19 supplemental recovery funding for procurement for second tier suppliers and below. Another $450 million would go toward operation and maintenance for COVID-19 recovery and resupply with $150 million for the Defense Health Program’s pandemic response.

The provision comes as defense companies and Pentagon acquisition officials lobby the White House for more pandemic assistance.

Additionally, the defense secretary would have to brief the congressional defense committees quarterly on coronavirus-related spending starting Oct. 20, including an account breakdown of budget activity, subactivity and personnel deployed.

“The Committee also understands COVID-19 has caused schedule delays in several programs and in some cases has adversely impacted the Department’s ability to execute funding,” the committee wrote. “Therefore, due to the lack of historical data or metrics to accurately project when funds may obligate or when schedules may resume, the report shall include any savings the Department and Services may attain through delayed or cancelled events or activities, such as training, exercises, or deployments.”

The bill also admonished DOD for using $1 billion in funds already-appropriated for the Defense Production Act to bolster the defense industry base rather than its intended purpose -- personal protective equipment. House appropriators did not add DPA funds, according to the bill report.

This article first appeared on FCW, a Defense Systems partner site. 

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is a staff writer at FCW covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.

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