Frederico Bartels, Tom Spoehr
The House version of the 2019 NDAA marks a good step forward in the drive to rebuild the U.S. military.
Good news for those who recognize the need to rebuild our military: the House of Representatives has passed the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with broad bipartisan support, 351–66. The bill continues last year’s welcome emphasis on strengthening our armed forces.
February’s passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 established a topline defense budget of $ 716 billion for FY 2019, removing much of the drama from this year’s NDAA debate. That budget increase was an essential first step on the Defense Department’s long march to improve readiness and modernize forces. The budget for 2020 and beyond is uncertain. Because of that, 2019 authorizations must set a foundation that will support the department’s rebuilding initiative in the years that follow.
In general, the House has done an admirable job, crafting policy and equipment authorizations designed to ensure sound stewardship and accountability. However, as is usual with legislation that clocks in at more than one thousand pages, the bill contains some notable “misses” as well as “hits.”
The legislation adds 16,900 service members to the Armed Forces, increasing the end strength of all services. The Navy’s active component gains 7,500 sailors; the active Army increases by 4,500, and the active Air Force by four thousand. It is an important step toward recovering the capabilities and readiness lost to the budget cuts of recent years. Importantly, the bill emphases readiness and training—the cornerstones of an effective force. For example, it funds increased flight hours for pilots throughout the services.
In accordance with law and the Employment Cost Index, the bill embraces the full 2.6 percent military pay raise due in 2019. With the U.S. unemployment rate at its lowest point in seventeen years, recruiters need every cent available to help persuade today’s youth to join the military. A full pay raise aids in that effort. Still, recruiters face a daunting task. The Army reports it will lower its 2018 recruiting goal by 3,500 soldiers, due in part to difficulties attracting sufficient numbers of applicants.