Q: What’s held up the Defense Authorization bill?
A: Action stalled in November on the $625 billion defense bill because the Democratic leader refused to agree on allowing additional amendments, beyond those he supports, to be considered during floor debate. This time the legislative logjam affects national security and U.S. troops. In addition to military funding that would be authorized, the bill gives lawmakers an opportunity to legislate policy reforms. Throughout this year I have laid bipartisan groundwork to advance measures designed to strengthen morale among our men and women in uniform. A recent Pentagon study surveyed 100,000 active-duty service members. It found 26,000 members experienced offenses ranging from sexual harassment to sexual assault. Fewer than 3,400 reported the incidents. These numbers reflect a failure of leadership among the top brass to address an issue that has raised questions about the culture of the U.S. military since the 1991 Tailhook scandal two decades ago. The survey suggests the chain of command is unwilling or unable to address this sensitive issue when more than one-quarter of respondents experienced sexual misconduct, but less than four percent stepped forward to report it. Policymakers can’t afford to allow a culture of sexual misconduct to continue harming our troops and the military’s reputation. Doing so would add up to bigger problems that damage recruitment, retention and readiness.
Q: What are the bipartisan reforms you are championing to combat sexual misconduct within the military?
A: The first is called the Military Whistleblower Protection Act. This amendment would beef up laws intended to protect those who report sexual assault, fraud or other misconduct within the military. Blowing the whistle on wrongdoing should not result in retaliation and victimization of those who come forward to tell the truth. It would extend reporting rules from 60 days to one year and require corrective relief to victims and discipline measures for those who retaliate. It would include support for victims as well as witnesses. This reform would empower service men and women to come forward and report wrongdoing without fear of reprisal. Victims and witnesses should not have to worry that telling the truth would negatively impact their military careers.
The second is called the Military Justice Improvement Act. The military has a blemished track record to prevent and prosecute sexual assaults among its ranks that calls for long overdue reforms. This bill would empower victims to come forward by taking the judicial process for sexual assault cases outside the chain of command. I’m working to help build bipartisan support from lawmakers to get this reform adopted once and for all. It would send an important message to the troops. Sexual predators who prey on their victims within the service branches of the military must stand down. They disgrace the code of honor upheld by the vast majority of men and women in uniform and must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This is a law enforcement issue to help ensure impartial justice.
These reforms would show that the people’s branch of the federal government stands up for our brave men and women who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the blessings of freedom.
Q: What other amendments are you working to include in the defense bill?
A: As a longtime watchdog for the taxpaying public, I’m supporting two reforms that would protect tax dollars from wasteful spending, including a bipartisan amendment that would limit taxpayer-reimbursed compensation for defense contractor executives. Under current law, the compensation reimbursement cap for federal government contractors would automatically increase from $763,029 to $952,308, retroactive to January 2012. When the Pentagon and other federal bureaucracies are being asked to tighten their belts to stay within the budget caps, it just doesn’t square that taxpayers will be on the hook for exorbitant salaries for government contractors. I can tell you that not one taxpayer, in my thousands of meetings in each of Iowa’ 99 counties in the last 33 years, has said this is a reasonable use of tax dollars. The second reform would improve processes to audit the Pentagon’s books. The Department of Defense needs better tools to ensure that money spent is money owed.
I’m also advancing proposals that would make more effective use of the nation’s military arsenals, such as the Rock Island Arsenal, to include a requirement that the military consider arsenals when looking at fulfilling equipment needs.
Finally, I’m throwing my support behind two amendments to improve services for veterans. The first is an amendment that would help recruit the best and brightest medical professionals to the Veterans Administration medical system by allowing VA doctors to access an existing program that provides loan forgiveness and scholarships to doctors working in underserved areas. The second is an amendment that would protect the integrity of veterans programs that help those returning from active military service to transition to the private sector. The amendment would clarify the term “veteran” as one who served in the Armed Forces. It would end a loophole that allows individuals to game the system by claiming “veteran status” based solely on attendance of a military prep school. It would not affect those who attend a military service academy or who enlist in the military after attending a military prep school. The Support Earned Recognition of Veterans Act would clarify the definition of a veteran to exclude claims made by those who only attended a military prep school from obtaining hiring preferences, “veteran-owned small business status” or lifetime compensation benefits.
Let’s hope the Senate Majority Leader will have a change of mind when the Senate resumes consideration of the defense authorization bill and allow these and other amendments to be debated. These are sensible reforms that would protect the taxpaying public, support the troops and help get the U.S. military get off to a good start in the New Year.