Are You Calling Us Fat?

An amendment offered to the House FY13 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by Representatives Don Young (R-Alaska), Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa), and Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) to extend full Space Available (Space-A) benefits to members of the National Guard and their dependents was blocked by the House Rules Committee from going to a floor vote after strong opposition from the Department of Defense (DoD), the House Armed Services Committee as well as a few veterans service organizations. DoD cited indirect costs associated with opening the benefit up to members of the Guard, Reserve and their families as their reason for the non-support, despite the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scoring the amendment as cost-neutral. The amendment would have expanded space-availability travel eligibility for members of the Selected Reserve; reserve members eligible for retirement pay but for age (gray-area retirees); widows and widowers of retired members; and their accompanying dependents, with the Secretary of Defense retaining the right to establish priority categories for eligible passengers, based on military need and readiness. This is a benefit that has been long sought by National Guard members.   

DoD supported its opposition with several bizarre claims, including stating that allowing Guard and Reserve and their families to travel Space-A would add disqualifying passenger weight expense to the flights. This would, therefore, create higher fuel costs, although weight is not considered an expense for the current eligible population of active duty, DoD civilians and their families when exercising their Space-A privileges, regardless of how few or how many people fly in a given day. Other reasons for their disagreement include limited space for active duty members (even though the bill language accounts for that), gives the perception of an entitlement (because you know, when the active duty gets it, it's a privilege but when the Guard gets it, all of a sudden it's an entitlement program??), and would create DoD competition with the airline industry (because, again, it's not competition when the active duty does it).

 

 

 
 
The Space-A flight program to operate legally cannot generate expense to the Department of Defense, which means the weight of the passengers flying Space-A cannot be considered an expense in order for the program to operate within the bounds of the authorizing statute found in 10 USC 2648. Thus, weight of the current eligible population flying Space-A is not considered an expense. However, if the Guard and Reserve were added to the mix of eligible passenger, their weight would be counted as a disqualifying expense by DoD. Go figure.

This is novel science – active duty members and their families take up space but have no weight. Guard and Reserve members and their families have weight and take up space falling within the accepted definition of “matter”. At least we matter as “matter” to DoD. 

The take away is that It remains extraordinarily difficult for some in influential places of the Pentagon to stomach expanded privileges for the Guard and Reserve even when they are without cost. Over ten years of fighting right alongside our active duty counterparts, and we're still second-class citizens. What happened to -“Army of one, Sir!”?

 

 

 

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