No one expected this year’s legislation session to be a walk in the park.
Not with it being an election year, which always tightens the congressional calendar as lawmakers are itching to get home to campaign. And there is the pre-negotiated ceiling, or “topline,” on defense spending that leaves little room for add-ons and new initiatives in fiscal 2021 appropriations.
So, it was always going to be a challenging year for NGAUS on Capitol Hill. But no one anticipated what has happened since February, including major events that have forced changes to the association’s legislative tactics and created some new objectives.
“Every year on Capitol Hill is little bit different, but this year is like no other,” says retired Brig. Gen. J. Roy Robinson, the association president. “We’ve had to be very nimble and adjust on the fly to some situations nobody could anticipate. And we still have a long way to go.”
The first major event occurred in February. The Pentagon reprogrammed $3.8 billion in fiscal 2020 appropriations, including more than $1 billion for the National Guard, to free up more money for the wall on the southwest border.
The Guard-specific cuts were $790 million in the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account, which is used to modernize or replace old equipment; $100 million from a Humvee modernization program; and $169 million for two C-130J Super Hercules cargo planes.
Defense Department officials said they targeted the accounts because they were not in their budget request, but the Pentagon has gone along with such programs for years. NGREA has been a part of final defense appropriations for 39 consecutive years.
Suddenly, NGAUS had a new legislative objective: finding a way to restore the reprogrammed dollars.
The association took its case to Capitol Hill while also laying the foundation for its original fiscal 2021 legislative objectives (see list below), which are based on the resolutions passed by delegates to the 141st General Conference & Exhibition last year in Denver.
“We wanted Congress to know the impact this reprogramming would have on the Guard,” says retired Col. Mike Hadley, the NGAUS director of legislative programs.
The Guard has the oldest hardware in the U.S. military, including some aircraft and vehicles the active component no longer operates. NGREA helps keep this legacy equipment operational, he says.
Then there is the Humvee. The Army Guard has more than 40,000, but many are more than 25 years old, according to National Guard Bureau figures. The Army stopped buying them (other than ambulances) almost a decade ago in anticipation of fielding the new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, but the JLTV will only replace about one-third of the Humvees.
This means Humvees will remain in the Guard into the 2040s, Hadley says. To revitalize the fleet, Congress has provided $100 million annually for the last seven years to rebuild old Humvees in a public-private partnership. The amount “recapitalizes” about 800 vehicles, he says.
“Losing the Humvee money for a year is a huge hit,” Hadley says. “Every state, territory and the District of Columbia operates Humvees every day. We’ve used them overseas in very harsh conditions. We rely on them and we are running the wheels off them.”
NGAUS also took its case to the White House. In a speech to the 138th General Conference & Exhibition in Baltimore four years ago, then presidential-candidate Donald Trump had promised a “direct line to the Oval Office” if he was elected.
The association wrote and asked for an audience with the president. NGAUS leaders got a meeting with a prominent White House official, which is the first step in getting to see the commander in chief. Then the coronavirus outbreak grabbed every-one’s full attention.
A lot of the offices we deal with actually have more time to listen to us because they aren't as busy.
—Col. Mike Hadley (Ret.), the NGAUS legislative director
NO INSTITUTION in the nation’s capital has been immune to the COVID-19 shutdown — Congress included. Long a staple of lobbying on Capitol Hill, face-to-face meetings with lawmakers and their staffs became impossible with legislators and their staffs moving to home-based work.
The NGAUS legislative team, also now working from home, has been limited to phone calls, emails and texts to communicate with congressional offices. But in an odd twist, social distancing may have aided the effort, Hadley says.
“A lot of the offices we deal with actually have more time to listen to us because they aren’t as busy,” he says, “so this hasn’t slowed us down.
”That’s a good thing because NGAUS suddenly had more new objectives. The growing Guard mobilization began with personnel on state active duty, which is a burden on the states even if 100% of the costs are reimbursable by the federal government. More importantly, it doesn’t provide TRICARE medical coverage.
“We called everyone: Congress, the Pentagon and the White House, to get this resolved,” Hadley says. “We’ve said from the beginning that the right way to mobilize Guardsmen for this event would be to bring them on federal Title 32 status, which keeps the Guard under the control of the governors.”
Slowly, the Pentagon and the president allowed 44 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia to mobilize Guard soldiers and airmen under Title 32.
But the initial authorizations were only in increments of 30 days, one day short of eligibility for TRICARE. The association went back to work with the governors and lawmakers to convince decision-makers to make it 31 days. NGAUS has since turned its COVID-19 attention to transitional coverage for Guard soldiers and airmen after they demobilize from this mission.
Hadley says it’s mostly an education process. Congress, the White House and even the Pentagon are not familiar with all the nuances of the various statues under which the Guard can be mobilized.
“To a lot of people, lobbying has negative connotations,” he says. “But for us, it’s really about educating and informing Congress about the National Guard. At the end of the day, we want to make sure that every time we put a Guardsman in harm’s way, they have an unfair advantage, whether that’s equipment, resources, training, policies or taking care of their families.”
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 lockdown and efforts to stimulate the economy have moved much of the regular congressional defense agenda to the right. Many in-person hearings have been canceled or reduced to lawmakers and defense officials exchanging questions and answers via email.
The House Armed Services Committee wanted to have its version of the National Defense Authorization Act complete by May 1. That’s not going to happen, which jeopardizes the committee’s hopes to have the defense-policy act in place before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. The congressional calendar calls for the House to recess Oct. 2 and return Nov. 16.
It’s looking increasing likely that fiscal 2021 will begin with another stopgap budget and a lame duck Congress will complete this session’s defense policy and appropriations bills.
We've had to be very nimble and adjust on the fly to some situations nobody could anticipate.
—Brig. Gen. J. Roy Robinson (Ret.), the NGAUS president
EXTENDED WORK on the fiscal 2021 defense bills would give NGAUS and the Guard more time to influence their outcomes.
This is where the more than 46,000 Guard soldiers and airmen serving on the COVID-19 outbreak nationwide will help. Their efforts are generating a lot of local media attention, which lawmakers notice. Those hometown ties help make the Guard and NGAUS formidable on Capitol Hill, says Adrienne Jackson, the NGAUS Army programs manager.
“I think that’s what makes NGAUS more unique and more powerful than some of the other military associations,” says the former military legislative analyst for Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Still, the Guard with its many roles, missions and mobilization statuses can be confusing. In addition, many members of Congress and their staffs are unaware the Guard still has not reached benefits and equipment parity with the active-component counterparts, says JC Cardinale, the NGAUS legislative affairs manager for joint-personnel programs.
“Some offices have little experience with Guard issues, and our meetings with them are very much ‘This is what the National Guard is and this is what it does,’” says Cardinale, who has served in the Army Guard and is now in the Army Reserves. “But some fully get it and have been working with the Guard for years.”
NGAUS members bring the association added clout on Capitol Hill by periodically reaching out to their congressional delegations and talking about the issues. It goes back to the power of hometown ties, says Priya Ghosh Ahola, the deputy director of NGAUS legislative programs and general counsel for the association.
“While legislators and staff may be familiar with the National Guard, it is always helpful when they have firsthand exposure to the NGAUS community,” she says. Starting to build a relationship with a member’s office may seem daunting, but it can be as simple as inviting the member and staff to special events, such as deployment ceremonies, promotions, changes of command, new equipment or weapons systems arrival and state conferences.”
The author can be reached at 202-408-5889 or [email protected].
2020 NGAUS LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES
(For the deliberation of the fiscal 2021 defense authorization and appropriations acts)
The Same Equipment
●Concurrent and proportional fielding of equipment to the National Guard, includes:
■UH-60M Black Hawk, MQ-1C Gray Eagle Extended Range, F-35A Lightning II, KC-46A Pegasus and C-130J Super Hercules procurement
■AH-64E Apache battalions at 24 aircraft each
●National Guard equipment modernization and recapitalization, includes:
■UH-60V Black Hawk, Humvee, M1 Abrams tank and M2 Bradley fighting vehicle
■C-130H Hercules, A-10 Thunderbolt II, F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon
The Same Resources
●Future multidomain battlefield interoperability, includes:
■Deployable and interoperable equipment and force structure
■Space National Guard as the primary combat reserve component within the future Space Force
■Continued National Guard integration in the Total Force cyber mission and training
●Increased full-time support/manning
●Increased National Guard military construction funding
●Robust National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account funding
The Same Benefits for the Same Missions
●Zero-cost TRICARE to ensure reserve-component medical readiness
●Ready access to mental health care and suicide prevention
●Protecting National Guard equities in duty-status reform
●Tax incentives for Guardsmen and employers
●Providing benefits and leave policies befitting the operational National Guard