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Case: Annual Defense Authorization Bill Passed By House Fails On National Issues But Further Strengthens Hawaii's Role In The Indo-Pacific

The measure adopts several of his proposals to fund critical Hawai‘i and Pacific projects while also addressing military family health and welfare needs

Washington, DC) – Congressman Ed Case (HI-01) today described the U.S. House-passed version of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as fatally flawed on key national issues but positive on his priorities of strengthening America’s national defense in the Indo-Pacific and improving the Department of Defense’s (DoD) relationship with the local community.

The $886 billion measure passed by the House late last week includes six floor amendments introduced by Case and considered and approved by the full House. It also authorizes funding he requested to begin construction of a new air traffic control tower at Wheeler Army Airfield. 

“With the FY 2024 NDAA, I join my colleagues in the Hawai‘i Congressional delegation in continuing our efforts to strengthen Hawaii’s critical role in our national security” said Case. “At the same time, we aim to ensure that the military fully embraces its kuleana (responsibility) to be a good neighbor and partner in our islands community.”

Also requested by Case, the bill authorizes $9.7 billion to expand the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, which seeks to enhance U.S. deterrence and defense posture in the Indo-Pacific region. This is an increase of $600 million over President Biden’s budget request. 

“The Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI) is an instrumental part of our nation’s integrated deterrence in the Indo-Pacific and highlights key elements and investments needed to maintain our competitive advantage and lays the foundation that will be indispensable to our efforts for decades to come,” explained Case. “Hawai‘i, which plays a central role in our National Defense Strategy in the Indo-Pacific, is an important element of this initiative and stands to continue to benefit from the investments necessary to implement PDI.” 

The bill includes the following full House amendments secured by Case:

·        Directing the military to issue a report to provide transparency on efforts to renew training land leases in the State of Hawai‘i.  

·        Requiring the DoD to assess local capacity for applicable medical care and educational services on quarterly basis to support Exceptional Family Member Program-enrolled families. This will help ensure military families get the support and care they need while also preventing long wait times and access to care issues for everyone in Hawai‘i.

·        Requiring the military to reexamine the calculation of impact aid payments for eligible federally connected children with disabilities. This will help ensure the military better supports local educational agencies, including the Hawai‘i Department of Education, in providing quality education. 

·        Amending the Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative (REPI) to ensure that regionally associated installations, such as those in Hawai‘i, can better coordinate and enter into agreements with projects that are in vicinity to other installations but effect current or anticipated military training, testing or operations within the region. For 2022, REPI will provide $19.2 million for three projects in Hawai‘i, which will be coupled with $15.1 million in partner contributions. The military wants to continue this effort in Hawai‘i in future years. 

·        Directing the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs to assess and develop plans for Civic Action Teams (CATs) in the Pacific Islands. The military currently has a CAT stationed in Palau working on community projects, apprenticeship training, vehicle maintenance, medical support and construction. 

·        Modifying the Pilot Program to Develop Young Civilian Defense Leaders in the Indo-Pacific to also include civilians working for ministries with a security mission so that Pacific Island countries without militaries can participate. 

The bill authorizes over $1.5 billion in military construction projects in Hawai‘i. This includes Case’s request to add $5.4 million to begin construction of a new air traffic control tower at Wheeler Army Airfield as the existing control tower no longer meets the current operational and safety requirements for airfield operations. The value of this project extends beyond the critical operations of Wheeler Army Airfield to the local community and the Island of O‘ahu. This tower also monitors and supports surrounding commercial and recreational airspace operations to ensure smooth transitions in and around the airspace associated with the installation.

The bill includes the following other programs, provisions and funding affecting Hawai‘i and requested by Case:

·         Construction projects authorized for Hawai‘i: 

o   Pearl Harbor Dry Dock: $1.4 billion  

o   Military Housing Privatization Initiative restructure at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam: $75 million. 

o   Water Reclamation Facility Compliance Upgrade at Marine Corps Base Hawai‘i: $50 million. 

o   Āliamanu Military Reservation Water Storage Tank Upgrade: $20 million. 

o   Wheeler Army Airfield Air Traffic Control Tower: $5.4 million 

·        Requiring the Secretary of Defense to develop a plan for the transition of Joint Task Force Red Hill. This transition plan will ensure continued engagement and communication with the community and state and local stakeholders.

·        Establishing a Space National Guard, limited to those states and territories with Air National Guard units currently performing the space mission. The State of Hawai‘i currently has members of the Air National Guard executing Space Force missions. 

·        Requiring the Secretary of Defense to conduct a feasibility study into leveraging resources across states and the private sector to better advance the Department of Defense State Partnership Program. The Hawai‘i National Guard currently has partnerships with Indonesia and the Philippines. 

·        Directing the DoD to conduct a Joint Housing Requirement and Market Analysis for military installations in Hawai‘i and report on impacts to Hawaii’s affordable housing supply and private rental market.

·        Making the Defense Community Infrastructure Pilot permanent. This program provide grants to support community infrastructure projects that benefit military installations and those who live near military bases.

In 2022, Hawai‘i received $2.5 million through this program to work with the Department of Land and Natural Resources to construct a new firefighting and conservation warehouse to improve wildfire response and enable maintenance and repair of firefighting vehicles. The military wants to continue to use this program to help Hawai‘i in future years. 

·        Requiring the military to evaluate service members for exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, as part of its periodic health assessments and deployment assessments.  

·        Directing the DoD to assess the missile defense of Hawai‘i to ensure that Hawai‘i is sufficiently protected from missile threats by potential adversaries.

The NDAA also address various critical Indo-Pacific priorities: 

·        $360 million to address unfunded priorities from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command that were not included in the President’s budget. 

·        $7.1 billion for two Virginia-class attack submarines, which are critical for the Indo-Pacific and can be stationed and maintained at Pearl Harbor. 

·        $500 million to continue developing a modern missile defense system for Guam. 

·        $225 million to accelerate the Glide Phase Interceptor program to defend against hypersonic threats. 

·        $63 million for hypersonics-related research and development across multiple military programs. 

·        Authorizing U.S. Special Operations Forces to continue training Taiwan and other partner nations in resisting the aggression and malign influence from China. 

·        Expressing a sense of Congress that the United States should reinforce its alliance with the Republic of Korea. 

·        A study on health care availability for servicemembers, DoD civilians and their families supporting missions in Japan and Joint Region Marianas.

Finally, this year’s bill has several provisions that increase service members’ pay and benefits. It includes a 5.2% pay raise for service members and civilians, in addition to a monthly bonus for junior enlisted service members. It also restores Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) levels to 100% while simultaneously removing BAH from the calculation of the Basic Needs Allowance.

The bill also authorizes $50 million to assist local schools with military dependent students and $20 million for local educational agencies that support eligible children with severe disabilities.

“Even with these positive increased resources for Hawai‘i, investments in the Indo-Pacific and added support for our servicemembers, I could not support the overall measure in its final form as proposed for full House passage,” said Case. “Unfortunately, and even tragically, as the annual NDAA has been one of the last bastions of nonpartisanship in a divided Congress, the majority chose to adopt poison pill amendments on national culture war issues which have no place in our national defense and in a bill which should be focused on national security matters. I sincerely hope those provisions are removed along the further progress of this otherwise-worthy bill and that I can vote yes on final passage.”

A summary of the bill is available here