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Bill Protects Those Who Protect Us

Recently, our nation was confronted with a natural disaster of almost massive proportions. Hurricane Katrina has left devastated lives, homes, cities and states in its wake. A bright light in this otherwise dark tragedy has been the efforts of many heroic citizens as well as the assistance provided by the Department of Defense, and specifically the efforts made by the United States Northern Command, which I oversee in my capacity as chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on terrorism, unconventional threats and capabilities.

US NORTHCOM has successfully coordinated the rescue and recovery efforts of the thousands of active duty forces who rushed into New Orleans to save lives. As of last week, there were 64,574 active duty personnel who were on the ground or aboard ships providing rescue assistance in the impacted region. I am proud of the efforts our men and women have made on behalf of the victims of Katrina, just as I am proud of the efforts of our men and women on battlefields thousands of miles away. And it is the work we do here in Congress that provides the necessary resources for our men and women to provide desperately needed humanitarian relief as they did after the Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina or in fighting the global war on terror.

Our annual defense authorization bill establishes the policy parameters and funding blueprint for the vast national security activities of the Departments of Defense and Energy. This year, we specifically authorized $441.6 billion in budget authority as well as $49.1 billion in supplemental funding to support current operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and the global war on terror. This money is critical to those we have asked to serve, save lives and safeguard our freedom and security.

Our National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2006 provides the crucial material and budget resources our troops need in the ongoing war on terror. For example, we authorize funding for force protection needs in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom including up-armored Humvees, tactical wheeled vehicle recapitalization and modernization programs, night vision devices and improvised explosive device jammers. This equipment directly saves the lives of our deployed personnel.

The House version of the NDAA has also focused on quality-of-life issues for those who have volunteered to serve. Those families and servicemembers who have sacrificed so much should not have to bear additional fiscal burdens. Our bill provides for a pay increase of 3.1 percent for members of the armed forces. We increase the maximum amount of hardship pay from $300 to $750 per month. We increase the amounts paid for active duty enlistments, reserve enlistments and active duty re-enlistments. The death gratuity is increased to $100,000 and we extend to one year (from six months) the amount of time dependents of deceased servicemembers can stay in housing or receive housing allowances. We also increase and expand the travel authorizations for families of hospitalized servicemembers.

In our work on the terrorism, unconventional threats and capabilities subcommittee, we are guided by a key concept, namely that the best way to fight terrorism is to keep terrorists from our shores. We reviewed the funding and direction of our research and development programs to make sure that those initiatives that protect our forces receive the highest funding priority. The NDAA also continues and expands initiatives that were implemented last year to develop chemical and biological countermeasures as well as medical research and development. Funding therefore was increased for the U.S. Special Operations Command, homeland defense and chemical weapons demilitarization.

Our NDAA also focuses on the need to rein in escalating costs of major procurement programs and calls for acquisition reform. Too often, Defense failed to adhere to technological maturity guidelines and rushed into the system development and demonstration phase of procurement. In order to ensure that critical warfighting needs are met, our bill requires Defense to evaluate and monitor changes in baseline cost estimates and sets strict standards regarding accounting and cost management.

The House version of the NDAA bill garnered strong bipartisan support and overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives by a 390-39 vote. It provides the tools necessary to ensure our military has strong global and versatile military capabilities. Passing this important measure is a critical step in ensuring that our men and women in the armed forces receive the resources necessary to win the war on terror, defend our nation and its interests, and provide national security. And even save lives.

It’s important to do, and now is the time to do it.

Rep. Jim Saxton (R-N.J.) is chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on terrorism, unconventional threats and capabilities.