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DOD anti-extremism efforts draw scrutiny in NDAA amendments

GOP Rep. Mark Alford plans to target ‘wokeism’ in the military with a trio of amendments he hopes to attach to the annual defense policy bill

Members of the House Armed Services Committee will mark up the annual defense policy bill on June 21.
Members of the House Armed Services Committee will mark up the annual defense policy bill on June 21. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Provisions to defund the Pentagon’s anti-extremism efforts are on tap for potential inclusion in the fiscal 2024 defense policy bill when members of the House Armed Services Committee hold their marathon markup session on June 21. 

Those amendments, along with a third to evaluate staffing levels within the Defense Department’s diversity, equity and inclusion office, offer an early sign of some of the pending disputes as conservatives target what they call “woke” Pentagon policies. 

Championed by Republican Rep. Mark Alford of Missouri, the three amendments would build off of a chairman’s mark of the National Defense Authorization Act that calls out Defense Department initiatives to promote DEI programs — a topic that an aide warned reporters would see amendments in the full committee review of the legislation. 

Specifically, Alford’s amendments, shared with CQ Roll Call ahead of their formal introduction, would bar DOD from using any fiscal 2024 dollars for its working group aiming to counter extremism or for the deputy inspector general post that lawmakers previously created seeking to root out extremism in the military. 

The third provision would order an assessment of staffing within the Pentagon’s DEI office, which would require officials to validate every civil service position against existing civilian personnel requirements and report on the findings to Congress one year after the law’s enactment. 

“These amendments are critical to eliminating the wokeness in our military and unnecessary extremism working group,” Alford said in a statement. “We should not be wasting man-hours and taxpayer dollars on programs that do nothing to benefit our military but rather hamper recruitment and retention efforts.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III formed the Countering Extremism Working Group in the opening months of his tenure – one of his first notable acts as the Pentagon’s top civilian leader. The move came in the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol that involved some veterans and individuals with military ties, as the department looked to address cases of rare but sometimes dangerous strains of extremism. 

The working group was tasked with updating rules and procedures surrounding topics such as the characteristics of extremist groups, as well as how to brief new recruits and those leaving service on what to watch for. 

But in the just over two years since its creation, DOD has enacted just one of the group’s six recommendations. Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh told reporters during a mid-May briefing that the recommendation related to training “has been implemented and it continues to be implemented across the department” while others, such as an oversight of potential insider threats program, have yet to be. 

Meanwhile, Alford’s second amendment would restrict next year’s funding for the deputy inspector general for diversity and inclusion and extremism in the military, established under the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. 

Democrats are not likely to roll back military counterextremism policies without a fight. But those measures, along with DEI-related initiatives, have become frequent punching bags for Republican lawmakers, who argue that focusing on those efforts is hurting military recruitment and readiness. 

The House Armed Services Committee will convene at 10 a.m. on June 21 for the full committee mark of the defense policy bill.

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