House defense bill retains spending caps, creates DoD talent officer

House defense bill retains spending caps, creates DoD talent officer

The House Armed Services Committee’s $883.7 billion annual defense policy bill sticks to the military spending caps Congress imposed for fiscal 2025 as part of last year’s debt ceiling deal, according to a text of the measure released on Monday.

The spending caps authorize a 1% increase over the FY24 defense policy bill, which came in at $874.2 billion. Despite the spending caps, House lawmakers seek to partially fund a second Virginia-class submarine – overruling the Pentagon request for just one attack submarine – even as they try to procure 10 fewer F-35 fighter jets than the Defense Department sought amid mounting frustrations with the program.

“Knowing the number, we wrote the best bill we could,” a senior House Republican staffer told Defense News on condition of anonymity to discuss the drafting process. “I think we balance all the risk – near-term and long-term risks – and developed a bill that meets all those things. I think we’re in a good spot on the number. I’m not worried about it.”

The bill also establishes a chief talent management officer at the Pentagon to improve recruitment, retention and workforce development for military personnel and civilian employees alike. Under the draft legislation, the defense secretary would appoint someone to the position.

Among other duties, that person would be tasked with overseeing “updates and reforms for remote and hybrid work” while identifying “rules, regulations, policies and guidance related to military and civilian talent management that require change for the purposes of achieving efficiencies and meeting personnel needs of the department.”

Another part of the bill would require the Defense Secretary to set up a pilot program “to determine the effectiveness of requiring a contractor to reimburse the Department of Defense for costs incurred” if the company launches a protest against a Pentagon decision.

A separate provision in the bill would identify several “promising” Small Business Innovation Research Program and Small Business Technology Transfer Program grant recipients and formally make them part of the Pentagon’s budgeting process. The bill would also require the Defense Department to create a test and evaluation hub for in-demand technology at the Defense Innovation Unit.

Additionally, the draft legislation includes restrictions that prevent the downsizing of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

It retains language that has hindered the Biden administration’s prior efforts to retire the B83 nuclear gravity bomb, which is at least 80 times more powerful than the bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. The bill would also require the military to deploy at least 400 intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The bill would allow the military to develop an alternative warhead for the sea-launched cruise missile nuclear program, which Congress formally institutionalized last year over objections from the Biden administration. It also prevents the retirement of the W76-2 warhead unless the Pentagon certifies that Russia and China do not possess similar capabilities.

A report accompanying the draft text would require the Defense Secretary to report to Congress on the impact of a nuclear weapon detonation in space – a priority for Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, who called on the Biden administration in February to declassify intelligence related to Russian nuclear space capabilities.

Another report required in the draft bill would require the defense secretary to submit an assessment of lessons learned from last year’s coup in Niger and its impact on U.S. troops based in the country. That would include “a risk assessment of a basing options, particularly for drone operations, in each country in the coastal West African region under consideration.”

Niger’s junta repeatedly threatened to expel U.S. forces from the country and the Pentagon ordered the withdrawal of the 1,000 U.S. troops stationed there last week. For weeks prior to that, Russian troops had taken up residence at the same airbase in Niger housing U.S. soldiers.

The House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to mark up its defense policy bill next week, with the Senate Armed Services Committee to take up its version of the legislation in June.

Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.

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