Phillips Listens To Constituents, Successfully Adds Eight Amendments To Improve 2021 Defense Bill
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Rep. Dean Phillips (MN-03) joined a bipartisan majority in the House that voted to pass the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the 60th consecutive year. The defense bill responds to the global COVID-19 crisis by creating a Pandemic Preparedness and Resilience National Security Fund, takes steps to build a more inclusive and diverse military, gives our servicemembers a 3% pay raise, explores the national security implications of climate change, and improves oversight and transparency.
“Representation begins with listening, but it also requires action. I’m pleased to see so many amendments that will improve the lives and security of Minnesotans, and all Americans, are on their way to becoming law,” said Phillips. “Against the backdrop of a global health crisis, and as our country grapples with our history of systemic racism, Congress put our shared national security over partisan politics to fulfill our constitutional obligation to ‘provide for the common defense.’ This is the type of patriotism and collaboration Americans expect from their elected leaders.”
After listening and learning from Minnesota veterans, service organizations, and businesses, Phillips authored and secured passage of eight amendments to improve the FY2021 NDAA. The amendments are aimed at modernizing our national security, stabilizing international relationships, supporting veterans and military families, and preparing for the next global crisis:
- Streamlining Drug Prevention Programs for Servicemembers: The Drug Demand Reduction Program (DDRP) seeks to detect and deter personnel drug abuse through education and outreach. After conversations with Minnesota companies, Rep. Phillips discovered that new, efficient technology was available that could streamline the DDRP, increase effectiveness, and curb wasteful spending. Phillips’s amendment requires the Secretary of Defense to report on inefficiencies in the DDRP.
- Building on Minnesota’s Best Practices in Veterans Services: Demobilization centers assist returning soldiers with adjusting to civilian life, and learning about opportunities and benefits available to them as veterans, and Minnesota is known for having an excellent demobilization program - especially for its use of County Veterans Service Officers (CVSOs). Through discussions with a CVSO in Carver County, Phillips learned that the use of CVSOs is not common practice in other states. Navigating bureaucratic red tape can be difficult for anyone, but especially for troops returning home, and having an advocate helps soldiers better understand and make use of their hard-earned benefits and resources. Phillips’s amendment requires the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, to report on the effectiveness of the presence of CVSOs and feasibility of implementing this locally-led program on a larger scale.
- Supporting Gold Star Families: When a military member dies, the surviving family is visited by a Casualty Assistance Officer who advocates for the family and assists with processing benefits. However, if a Gold Star Spouse dies and leaves behind dependent children, the military does not provide any help at all. Phillips’s amendment would provide, at the request of the children or guardian, a Casualty Assistance Officer to support eligible dependents if the spouse of a deceased servicemember also passes away. The amendment is co-sponsored by the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Dr. Phil Roe (R-TN), and has been endorsed by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), Gold Star Wives of America, and the National Military Families Association.
- Stabilizing America’s Response in War-Torn Regions: While the Department of Defense receives more funding than most other federal agencies, they are not always the most well-equipped Department to address root causes of violence. That is why the 2020 NDAA gave the Department of Defense the ability to transfer funds to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to support programs aimed at stabilizing war-torn regions. Phillips’s amendment supports that mission by extending the deadline for this transfer of funds for stabilization activities by one year.
- Ensuring Peace Corps Operations in Times of Crisis: National service is a time-honored American tradition and is needed now more than ever. Young people in programs such as the Peace Corps, represent the very best in American leadership on a global stage, which is why Phillips’s amendment requires the Director of the Peace Corps to report to Congress on their plans to resume operations after the coronavirus pandemic. This amendment builds off the previous work that Rep. Phillips has done to support Peace Corps volunteers, including two bills he has introduced: H.R. 6853, the UNITE Act of 2020, and H.R. 6833, the Utilizing and Supporting Evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers Act. This amendment has been co-sponsored by Reps. Gerry Connolly, Jennifer Wexton, Ted Deutch, Jimmy Panetta, Jamie Raskin, Joaquin Castro, and John Garamendi.
- Modernizing Congressional Oversight: Every year, Congress requests anywhere from 400 to 1,500 reports from the Department of Defense, but the system that ensures these reports get done and end up in the correct place is outdated. Reports are critical to rooting out inefficiencies and preventing fraud, waste, and misuse of taxpayer funds. If the system that oversees these reports is broken, we will not be able to ensure that the will of Congress is being carried out or that our government is as effective as possible. That is why it is critical to develop a system to modernize, streamline, and track all report requests. Phillips’s bipartisan amendment requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to analyze the Department of Defense processes for responding to congressional reporting requirements in the NDAA and give recommendations for improving this process. Rep. Michael Cloud (R-TX) is a co-sponsor of this amendment.
- Preventing Global Atrocities: Phillips worked closely with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to build a plan that ensures the U.S. plays a critical role in preventing global atrocities for generations to come. Phillips’s bipartisan amendment expands on the goals of the Global Fragility Act and merges them with the policies of the State Department, Department of Defense, and USAID. The amendment mandates the use of the Atrocity Prevention Framework and requires the State Department to report on its efforts to prevent atrocities. It is co-sponsored by Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), and endorsed by a coalition of fourteen organizations, including the Minnesota Peace Project.
- Training Our Military for 21st Century Warfare: As war becomes increasingly complex in a 21st century world, and as terrorists and non-state actors continue to pose an increasing threat to the goals of peace and security everywhere, we must find a way to adapt and learn from recent lessons. Phillips’s amendment directs the Department of Defense to report on how officers are trained in irregular warfare. Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) is a co-sponsor of this amendment.