The record-busting $768.2 billion defense authorization bill that cleared Congress last week contains a little sugar for Nebraska, courtesy of the state’s congressional delegation.
The bill, which passed the Senate 88-11, includes a 2.7% pay increase for military personnel while making landmark changes to the way the military handles sexual assaults, keeping women out of the draft and laying the groundwork for a new war on terror memorial on the National Mall.
The bill passed the House 363-70 in September and is now awaiting President Joe Biden’s signature.
Sen. Deb Fischer and Rep. Don Bacon, who serve on the Armed Services Committees in their respective houses, claimed credit for steering some of that money to benefit military personnel and commands in Nebraska.
“The (bill) includes critical provisions to support a pay raise for our troops, bolster Nebraska military assets and modernize our nuclear deterrent,” Fischer said in a statement. “The legislation reflects broad agreement that the country must be prepared to address the many growing national security challenges we face.”
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At least $150 million is slated for construction at Offutt Air Force Base near Bellevue. Of that, $100 million is for reconstruction of parts of the base damaged by flooding in 2019.
That’s on top of more than $400 million for cleanup and repairs in previous years, and $234 million to replace RC-135 flight simulators destroyed in the flood.
The bill also authorized $50 million for rehabilitation of family housing at Offutt.
“You can tell it’s older, and it needs some investment,” Bacon said. “The sense was we’re falling a little bit behind.”
The Pentagon began turning over construction, management and maintenance of military housing to private companies in the mid-1990s, and accusations of mismanagement by some companies prompted congressional hearings in 2019 and again in March.
Offutt’s Rising View housing, owned by Omaha-based Burlington Housing since 2005, drew scrutiny two years ago after some residents complained of poor living conditions and slow repairs. That prompted much closer scrutiny by senior leaders of Offutt’s 55th Wing.
The bill also authorized $10 million to find a site and build the U.S. Strategic Command’s nuclear command, control and communications hub. It’s tied to a 2019 initiative to put StratCom in charge of what the Pentagon calls NC3.
Bacon said it is likely to be built on Offutt property but outside the current fence line.
In addition to the funding at Offutt, the bill includes $11 million for barracks construction at the Nebraska National Guard’s training site near Mead, about 30 miles west of Omaha.
Other notable items:
* Accelerated procurement of mission systems and engines for the 55th Wing’s new EC-37B “Compass Call” electronic warfare aircraft, which are based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona.
* A provision directing the Air Force to look for ways to increase the operational availability of the 55th Wing’s Offutt-based RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance jets.
* A provision nudging the Air Force to move forward with replacement of the E-4B Nightwatch aircraft — now more than 45 years old — with a new airframe.
* Encouragement of the Pentagon to expedite plans to build a new laboratory for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. The current lab, which opened in 2013, is in the former Glenn L. Martin Bomber Plant, built in 1941.
* A continuation of full funding of replacements for various parts of the nation’s nuclear arsenal and a prohibition on reductions in the intercontinental ballistic missile force, currently at 400.
“Nebraska plays a critical role in our national defense,” he said. “The most important duty of your government is to keep you safe. The yearly National Defense Authorization Act is essential to that goal.”