Funding Bill Provides Boost for Defense, Military Construction, and Veterans
Murkowski’s Efforts Provide Millions for Military and Homeland Defense Projects
The Senate recently passed the full 2018 appropriations bill, which funds the government through September 30. The bill was signed into law on March 23, 2018. Alaska will receive a large boost in defense and military construction funding. Several priorities in the bill were championed by U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to support growth in Alaska’s military presence, critical investments in infrastructure, and improvements in health services for our veterans.
“As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I have worked hard to ensure that our men and women in uniform are a top priority. This bill includes the largest year-to-year increase in funding for our military that we’ve seen in fifteen years, funding that includes significant investments in Alaska,” said Senator Murkowski. “I’m proud we will boost our missile defense, invest in a new icebreaker, increase pay for our troops, and include record funding to care for our veterans and modernize our VA facilities. With continuous emerging threats, we must provide the resources needed to support Alaska’s critical role and strategic military presence for the security of our nation.”
The bill provides $150 million through US Navy shipbuilding accounts to be transferred to the Coast Guard for construction of a new polar icebreaker. This matches the $150 million Senator Murkowski acquired for icebreaker procurement in the 2017 Defense Appropriations Act. The administration has requested an additional $750 million to fully fund remaining construction costs in its Fiscal Year 2019 Department of Homeland Security budget submission.
The bill provides funding over and above the administration’s budget request to expand the Ground Based Midcourse Missile Defense System and missile defense radars, including the cost of constructing the interceptors which will be installed in the new Missile Field 4 at Fort Greely.
Senator Murkowski also helped fund 23 additional to support the Pentagon strategy of fielding 5th generation capability to address emerging threats in the Pacific and across the globe, ten of which will be purchased for the Air Force; the remainder for the Navy and Marine Corps.
The bill provides $105 million for a flight test of Israel’s Arrow-3 missile defense system which will be based out of the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska. The bill also provides $10 million to enhance capabilities of State owned spaceports. Alaska is one of the few states with a state-owned spaceport and it is the only U.S. spaceport, which can easily provide launch access to polar-to-high inclination earth orbits.
As the Arctic region continues to be a growing concern, Senator Murkowski inserted language requiring the Defense Department specifically identify proposed expenditures in its annual budget submissions that address defense needs and strategies in the Arctic. This will enable Congress to measure whether the Pentagon is living up to its promises to address longstanding national security deficiencies in the Arctic region. As the Alaska Air National Guard currently possesses only one Arctic Sustainment Package, Senator Murkowski is also pushing the Pentagon to purchase Arctic Sustainment Packages necessary to field search and rescue resources in the Arctic region.
Senator Murkowski obtained $3 million for a first phase study involving the viability of microgrids on Eielson AFB. This work will be undertaken under the auspices of the US Army Corps of Engineers, Engineer Research and Development Center.
In order for the F-35 to train against more advanced threat systems, Senator Murkowski added $6 million to systematically upgrade the existing analog threat systems at the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex.
The bill prioritizes concerns with Russia’s increasing military presence in the Arctic region, citing it as essential that the United States maintains a robust capacity to operation in the region to ensure its national security and economic interests are protected. Additional programs to be funded this year include $51.5 million to fund Coast Guard housing and shore-side infrastructure projects that will support current and future Coast Guard assets. The bill also directs the Coast Guard to appropriately budget to support the Arctic Program Office in order to address the growing challenges in that region and to submit a report on a plan to provide communications throughout the entire Coastal Western Alaska Captain of the Port Zone to improve waterway safety. It directs Customs and Border Protection to continue collaboration with Canada to improve maritime interdiction capabilities and situational awareness in the northern border. $50 million is also provided to the Transportation Security Agency so they can begin repaying airports that upgraded their explosive detection systems.
The bill provides $168.9 million for military construction projects at Eielson Air Force Base. 7 of these projects are related to the 2020-2021 beddown of two squadrons of the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter aircraft and $4 million for the fourth phase of improvements to the central heating and power plant. To ensure that military construction dollars remain in the community, Senator Murkowski secured language directing the Defense Department to consider adopting a pilot project currently pursued by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which establishes preference for local contractors and local labor in highway and mass transit construction projects.
Caring for and Honoring our Veterans
Veterans Affairs (VA)
The bill addresses several of Senator Murkowski’s priorities concerning the delivery of VA healthcare in Alaska. The bill directs the VA to address the healthcare provider vacancy problem by establishing a fast-track hiring program for departing military healthcare providers to transition to a civilian career in the VA system. The bill urges the VA to equitably resolve a reimbursement dispute with tribal health providers that threatens the future viability of the VA’s partnerships with the Alaska Native healthcare system. This provides overflow care for veterans in urban Alaska and care for rural Alaska veterans who would otherwise be unable to use their earned healthcare benefits. The bill continues to allow Alaska veterans in rural areas to access the Alaska Native healthcare system and Community Health Centers.
Senator Murkowski prioritized medical research programs to include an increase in funding for the ALS Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program and other programs focused on addressing traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorders and sleep disorders.
Included in the bill is Senator Murkowski’s legislation, the Hmong Veterans’ Service Recognition Act, cosponsored by Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK), which enables Hmong freedom fighters to be buried in national veterans’ cemeteries alongside their U.S. brothers in arms. During the Vietnam War, the CIA formed Special Guerilla Units of Hmong fighters in Laos to disrupt North Vietnamese supply lines, rescue downed U.S. pilots, and protect the Laotian government from falling to the Communist Pathet Lao. Following the war, some of the Hmong freedom fighters were relocated to the U.S. as refugees and provided an expeditious route to citizenship.