If congressional approval of the fiscal 2015 defense budget were a football game, the first quarter ended Thursday when the House passed its version of next year’s authorization bill.
Although three quarters remain, the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) has already done a lot of dancing in the end zone.
When it comes to lobbying, most in the news media are focused on corporations and other contractors and their campaign contributions to legislators.
NGAUS and veterans groups show their significant clout in pressing for opposition to many of the cuts sought by the White House, top Pentagon officials and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
On May 13, when the House Armed Services Committee passed its version of the Defense Authorization Bill, NGAUS hailed it as “a strong package of legislative provisions for the National Guard, not to mention one of the more successful years for the NGAUS legislative team.”
The association announced: “Of the 16 authorization-focused legislative proposals NGAUS requested this year, 11 of those were accepted in some form by the committee.”
Many are now part of the bill that passed the House 325 to 98 on Thursday. That bill:
●Freezes the size of the Army National Guard at 350,000, blocking the Army’s plan to reduce it to 335,000 by 2017. If sequestration were not replaced, the Army Guard was to go down to 315,000. The Army’s proposed Guard reductions were far smaller percentage-wise than those being applied to the Army. The White House said the reductions were necessary “to shape a force that is more agile and technologically superior and ready to respond to requirements.”
●Prohibits the transfer of about 200 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters from the Army National Guard to the regular Army. The Army planned to give the Guard new UH-60 Black Hawk transport helicopters to replace the Apaches. The active Army, with added Apaches, would be able to retire older OH-58 Kiowa reconnaissance helicopters. It was to save more than $12 billion starting in 2017.
●Provides $363 million in additional money — which the administration did not seek — for National Guard combat training rotations, depot maintenance and procurement and modifications to the UH-60s already on hand.
●Added $73.8 million for a modernization package destined for older C-130H transport airplanes in the hands of Air National Guard units. A program started almost a decade ago, it has faced cost overruns, and the administration tried to end it two years ago. Congress has twice approved funding, but the money has never been obligated.
The White House maintains that there is a “less expensive, fully capable alternative.”
NGAUS participated with other groups in opposing the retirement of A-10 close-support fighters, many of which are with Guard units.
Some NGAUS proposals changed authority over Guard activities and appointments.
●Amended the law to make governors “the principal civilian authority” and state adjutants general “the principal military authority” for Guard personnel using federal equipment to assist in state or federal activities such as firefighting.
Under the proposal, the National Guard Bureau would set general requirements for when governors would authorize units to provide assistance to civilian activities, in coordination with the Defense Department or other involved federal agencies.
The White House has objected to this as an “unwarranted intrusion on the authorities of the president and secretary of defense” and as an imposition of a potential new financial burden on the defense budget.
●Would give authority to the chief of the National Guard Bureau to appoint the directors and deputy directors of the Army and Air National Guards, in consultation with the secretaries of the Army and Air Force. Currently, the service secretaries make those appointments.
The White House again has objected on grounds that the current process ensures “appropriate civilian control of the military.”
NGAUS has had reason to dance in the end zone before.
In what the group termed its “empowerment” program, in 2012 it got legislation approved making the four-star head of the National Guard Bureau a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff over the objection of not only the other members but the secretary of defense. “That’s considered the most significant legislative victory since the Militia Act of 1903,” NGAUS claims on its Web site.
In 2010, the organization got Congress to approve the inclusion of National Guard personnel in the post-9/11 GI Bill, which had passed for active military personnel in 2008.
It also participated in halting, as it says on its Web site, “most of the proposed personnel and aircraft cuts to the Air National Guard” that the administration sought to make.
Of course, NGAUS has a lot of bench support beyond veterans organizations. The 50 state governors are ready to get in the game on behalf of Guard activities, as they did in letters this year to the president protesting proposed cuts in Guard numbers and in taking away the Apache helicopters.
There is also the House National Guard and Reserve Components Caucus, whose roughly 200 members by themselves represent almost a bipartisan majority of House members.
There may be three more quarters before the final score is settled on defense spending, but what NGAUS and other Guard supporters have shown year after year is that they have the depth and political weight to win most of what they want.
For previous Fine Print columns, go to washingtonpost.com/fedpage.