Van Hollen Secures Maryland Priorities in Defense Bill, Votes to Send Legislation to the President’s Desk
Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) voted to pass the fiscal year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in the Senate, which included critical investments in Maryland military installations and key legislative priorities that the Senator fought for, as well as a 4.6 percent pay raise for military and Department of Defense (DoD) civilian employees. Among others, the Senator secured provisions of two bills he authored to provide a major infrastructure update to Maryland’s Coast Guard Yard and to increase funding for HBCUs and MSIs. Having passed the House last week, the annual defense bill now goes to President Biden to be signed into law.
“This year’s defense bill supports our service members, bolsters our security both at home and abroad, and advances important defense projects across our state. For Maryland – which is the proud home of tens of thousands of military members and civilian employees as well as critical military installations – this legislation invests over $800 million in those assets and ensures they can be ready to address the challenges of today and tomorrow, while promoting important priorities like our Coast Guard Yard’s modernization, our water infrastructure and coastal resilience, and strengthening the research capabilities of our HBCUs. Additionally, this bill will improve the quality of life of the people who support our nation’s defense through a 4.6 percent pay raise and investments in their health and child care benefits. And this legislation includes vital improvements to our military justice system that we’ve been fighting to enact for years. Like any bill, this package isn’t perfect, but overall I believe it will meaningfully advance our national security goals, support our defense workforce, and invest in crucial priorities for our state. I’m glad we came together in support of our men and women in uniform to send this bill to the President for signature,” said Senator Van Hollen.
Within the FY 2023 NDAA, Senator Van Hollen fought to secure:
Authorization of $636 million for a major infrastructure overhaul at the Coast Guard Yard in Curtis Bay, Maryland. Senators Van Hollen and Cardin fought , which will authorize the funding necessary for the Coast Guard to carry out its infrastructure modernization plan for the Yard. This effort will better equip the Coast Guard to service new classes of larger and more technologically-advanced ships while improving conditions for the workforce.
A new program based on legislation authored by the Senator to support STEM activities and help Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) achieve R1 research status. The Department of Defense will set up a new, targeted effort to support STEM education at HBCUs and MSIs and help them achieve R1 “very high research activity” status. Senator Van Hollen is a leading advocate for increased federal funding to support research activity and promote STEM education at HBCUs and introduced the HBCU RISE Act to partner with HBCUs and support them in becoming leading research institutions.
Senator Van Hollen’s 1LT Hugh Conor McDowell Safety in Armed Forces Equipment Act. This legislation requires the services to carry out a pilot program to install data recorders in military tactical vehicles with the goal of determining the causes of accidents and eliminating training accidents like the one that took the life of First Lieutenant McDowell, whose family resides in Chestertown, Maryland on the Eastern Shore.
Funding authorization for additional military construction projects in Maryland, including:
- $17.5 million for road projects at Fort Meade
- $2.64 million for planning and design of a ship systems integration and design facility and $2 million for a laboratory at Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Carderock
- $28.2 million to complete relocation of hazmat and explosive ordnance disposal facilities at Joint Base Andrews
- $75.5 million for the Bethesda Naval Medical Center Addition/Alteration Project
- $37.6 million for a fabrication facility at Aberdeen Proving Ground
- $6 million for a laboratory, $5.4 million for a contained burn facility, and $2 million for an explosive ordnance disposal testing range at NSWC Indian Head Division
Elimination of the provision that would have ended the services’ authority to carry out minor military construction projects as part of the Lab Revitalization Program (LRP) in 2025. This is an important step in Senator Van Hollen’s broader efforts to increase the cap for minor military construction projects to allow projects up to $12 million to be built using expedited authority. The LRP is an innovative tool for installations to address the backlog in infrastructure needs at DoD laboratories across the enterprise. The program provides a threshold of $6 million for DoD and service secretaries to fund these projects. The threshold was last increased in 2016, but cost increases make it more difficult accommodate projects to fit under the threshold.
Language supporting the demolition of contaminated facilities at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Edgewood Area. These contaminated, unused chemical testing facilities endanger readiness and cost more to maintain in the long term than they will cost to demolish.
Historic reforms to the military justice system. The NDAA includes language from the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act, of which Senator Van Hollen is a co-sponsor, to strip commanders of all remaining judicial functions and prosecutorial duties for covered offenses, including sexual assault, and add two new covered offenses to the list of those created last year. This bipartisan reform is supported by a broad coalition of organizations, including the VFW, IAVA, American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, Protect Our Defenders, National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, SWAN, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), Common Defense, and the Veterans Recovery Project.
Tracking information for returning identification documents to U.S. passport applicants. The State Department will be required to provide an option for passport applicants to have supporting documents returned to them by USPS Certified Mail. Lost documentation is a significant, time-consuming, and very expensive burden for constituents and this option would provide for more reliable delivery.
Improved security clearance processing. The State Department will be required to submit recommendations to Congress regarding streamlining the security clearance approval process. Maryland is home to a high number of citizens holding and seeking security clearances, which are required for certain federal government jobs. Unreasonably long processing times damage U.S. national security by leaving critical positions vacant. A more efficient review process would make us safer and improve staffing at federal agencies where clearances are necessary.
Investments in our nation’s water infrastructure, including to support clean drinking water and healthy communities, improve our environment, and strengthen our economy. The FY23 NDAA includes the Water Resources Development Act, which advances several Maryland priorities supported by Senator Van Hollen, such as resources to ensure our shipping channels and other waterways remain clear and accessible for navigation, support for a variety of local water infrastructure projects, and funding authorization for Chesapeake Bay watershed environmental restoration, among others. Provisions include:
- Requiring the Army Corps of Engineers to prioritize the dredging of shallower waterways. In total, Maryland has 62 “shallow draft channels,” which are waterways no deeper than 16 feet that connect to a bay or ocean. As of January 2022, of the top 16 priority shallow draft channels in Maryland there are 10 that have not been dredged in over 10 years – six were last dredged in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of these channels serve small marinas in Southern Maryland and on the Eastern Shore. Senator Van Hollen added language requiring the Army Corps to develop new ranking criteria within 180 days of the bill’s enactment to ensure smaller waterways are not overlooked for dredging.
- Allowing the Army Corps to provide support for non-federal projects in the Chesapeake Bay Basin states. This language expands the Army Corps’ ability to support non-federal water infrastructure projects in the Chesapeake Bay basin states such as stabilizing eroding streambanks, wastewater treatment, and stormwater and drainage systems. By allowing the Army Corps to provide support in these cases, local communities can modernize water infrastructure systems that provide clean water to households and keep pollution out of the Bay watershed.
- For example, the Town of Boonsboro in Washington County, MD has a leaking reservoir that if not repaired could cause “a public health catastrophe.” Expanding the Army Corps’ ability to assist with project like this will help maintain water service for residents and ensure public safety.
- Advancing environmental justice by focusing resources on clean water and climate resilience projects in underserved communities. Senator Van Hollen fought for provisions that give the Army Corps increased capacity to provide solutions to pervasive environmental injustices that plague the nation’s most vulnerable communities. Specifically, the bill authorizes the Army Corps to carry out projects for the protection and restoration of coastal shorelines and riverbanks at a reduced local cost share of 10 percent from 50 percent for projects that benefit economically disadvantaged communities; and encourages the Corps to recruit new workers from underserved communities.
- Authorization of $100,000,000 for water, wastewater, and other environmental infrastructure projects across the state. Local communities will have the opportunity to request these funds to support various water infrastructure needs important to them.
- Authorization of $5,000,000 for water infrastructure, including water supply, in the town of Boonsboro, Maryland.
- Authorization of $15,000,000 for water and wastewater infrastructure in the city of Brunswick, Maryland.
- Authorization of a feasibility study for flood risk management projects in Ellicott City and Howard County to ensure the Army Corps remains engaged in ongoing local efforts.
- Authorization of a feasibility study on the local water supply in the Washington Metropolitan Area (Washington, District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia) including the identification of a secondary water source and additional water storage capability.
- Language urging the expedited completion of:
- The completion of a feasibility study for the Baltimore Harbor and Channels–Seagirt Loop Deepening, for dredging to a depth of 50 feet.
- Flood risk management projects in Cumberland consisting of the restoration of the historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal;
- Projects for ecosystem restoration included in the Chesapeake Bay restoration plan; and
- Directing the Secretary of the Army to prioritize projects within the Chesapeake Bay watershed and Maryland beaches when carrying out the Corps’ Shoreline and Riverbank Protection and Restoration mission.
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