December 15, 2021

Van Hollen Secures Maryland Priorities in NDAA, Legislation Heads to President’s Desk

Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen released the following statement regarding the Senate’s passage of the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), legislation to fund our national defense and security priorities. The legislation incorporates several bills authored by Senator Van Hollen and investments in key Maryland military installations as well as a pay raise for military and Department of Defense (DoD) civilian employees: 

“Ensuring the safety of Americans at home and abroad is one of my top priorities as Maryland’s United States Senator. That’s why I’ve consistently fought to make smart investments in our national security and to secure federal dollars for our state’s vital military installations. This year’s National Defense Authorization Act meets this test. I was proud to author a number of provisions incorporated into this legislation, including measures to help honor the service of Marylanders, a bipartisan bill I introduced to strengthen and better support our Foreign Service Families, our bill to ensure all students have an opportunity to apply for our federal service academies, and support for federal firefighters. The bill also includes over $500 million I fought to deliver for important military construction projects across our state, and, in memory of Marylander Marine 1LT Hugh Conor McDowell, it includes a measure I advanced  to improve tactical vehicle training to prevent the tragic and preventable loss of American troops’ lives. Additionally, I worked with my colleagues to secure a 2.7% pay raise for service members and DoD civilian employees, increased parental leave for service members, and up to two weeks of bereavement leave for service members. While no bill is perfect – this legislation leaves out some initiatives I support and includes some provisions I do not – I believe the final bill is important to achieve our national security goals and support our men and women in uniform. I’m glad we united on a bipartisan basis to pass this bill and send it to the President’s desk.” 

Within the FY 2022 NDAA, Senator Van Hollen fought to secure:

Funding for critical military construction projects across Maryland, including:

  • $198.1 million total for the NSA West Campus project at Fort Meade,
  • $153.2 million for construction at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center,
  • $81 million for barracks at Fort Meade,
  • $75 million for a special operations facility at Fort Meade,
  • $26 million for a fire crash rescue station at Joint Base Andrews,
  • $7.8 million for a military working dog kennel at Joint Base Andrews, and
  • $3.6 million for the construction of a recycling center at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Senator Van Hollen and Senator Sullivan’s Foreign Service Families Act. This bill authorizes expanded employment services for Foreign Service family members. The bill also extends in-state tuition at public colleges and universities for Foreign Service members and their families after 30 days of residency in a state and allows Foreign Service families to terminate leases without penalty when ordered to move for work. Senators Van Hollen and Sullivan co-chair the Senate Foreign Service Caucus. This legislation was endorsed by the American Foreign Service Association, the American Academy of Diplomacy, Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide, and Inclusive America. 

Senator Van Hollen’s SERVE Act. This bill ensures that high school students applying to attend one of our federal service academies do not lose out on opportunities to be nominated because of a vacancy in the office of a Senator or Representative. The legislation was cosponsored by Senator Ben Cardin and led in the House by Congressman Anthony Brown and was in response to the loss of service academy nomination slots for Marylanders after the death of Congressman Elijah Cummings. 

Senator Van Hollen’s Federal Firefighter Flexibility and Fairness Act. This bill allows federal firefighters to trade shifts across pay periods without it affecting their overtime. State and local firefighters have been able to engage in trade time for many years – this extends that right to federal firefighters. This bill was endorsed by the IAFF.

The codification of GAO recommendations related to tactical vehicle rollovers to prevent loss of life of our troops. Senators Van Hollen and Cardin and Maryland House members announced the results of a GAO report on tactical vehicle rollovers in July. In the summer of 2019, the lawmakers requested GAO conduct a study of non-combat deaths involving tactical vehicles after the tragic death of Marine 1LT Hugh Conor McDowell, a former Chestertown (Md.) resident who was a victim of a training rollover at Camp Pendleton. McDowell was one of six killed and nine injured in a two-month period that year. In response, GAO conducted a review of 10 years of Army and Marine Corps training mishaps involving combat vehicles, as well as training procedures and safety standards. The results released showed a troubling pattern of deaths and injuries despite the Army and Marine Corps having “established practices to mitigate and prevent tactical vehicle accidents.” GAO found that “units did not consistently implement these practices,” leading to increased incidents caused by “driver inattentiveness, lapses in supervision, and lack of training.” The GAO recommended that the military services clarify roles and responsibilities within tactical vehicle units, improve risk management practices, assess whether these units are appropriately staffed, and establish specific performance criteria and metrics, among other actions to improve the safety of these vehicles.

The provisions secured by Senator Van Hollen codify the GAO recommendations and require the Secretary of the Army to provide a report to the Committees on Armed Services of the Senate and the House of Representatives, no later than March 1, 2022, on the design, cost, scope, and potential benefits of a pilot program to test the use of data recorders to improve tactical vehicle safety. Senator Van Hollen and Senator Cardin introduced the 1LT Hugh Conor McDowell Safety in Armed Forces Equipment Act of 2021to authorize this pilot program, and they will continue pushing for its passage.

The creation of a consortium on irregular warfare threats. The establishment of this consortium is a critical step in the transfer of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) from the sponsorship of the Department of Homeland Security to the Department of Defense, which has the resources to maintain this national security research. Senator Van Hollen previously worked to secure funding for this transition in the FY21 Defense Appropriations Bill. START is a university-based research and education center comprised of an international network of scholars committed to the scientific study of the causes and human consequences of terrorism in the United States and around the world. This consortium is based at the University of Maryland.  

The Enhancing Military Base Resilience and Conserving Ecosystems through Stormwater Management Act, which Senator Van Hollen introduced with Senators Kaine, Cardin, and Warner. This bill authorizes the Department of Defense to carry out stormwater management projects on military installations. These projects will improve installation resilience and essential infrastructure that supports military installations and protect nearby waterways like the Chesapeake Bay. In August, Senator Van Hollen worked to secure language in the FY22 Military Construction-VA Appropriations bill encouraging the Department of Defense to use Energy Resilience and Conservation Program funds to support stormwater management projects in the Chesapeake Bay watershed in order to better protect and conserve the health of the Bay. 

Language to ensure POW Medals are correctly awarded in order to help recognize a Maryland veteran. The legislation includes language directing the U.S. Army to correct its misapplication of the law regarding the issuance of the Prisoner of War Medal. In 2020, Senator Van Hollen wrote to then-Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy urging him to award the POW Medal to Marylander Ronald Dolecki for his military service in Ethiopia in 1965. Mr. Dolecki has been denied the POW Medal recognizing his service for over a decade. Mr. Dolecki’s case clearly qualifies for the POW Medal under the criteria established by Congress in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, but the Army continued to incorrectly apply the previous standard to his case. While on a mission in Ethiopia, Mr. Dolecki was captured by armed, uniformed members of the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF). Mr. Dolecki suffered under brutal conditions while in captivity but eventually escaped and saved the lives of two other individuals.

Language to improve the facilities reduction program. This language supports the Army’s ongoing effort to demolish contaminated buildings, an important project for Aberdeen Proving Ground, which is home to unused chemical testing buildings that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to maintain.

Provisions to establish a Basic Needs Allowance. Senator Van Hollen is a cosponsor of the Military Hunger Prevention Act, which establishes this benefit to ensure no military family goes hungry. Many military families in need do not qualify for SNAP because it includes the Basic Allowance for Housing in its calculation of gross income, resulting in thousands of military families relying on food pantries. Food pantries serving military installations reported a 400% increase in demand during the pandemic. 

Provisions to require the Service Secretaries to ensure that performance evaluations indicate the extent to which certain officers have exercised effective oversight and leadership of military privatized housing. Senator Van Hollen has been a leader in responding to the recent crisis in privatized military housing, which affected service members and their families at Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground, as well as installations across the country.