- Barrie Barber Staff Writer
President Donald Trump signed a defense authorization bill into law Tuesday, but that doesn’t settle the prospect of a partial federal government shutdown Dec. 22.
The bill authorizes defense programs for 2018, many of which will impact Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, but reaching a funding deal that would pay for the programs has eluded lawmakers so far this year.
“A government shutdown still remains possible,” said Michael Gessel, vice president of federal programs at the Dayton Development Coalition.
Since the fiscal year began Oct. 1, Congress has passed stop gap measures to keep the federal government operating, but cap spending at last year’s levels.
Two top Wright-Patterson leaders have spoken out against the temporary spending measures recently because they say they have created budget uncertainty and prevented the Air Force from starting new programs and eroded readiness.
Moreover, without a final spending bill that lifts budget caps imposed under the decade-long Budget Control Act of 2011 —- also known as sequestration—baseline defense spending will be capped at $549 billion. Congress has passed a $700 billion defense authorization bill that includes $66 billion in additional contigeny funding not restricted by the budget caps.
Gessel said lawmakers have worked behind the scenes on the possibly of a two-year budget framework to prevent the threat of a government shutdown for at least another year. Disagreements over other issues, from immigration to taxes and domestic spending, have weighed on the budget talks.
But what the final deal will be remains uncertain.
“The congressional leaders have insisted that they want to avoid a shutdown and the Senate majority leader (Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.) has even promised there won’t be a shutdown,” Gessel said. “These are all good signs.”
Ohio lawmakers have added several provisions under the defense legislation that will impact Wright-Patterson.
Some of the provisions were put into place by U.S. Sens, Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, or U.S. Reps. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, and Warren Davidson, R-Troy.
“This law represents hundreds of hours of bipartisan work to ensure our military is fully equipped to handle every threat it may face in the coming year and rebuild our readiness,” Turner said in a statement.
Among the provisions added:
• $6.8 million to build a fire station at Wright-Patterson.
• Preventing a defense production office at Wright-Patterson, which works to boost the domestic industrial base to meet defense needs, from moving to the Pentagon. The office has had roughly two dozen employees and has been at the Miami Valley base since 1987.
• Increases royalty payments to federal researchers who develop new innovations and technology, such as those at the Air Force Research Laboratory.
• Gives the military more flexibility to fund “minor” construction at laboratories, and to buy commercial off-the-shelf equipment for civil engineers.
• Urges more collaboration between the Federal Aviation Administration and the Defense Department to integrate drones into the national airspace system.
Turner co-introduced with U.S. Rep. Nikki Tsongas, D-Mass., the BE HEARD Act, to address issues related to military sexual assault. Both lawmakers are co-chairpersons of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus in the House.
The provision includes expanded training for military lawyers working with sexual assault victims; allowing the military’s highest court to hear victims’ appeals while a trial is ongoing; and permitting military judges to appoint legal representatives to sexual assault victims who are underage or cannot represent themselves prior to an alleged perpetrator facing charges, according to Turner’s office.
Turner also included a provision that prohibits the congressionally chartered National Aviation Hall of Fame, which is located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, from leaving the state of Ohio. NAHF officials have said recently they do not intend to relocate the hall of fame which is in the midst of a $5 million fund-raising campaign to update the center.