CONGRESSMAN BISHOP STATEMENT ON FY 2017 MILCON/VA APPROPRIATIONS BILL PASSAGE
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (GA-02), Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, issued the following statement regarding the passage of H.R. 4974, the Fiscal Year 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations government spending bill. H.R. 4974 was approved by a vote of 295 to 129 and now goes on to the Senate for consideration.
“The Fiscal Year 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill continues to demonstrate strong support for our service members and military construction, but also recognizes the serious challenges remaining in fulfilling our responsibility to veterans and moving the appropriations process forward using the limited resources we have been allocated.
“The bill maintains tough but fair reporting requirements for DoD-VA Electronic Health Records integration, prioritizes the elimination of the VA claims backlog, and includes healthy funding for the Board of Veterans Appeals. Additionally, the bill provides necessary funding for military maintenance and construction of military family housing, medical and prosthetic research, and medical facilities.
“One item of particular concern is the inclusion of bill language limiting performance awards to Senior Executives at the VA. As I have stated time and again, this language will not provide any solution in the short-term and, in fact, may have more long term consequences by compounding the very problem it attempts to address. By limiting such bonuses, the VA becomes a less attractive option than other agencies when it comes to recruiting and retaining quality executive leaders. Instead, we must do more to attract and retain exceptional talent to the Department in order to better serve the needs of our nation’s veterans.
“Another item of concern was the defeat of an anti-discriminations amendment, leaving the door open for federal contractors to discriminate against LGBT employees. Finally, an amendment was added to strike language from the National Cemetery Administration Directive 3220 that allowed the Confederate flag to be displayed on a separate flagpole, subordinate to the U.S. flag, on Memorial Day and Confederate Memorial Day, in cemeteries operated by the Veterans Administration where Confederate veterans are buried in mass graves. While as a descendant of slaves I find the Confederate flag and the history it represents deeply offensive, I believe that the descendants of Confederate veterans should not be denied the privilege of honoring their dead ancestors two days of the year on a flagpole where their beloved are buried in mass graves.
“While not ideal, H.R. 4974 does maintain a strong reputation for finding bipartisan common ground as members work together to fund the construction of military facilities and strive to improve the quality of life and care afforded to our veterans and military families.”
Below is a list of highlights of funding levels and other key provisions in the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs Bill:
BACKGROUND & BILL HIGHLIGHTS:
2017 Mark: $81.6 billion (including Overseas Contingency Operations [OCO])
2017 Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO): $172 million
2016 Enacted: $79.9 billion
2016 OCO: $0
President's Request: $82.8 billion (including OCO)
MILCON/VA IN GEORGIA:
- $4.820 million for a Special Operations Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Hangar at Fort Benning;
- $25 million for a replacement medical clinic at Fort Gordon;
- $14.8 million for an automated qualification / training range at Fort Stewart;
- $90 million for a cyber protection team operations facility at Fort Gordon;
- $30.9 million for a 4-bay, personnel recovery helicopter hangar at Moody Air Force Base.
MILITARY CONSTRUCTION: $5.621 billion, a decrease of $894 million below the FY 2016 enacted level and $120 million below the President’s request, is provided for Military Construction programs.
- The total recommended funding for the Reserve Components is $676.6 million, which is $122 million above the FY 2016 enacted level, and equal to the FY 2017 budget request.
- The bill fully funds the FY 2017 budget request for Family Housing construction at $1.3 billion, which is $84.4 million below the FY 2016 level.
- The total recommended funding for the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) account is $230.2 million, a decrease of $36 million from the FY 2016 enacted level and $25 million above the FY 2017 budget request.
- Detainee Transfers: The bill continues to carry language preventing the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
VETERANS AFFAIRS: The Committee recommends a total of $176 billion for FY 2017 programs, of which $73.5 billion is discretionary funding, representing an increase of $2.1 billion above the FY 2016 enacted level.
- The Board of Veterans Appeals, the General Operating Expenses account, the construction accounts, the Office of Inspector General, the Medical Research account, and the Grants accounts are funded at the FY 2017 request level.
- As authorized by Congress in 2009, the VA medical services accounts are provided funding one year in advance. The recommendation includes $850 million of the $1.07 billion requested for the current year budget request, which is in addition to the FY 2017 advance appropriation provided in the FY 2016 Omnibus.
- The subcommittee recommendation provides $663 million for Medical and Prosthetic Research, which is $32 million above the FY 2016 enacted level, and equal to the FY 2017 request.
- The subcommittee recommendation provides $528 million for Construction, Major Projects, which is $1.2 billion below the FY 2016 enacted level and equal to the President’s request.
- The bill continues the practice first established in FY 2016 and restricts the availability of funding for major construction projects costing more than $100 million until VA certifies it has signed an agreement with an appropriate non-VA government entity to serve as the design and/or construction agent for the project.
OTHER VA ISSUES:
- Electronic Health Records: Consistent with previous appropriations bills, the Committee recommends language to hold funding ($168.1 million) provided for the electronic health record until the VA provides information on the interoperability and business case for the VistA Evolution system, as well as other information listed in the bill.
- Disability Claims Backlog: The Committee recommends continuance of monthly reporting requirements from regional offices on disability claims processing performance and quality reports on remediation efforts at the poorest performing regional offices.
- Non-Recurring Maintenance: The bill does not include the current year budget request of $649 million for Non-Recurring Maintenance of Medical Facilities.
- VA General Administration Account: The total recommended funding is $336.7 million, which is equal to the FY 2016 enacted level, and $81 million below the FY 2017 budget request.
- Senior Executive Service Bonus: The bill includes a provision that prevents Senior Executives at the VA from receiving performance bonuses.
For more information on funding levels and other key provisions in the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs Bill, please click here.