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Federal employee health insurance premiums to increase 6.4% in 2016

ASMC National News - Thu, 2015-10-01 14:00

Health Insurance premiums for employees covered under the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program will increase an overall average of 6.4 percent in 2016, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced this week.

This average increase is twice the increase registered in 2015 and higher than the increases in 2014 (3.7 percent) and 2013 (3.4 percent).

OPM attributed some of the increase to higher drug costs, which are a higher percentage of FEHB spending than private employers.

The FEHB program covers over 8 million people who can choose from among more than 250 health plans.  FEHB plans cover about 85 percent of all federal employees and 90 percent of federal retirees. According to OPM, FEHB is the largest employer-sponsored health benefits program in the U.S.

This year FEHB will offer a Self Plus One enrollment type that will provide coverage for an enrollee and one designated family member (spouse or child). Enrollees can switch to this enrollment type during the open season in November.

While premiums vary with each plan, enrollee’s average bi-weekly payments next year will increase by $5.50 for self-only and by $19.61 for family plans.  The federal government pays an average of 72 percent of total premium cost. Premiums for specific plans are available on the OPM website.

The Open Season for health, dental and vision, and flexible spending accounts will start on November 9, 2015 and end on December 14, 2015.  Open season allows federal employees and retirees to make changes to their plans and eligible employees to enroll in the plan of their choice.

Congress passes CR to keep government running until December 11

ASMC National News - Wed, 2015-09-30 18:04

This afternoon, the House passed (277-151) a Continuing Resolution (CR) that funds federal government agencies through December 11, 2015. In the final vote, 91 Republicans joined all voting Democrats (186) in passing the CR.

Earlier today, the Senate passed the CR 78-20 as 32 Republicans joined all 44 Democrats and two Independents (who caucus as Democrats) in voting for passage. The president is expected to sign the bill before the fiscal year begin tomorrow.

The final, fairly bipartisan votes today ended a dramatic week of action on the CR. Last Thursday, the Senate blocked a vote on a CR that would have defunded Planned Parenthood. The 47-52 vote fell far short of the 60 yes votes needed to proceed to a vote. Eight Republican Senators joined 42 Democrats and two Independents in voting against the motion. Then on Monday, the Senate voted 77-19 to proceed to a vote on a CR that does not defund Planned Parenthood.

The CR essentially allows agencies to fund FY2016 programs at the FY2015 level ($1.017 trillion for the total government).  The CR also includes funding for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) at an annual rate of $74.8 billion and provides $700 million in emergency funding to fight wildfires. The bill also extends authority for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for six months. During the CR period, no new starts are permitted nor are programs allowed to increase production rates above the FY2015 rate.

The stage is now set for House and Senate leaders to work with the White House to agree on a budget deal before the CR ruins out on December 11. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) want to begin talks with the White House on a two-year deal. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have been pressing Republicans for months to start discussions on a deal.

However, the bipartisan nature of the final votes on the CR in the House and the Senate today mask the deep divisions that remain between Republicans and Democrats on FY2016 and future appropriations.

Speaker Boehner is scheduled to resign at the end of October and many House Republicans will press for their new leaders to take a hardline position on defense increase, while maintaining budget caps. This would mean cutting nondefense programs, which the Democrats and the White House strongly oppose. At the same time, Senate Democrats continue to threaten to block votes on FY2016 appropriations bills (none of which have moved through Congress) until budget deal discussions show progress. And, the fight to defund Planned Parenthood is not finished.

So, while one fight on FY2016 appropriations has ended, a much larger one, with possibly far greater implications looms.

Senate blocks vote on proposed CR that excludes funding for Planned Parenthood

ASMC National News - Thu, 2015-09-24 16:55

Today, the Senate defeated a motion to proceed to a vote on a Continuing Resolution (CR) that would fund the government until December 11, 2015, but provide no funding for Planned Parenthood in FY2016.

The 47-52 vote fell far short of the 60 yes votes needed to proceed to a vote on the CR. Eight Republican Senators joined 42 Democrats and two Independents in voting against the motion. Only one Democrat (Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WVA) voted to proceed.

Even if the Senate had passed a CR that defunded Planned Parenthood, the president would not have signed the bill. The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) that threatened a veto of any CR that defunds Planned Parenthood or any other so-called “policy riders.”

With a government shutdown looming on Midnight Wednesday, September 30th, Sen. McConnell will propose a “clean” CR until December 11th. The Senate is expected to begin debate on the CR on Monday.

If the Senate passes a CR early next week, the House only have a day or two to act quickly to keep the government open after September 30th. This time constraint puts pressure on Speaker Boehner come up with a majority vote on a “clean” CR. Sentiment in the House among Republicans appears divided on including a provision to defund Planned Parenthood in a CR. Thirty-one Republicans have pledged to vote against a CR that includes funding for Planned Parenthood. On the other hand, 11 Republican freshman stated their opposition to shutting down the government over such a policy dispute. Democrats appear overwhelmingly to support a clean CR. The question will be how to put together enough votes by next Wednesday to keep the government open.

President will nominate Eric Fanning to Secretary of the Army

ASMC National News - Mon, 2015-09-21 11:48

President Obama announced that he will nominate Eric Fanning to be Secretary of the Army. If confirmed by the Senate, Fanning would succeed John McHugh who has served as Army secretary since September 2009. McHugh has announced he will step down from the post in November.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter praised the selection calling Fanning “one of our country's most knowledgeable, dedicated, and experienced public servants.” Carter said he has confidence that Fanning “will strengthen our Army, build on its best traditions, and prepare our ground forces to confront a new generation of challenges."

Fanning is currently serving as Acting Under Secretary of the Army since June 30, 2015. Prior to that he served as The Special Assistant to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense.

Mr. Fanning has also held senior leadership jobs in the Department of the Air Force and the Department of the Navy. From April 2013 to February 2015 he served as the Under Secretary of the Air Force during which time he was Acting Secretary of the Air Force for six months. Fanning was the Deputy Under Secretary of the Navy/Deputy Chief Management Officer for four years beginning in 2009.

Prior to serving in the Department of Defense, Fanning held a number of jobs related to national security. In 2009 he was Deputy Director of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. Prior to that, he was managing director of CMG, a strategic communications company, and Senior Vice President For Strategic Development at Business Executives for National Security (BENS). Fanning was also a Senior Associate for Robinson, Lere & Montgomery (a strategic communications firm) and worked for CBS News in New York. Fanning also served on Capitol Hill as a research assistant with the House Armed Services Committee.

Association leaders press Congress to avoid an extended CR

ASMC National News - Thu, 2015-09-17 11:46

Congress should craft a long-term budget deal now rather than continue budget gridlock by approving a long-term Continuing Resolution (CR), according to five major defense associations.

Leaders of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), Air Force Association (AFA), Navy League, and National Guard Association sent a letter this week urging congress to “work together to avoid an extended continuing resolution or a government shutdown in Fiscal Year 2016.”

The letter warns that an extended CR would hurt national security and the whole economy. CRs “create needless and avoidable inefficiency that wastes taxpayer money,” the letter states. Further, the leaders stress that continuing resolutions make meeting operational needs of the military services more difficult.

The associations urges Congress to avoid putting national security in a “CR trap” that results when continued use of CRs produces longer-term CRs. The associations want Congress to “come together again [as they did after the shutdown in 2013] in a bipartisan fashion and strike a multi-year deal that will create stability and efficiency in our spending.”

Former Department of Defense (DoD) Comptroller Bob Hale (currently a Fellow at Booze Allen Hamilton) has also underscored concerns about long-term CRs recently calling them a “nightmare” for the military. Hale said a year-long CR (continuing defense funding in FY2016 at the FY2015 levels) would produce serious problems for the military services. He argued for a return to long-term stability in defense budgets by fixing sequestration.

Congress has more on its plate than the Iran nuclear deal and a FY2016 CR

ASMC National News - Fri, 2015-09-11 12:34

Congress is currently debating a bill to disapprove the Iran nuclear deal and working to put together a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government running after September 30. Both of these issues are staring at a deadline that requires immediate action. Congress has until September 17 to act to either approve or disapprove the Iran nuclear deal. And, of course, funding for the federal government runs out at midnight September 30 unless Congress either passes and president signs all FY2016 appropriations bills or enacts a CR to extend funding into FY2016.

Even if Congress does overcome strong Republican resistance to funding Planned Parenthood and passes a CR before September 30 that extends government funding for a few months, it still has to complete action on all 12 FY2016 appropriations bills, either individually or grouped in mini-omnibus bills, or in one omnibus bill takes. This will take time and hard bargaining, not only among Republicans and Democrats, but with the While House. Complicating this bargaining will be a number of highly-charged political obstacles.

First efforts by Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood movement are not going away. Led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), a number of Republicans will try to force a defunding provision in any final deal on appropriations. But, if the president receives a bill that excludes funding for Planned Parenthood he will surely veto it.

Second, Senate Democrats have been urging Republicans to negotiate a new budget deal that changes sequestration (automatic across-the-board cuts). Seeing no progress toward budget discussions, Democrats have blocked action to proceed on any appropriations bill in the Senate until budget talks begin.

Complicating any action to change sequestration is a strong desire among most Republicans and some Democrats to increase defense spending. The House-passed FY2016 Defense Appropriations bill adds about $38 billion to defense base budget requirements by including that amount in funding for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). This mechanism would get around defense funding caps set in the Budget Control Act.

The White House and Democrats argue that including the additional base budget funding in OCO is bad defense budgeting, does nothing to address sequestration, and could lead to cuts to nondefense programs. The White House has threatened a presidential veto of any bill that increases defense funding at the expense of nondefense programs.

Congress must also complete action on the FY2016 Defense Authorization bill. The House and Senate have passed their versions of the bill and appear close to completing the conference resolving the differences between the two bills. The major issues to be resolved are TRICARE co-pays, changes to the military retirement system, and provisions regarding prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Both the House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) have expressed confidence that they can finish the conference soon.

Other unfinished legislative items include the Highway and Transit and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)reauthorization bills. Before leaving for recess, the House and Senate agreed on a three-month extension (until October 29) of the highway bill after the House refused to take up the Senate-passed 6-year reauthorization that included controversial measures to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank. The FAA authorization will expire on September 30. Congress is expected to extend authorization for six to nine months to allow time to work our differences between the House and Senate.

Before the end of the year Congress will also have to deal with increasing the debt. Action on the debt ceiling had been expected in October, but, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), improvement in the FY2015 deficit picture means that Congress will have until late November or early December to act (when Treasury will run out of so-called “extraordinary cash management measures”).

And, in what has become an annual ritual, Congress will have to address some 50 expiring tax credits (so-called tax extenders) that will expire on December 31. These tax credits include individual tax deductions, business incentives (e.g. research and development credits), and energy tax credits. For a number of years Congress has routinely extended these tax credits for only a year. This year Congress will probably extend the credits through FY2016.

We Will Never Forget

ASMC National News - Fri, 2015-09-11 08:29

As we mark the anniversary of the 9/11, please join the ASMC National Executive Committee and Staff in remembering our fallen comrades.

The attacks touched the lives of every American.

Fifteen of our ASMC members were killed in the attacks, and another seven were seriously injured. As you pay tribute and honor to all those affected by the events of September 11th, please make a special note of our own fallen comrades.

  • Angelene Carter
  • Gerald Fisher
  • Peggy Hurt
  • Brenda Gibson
  • Brenda Kegler
  • Robert Maxwell
  • Patricia Mickley
  • Diane Padro
  • Edward Rowenhorst
  • Robert Russell
  • Charles Sabin
  • Sandra Taylor
  • Willie Troy
  • David Laychak
  • Rhonda Rasmussen

And the injured.

  • Aaron Cooper
  • Kathy Cordero
  • Juan Cruz-Santiago
  • Paul Gonzalez
  • David Lanagan
  • Sheila Moody
  • Christine Morrison

Congress returns from recess to address the Iran nuclear deal and a potential government shutdown

ASMC National News - Sat, 2015-09-05 14:50

Congress returns next week (September 8) from a five-week recess facing a vote on the Iran nuclear deal and another threat of a government shutdown.

The most pressing, time-sensitive issue is legislation to approve or disapprove the Iran nuclear deal that was agreed to by the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, and Iran in July. Both the House and Senate are expected to take up the deal when Congress returns next week, with the House voting by September 11.

The deal has been strongly opposed by congressional Republicans (who control both the House and Senate). Congress has until September 17th to act on the deal. If both the House and Senate pass a bill disapproving the deal as most observers expect, the president is sure to veto it.

In the House 144 votes are needed to override a veto, probably more than the Democrats could muster, although Democrat leaders are expressing some confidence that they might be able to garner the votes. In the Senate a veto is sure to be sustained as 38 Senate Democrats have declared their support of the deal, more than the 34 required. However, if 41 Senate Democrats support the deal, they will be able to stop the bill from coming to a vote in the Senate, which would negate the need for a presidential veto to move forward with the provisions of the deal.

And then, of course, there is the matter of funding the government for FY2016. When Congress returns there will be only about three weeks (including about 10 legislative days) before the beginning of FY2016. As Congress has completed none of the 12 appropriations bills (the House passed all 12 bills, but the Senate has passed none), Members and Senators will face a crucial decision: pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to allow agencies to continue operating or force a government shutdown.

House and Senate Republican leaders have expressed no desire to shut down the government. To avoid that at least in the short-term, they will have to agree on a CR of some length. However, the rise of sentiment to defund Planned Parenthood among many Republicans casts at least some doubt on Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) ability to move a CR in the House without much controversy. If Boehner cannot come up with enough Republican votes to pass a CR he will have to work with Democrats to make up the difference to avoid a shutdown.

Even so, if the House and Senate were to pass a CR that defunds Planned Parenthood, the president would surely veto it. This would push the government to the brink of shutdown, an outcome only a few seem to be willing to accept, yet is still possible.

President recommends 1.3% pay raise in 2016 for federal civilian and military personnel

ASMC National News - Mon, 2015-08-31 12:06

President Obama last week notified Congress he has determined that federal civilian employees should receive a 1.3 percent pay raise in 2016. This is the same civilian pay raise the president included in the FY2016 federal budget request.

The 1.3 percent pay raise is a combination of a 1.0 percent across-the-board raise announced in last week’s letter and an increase in locality pay raise the president said he will request later this year. “The alternative plan for locality payments will be limited so that the total combined cost of the 1.0 percent across-the-board pay increase and the varying locality pay increase will be 1.3 percent of basic payroll,” the president said in his letter.

This marks a departure from recent civilian pay raise proposals, which have been solely across-the-board increases to base pay. Locality pay has not changed since 2010.

Each year the president is required under Title 5 U.S.C., sections 5303(b) and 5304a, to present an alternative pay plan for across-the-board pay and locality pay adjustments. Unless Congress acts the president’s alternative proposal automatically goes into effect.

In a separate letter to Congress, the president determined that members of the uniformed services should also receive a 1.3 percent pay raise in 2016. The president had proposed a 1.3 percent military pay raise in his FY2016 budget request.

The president’s proposals for federal civilian and military personnel pay raises would go into effect on January 1, 2016, unless Congress acts to change the raises.

To date, Congress has not acted on the FY2016 civilian pay raise proposal increasing the probability that the president’s alternative 1.3 percent total pay raise will go into effect on January 1, 2016.

For military pay raises, the House has approved a 2.3 percent increase for military personnel in its version of the FY2016 Defense Authorization bill, while the Senate approved a 1.3 percent military raise in its defense authorization bill.

CBO projects FY2015 deficit will drop to $426 billion

ASMC National News - Wed, 2015-08-26 16:52

The FY2015 baseline federal budget deficit is expected to be $426 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) latest Update to the Budget and Economic Outlook. CBO baseline estimates assume a continuation of current law for both expenditures and revenue.

This latest CBO estimate of the FY2015 deficit represents a $60 billion improvement from its March estimate and $59 billion lower than the FY2014 final budget deficit ($485 billion). If realized, this deficit would be the smallest since 2007.

The year-to-year improvement in the deficit results largely from higher estimated receipts (+$230 billion) from individual and corporate income taxes, which more than offsets an increase in expenditures (+$171 billion). The increase in expenditures from the previous year is the result of an almost $200 billion increase in mandatory spending, offset by somewhat lower discretionary spending and interest on the debt.

CBO expects annual deficits to stay at between about $415 billion and $455 billion through 2018 as the economy continues to improve. After 2018, deficits increase again reaching $1 trillion by 2023 as “significant growth in spending on health care and retirement programs and rising interest payments on federal debt would outpace growth in revenues,” according to CBO—unless changes are made to current law. 

CBO expects the deficit as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to decline from 2.8 percent in 2014 to 2.4 percent in 2015 and continue to fall to 2.1 percent by 2017. After that the deficit share of GDP will stay below 3 percent until 2020. However, as the deficit begins to grow again in 2019, deficits will average close to 3.5 percent of GDP from 2020 to 2025.

The improved deficit picture in 2015 will probably affect the timing of a congressional decision to raise the debt ceiling, always a highly-charged proposition. Now, it appears rather than needing to make a decision by October or November (when Treasury will run out of so-called “extraordinary cash management measures), CBO says the decision point could be delayed until early December.

GSA sets higher Per Diem rates for federal employees

ASMC National News - Mon, 2015-08-17 16:46

The General Services Administration (GSA) has announced the daily Per Diem reimbursement rates for federal employees in FY2016.

These rates are the maximum amounts a federal employee can receive as reimbursement for allowable expenses while on official duty travel. GSA sets per diem rates for locations in CONUS. 

Per Diem rates in Standard areas in the Continental United States (CONUS) for lodging will be $89 in FY2016, up from $83 in FY2015. Rates for and meals and incidental expenses (M&IE) will be $51 in FY2016, $5 higher than those in FY2015.  The Standard area rate covers most of the continental CONUS counties. 

Per Diem rates for lodging for the some 400 Non-Standard areas (NSAs) will vary depending on local conditions. The M&IE rate for NSAs will to range from $54 to $74.

The CONUS MI&E rates for Standard areas will now be based on the change in the Consumer Price Index for “Food Away from Home” while M&IE rates for NSAs will continue to be based on surveys of local restaurants.

All rates become effective on October 1, 2016.

According to the GSA Per Diem Bulletin FTR 16-01, there will be two new NSA’s in FY2016: Grand Lake, CO (Grand County) and Pecos, TX (Reeves County). The Belle Mead, NJ NSA will be renamed to Somerset.

GA also announced that 15 NSA locations will become Standard areas: Huntsville, AL; Modesto, CA; Driggs/Idaho Falls, ID; Springfield, IL; Covington/Slidell, LA; Hattiesburg, MS; Los Alamos, NM; Stateline/Carson City, NV; Oak Ridge, TN; Greenville, TX; Fredericksburg, VA; Norfolk/Portsmouth, VA; Prince William/Manassas, VA; Anacortes/Coupeville, WA; and Shepherdstown, WV.

OMB signals intent to exempt Military Personnel accounts from potential sequester in FY2016

ASMC National News - Thu, 2015-08-13 13:56

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has notified Congress that Military Personnel accounts will be exempt from across-the-board cuts if sequestration is implemented in FY2016.

In a letter to the House and Senate this week, OMB Director Shaun Donovan said the president intends “to exempt all military personnel accounts, including Coast Guard personnel accounts, from any discretionary cap sequestration in FY 2016, if a sequestration is necessary.”

Donovan said the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 authorizes such an exemption if Congress is notified by August 10.   The president also exempted military personnel accounts from sequestration in FY2013 and FY2014. Congress and DoD have routinely exempted Military Personnel accounts when implementing across-the board cuts to defense budgets.

Exempting military personnel accounts will mean that cuts to other DoD accounts will be increased if sequester goes into effect, Donovan noted. Unless an agreement is reached to stop sequestration, OMB, in its report on sequestration issued in February, estimated the FY2016 defense spending cap would be reduced by $53 billion. The report also sets the potential cuts to nondefense accounts at $37 billion.

Donovan said the exemption “is considered to be in the national interest to safeguard the resources necessary to compensate the men and women serving to defend our Nation and to maintain the force levels required for national security.”

DoD Secretary Ash Carter has warned Congress that if sequestration returns in FY2016 “our nation would be less secure.” Carter also said that he would join other senior administration officials in recommending the president veto any bill that “locks in sequestration,” because it would be “unsafe and wasteful.”

Coalition, Not ISIL, Dictates Pace of Operations

Defense News - Fri, 2015-08-07 00:00

The current situation in Iraq and Syria clearly indicates that the coalition, and not ISIL, now dictates the pace of operations, a U.S. Central Command spokesman said today during a telephonic press conference with Pentagon reporters.

“For the last twelve months of this multi-year effort, our campaign has focused on countering and effectively degrading ISIL’s overall capabilities, while enabling the efforts of the indigenous ground forces in both Iraq and Syria, and empowering the 60-plus nation coalition,” Air Force Col. Pat Ryder said.

ISIL’s Losing Ground

Ryder asserted that rather than ISIL forces “waving black flags and traversing Iraq and Syria in big convoys to capture large swaths of new territory,” the true situation shows a waning insurgency, losing ground steadily on nearly every front.

Currently, anti-ISIL forces now defend two-thirds of Syria’s northern border, and in Iraq, Ryder said he estimates as of this April, ISIL can no longer operate freely in roughly 25 to30 percent of the populated areas in which it could less than a year ago.

“Consistent and effective pressure against ISIL’s leadership has caused the organization to be more centralized and less flexible,” Ryder said. “Over the past year, we have removed several thousand ISIL fighters from the battlefield, as well as dozens of the organization’s senior leaders.”

The colonel also reported that ISIL has had to repeatedly replace leaders in key positions. “Every time they have to return to the bench, you can presume they’re having to put less experienced and less capable individuals into these leadership positions, thereby reducing the organization’s overall effectiveness in decision-making and command and control.”

But Ryder also noted that air power has played a key role in ISIL’s decline, as coalition air forces have conducted more than 6,000 air strikes in Iraq and Syria in support of anti-ISIL forces, destroying thousands of pieces of the enemy’s equipment, command and control nodes, training facilities, supply lines, and other military and economic resources.

“Our airstrikes in Syria against ISIL continue to deny them safe haven,” he said, “and disrupt their ability to project combat power into Iraq -- which, in turn, has bought the Iraqi forces much needed time and space to regenerate combat power and go on the offensive.”

And the Syrian Kurds in the northeast portion of the country have performed exceptionally well, according to Ryder.

“They’ve not only retaken significant swaths of territory from ISIL, but in doing so, they have significantly impacted the enemy’s key lines of communication between Syria and Turkey and between Syria and Iraq,” he said. “This means that ISIL will no longer be able to freely move fighters and supplies between the countries.”

Coalition Partners Step Up

Meanwhile, in support of that effort, approximately 1,200 coalition partners from 17 nations have enabled Iraqi forces through the DoD’s “Building Partner Capacity” sites and “Advise and Assist” programs, the colonel explained.

At five training locations in Iraq, Ryder reported the coalition has trained more than 11,000 Iraqi forces personnel, providing a wide range of training designed to aid Iraqi security forces and Peshmerga effectiveness on the battlefield, with similar consulting exchanges resulting in training for approximately 1,100 Sunni tribal fighters engaged in the counter-ISIL fight.

And U.S. military equipment provision includes 250 mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles, nearly 2,000 Hellfire missiles, more than 10,000 M16 rifles, body armor, helmets, and millions of rounds of ammunition, the colonel said. Coalition donations to the anti-ISIL effort, he added, include 22 million rounds of small-arms ammunition and 12,000 mortar rounds to the Iraqi army and Peshmerga.

On the Syrian front, the coalition continues to support and enable the efforts of anti-ISIL forces, to include Syrian Kurdish, Arab, and Turkoman fighters to drive ISIL out of northern Syria border regions, Ryder said.

“These anti-ISIL forces, whose efforts have been supported by more than 2,200 coalition airstrikes, have made significant progress in northern Syria -- having regained more than 5,300 square kilometers from ISIL,” the colonel said. “As they continue to progress, they are building regional coalitions, specifically with local Arab forces committed to defeating ISIL and expelling them from their lands.”

Meanwhile, strides are being made in training vetted Syrian opposition force recruits as part of the coalition’s “Syria Train and Equip” program, designed to give training alumna the capabilities they need as New Syrian Forces to defend the Syrian people and go on the offensive against ISIL, the colonel said.

“The second class of recruits is currently in training,” he said, “and we continue to see significant interest in opposition forces volunteering for the program and have hundreds of additional fighters currently undergoing vetting for potential training in the future.”

Ultimately, Ryder said, success does not hinge on one fight or one event, rather in the continuous application of lessons learned.

“With Turkey’s decision to open bases for the deployment of U.S. aircraft conducting counter-ISIL operations, the coalition now has another strategic location from which it can conduct strikes if and when necessary,” the colonel said.

He acknowledged a long road ahead without illusions about the complexities of the fight against a determined adversary.

“Our combined military efforts can and will defeat ISIL,” Ryder said. “However, the effects achieved will be short-lived unless the leadership of the country of Iraq makes the right decisions and does the right things to ensure that all of that nation’s citizens are treated fairly and equally.”

(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter @LyleDODNews) 

Navy chief issues Navigation Plan for 2016-20

ASMC National News - Thu, 2015-08-06 16:38

ADM Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), issued the Navy’s Navigation Plan for 2016-20 that describes how the Navy will use its resources to sustain a “balanced and capable force.”

The Navigation Plan, Greenert said “highlights our Navy’s key investment’s which support missions and functions outlined in the defense strategic guidance (DSG), Sustaining U.S. Leadership Priorities for 21st Century Defense, and the Quadrennial Defense Review.”

Greenert said “the Navy must have the capability and capacity to conduct war at sea, and win decisively through: deterrence, sea control, power projection, maritime security, and domain access [including cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum].”

The Plan emphasizes that “forward naval presence is essential to strengthening alliances and partnerships, providing the secure environment necessary for a global economic system based on the free flow of goods, promoting stability, deterring conflict, and responding to aggression.” The five-year Navy’s budget plan provides for a fleet of about 115 ships by 2020 with an increased presence of some 36 ships in the Middle East. “Innovative, low-cost and small-footprint approaches” will be utilized in the AFRICOM and SOUTHCOM areas, according to the Plan.

Greenert emphasizes that supporting ready sailors, civilians, and families will “remain the foundation of the Navy’s warfighting capability.” He acknowledges that the continuing high demand for Naval forces worldwide is stressing the force, but says the budget plan “continues to provide services and support to ensure that our people remain resilient and ready.”

The budget “emphasizes and rewards sea duty by continuing increased sea duty pay, sea pay premium, and critical skill retention pays,” Greenert stressed. The budget plan uses savings from compensation reforms to improve quality of service for sailors, provide more realistic training, and promote use of smart technology devices.

Work, Kendall Visit Livermore Lab, Nuke Stockpile

Defense News - Thu, 2015-08-06 00:00

With responsibility for surety of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California is a “national treasure,” Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said today.

Touring the lab for the first time since he took office as the DoD deputy secretary, Work said Livermore is one of three such treasures that work with the nation’s nuclear program -- in addition to Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico and Sandia National Laboratories in Washington, D.C.

The deputy noted the words of President Barack Obama, who said the United States needs to have a safe, effective and reliable nuclear deterrent.

Livermore Central to Safe Stockpile

“Livermore is central to making sure that stockpile is safe and reliable,” Work told reporters on his return from a two-day trip to Northern California.

The California facility, he added, is “responsible for the surety of the weapons we have in our stockpile … they do tests, designs and are training the next generation of nuclear weapons specialists.”

Work added that the Department of Energy’s Livermore employees are “unbelievably talented.”

Work and Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, were briefed by the lab’s senior leaders and took a classified tour of Livermore’s key sectors of interest to DoD, including weapons and complex integration in the National Security Weapons Vault, the National Ignition Facility, home of the world’s largest laser.

Talks With Perry

Following the lab tour, Work and Kendall had a working lunch with former defense secretary William J. Perry, who served under President Bill Clinton’s administration from February 1994 to January 1997.

“Secretary Perry is an unbelievable font of knowledge,” Work said, adding that the 19th defense secretary was a key figure in DoD’s 1970s technology -- from working on the second offset strategy, development of the stealth bomber, bringing cruise missiles to the Navy, and introducing guided munitions to the Army.

“We asked him, ‘What do you think is going on in terms of technology, where do you see the third offset strategy going, what’s he worried about in [technology], what trends does he see?’” Work said of the discussions with Perry. “Just being able to sit down and talk with him … he’s just a great American.”

The visit to the Livermore lab visit and the nuclear stockpile comprised one segment of the California trip, Work said, which also centered on private industry and government dual-use innovation, in addition to observing a large-scale exercise at Fort Irwin, as the Army shifts its focus toward hybrid threats in warfare to counter a range of contingencies the military could face in the future.

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoDNews)

DoD Announces Transfer of Suspected ISIL Member

Defense News - Thu, 2015-08-06 00:00

Earlier today, Nasrin As’ad Ibrahim, also known as Umm Sayyaf, a suspected member of ISIL who has been detained by U.S. forces in Iraq since May 15, was transferred to the custody of the government of Iraq, according to a Defense Department news release.

Umm Sayyaf is now being held by the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government’s Ministry of Interior, the release said.

Umm Sayyaf was the wife of a senior ISIL leader, Abu Sayyaf. Abu Sayyaf was killed by U.S. Special Operations Forces during a raid in Syria, according to the release.

The decision to transfer Umm Sayyaf to the Iraqi government was based on the U.S. government determination that the detainee’s transfer would be appropriate with respect to legal, diplomatic, intelligence, security, and law enforcement considerations, the release said.

This transfer is consistent with DoD policy to detain, interrogate, and, where appropriate, seek the prosecution of individuals who are captured on the battlefield, the release said.

World War II Airman's Remains Identified

Defense News - Thu, 2015-08-06 00:00

The remains of a serviceman, missing since World War II, have been identified and are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors, said the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in a DoD news release issued today.
U.S. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Stephen V. Biezis of Chicago, will be buried Aug. 14, in Arlington National Cemetery, according to the release. His co-pilot, 1st Lt. James F. Gatlin of Jacksonville, Florida, was buried Jan. 30, in Bushnell, Florida.

On Dec. 23, 1944, Biezis and his crew of five were assigned to the 575th Bombardment Squadron, 391st Bombardment Group, 9th Air Force and were deployed to Germany, the release said. Biezis was the co-pilot of a B-26C Marauder that crashed after being struck by enemy fire while on a bombing mission against enemy forces near Ahrweiler, Germany. Biezis, Gatlin and three other crew members were reported killed in action. His remains were not recovered during the war.

One of the crew members parachuted from the aircraft but was captured and held as a prisoner of war by German forces, the release said. Following his release, he reported to U.S. officials that he had no knowledge of the fate of the remaining crewmen.

Following the war, the American Graves Registration Command conducted investigations on the loss of Biezis and his crew and successfully located the crash site, near Manderscheid and Bettenfeld, the release said. The remains of two crewmen were recovered.

On May 27, 1999, a U.S. team investigating World War II losses in Germany visited a crash site near Bettenfeld, according to the release. Two German nationals had researched the crash site and showed the team artifacts that were found and turned over remains collected from the site. Those remains were identified as Army Air Forces Staff Sgt. Joe R. Sanchez, 20, of Los Nietos, Calif. He was accounted for in March 2011, and returned to his family for burial with full military honors.

Between 2011 and 2014, the Department of Defense teams traveled to Bettenfeld and conducted operations at the crash site, the release said.

To identify Biezis’ remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used forensic identification tools to include mitochondrial DNA, which matched his sister and cousin, according to the release.

Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died. Today, more than 73,000 are unaccounted for from the conflict, the release said.

Gen. Dunford confirmed as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

ASMC National News - Wed, 2015-08-05 16:05

The Senate confirmed Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., USMC, to be the 19th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) last week before adjourning for the summer recess. Dunford will replace Gen. Martin Dempsey.

Dunford was nominated by President Obama in May to replace current CJCS Gen. Martin Dempsey when his term ends later this year. At that time the president said Dunford “is one of our military’s most highly regarded strategic thinkers” and “is known and respected by our allies, members of Congress—on both sides of the aisle—and by colleagues across our government.”

Although Dunford’s confirmation was held up briefly by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) because she had not received information on sexual assaults in military installations. Even so, Gillibrand stressed that her hold was not about Dunford’s qualifications.

Gen. Dunford is currently the 36th Commandant of the Marine Corps, a position he has held since October 2014. Before becoming Commandant, Dunford was the Commander International Security Assistance Force and United States Forces – Afghanistan. He has served in joint assignments as Executive Assistant to the Vice-Chairman JCS, Chief of the Global and Multilateral Affairs Division (J5), and Vice Director for Operations (J3). Dunford has also commanded the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, the 5th Marine Regiment, I Marine Expeditionary Force, and Marine Forces Central Command.

The Senate also confirmed Gen. Paul J. Silva, USAF, to be the next Vice Chairman of the JCS. Gen. Selva will replace Adm. James “Sandy” Winnefeld, Jr. whose term will also end soon. Gen. Selva is currently Commander of the U.S. Transportation Command. Prior to that, he served as Commander of the Air Mobility Command, Vice commander Pacific Air Forces, Commander Tanker Airlift Control Center, Commander 62nd Airlift Air Wing, and Commander 60th Operations Group.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter praised the confirmation of both Dunford and Selva. “Both have proven their mettle throughout their careers—from Gen. Dunford’s first years as an infantryman to his leadership both in Afghanistan and of the Marine Corps, and from General Selva’s early days as a pilot to his leadership of our military’s transportation command.” Carter said from the Pentagon.

OMB Mid-Session Review projects improvement in new-term budget deficit

ASMC National News - Thu, 2015-07-23 11:56

The FY2015 federal budget deficit will be $128 billion lower than the previous administration estimate, according to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

In its annual Mid-Session Review of the Budget, OMB now expects the FY2015 deficit to be $455 billion compared to $583 billion projection made when the FY2016 budget was released in February.  The deficit for FY2016 is also expected to decline by $45 billion, from $474 billion projected in February to $429 billion.

Measured as percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the deficit is expected to decline from 2.8 percent in FY2014 to 2.6 percent in FY2015. The deficit share of GDP will further decline to 2.3 percent in FY2016 and hold at around 2.5 percent through FY2020. Between FY2021 and FY2025 OMB projects the deficit share of GDP to remain steady at 2.7 percent.

Increased receipts (+72 billion) account for more than half the improvement in the FY2015 deficit. Estimated higher individual (+$69 billion) and corporate (+$20 billion) income tax receipts are slightly offset by lower economic assumptions (-$22 billion) affecting receipts. Also contributing to the deficit improvement in FY2015 are lower than expected discretionary (-$23 billion) and mandatory (-$13 billion) spending. Defense outlays in FY2015 are projected to be $5 billion less due to lower than expected spending patterns in investment accounts.

While the FY2015-17 deficit estimates are down from OMB’s previous projections, deficits for FY2018-25 are now estimated to be $209 billion higher than OMB’s February projections. This adjustment is due primarily to lower revenue (-$556 billion) as revised economic forecasts show lower economic growth that will lead to lower individual and corporate income tax receipts. Partly offsetting the projected decline in receipts are lower than previously expected expenditures (-$374 billion) driven by lower interest payments (-$303 billion) due to revised economic assumptions. Discretionary spending is expected to show little increase (about $18 billion, almost all defense) over the eight-year period.

The OMB projections are based on the administration’s economic assumptions and its proposed spending and revenue proposals. The unemployment rate is expected to average 5.3 percent in 2015 (down from 6.2 percent in 2014) and is projected to decline to 4.6 percent by 2017. The unemployment rate will rise again to 4.9 percent by 2021 and stay at that level through 2025. OMB expects the annual change in consumer prices (CPI-U) to be only 0.2 percent in 2015, but increase to 1.9 percent in 2016 and level off at 2.3 percent by 2020.

House Committee approves FY2016 Coast Guard funding

ASMC National News - Mon, 2015-07-20 11:13

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee (HAC) approved FY2016 appropriations for the Coast Guard, which are included in the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill.

This marks the 12th and final FY2016 appropriations bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee (HAC).

HAC chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) said, “all committee work on funding measures [for FY2016] –the first time this has happened since 2009.” The full House has passed six bills, (Commerce/Justice/State, DoD, Energy and Water, Legislative, Military Construction/Veterans Affairs, and Transportation/HUD).

The HAC approved $8.5 billion in FY2016 discretionary appropriations (to be appropriated by Congress) for the Coast Guard, $361 million more than the budget request. The bill also identifies $1.6 billion in Coast Guard mandatory spending, including retired pay. The HAC bill does not include Coast Guard funding for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO).

Operating expenses totaling $6.9 billion are funded in the bill, about $77 million higher than the request.  The bill fully funds a military pay raise, but does not contain funding for a civilian pay raise. Funding would be increased by $14 million for critical enlistment and extension bonuses and $55 million for critical depot maintenance programs.

The bill would increase the request for acquisition, construction, and improvements by $284 million to $1.3 billion. The bill fully funds the request for six Fast Response Cutters (to replace the aging 110-foot patrol boat fleet) and adds $70.5 million for design and construction of the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OSP), a high acquisition priority. An Additional $95 million is included to buy the 13th HC-130J, $82.7 million for Shore Facilities construction (aviation facilities +$31 million, ship lift facility +$20 million, and training center +$31.7 million), and $21 million for Coast Guard housing.

The HAC also proposes $20 million in rescissions from prior-year programs.

The Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) approved its version of the FY2016 Homeland Security Appropriations bill last month. The SAC bill provides $8.7 billion for Coast Guard discretionary appropriations, $570 million above the request. The bill also includes OCO funding of $160 million for the Coast Guard.


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