WASHINGTON, D.C.— Today, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) voted for—and the House passed—the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA; S. 1790) which authorizes $738 billion for defense programs to continue to rebuild readiness, advance modernization, develop emerging technologies, enhance missile defense and confront our adversaries. The defense package also assures a 3.1 percent pay raise for our troops—the highest pay hike for members of the Armed Services in a decade.
Smith Veterans Amendment Adopted
Included in the bipartisan conference package, which passed in 377-to 48 vote, is an amendment authored by Smith to modernize the Department of Defense (DoD) Transition Assistance Program (TAP) and help more than 20,000 of service members each year who transition to veteran status and return to civilian life.
“I have seen how vital TAP is in preparing all eligible members of the armed forces for transition to civilian life,” Smith, said. “Yet, this program designed to help more than 20,000 transitioning to veteran/civilian life has proven a bit out dated and limited because of the multiple websites used to shared needed information.
“My amendment aims to provide service members with a single-source, comprehensive, online application accessible through smart technology and a mobile app to assist vets with their transition and needs after separation.”
The former chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee said under the current mandatory TAP program, service members undergo four hours of pre-separation counseling, five days of classroom-based instruction, and an optional two-day Transition Goals, Plans, Success program.
“It’s all good and helpful—but abundant—information provided in multiple sessions that can become an organizational challenge especially for service members who are relocating and starting new lives,” Smith said.
“Additionally, there is currently no avenue for TAP officials to follow service members' progress in completing their TAP requirements and ensure that all support systems are being used. My amendment enables the sharing of information and tracking progress with immediate and accurate reports,” he said.
Smith offered his amendment to the defense authorization bill when it was originally considered by the full House in July. Because the Senate companion bill had no similar provision, keeping the Smith amendment in the final package marks a great success.
Now section 570G of S. 1790, Smith’s slightly modified amendment, authorizes the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and the Secretary of Labor to work collaboratively on a three-year pilot program develop an online app that would address the current shortfalls in the TAP program and streamline online resources given to them upon separation.
“Our goal is to create a one-stop source for online applications to assist service members and veterans participating in the TAP and enable and ensure the valuable information provided by TAP is always at veterans’ fingertips.”
Other critical provisions included in the overall bipartisan package:
- Smith’s proposal to require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct an investigation by the Comptroller General of the United States to study the contracting practices of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in order to address independent contractor misclassification on federal projects.
- A $75 million authorization for the Office of Economic Adjustment’s Defense Community Infrastructure Program (DCIP), which could provide grants, conclude cooperative agreements, and supplemental funds available under other federal programs to assist states and local governments in addressing deficiencies in community infrastructure projects or facilities that are located outside of military installations but that support military installations like JB-MDL. Smith cosponsored an amendment and cosigned letters supporting DCIP.
- A three-year phased repeal of the Widow’s Tax
- Up to 12 weeks of Paid Parental Leave for the Defense Department, Intelligence Community, and across the federal government
- Increasing the reimbursement amount for professional state licensure expenses incurred by military spouses as they move their families around the country, and also authorizes a cooperative agreement with the Council of State Governors to assist with funding the development of interstate compacts to improve spouse professional license portability, which has been an issue at JB-MDL.