Armed Services panels look to fix Guard bonus – Politico

With Zach Montellaro, Connor O’Brien and Ellen Mitchell

ARMED SERVICES PANELS LOOK TO INCLUDE CALIFORNIA TROOP BONUS FIX IN NDAA: The Pentagon’s controversial move to claw back improper reenlistment bonuses paid to members of the National Guard in California and around the country could see a legislative fix to halt the forced repayments when lawmakers return after the election to hammer out a final version of the National Defense Authorization Act. A House Armed Services aide tells Morning D a fix to the bonus issue will likely come up in conference negotiations on the defense policy bill. “Chairman [Mac] Thornberry and Sen. [John] McCain are discussing how they could adjust NDAA provisions to fix this issue,” the aide said.

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The committee aide also disputed the claim that Congress dropped the ball on a legislative fix for the issue two years ago. The Los Angeles Times reported that the California National Guard proposed a legislative fix to lawmakers. A list of the California National Guard’s priorities for the fiscal 2015 NDAA, obtained by Morning D, requested legislative language related to “service-member debt relief equity.” The document noted, “Thousands of soldiers have inadvertently incurred debt, through no fault of their own, because of faulty Army recruiting or accounting practices and malicious individuals,” but makes no mention of the bonus recoupment.

“There’s no sense of the scope or direness of the problem,” the HASC aide said of the document. “That it was their last priority and they did not pursue it in subsequent years certainly reinforces the view that it was not an urgent situation.”

A copy of the California Guard’s legislative priorities for the fiscal 2015 NDAA is here, and a draft copy of the legislative fix, which would’ve required consistent debt relief procedures for active-duty service members and reservists, is here.

— MORNING D THOUGHT BUBBLE: Eight California lawmakers from both parties sat on the House Armed Services Committee during the last Congress: Chairman Buck McKeon and Reps. Duncan Hunter, Paul Cook, Loretta Sanchez, Susan Davis, John Garamendi, Jackie Speier and Scott Peters.

— MEANWHILE, THE HOUSE OVERSIGHT PANEL LAUNCHES BONUS PROBE, reports Travis Tritten of Stars and Stripes: “A House oversight committee on Tuesday launched an investigation into the Army National Guard reclaiming wartime re-enlistment bonuses. The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform requested the service turn over all documents and audits related to it taking back the decade-old payments of $15,000 or more to soldiers who agreed to re-enlist for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said he has tasked a top Pentagon official to look into and resolve the bonus payments issue.”

— AND CARTER VOWS TO LOOK INTO IT, TOO, via The Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe: “Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter promised Tuesday to resolve the cases of thousands of Army National Guard soldiers who were ordered by the Defense Department to repay bonuses they received to enlist in the military. ‘We are going to look into and resolve it,’ he said, adding that Deputy Defense Secretary Robert O. Work is examining the situation. ‘It is a significant issue.’”

HAPPY WEDNESDAY AND WELCOME TO MORNING DEFENSE, where we’re always on the lookout for tips, pitches and feedback. Email us at jherb@politico.com, and follow on Twitter @jeremyherb, @morningdefense and @politicopro.

HAPPENING TODAY — HAGEL TALKS ARAB-U.S. DEFENSE COOPERATION: Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is among the speakers discussing Arab-U.S. defense cooperation at the annual two-day Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference hosted by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations. McKeon, the former House Armed Services chairman, is also on the panel discussing defense cooperation this afternoon.

BATTLE FOR MOSUL — CARTER SAYS RAQQA OPERATION TO BEGIN BEFORE MOSUL IS CAPTURED, writes Matthew Dalton and Gordon Lubold of The Wall Street Journal: “The U.S. and its allies are preparing to launch the invasion of Islamic State’s Raqqa stronghold before the recapture of Mosul in Iraq is complete, Carter said on Tuesday, signaling new urgency to prevent militants from regrouping in Syria. U.S. officials hope to start the invasion of Raqqa as soon as the coming weeks, provided the Mosul campaign proceeds as planned, though the push for the militant group’s de facto capital in Syria remains complicated by regional political sensitivities that haven’t appeared in the fight for Mosul.”

— CARTER LANDS IN BRUSSELS: The defense secretary is in Brussels today for a NATO ministerial meeting on the last leg of his weeklong foreign trip. And the fight against the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria is sure to be a chief topic among the defense ministers. NATO is also seeking troops on its eastern Flank to deter Russia, Reuters reports.

— IRAQ’S ELITE FORCES PAUSE NEAR MOSUL, writes Reuters’ Stephen Kalin and Maher Chmaytelli: “An elite unit of the Iraqi army paused its weeklong advance on Mosul as it approached the city’s eastern edge on Tuesday, waiting for other U.S.-backed forces to close in on Islamic State’s last major urban stronghold in Iraq. On the ninth day of the offensive on Mosul, government forces and allied Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are still fighting their way towards the outer limits of the northern city, in the early stages of an assault which could become the biggest military operation in Iraq in over a decade.”

THE FIGHT AWAY FROM MOSUL — IRAQI FORCES RETAKE WESTERN TOWN, reports Ben Kesling of the WSJ: “Iraqi security forces said Tuesday they had regained control of the town of Rutba after repelling a dayslong assault by Islamic State, an attack designed to divert forces from the U.S.-backed offensive to retake Mosul. The development in Anbar province some 400 miles southwest of Mosul comes after Iraqi forces overcame a similar onslaught this weekend by the terror group on the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.”

TOP DOC — GAO DETAILS DENIAL OF BOEING’S BOMBER PROTEST: The Government Accountability Office has detailed its denial of Boeing’s protest of the new Air Force Long-Range Strike Bomber contract, concluding that Northrop Grumman had proposed “substantially lower” development costs and “labor rate advantages.” The GAO said in a partially redacted report that the Pentagon’s evaluation was “reasonable and consistent” with terms in the B-21 bomber’s solicitation and that the Air Force met with both bidders in “eight rounds of discussions” to discuss costs prior to the award.

The Air Force awarded the B-21 contract to Northrop over a team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin in November 2015. Boeing quickly alleged that the Air Force selection process wasn’t fair and that the service “unreasonably rejected” the company’s cost data, as well as “failed to consider risks inherent in Northrop’s approach that should have rendered Northrop’s proposal unacceptable or significantly increased Northrop’s evaluated cost.”

NDAA WATCH — DEMOCRATIC SENATORS SOUND OFF ON LGBT PROVISION: Forty-two of the 46 Democratic senators have signed onto a letter released Tuesday blasting language in the House National Defense Authorization Act that would strip away protections for individuals working for government contractors based on sexual orientation.

The letter comes as House and Senate Armed Services leaders prepare to hammer out a final version of the massive defense policy bill in the lame-duck session of Congress after the Nov. 8 elections. While enough senators signed the letter to potentially filibuster the bill if the provision is included, the Senate letter does not make that specific threat. The language, added to the House bill by Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.), was one of the provisions included in the White House’s lengthy veto threat earlier this year.

INDUSTRY INTEL — LOCKHEED INTERNATIONAL SALES TO HIT 25 PERCENT OF ANNUAL REVENUE: Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson said Tuesday the company’s international sales are on track to account for 25 percent of annual revenue later this year and 30 percent in the next few years, driven largely by F-35 Joint Strike Fighter sales. Hewson said international sales contributed $9.6 billion to Lockheed’s $46.1 billion total revenue in 2015, nearly 21 percent.

The company set an objective several years ago to have its international business account for 25 percent of all sales. And Lockheed is “on track to exceed that goal later this year,” thanks to its Sikorsky acquisition in November 2015, she told analysts during a conference call following Lockheed’s release of its third-quarter financial results.

VISUAL OF THE DAY — ‘THERE ARE NO MORE PLANES OF GLASS LEFT IN ALEPPO’: The WSJ offers a visual look at the destruction in the besieged Syrian city.

SPEED READ

— Islamic State fighters are suspected of capturing and killing dozens of civilians in a remote province in Afghanistan: Reuters

— U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan spike, already surpassing last year’s total: Reuters

— How the Islamic State is using scorched-earth tactics as it retreats: The Washington Post

— Iraqi forces have moved more than 1,000 people from villages near the front lines of Mosul: The Associated Press

— Russia says humanitarian corridors out of Aleppo are still open: AP

— Hillary Clinton sticks with Barack Obama’s strict lobbying rules — for now: POLITICO

— The Pentagon’s ‘Terminator conundrum’: Robots that could kill on their own: The New York Times

— How North Korea’s privileged few live: NYT

— Director of National Intelligence James Clapper endorses dividing the NSA and Cyber Command: POLITICO Pro

— Iran is opening up ties with the West, even as it moves aggressively to expand its influence in the region: NYT

— The House prepares a vote on a 10-year renewal of the Iran Sanctions Act: Reuters

— NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance will defend everyone, responding to Donald Trump’s charges that the U.S. would look at their defense spending first: WSJ

— The attack on a police academy in Pakistan underscores a new security threat there from the Islamic State: WSJ

— An Israeli civilian is killed by gunfire on the country’s border with Egypt: Reuters

— A look at the Air Force’s “ultimate battle plane,” the AC-130J Ghostrider: Air Force Times

— The U.N. highlights reports of mass killings and sexual enslavement in and around Mosul: The Guardian

—The Defense Department is going after the services for failing to fully fund morale, welfare and recreation programs: Military Times

— Norway approves a “limited rotational force presence” of roughly 330 Marines: Military.com

— Arlington National Cemetery adopts a ban on pets: Stars and Stripes

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