On Wednesday, May 18, 2016, the House will likely begin consideration of H.R. 4974, the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017, under a modified-open rule. The bill was introduced on April 15, 2016 by Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies. The bill was ordered reported by the Committee on Appropriations, on April 15, 2016, as amended, by voice vote.
H.R. 4974 provides $81.6 billion in discretionary funding to house, train, and equip military personnel, provide housing and services to military families, help maintain base infrastructure, and fund veterans’ benefits and programs. This is $1.8 billion above Fiscal Year 2016 levels, and $1.2 billion below the President’s budget request.
The major provisions of the bill are as follows:
Military Construction: The bill provides a total of $7.9 billion for military construction projects—a decrease of $305 million below the enacted Fiscal Year 2016 level and $250 million above the President’s request. This includes funds for large and small construction and renovation projects on military bases within the U.S. and around the globe. Of the amount provided for Military Construction projects, $172 million is provided for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) projects, including European Reassurance Initiative projects.
Military Family Housing: The bill provides $1.3 billion to fund construction and operation and maintenance of military family housing for Fiscal Year 2017. This is $84 million below the Fiscal Year 2016 level and the same as the budget request. The funding will ensure quality housing is sustained for all 1.3 million military families currently served by the program.
Military Medical Facilities: The bill includes $304 million for construction and alterations for new or existing military medical facilities, which is the same level as the President’s budget request, and a decrease of $303 million from the Fiscal Year 2016 enacted level. This funding will allow for continued support and care for 9.8 million eligible beneficiaries, including our wounded troops abroad.
Department of Defense (DOD) Education Facilities: The bill includes $246 million for essential safety improvements and infrastructure work at four DOD Education Activities facilities located within the U.S. and overseas.
Guard and Reserve: The bill includes $673 million for construction or alteration of Guard and Reserve facilities in 21 States, an increase of $122 million above the Fiscal Year 2016 enacted level.
NATO Security Investment Program (NSIP): The bill provides $178 million – the same as the President’s request and $43 million above Fiscal Year 2016 – for infrastructure necessary for wartime, crisis, and peace support and deterrence operations, and training requirements. The funds will support responses to the challenges posed by Russia and to the risks and threats emanating from the Middle East and North Africa.
Guantanamo Bay: The legislation continues language to prohibit the closure of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station and a provision to prohibit funding for construction of any facility within the U.S. to house Guantanamo detainees.
Veterans Affairs (VA): The bill includes a total of $176.1 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs, an increase of $13.4 billion above the Fiscal Year 2016 level. Discretionary funding alone for VA programs in the bill totals $73.5 billion, an increase of $2.1 billion, or 3 percent, above the Fiscal Year 2016 level. Approximately $63.3 billion of this discretionary total was provided last year via advance funding in the fiscal year 2016 Appropriations bill. Further, in response to the Administration’s request, the bill provides an additional $850 million in fiscal year 2017 funding to address additional health care needs such as treatment of hepatitis C, long-term care for veterans, support services for caregivers of veterans, and to fight homelessness among veterans and their families.
Oversight: Due to troubling mismanagement reports at the VA, a recent history of wasteful spending, and to increase the efficiency and quality of care to our veterans, the legislation includes significant oversight and accountability provisions. Some of these provisions include limiting transfers between construction projects, reporting on bid savings, limiting changes in the scope of construction projects, and restricting the agency from taking certain spending actions without notifying Congress.
To stop taxpayer funded rewards to under-performing or poorly performing employees, the legislation also prohibits all VA Senior Executive Service managers from receiving bonuses.
VA Medical Services: The bill funds VA medical services at $52.5 billion – providing for approximately 7.0 million patients to be treated in Fiscal Year 2017. Within this total, funding includes: $7.8 billion in mental health care services; $164 million in suicide prevention activities; $284 million for traumatic brain injury treatment; $7.2 billion in homeless veterans treatment, services, housing, and job training; and $250 million in rural health initiatives.
VA Electronic Health Record: The bill contains $260 million for the modernization of the Veterans Affairs electronic health record system. To help ensure our veterans get proper care through the timely and accurate exchange of medical data between VA, DOD, and the private sector, the bill includes language restricting funding until the VA demonstrates progress on the system’s functionality and interoperability of the system with DOD, and requires that the VA meet milestones regarding functionality and management.
Disability Claims Processing Backlog: The bill provides $180 million for the paperless claims processing system, $153 million for digital scanning of health records, and $27 million for centralized mail. In addition, the bill continues rigorous reporting requirements to track each regional office’s performance on claims processing. The bill also includes funding of $156 million, a $46 million increase over the Fiscal Year 2016 level, for the Board of Veterans Appeals to support 242 new staff to tackle claims appeals and other needs resulting from the progress in reducing the claims backlog.
Construction: Major and minor construction within the VA is funded at approximately $900 million, as requested by the Administration. The bill continues the requirement that a non-VA entity manage VA construction projects that cost over $100 million, and provides funding for the purpose.
VA Mandatory Funding: The bill fulfills mandatory funding requirements such as: veteran disability compensation programs for 4.8 million veterans and their survivors; education benefits for nearly 1.1 million veterans; and vocational rehabilitation and employment training for more than 140,000 veterans.
Advance Appropriations: The bill contains $66.4 billion in advance Fiscal Year 2018 funding for veterans’ medical programs—the same level as the President’s request. This funding will provide for medical services, medical support and compliance, and medical facilities, and ensure that our veterans have continued, full access to their medical care needs. The bill includes $103.9 billion in advance funding for VA mandatory benefit programs, as requested in the President’s budget.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) serves approximately 48.3 million people or 14.8 percent of the total estimated resident population of the U.S. and Puerto Rico: 21.7 million veterans and 26.6 million family members of living veterans or survivors of deceased veterans. The VA employs 350,000 people, making it one of the largest Federal agencies in terms of employment.
Related Agencies: The bill includes $241.1 million for Related Agencies funded in the bill. Agencies funded under this title include the American Battle Monuments Commission, the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and Civil Cemeterial Expenses, which includes Arlington National Cemetery and the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery.
Arlington National Cemetery: The bill includes $70.8 million for the Arlington National Cemetery.
American Battle Monuments Commission: The bill includes $75.1 million for salaries and expenses of the American Battle Monuments Commission (AMBC). The AMBC is responsible for the administration, operation and maintenance of cemetery and war memorials to commemorate the achievements and sacrifices of the American Armed Forces where they have served since April 6, 1917. In performing these functions, the Commission maintains 25 permanent American military cemetery memorials and 27 monuments, memorials, and markers.
United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims: The bill includes $30.9 million for salaries and expenses for the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
Armed Forces Retirement Home Trust Fund: This bill includes $64.3 million for the Armed Forces Retirement Home Trust Fund. The Trust Fund was created to provide all resources required for operations and expenses of the two AFRH locations.
Overseas Contingency Operations: The bill provides $172 million for projects in support of Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO)/Global War on Terrorism.
General Provisions: The bill includes the following general provisions:
Section 501 prohibiting the obligation of funds beyond the current fiscal year unless expressly so provided.
Section 502 prohibiting the use of funds for programs, projects or activities not in compliance with Federal law relating to risk assessment, the protection of private property rights, or unfunded mandates.
Section 503 encouraging all departments and agencies funded in this Act to expand the use of ‘‘E-Commerce’’ technologies and procedures.
Section 504 specifying the Congressional committees that are to receive all reports and notifications.
Section 505 prohibiting the transfer of funds to any instrumentality of the United States Government without authority from an appropriations Act.
Section 506 prohibiting any funds in this Act to be used for a project or program named for an individual serving as a Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner of the United States House of Representatives.
Section 507 requiring all reports submitted to the Congress to be posted on official websites of the submitting agency.
Section 508 prohibiting the use of funds to establish or maintain a computer network unless such network blocks the viewing, downloading, and exchanging of pornography, except for law enforcement investigation, prosecution or adjudication activities.
Section 509 prohibiting the use of funds for payment of first-class travel by an employee of the executive branch.
Section 510 prohibiting the use of funds in this Act for any contract where the contractor has not complied with E-Verify requirements.
Section 511 prohibiting the use of funds in this Act by the Department of Defense or the Department of Veterans Affairs for the purchase or lease of a new vehicle except in accordance with Presidential Memorandum—Federal Fleet Performance, dated May 24, 2011.
Section 512 prohibiting the use of funds in this Act for the renovation, expansion, or construction of any facility in the continental United States for the purpose of housing any individual who has been detained at the United States Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Section 513 allows unobligated balances of amounts appropriated for the Ebola outbreak to be available to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the Zika virus.
Section 514 establishing a ‘‘Spending Reduction Account’’ in the bill.
The programs funded by the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act provide the facilities and infrastructure needed to house, train, and equip our military personnel to defend this nation, both in the United States and abroad; provide the housing and military community infrastructure that supports a good quality of life for them and their families; and allow the military to maintain an efficient and effective base structure. The bill also funds programs to ensure that all veterans receive the benefits and medical care that they have earned as a result of the sacrifices they have made in their service to our country. The bill also funds four related agencies that provide support to our nation’s heroes: the American Battle Monuments Commission, Cemeterial Expenses, Army (including Arlington National Cemetery), the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and the Armed Forces Retirement Home.
 Id at 2.
If enacted, H.R. 4974 would result in discretionary budget authority of $81.6 billion.
For questions about amendments or further information on the bill, contact Jake Vreeburg with the House Republican Policy Committee by email or at 5-0190.