AUGUSTA, Maine — A sweeping $607 billion military spending authorization bill brimming with provisions that will support Maine’s defense contractors and overhaul the military’s justice system has been sent to President Barack Obama for his signature.
Late Thursday night, the U.S. Senate passed the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act by a vote of 84-15. The U.S. House passed its version of the bill 350-69 last week.
Components of the spending plan that could have strong impacts on Maine’s economy include $100 million toward a 10th DDG-51 destroyer that could be built at Bath Iron Works, infrastructure improvements at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, and contracts for Maine manufacturers of military aircraft parts.
The bill also heads off another round of military base closures, which in 2005 led to the demise of Brunswick Naval Air Station and until the decision was overturned, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, hailed Senate passage of the bill and held it up as a victory for bipartisanship and cooperation between the House and Senate.
“[It] illustrates the importance that Congress places on our nation’s shipbuilding programs, which support the Navy in meeting its essential national security commitments around the globe,” said Collins, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. “The funding for the 10th DDG-51 destroyer that will be built right here in Maine by the outstanding men and women at Bath Iron Works has been authorized, and I will continue to work to see that the money is actually appropriated.”
King, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the bill supports the missions and livelihoods of military personnel while ensuring that defense spending is cost-effective.
“The bill … provides for our national defense and security and advances groundbreaking reforms to the military justice system to combat sexual assault in the military,” said King in a written statement. “The legislation also includes measures that will benefit Maine’s economy and contribute to stable jobs for people in defense-related industries across the state.”
In addition to opening the door for another destroyer at Bath Iron Works, which shares the contracts with Ingalls Shipbuilding in Mississippi, the bill resolves a decades-old dispute between the Pentagon, Boeing and Bath Iron Works’ parent company, General Dynamics, with an amendment that was co-authored by Collins and King.
The A-12 aircraft lawsuit stems from 1991 when the Pentagon canceled a $4.8 billion stealth aircraft contract with General Dynamics and McDonnell Douglas, which has since been acquired by Boeing, according to Aviation Week. General Dynamics and Boeing sued the government for wrongful contract termination and the case has been in legal limbo ever since.
Language in the 2014 Defense Authorization Act allows the Navy to receive $400 million worth of military hardware at no cost, including a nearly $200 million credit for the third DDG-1000, the next-generation destroyer being built at Bath Iron Works. According to Collins, this firms up the construction program and protects jobs at the Bath shipyard.
The bill also contains the following provisions:
— $11.5 million to fund consolidation of shipyard structural shops at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard more quickly than previously planned;
— $6.5 billion for Joint Strike Fighter aircraft procurements, components of which are built at Pratt & Whitney in North Berwick;
— $503 million for development of the CH-53K marine helicopter, the rotor shafts for which are built at Hunting Dearborn in Fryeburg;
— $56.6 million for the Common Remotely Operated Weapons System, portions of which are built in Biddeford, South Paris and Arundel;
— $346 million for development or aerospace propulsion systems, which the University of Maine is conducting research for;
— A measure that prevents the Pentagon from initiating another Base Realignment and Closure Commission, whose purpose is to downsize the nation’s stock of military bases;
— A number of provisions designed to reduce sexual assault in the military by, among other things, improving the Department of Defense response procedures, prohibiting commanders from dismissing cases or allowing defendants to be found guilty of lesser offenses; requiring personnel found guilty of rape or sexual assault to be dishonorably discharged; and ending the five-year statute of limitations on rape and sexual assaults.
— Language that requires the Department of Defense to seek domestic sources for athletic footwear, which could help shoe manufacturer New Balance, which has three factories in Maine.
The bill also has a report attached that urges the creation of a prescription drug take-back program designed to combat the rise of suicide among military personnel.
“It is clear that Congress expects DoD to have the authority to conduct a drug take-back program at its medical facilities, and I urge the Drug Enforcement Agency to promptly finalize its rule to reflect this expectation, which will help to avoid future tragic instances of service member suicide,” said Collins.