The U.S. Senate gave final passage Tuesday to a $738 billion defense bill that includes a 3.1% pay raise for military personnel and a package of reforms aimed at holding private companies and the Defense Department accountable for the quality of base housing.
The bill, which was stalled for months by conflicts between the House and Senate, was approved 86-8. It was approved overwhelmingly last week by the House.
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the bill brings Congress “one step closer to delivering on President Donald Trump’s and my promise to rebuild our military. I look forward to the president signing this quickly so we can make it a reality.”
Trump is expected to sign the bill, which lays out Defense Department policy for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. The defense spending bill is also expected to be approved this week.
Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said the bill will modernize weapons systems, increase troop levels and create a Space Force as the sixth branch of the military. Also included is authority for all civilian federal workers to take 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a newborn or adopted child.
The legislation, co-authored by Inhofe, authorizes three additional KC-46 aircraft, bringing the total purchase of the refueling tankers to 15 in this fiscal year. Altus Air Force Base will ultimately receive eight of the new planes for training. They will be maintained at Tinker Air Force Base.
Inhofe also expanded a policy called “direct hiring” that allows bases such as Tinker and the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant to hire civilians more quickly.
“Our ability to direct-hire civilian personnel into key positions is critical to the long-term readiness of our military,” said Roy Williams, president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said the bill includes some of his priorities, including limitations on the number of F-35 stealth aircraft that can be transferred to Turkey because of that country’s acquisition of a Russian missile system. Also included, he said, is an updated policy allowing military chaplains to serve past the general military retirement age.
Inhofe and U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn, D-Oklahoma City, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, focused this year on severe problems reported with family housing at Tinker Air Force Base and other military installations.
Both credited Janna Driver, whose husband was stationed at Tinker, with bringing attention to conditions that in some cases, such as mold, posed health risks. The housing contractors were slow to make repairs and, according to Reuters and other media organizations, allegedly committed fraud. Air Force and other military branch officials conducted no meaningful oversight.
Inhofe held a series of hearings about the problems. Driver testified at one. When the defense bill was crafted last summer, she said she hoped the proposed changes — including a tenant’s bill of rights, dispute resolution and more transparency — “will help to increase the accountability that has been lacking and necessary in making living conditions safe and healthy for our military families who sacrifice so much for this country.”
Inhofe and Horn said the bill would ensure that the military and Congress would have to stay on top of the matter.
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