Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Ranking Member Roger Wicker, R-Miss., opened Senate floor deliberation last week on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year (FY) 2024.

The annual defense bill authorizes Department of Defense (DoD) spending levels and sets overarching military policy to equip, supply, and train U.S. troops and provide for military families.

The Senate FY2024 NDAA authorizes $845 billion for the DoD and $32 billion for national security programs within the Department of Energy (DoE). The bill authorizes critical investments in military technologies and platforms, delivers a 5.2 percent pay raise to America’s servicemembers, and ensures the joint force has the capabilities, equipment, and training it needs to accomplish its missions.

Consideration of the bill began in the full Senate on July 18, with debates on the first 51 amendments introduced beginning July 19. The Senate Armed Services Committee advanced its version of the bill to the full Senate on June 23 by a vote of 24-1.

“This is a strong defense bill that confronts the national security threats we face. This year’s NDAA addresses a broad range of pressing issues, including strategic competition with China and Russia and threats from Iran, North Korea, and violent extremists,” Sens. Reed and Wicker said in a joint statement. “The bill authorizes significant investments in key technologies like hypersonics and artificial intelligence, and it makes important progress toward modernizing our ships, aircraft, and combat vehicles.”

Senate NDAA highlights include:

  • Provides for a 5.2 percent pay raise for both military servicemembers and the DoD civilian workforce;
  • Supports requested funding for the procurement of naval vessels, combat aircraft, armored vehicles, weapon systems, and munitions;
  • Authorizes increased funding for the military services’ recruiting and advertising activities;
  • Authorizes significant funding for game-changing technologies like microelectronics, hypersonic weapons, and unmanned aircraft systems; and
  • Enhances deterrence by recapitalizing and modernizing the U.S. nuclear triad; ensuring the safety, security, and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, delivery systems, and infrastructure; increasing capacity in theater and homeland missile defense; and strengthening nonproliferation programs.

The House narrowly approved its version of the annual mammoth defense policy bill on July 14 by a margin of 219-210.

“The Senate process on the NDAA stands in sharp contrast with what we saw in the House,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in his floor remarks before the lawmakers began debate of the bill last week.

“In the Senate, Democrats and Republicans have worked together, mindful of the importance to preserve our national security, while the process in the House, unfortunately, was sadly delayed and at times derailed by wildly partisan and irrelevant hard right amendments that have nothing to do with defense,” Sen. Schumer added.

Sen. Schumer introduced a manager’s package of 51 amendments on July 19 – 21 from republicans, 21 from democrats, and nine bipartisan – that the Senate will continue to vote on tomorrow. The Senate leader said he expects to introduce a second package with “even more priorities for both sides.” There were over 650 amendments submitted for consideration on the floor.

The Senate is believed to pass their defense package by Friday, before the legislative bodies dismiss for August recess.

Once the Senate passes its own version of the FY2024 NDAA, the House and Senate will meet in a bicameral conference committee to reconcile the two bills into a single bill. Then the House and Senate will vote on the unified legislation before it goes to President Biden for his signature.

Cyber, Tech Provisions Await Possible Senate Consideration

In recent years, cyber ideas have found a home in the annual legislation because it’s considered “must-pass” legislation that has been passed for decades.

Senators have proposed hundreds of amendments awaiting possible consideration that would address the overlap of AI and cybersecurity, testing election systems for vulnerabilities, protection of Federal networks, and much more.

The most sweeping cyber-related proposals are those that are bigger bills that their sponsors have transformed into amendments. Two such amendments include the intelligence authorization bill and the State Department authorization bill.

Sen. Mark Warner’s, D-Va., intel authorization amendment directs the Election Assistance Commission to conduct penetration testing as part of the certification of voting system hardware and software.

Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and James Risch, R-Idaho, introduced the State Department authorization, which would require the agency to provide enhanced cyber protections – such as training and services – to personnel whose personal email accounts and devices are deemed at high risk of cyberattack.

The provision would also create a Cyberspace, Digital Connectivity and Related Technologies fund and a Digital Connectivity and Cybersecurity Partnership, both aimed at helping foreign governments secure cyberspace.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Gary Peters, D-Mich., also introduced a bill-turned-NDAA-amendment that would update a major law for protecting the Federal government’s networks, the Federal Information Security Modernization Act last updated in 2014.

Its provisions include requirements that civilian agencies report cyber incidents to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and Congress. Peters’ committee delayed planned consideration of the bill last week.

Other provisions include topics like AI, quantum, and even TikTok.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R., Mo., is seeking to include his “No TikTok on United States Devices Act” in the text of the NDAA. The bill, introduced by Sen. Hawley in January, would direct the president to use the authorities of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to impose economic sanctions on TikTok.

Sen. Schumer said that the first manager’s package includes over a dozen amendments that address competing with the Chinese government.

The manager’s package will also take “important steps on artificial intelligence,” Sen. Schumer said.

“My amendment, which I worked on with Senators Rounds, Young, and Heinrich, will increase data sharing with DoD, increase reporting on AI’s use in the financial services industry, create a bug bounty program where ethical hackers help us find vulnerabilities in our defenses, and much, much more,” the democratic leader said ahead of introducing the first 51 amendments.

The Senate began voting last week on proposed amendments and will resume tomorrow afternoon.

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.