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Evolving Challenges

December 14, 2020
Weekly Columns

Last week, both chambers of Congress passed the same version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2021, sending it to the president’s desk. This marks the 60th consecutive year that lawmakers have delivered this bipartisan legislation. Indeed, authorizing resources to support our nation’s common defense through passage of the NDAA each year is one of the most critical responsibilities of Congress. Enacting the NDAA is vital to sustaining and strengthening programs and resources to keep our nation safe while also supporting the devoted and brave individuals who make every mission possible.

This has been a particularly difficult year for us all due to the public health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and our military service members have carried and overcome new burdens in response. Along with their usual assignments and duties, many of our devoted service members have navigated new and unexpected challenges, including being called upon to serve on the front lines of the pandemic. As vaccines for COVID-19 start to become available for use in the United States, the Department of Defense (DOD), in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services, will be tasked to distribute vaccines in record time. I am pleased that the NDAA, passed by Congress, includes funding for essential missions, such as this, as our nation faces the ongoing crisis.

While many of our service members will directly aid in the ongoing fight to eliminate this terrible virus, others will continue to dutifully protect us at home and abroad. I am encouraged that the NDAA ensures our service members have the resources to stay safe and healthy, so they can continue to selflessly serve our country in other assignments. These provisions include maintaining a plentiful supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), ensuring access to diagnostic equipment and testing capabilities and providing health benefits for our National Guardsmen courageously aiding in coronavirus response efforts at home.

An alarming and emerging threat made more apparent this year comes from the cyber domain. Cyberattacks launched from increasingly aggressive adversaries like China, North Korea, Iran and Russia will be countered and responded to because of critical investments in essential technology such as cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. The NDAA also strengthens the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and restores funding for the Hacking for Defense program, a university course supported by the DOD to teach students to work with defense and intelligence organizations and better handle the nation’s emerging security challenges. Prioritizing programs similar to this one will ensure that future generations can tackle the new threats we face, as well as guarantee the United States maintains our competitive edge to deter those who wish us harm and want to destroy our way of life.

As the home to several military installations, our state certainly recognizes the importance of providing for a strong national defense, equipped for traditional and new obstacles. I am encouraged that the NDAA includes robust funding authorized to support the ongoing military presence and training efforts in Oklahoma. Specifically, in the Fourth District, this includes vital support of the Long Range Precision Fires and Air and Missile Defense initiatives at Fort Sill as well as aircraft maintenance and sustainment operations at Tinker Air Force Base.

I am very proud that the NDAA outlines the strategy and authorizes the resources needed for facing down threats around the world as well as robust funding for our bases at home to ensure we are prepared for any task our country may face. I applaud the leadership of Oklahoma’s own Senator Jim Inhofe, who helped negotiate the bicameral piece of legislation. As Chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, he understands the needs that must be fulfilled and prioritized today to build and strengthen the defense we need in the days and years to come.