WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall announced that he is proposing several amendments to a major defense policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), to benefit New Mexico's national labs and military families, modernize outdated and wasteful government IT systems and save taxpayers money. The bill, which sets defense policy for the nation, is being debated on the Senate floor this week.
"The annual National Defense Authorization Act is always an important bill for New Mexico's economy, families, and the national security mission being carried out at labs, bases and installations across our state," Udall said. "I am fighting for several critical provisions to benefit New Mexico, including bolstering the mission and safety at our national labs, and supporting women serving our country in uniform and military families. In addition, my bipartisan measure to modernize the federal government's grossly outdated IT systems will improve national security and ensure that our government is getting better service at a better value for American taxpayers. And I'm continuing to fight for justice, fairness and compensation for the New Mexicans who worked in uranium mines or were inadvertently exposed to radiation from nuclear bomb testing during the Cold War, sacrificing their health and safety for our nation."
The amendments to benefit New Mexico that Udall is proposing to the NDAA include:
The Mothers of Military Service (MOMS) Leave Act: Udall introduced with Senators Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) the MOMS Leave Act, bipartisan legislation to make certain that women serving in the National Guard and Reserves can take maternity leave without worrying about how it will affect their creditable military service. The Department of Defense (DOD) established new policies for maternity leave in 2016, authorizing 12 weeks fully paid maternity leave after normal pregnancy and childbirth. However, under the current law, female service members in the Reserve component can lose out on credit for their military service and points towards retirement while on maternity leave. Reserve component members in inactive duty training status are still required to attend unit training assemblies, if the female service member does not perform duty within the allotted timeframe, she is in jeopardy of not receiving credit toward retirement. Udall's amendment ensures that these female service members receive pay and points for 12 pay periods toward retirement after normal pregnancy and childbirth.
Improving safety at New Mexico's national labs: Udall and Heinrich are proposing a measure to require the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) to report to Congress annually on what additional resources needed to ensure that operations at New Mexico's Sandia and Los Alamos national labs are kept safe for workers and the community. The amendment also expresses a sense of Congress that the DNFSB is critical to maintaining safety at our national labs, and that the congressionally chartered board cannot be terminated without congressional approval. The DNFSB is an independent body of expert board members and staff created to conduct safety reviews at Department of Energy nuclear facilities and offer public recommendations to the president and secretary of Energy periodically on important projects and procedures needed to ensure workers and the public are protected from dangerous nuclear materials.
The Modernization of Government Information Technology (MGT) Act: Udall and Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) have introduced bipartisan legislation to modernize government information technology (IT), eliminate wasteful spending and strengthen cyber security. The federal government spends over $80 billion annually on major IT systems, with more than 75 percent of that money spent on maintaining legacy IT rather than investing in development and modernization that can dramatically improve services and lower costs. Using outdated software systems also leaves federal IT systems dangerously vulnerable to cyberattacks and other security risks. The MGT Act would establish working capital funds at federal agencies and create a centralized fund at the General Services Administration to support innovation and streamline IT systems, saving taxpayer money in the process. Similar legislation has already passed the House of Representatives on a voice vote.
Addressing the shortfalls of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA): This amendment honors the individuals in New Mexico and across the West who gave their health, and in some cases their lives, to national efforts to develop uranium during the Cold War. Some Americans were sickened through exposure to aboveground atomic weapons tests, and others were exposed to heavy doses of radiation from working in the uranium mining industry. All the while, the government was slow to implement federal protections. As a result, a generation of Americans who worked in the mines and lived near testing sites became sick with serious diseases like lung cancer and kidney disease for our nation's national security. Specifically, this amendment sends a stern message that it is the sense of the Congress that these people should be recognized and compensated by the federal government. The current RECA program is severely inadequate, failing to compensate the post-1971 uranium miners and people affected by testing in New Mexico, the Pacific islands and throughout the West who are experiencing health problems due to radiation exposure. Udall continues to fight to expand restitution for New Mexicans under RECA and has introduced bipartisan legislation with Senators Heinrich, Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) to expand compensation eligibility.
Bipartisan measure to protect transgender service members: Udall is joining Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) in supporting a bipartisan amendment that would prevent the DOD from removing qualified service members from the Armed Forces based solely on their gender identity.