Defense authorization bills on track -- for now

By Tony Bertuca / March 17, 2020 at 4:21 PM

Despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 outbreak, lawmakers are planning for fiscal year 2021 defense authorization bills to proceed on schedule, with the House slated to mark up committee legislation April 30 and the Senate hoping to get their committee work done by the end of May.

The bill "continues to be the No. 1 priority" for the House Armed Services Committee, said Monica Matoush, a spokeswoman for the panel's Democratic majority.

"Our staff is currently using available technological tools to ensure work on the [bill] continues during this time of uncertainty," she said. "Barring a material change, the committee plans to proceed with the previously identified mark-up date and deliver the [bill] for a vote on the House floor by mid-May."

Matoush said the committee's hearing process is also being hampered by the availability of witnesses, some of whom cannot travel to Washington during the pandemic.

"At the direction of the Sergeant at Arms, access to House buildings is restricted to members, staff and only visitors conducting official business," she said. "We are monitoring the situation carefully and will continue to assess our posture during the district work period, to make sound decisions about our way forward."

As it could be challenging for lawmakers to stick to social distancing guidelines during the mark-up, Matoush said the committee is "exploring other options to coordinate member involvement in the mark-up process," though no decisions have been made at this time.

Meanwhile, Marta Hernandez, a spokeswoman for the Senate Armed Services Committee's GOP majority, said the panel still wants to mark up its version of the legislation by the end of May, while also taking necessary precautions pursuant to federal recommendations.

"As the situation is evolving rapidly, we do expect our hearing schedule to be affected by recent [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and administration guidance, and we will release more information on this as it becomes available," she said.