OEA Survives Lawmaker’s Attempt to Restrict Assistance Programs

An effort by Oklahoma Rep. Steve Russell (R) to limit the availability of a variety of community assistance programs offered by DOD’s Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA) was deflected in recent weeks, following a joint effort by ADC, the Defense Communities Caucus and the office of Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam).

Russell initially filed an amendment to the fiscal 2017 defense authorization bill before it was marked up by the House Armed Services Committee in April. The provision would have severely restricted OEA’s defense industry adjustment, compatible use and BRAC assistance programs, Matthew Herrmann, chief of staff for Bordallo, told 360.

The amendment would have limited assistance to communities responding to a base closure or realignment, or mission growth to a six-year window and capped OEA’s total annual obligations at $40 million annually. It also would have eliminated the agency’s research and technical assistance efforts.

In addition, Russell’s amendment would have restricted the assistance the agency could provide Guam as it prepares to accommodate 5,000 Marines moving from Okinawa.

Russell’s intent was never clear, Herrmann said. “OEA provides assistance to every state. It certainly impacts many districts,” he said. The agency’s programs are “popular, but needed.”

Russell, however, decided not to offer the amendment at the committee markup, after staff from Bordallo’s office and other members of the Defense Communities Caucus made clear their opposition to the language.

Russell then filed an amendment to the defense policy bill before it went to the floor last month. It called for a study of OEA programs describing agency funding levels over the past 10 years and estimating the savings that would result from implementing many of the limitations he had proposed in his original amendment.

Following another round of discussions initiated by Bordallo’s office and the Defense Communities Caucus, Russell scaled down his intentions once again and, ultimately, offered an amendment requiring OEA to brief the House Armed Services Committee about its activities, the projects the agency has funded and the amount of funding directed to each of its programs over the past five years. That amendment passed on the House floor before the chamber approved the underlying legislation.

The effort to scuttle the first two iterations of Russell’s amendment paid off. “So we go from something that would have eliminated and capped [OEA’s] programs, and now it’s limited to a briefing,” Herrmann said.

“This gives DOD an opportunity to address his concerns,” he noted.

The House version of the authorization bill still will need to be reconciled with the version the Senate is scheduled to take up next week, but Herrmann said the language requiring a briefing from OEA likely would remain in the final version.

This month’s Defense Communities 2016 National Summit provides multiple opportunities for communities to learn about the activities of the Defense Communities Caucus and to stay abreast of the latest news from Capitol Hill. Attend the Summit in Washington and participate in the dialogue about the most pressing issues facing defense communities.

Dan Cohen
Dan Cohen
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