House panel delays consideration of annual defense policy bill

The House Armed Services Committee has postponed marking up the annual defense policy bill in order to follow the guidelines meant to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The committee had been scheduled to mark up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on April 30, but the markup will now be pushed to a yet-to-be-determined later date.

“The House Armed Services Committee has been, and will continue to be, in strict compliance with the guidance we have received from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Sergeant at Arms and the House Attending Physician,” Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said in a statement Monday.

“Given the new 30-day extension of the administration’s guidance, the committee has postponed the previously scheduled mark up of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021. A new markup date will be announced at a later time,” he added.

President Trump announced Sunday that the White House’s social distancing guidelines for the country will stay in place through the end of April.

The NDAA is considered a must-pass bill, dictating matters as routine as how many planes and ships the military can buy to as sweeping as creating a new military service in the Space Force last year.

The committee’s markup of the bill is typically its best-attended session of the year, with a hearing room packed the entire day with the nearly 60-member panel, staffers, reporters and lobbyists sitting in tightly spaced chairs — something that would not adhere to the social distancing guidelines.

“As we have seen around the world, strict adherence to social distancing and other guidelines is vital to the success of any national response to the COVID-19 crisis,” Smith said Monday. “The administration’s extension of their initial 15-day period is a prudent, necessary step.”

The committee had hoped to keep the bill, which has been signed into law for nearly 60 straight years, on track despite the pandemic. Last week, Smith and the committee’s top Republican, Rep. Mac Thornberry (Texas), formally kicked the process off by introducing the “by request” version of the bill.

In the upper chamber, the Senate Armed Services Committee has said it hopes to keep the NDAA on track by holding “paper hearings”  to continue gathering information for the bill while adhering to social distancing rules.

In the paper hearings, written testimony and opening statements are being posted online and are expected to be followed a week later by senators’ written questions and witnesses’ written answers. The committee held its first hearing in that format Thursday for the secretary and chief of staff of the Army.

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