Congressional defense committees are moving forward on their work in 2021 with the addition of a few new faces and subcommittees.
The 117th Congress first gaveled in on Jan. 3, but without the results of two Senate runoff elections in Georgia, and later an organizing resolution to determine how an evenly divided Senate would operate, details of who would sit on and run committees remained murky for weeks.
Senate leadership has hammered out the details of an organizing resolution that dictates how the evenly divided chamber will operate, opening the door for committee chairmanships to flip to Democratic control and for members to shuffle on and off the legislative panels.
The Senate’s adoption of the so-called power-sharing agreement on Feb. 3 means Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) now holds the top gavel on the Senate Armed Services Committee. He and former chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) have shared responsibilities for running hearings to vet Biden administration nominees so far this year as they waited for the handoff atop the committee to become official.
“Guess it’s time to update my email signature,” Reed joked on Twitter.
Democratic Sens. Jacky Rosen of Nevada and Mark Kelly of Arizona are newcomers to SASC this year, filling the vacancies left by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), who instead was assigned to the Senate Appropriations Committee, and former Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who lost election in November.
Rosen will represent the interests of Nellis and Creech Air Force Bases outside Las Vegas, spanning a major Air Force training and test hub and the Western seat of MQ-9 Reaper drone operations. Kelly, a former Navy pilot during Operation Desert Storm and a NASA astronaut, is representing F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and A-10 Warthogs at Luke and Davis-Monthan Air Force Bases. After spending 54 days in space, Kelly is also expected to offer a unique voice on military space reform and future missions for the growing Space Force.
On the Republican side, SASC is gaining Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, the former college football coach who beat Jones in his bid for a full term. The GOP is losing former Sens. Martha McSally of Arizona—a retired Air Force colonel who defended against cuts to the A-10 inventory—and David Perdue of Georgia, who advocated for the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System and other local programs.
SASC hasn’t announced its updated slate of subcommittee leaders, some of whom did not return for 2021. But the full group is already moving ahead with hearings and briefings, including a private deep-dive into culture issues at the Army’s Fort Hood in Texas on Feb. 4.
“Fort Hood leadership was disengaged—from the very top down to squad level—and that resulted in the ineffective implementation of programs designed to respond to sexual harassment and assault,” Reed and Inhofe said in a release following the briefing. “We fully support the Secretary of the Army’s decision to hold 14 Fort Hood leaders accountable for these failures.”
“We are confident that the [Army’s People First] task force will take the findings and recommendations from Fort Hood and develop solutions that can work Army-wide,” they added.
The House Armed Services Committee is bringing on more than a dozen new members and splitting an existing subcommittee into two new groups. It’s also welcoming Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), one of the original architects of the Space Force, as the top-ranking Republican.
“America must engage with our allies and partners to defend ourselves from this growing threat. But that engagement must be backed by credible and modern military power,” Rogers said of China at HASC’s first planning meeting on Feb. 3.
This year, HASC is dividing its Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee into two panels. One new subcommittee will focus on cyber, innovative technologies, and information systems, chaired by Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.).
“While we are proud of what has already been accomplished, we considered how a more targeted focus could help us achieve even more objectives,” Langevin and HASC chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said in a joint statement Feb. 3. “As technology continues to advance at an incredibly rapid rate—from artificial intelligence to biotechnology and everything in between—it is critical that the Armed Services Committee redoubles our efforts to bridge the gap between current capabilities and future requirements.”
That group will convene hearings and draft legislation on cybersecurity, operations, and forces, science and technology policy and programs, much of the defense-wide research and development portfolio, electromagnetic spectrum and electronic warfare issues, AI, IT systems, and computer software acquisition.
The other subcommittee will handle intelligence and special operations under the watch of Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a former Marine infantryman. It plans to dig in on issues ranging from disinformation campaigns to counterterrorism, as the special operations community pivots from decades of war in the Middle East to future threats across the globe.
“We will ensure that special operations forces and the defense intelligence enterprise are postured to address those threats. It is critical that these highly sensitive areas of the committee’s jurisdiction receive the time and attention they deserve, and this new subcommittee structure will facilitate exactly that,” Smith and Gallego said in a separate release.
New HASC members include:
- Rep. Marilyn Strickland (D-Wash.)
- Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.)
- Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.)
- Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.)
- Rep. Kai Kahele (D-Hawaii)
- Rep. Joseph Morelle (D-N.Y.)
- Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas)
- Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.)
- Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.)
- Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.)
- Rep. Scott Franklin (R-Fla.)
- Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Mich.)
- Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas)
- Rep. Jerry Carl (R-Ala.)
- Rep. Blake Moore (R-Utah)
- Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas)