Washington Weekly – February 21, 2014

February 21, 2014

The House and Senate were in recess this week. The President announced new executive actions for strengthening patent reform, and issued an executive order aimed at cutting the processing and approval times for small businesses that export American-made goods and services by completing the International Trade Data System (ITDS) by December 2016. 

FY2015 Budget

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) confirmed this week that the White House would release its FY15 budget request in two stages. The March 4 release will include the main budget volume, key proposals, summary tables, agency-level information, and the detailed appendix. The March 11 release will include the budget’s historical tables and analytical perspectives volume.

The House Appropriations subcommittees have set their deadlines and issued their instructions to members of Congress for submitting programmatic and language submissions. The deadlines are as follows:

House Appropriations Subcommittee Deadline
Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA and Related Agencies Mar. 31
Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Mar. 31
Defense Apr. 2
Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies Apr. 2
Financial Services and General Government Apr. 2
Homeland Security Mar. 31
Interior Apr. 4
Labor, HHS, Education, and Related Agencies Apr. 4
Legislative Branch Mar. 17
Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Mar. 17
State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Apr. 4
Transportation, HUD, and Related Agencies Apr. 2

The Senate Appropriations subcommittees have not set deadlines yet, and may not do so until after they receive the FY15 budget request from the President.

The House Armed Services committee (HASC) has set the deadline for HASC members to submit legislative/budget proposals to the committee for the FY15 bill as COB on March 10th. Despite the budget being delayed by a month, HASC plans to stick to their usual timeline for markup meaning subcommittee markups could start the last week of April, followed by full committee markup the following week and floor consideration the week of May 19th. As there is a recess week in between potential full committee markup and floor consideration, the schedule may change.

As expected, HASC Chairman Buck McKeon sent a letter to each military service, combatant command, and the National Guard Bureau last Friday asking for an unfunded requirements list for FY15. HASC Ranking Member Adam Smith refused to sign on to the letter with McKeon as he said that the President was already compiling that list. The letters can be found on the HASC website at:

http://armedservices.house.gov/index.cfm/press-releases?ContentRecord_id=84745E49-464D-4005-886F-5398B7EB8AC2

Department of Defense Electromagnetic Spectrum Strategy

The Department of Defense (DoD) released its Electromagnetic Spectrum Strategy (EMS) this week. DoD is working to identify ways to make more spectrum available for commercial use, and find technologies that enhance spectrum sharing, all while improving how DoD accesses spectrum. The strategy follows the release of a memorandum issued in 2010 by President Obama titled “Unleashing the Wireless Broadband Revolution,” which requires 500 MHz of spectrum be made available for commercial use by 2020 and one issued in June 2013 titled “Expanding America’s Leadership in Wireless Innovation” which directed federal agencies and offices to accelerate efforts to allow and encourage shared access to spectrum allocated for federal use. The strategy did not specifically mention how many MHz it would releases for commercial use. The strategy can be found at:

http://www.vantagepointstrat.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/dodspectrumstrategy.pdf

Political Updates

Freshman Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-CA) announced that she would not seek reelection in 2014, and instead run for San Bernardino County supervisor. Nagrete McLeod is on the Agriculture and Veterans’ Affairs Committees.

Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) an eight-term Democrat, also announced that he would not seek reelection in 2014. Holt is best known for beating IBM computer “Watson” at Jeopardy. He has seats on the Education and Workforce and Natural Resources Committees.

Washington Weekly – February 14, 2014

February 14, 2014

The House and Senate passed a bill that suspends the debt ceiling until March 15, 2015 and a bill to repeal a cut to the cost-of-living adjustment for some military retirees’ pensions that helped pay for last year’s budget deal. These bills now go to the President for his signature.

FY2015 Budget

The House Budget Committee met this week and approved two proposals to overhaul the congressional budget process. The first, HR1872 the Budget and Accounting Transparency Act of 2014, would require the use of fair-value accounting for federal credit programs. The other, HR 1869 the Biennial Budgeting and Enhanced Oversight Act of 2014, would move Congress from an annual to a biennial budget cycle. Congress has considered these budget process changes regularly with no success, mainly due to the opposition of appropriators. However, the Senate voted in favor of a non-binding biennial budget and appropriations cycle last March; and the recent shutdown may make the proposals more appealing to members of Congress.

Debt Ceiling

The last debt limit extension (PL 113-46) expired Feb. 7 and the Treasury Department has been using extraordinary measures to stave off the need for new borrowing authority in the meantime. The threat of a snow storm in DC caused House Republicans to abandon their original plan of considering a debt limit extension bill that included the repeal of the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for veterans. Instead, they took up a clean debt limit extension bill that passed the House by a vote of 221 to 201, supported by 193 Democrats and just 28 Republicans. The bill then headed to the Senate where it initially had difficulty getting enough votes to invoke cloture as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) demanded approval by a 60-vote threshold. Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) had to keep the vote open for over an hour. Ultimately, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) – both of whom are up for reelection this year and face tea party primary challengers – voted to break the filibuster. McConnell and Cornyn had hoped to avoid a vote like this in this election season, but were backed into a corner by Cruz. The Senate finally passed the bill by a vote of 55 to 43.

The extension suspends the current statutory limit on federal borrowing authority until March 15, 2015. A new debt limit would be automatically re-established on March 16, 2015 adjusted for any new borrowing that occurs between now and March 15. Congress will then have to revisit this issue. If Republicans take control of the Senate next year and keep control of the House, the next discussions on the debt ceiling could be very different than the discussions that occurred this week. Republicans may try to limit the Treasury’s ability to carry out extraordinary measures such as juggling funds among accounts after the government hits the debt ceiling. They are also interested in a prioritization plan that would require Treasury to pay bondholders, Social Security benefits recipients and members of the military ahead of others. Treasury says such prioritization is virtually impossible because of the large volume of payments the department makes.

Military Cost-Of-Living Adjustment

The Budget Control Act passed by Congress last December included a 1% cut to the cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) for military pensions starting in December 2015, affecting the benefits of current and future retired military personnel under the age of 62. The cuts were part of a tradeoff for easing some of the ongoing budget sequesters. The cuts proved politically unpopular with both parties, so the House and Senate voted this week on a bill (S25) to reverse those cuts and restore the benefits. The House passed the bill 326 to 90, and the Senate followed with a vote of 95 to 3. The restored cuts were paid for by an extension of the sequester on some mandatory spending through FY2024. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was originally opposed to the offsets included in the House bill, but reversed course during the week and decided to accept the House-passed bill. The pension cut now applies only to members of the armed forces who joined the military after Jan. 1, 2014. The President is expected to sign the bill.

Reid also filed cloture on S1982, the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act, a bill that would extend and expand health care programs for veterans as well as education and job-assistance benefits. That bill sponsored by Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-VT) also would repeal the cut in the COLA but offsets the cost by cutting overseas contingency operations funds. With Congress in recess next week, action on S1982 won’t occur until the week of Feb. 24 at the earliest.

National Security Council

The President issued an Executive Order this week officially changing the name of the National Security Staff and Homeland Security Council Staff to the National Security Council staff.

Cybersecurity

The Administration released their Cybersecurity Framework (http://www.vantagepointstrat.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/cybersecurity-framework-021214-final.pdf) this week, which is a voluntary how-to cybersecurity guide for critical infrastructure (CI) organizations. The framework was part of the Executive Order the President released last February and was developed by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) with input from businesses. The Framework is comprised of three components:

  1. The Framework Core is a set of cybersecurity activities and informative references that are common across CI sectors. The cybersecurity activities are grouped by five functions that provide a high-level view of an organization’s management of cyber risks:
    • Identify
    • Protect
    • Detect
    • Respond
    • Recover
  1. The Profiles can help organizations align their cybersecurity activities with business requirements, risk tolerances, and resources. Companies can use the Profiles to understand their current cybersecurity state, support prioritization, and to measure progress towards a target state.
  2. The Tiers provide a mechanism for organizations to view their approach and processes for managing cyber risk. The Tiers range from Partial (Tier 1) to Adaptive (Tier 4) and describe an increasing degree of rigor in risk management practices, the extent to which cybersecurity risk management is informed by business needs, and its integration into an organization’s overall risk management practices.

Though the adoption of the Framework is voluntary, DHS is partnering with the CI community to encourage use of the Framework. They have established the Critical Infrastructure Cyber Community (C3 pronounced “C Cubed”) Voluntary Program (http://www.vantagepointstrat.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/DHS-Critical-Infrastructure-Cyber-Community-C3-2-12-14.doc) as a public-private partnership to increase awareness and use of the Framework. The C3 Voluntary Program will connect companies, as well as federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial partners, to DHS and other federal government programs and resources that will assist their efforts in managing their cyber risks. Participants will be able to share lessons learned, get assistance, and learn about free tools and resources that can help them.

NIST also released a roadmap (http://www.vantagepointstrat.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/roadmap-021214.pdf) detailing next steps for the framework. They plan on holding at least one workshop within the next six months to provide a forum for stakeholders to share experiences in using the Framework. NIST will also hold a privacy workshop in the second quarter of 2014 with the intention of advancing “the identification of technical standards and best practices” for mitigating cybersecurity impacts on privacy and civil liberties.

The White House does not plan on tracking which businesses actually implement the Framework recommendations; however they do plan to have some regulatory agencies propose ways to overhaul their existing regulations to make them consistent with these new cybersecurity guidelines. These plans will be revealed in May. And as it stands now, it appears cybersecurity legislation is a long shot this year as the Snowden NSA revelations have slowed momentum for information-sharing legislation.

Nominations

The President nominated Brad Carson to be an Under Secretary of the Army, William LaPlante, Jr. to be an Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, and Francis Xavier Taylor to be Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis at the Department of Homeland Security.

Political Updates

Sen. John Walsh (D-MT) was sworn in on Tuesday filling the seat of former Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) who was recently confirmed as the United States Ambassador to China.

Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA) announced this week that he will not seek reelection. Miller is the Vice Chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services, and a senior member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. His seat is considered to be one of the most competitive in California as President Obama won the district in 2012. Miller was one of the 28 Republicans who voted to increase the debt ceiling.

Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee also announced his retirement this week. While Rep. Don Young (R-AK) is the next most senior Republican member of the panel, he is ineligible due to the fact that he has already served three terms as committee chair. After Young, the next most senior Republican committee member is Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX). Hastings district is considered safe for Republicans as Mitt Romney carried the seat by a 22-point margin in 2012.

Miller and Hastings retirements bring to 21 the number of Republican House members not seeking reelection, while 13 Democrats are retiring or seeking other office.

Next Week

The House and Senate are in recess next week.

Washington Weekly – February 7, 2014

February 7, 2014

The House passed a bill to promote hunting and shooting on public lands, a California Water bill, and package of public lands bills including land conveyances and legislation on grazing, the Chesapeake Bay and national parks. The Senate passed the farm bill conference report, which the President is scheduled to sign today. The Senate also confirmed Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) to be Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, and resumed consideration of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act, but was unsuccessful in invoking cloture on the measure.

FY2015 Budget

The President is now expected to release his FY15 budget request in two installments – top lines will be released on March 4 and detailed budget justifications and appendixes will follow on March 11. In the meantime, some details of the President’s FY15 budget request for the Department of Defense were “leaked” this week, including word that the President’s FY15 budget request will come in above the congressional budget caps.

Some of these leaks served as trial balloons floated just in time for the administration to reverse course if needed. They include the following: another request for domestic base closures, a reduction in the Army National Guard force, a request to transfer 192 AH-61 Apache and 105 Lakota helicopters from the Army National Guard to active units in exchange for 111 UH-60 Black Hawks, termination of the Ground Combat Vehicle, elimination of one Navy aircraft carrier along with one carrier air wing, reversal of the Air Force’s previous decision to kill the Global Hawk Block 30, no funding for an upgrade program to replace avionics and radars on F-16s, and an early retirement of the USS George Washington reducing the carrier fleet to 10.

With the new FY15 budget, the Pentagon is expected to present a list of programs it would like to see funded if given an extra $26 billion. Former DOD Secretary Gates halted the practice of submitting an unfunded priorities list from each of the service components to Congress back in 2012. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) recently sent a letter to the current Secretary Hagel asking him to bring back the lists stating that they provide Members of Congress with, “essential and important information about current and emerging programmatic requirements.” Some defense analysts are concerned that bringing back the practice will have a negative effect on budget discipline inside DoD.

Debt Ceiling

The deadline for raising the debt ceiling is today. The Treasury Department will begin now to take extraordinary measures to push the deadline to the end of February. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warned this week that the drawdown on the nation’s cash balance is faster now than at other times of the year as outlays are greater than net inflows due to the payment of income tax refunds. He urged Congress to act quickly as “simply delaying action on the debt limit can cause harm to our economy.” House Republicans are at odds over what to demand in exchange for raising the debt limit. Some want to see it linked to repealing the 2.3% medical device tax or repealing the cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) for younger military retirees. Others want to link it to limiting IRS investigations of nonprofit groups, approving the Keystone XL pipeline, or repealing a section of the Affordable Care Act that helps insurance companies avoid risk. President Obama has said he will not negotiate on this issue and has demanded a “clean” increase. A vote on a debt limit extension bill could be delayed until late February, but time is running out as there are only seven more legislative days left in February for the House.

Cybersecurity

The minority staff of the Senate Homeland Security Government Affairs Committee released a report this week following an investigation they conducted of the federal government’s efforts on cybersecurity and protecting critical infrastructure. The report focuses in on DHS, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, IRS, SEC, Department of Education, and the Department of Energy. The chairman of the committee, Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) concurred with many of the findings in the report. A copy of their report can be found here.

The House Homeland Security Committee met this week and marked up H.R. 3696, the National Cybersecurity and Critical Infrastructure Protection Act of 2014. The bill amends the 2002 law that created DHS to expand its scope to cover cybersecurity codifying DHS’ central role for cyberthreat information-sharing between the federal government and private sector. The bill is aimed at protecting crucial domestic industries by putting the private sector in charge of coming up with cyber standards, in contrast to the more government-driven method called for in the executive order released by the President last year. During the markup, Chairman McCaul (R-TX) offered an amendment in the nature of a substitute, which can be found here. In addition to Chairman McCaul’s amendment in the nature of a substitute, five other amendments were offered by Reps. Brooks (R-IN), Jackson Lee (D-TX), Barber (D-AZ), Payne (D-NJ) and Swalwell (D-CA), all of which passed by voice vote. Two amendments offered by Reps. Swalwell and Sanchez (D-CA) were withdrawn. Swalwell will modify his amendment to report language, and Sanchez will work with Rep. Sanford (R-SC) to redraft her amendment for floor consideration. The bill has been endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the American Chemistry Council (ACC), AT&T, Boeing, the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation (DTCC), members of the energy and utilities sector, the GridWise Alliance, the financial services sector, the National Defense Industrial Association, Oracle, Entergy, Pepco, and the Professional Services Council.

At the Woodrow Wilson Center today, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson gave his first major policy address since taking office. He talked about the progress the administration was making on cybersecurity with the President’s Executive Order released last February. Johnson said that while the administration is making progress, there is still a need for legislation to do the following: provide DHS with new hiring and pay flexibility, modernize FISMA to reflect new technology, codify DHS’ responsibility to protect .gov/FedCiv networks, give legal clarity so that DHS can provide assistance to the private sector, give legal clarity so that DHS can exchange information with the private sector, and enact penalties for cyber crimes.

Political Updates

Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ) announced earlier this week that he will resign from Congress on Feb. 18 to take a job with a law firm in Philadelphia. Andrews has represented the heavily Democratic Philadelphia-area suburbs since 1990. He has been facing a congressional ethics probe into his campaign finances for nearly a year. Andrews was the second most senior Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee. With his resignation, and the retirement announcement earlier this year from Ranking Democrat George Miller (D-CA), the third most senior Democrat on the committee, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), has expressed his interest in the leadership position. Andrews is also on the House Armed Services Committee. As for filling Rep. Andrew’s seat in Congress, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie could schedule a special election on its own date or one that coincides with dates already scheduled for the regular primary and general elections. Andrews’s seat is in a heavily Democratic district and would likely remain that way.

On Thursday, the Senate voted 96 to 0 to confirm Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) to be the next Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China. His confirmation set off a chain reaction of changes at the top of key Senate committees. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) is expected to take over the helm of the Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) will replace Wyden as the Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, vacating the leadership post of the Small Business Committee. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) is thought to be the odds-on favorite for that chairmanship. As for who replaces Baucus in the Senate, Montana Governor Steve Bullock today named Lt. Gov John Walsh as Baucus’ temporary replacement. This would give Walsh time to build a Senate record and gain visibility to defend the seat against the expected Republican candidate, Rep. Steve Daines before the election later this year.

Today the White House announced it would nominate Robert Work, a retired U.S. Marine colonel and a former undersecretary of the Navy, to serve as the deputy defense secretary. Work has most recently served as CEO of the Center for a New American Security. Christine Fox has been serving as acting deputy defense secretary since Ashton Carter stepped down in December.

Next Week

Next week the House will consider a bill to reform the Consumer Financial Protection Board. House Democrats hold their annual issues retreat on Thursday and Friday, so the House will not be in session. The Senate will take up a measure to repeal the military-retiree COLA cut and may consider the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act and the California Water bill that were passed by the House this week. Finally, the Senate may also consider two competing bills offered by Sens. Gillibrand (D-NY) and McCaskill (D-MO that would overhaul the Pentagon’s sexual assault policy.

White House Cybersecurity Framework

Today the Administration released their Cybersecurity Framework, which is a voluntary how-to cybersecurity guide for critical infrastructure (CI) organizations. The framework was part of the Executive Order the President released last February and was developed by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) with input from businesses. The Framework is comprised of three components:

  • The Framework Core is a set of cybersecurity activities and informative references that are common across CI sectors. The cybersecurity activities are grouped by five functions that provide a high-level view of an organization’s management of cyber risks:
    • Identify
    • Protect
    • Detect
    • Respond
    • Recover
  • The Profiles can help organizations align their cybersecurity activities with business requirements, risk tolerances, and resources. Companies can use the Profiles to understand their current cybersecurity state, support prioritization, and to measure progress towards a target state.
  • The Tiers provide a mechanism for organizations to view their approach and processes for managing cyber risk. The Tiers range from Partial (Tier 1) to Adaptive (Tier 4) and describe an increasing degree of rigor in risk management practices, the extent to which cybersecurity risk management is informed by business needs, and its integration into an organization’s overall risk management practices.

Though the adoption of the Framework is voluntary, DHS is partnering with the CI community to encourage use of the Framework. They have established the Critical Infrastructure Cyber Community (C3 pronounced “C Cubed”) Voluntary Program as a public-private partnership to increase awareness and use of the Framework. The C3 Voluntary Program will connect companies, as well as federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial partners, to DHS and other federal government programs and resources that will assist their efforts in managing their cyber risks. Participants will be able to share lessons learned, get assistance, and learn about free tools and resources that can help them.

NIST also released a roadmap (http://www.vantagepointstrat.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/roadmap-021214.pdf) detailing next steps for the framework. They plan on holding at least one workshop within the next six months to provide a forum for stakeholders to share experiences in using the Framework. NIST will also hold a privacy workshop in the second quarter of 2014 with the intention of advancing “the identification of technical standards and best practices” for mitigating cybersecurity impacts on privacy and civil liberties.

Federal executive branch civilian agencies are evaluating how they will use the Framework to enhance the protection of their systems, and State and local governments are also looking at how they can leverage capabilities found in the Framework to assist managing their cybersecurity risk. DHS is developing the Voluntary Program to respond to state and local government needs, and it is examining incentives tailored to these stakeholders.

Washington Weekly – January 31, 2014

January 31, 2014

The House passed the farm bill conference report and a bill restricting the number of health insurance plans that cover abortion, while the Senate passed a bill that would delay National Flood Insurance Program premium increases for four years.

State of the Union Address

The President delivered his State of the Union address earlier this week stating that this is a “breakthrough year for America.” He proposed a number of Democratic priorities including restoring cuts in research spending, infrastructure investment, extension of unemployment insurance benefits, raising the minimum wage, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, automatic IRAs for employees without workplace savings plans, tax reform (closing loopholes and reducing incentives to ship jobs overseas), high tech manufacturing, patent reform, an “all of the above” energy strategy, cleaner energy economy, immigration reform, and training for future workers.

The President also stated that he would employ the use of Executive Orders to bypass Congress to implement his priorities, the first of which would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for those working on new federal contracts for services. Executive Orders cannot be overturned by Congress, but Congress can pass laws to cut funding for the order’s implementation. In an off election year, for each political party, it’s all about turning out their base. Republicans will use this move as an overreach of power, while Democrats will say that it was the only way of implementing the President’s agenda with Republicans in control of the House of Representatives.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) delivered the Republican’s response and touched on issues important to Republicans contrasting them with those of Democrats. The Republican priorities included initiatives that champion free markets, “opportunity inequality” instead of “income inequality,” school voucher programs, repealing provisions of the Affordable Care Act, and immigration reform focusing first on securing borders.

Cybersecurity

What was noticeably absent in the President’s State of the Union speech was the issue of cybersecurity. The President emphasized the issue in his speech last year and issued an executive order that has the government and industry collaborating on new, voluntary standards. This year he only said, “we’ll keep strengthening our defenses, and combat new threats like cyber-attacks.” Under the executive order, companies will be able to choose on their own how to improve their cybersecurity practices, and will receive yet to be specified benefits in exchange for implementing these new practices. These benefits could include faster federal assistance for critical infrastructure or preference when the government needs to buy new technology. The question is whether or not the President has the authority to offer these benefits without action from Congress. The standards should be finalized next month. Federal agencies have also been exploring whether or not they need to update existing regulations to take into account these new standards, and are expected to report their findings to the White House in February.

DOD and GSA released a report this week providing recommended baseline cybersecurity requirements aligning Federal cybersecurity risk management and acquisition processes. The goal is for the government to not buy products or services with inadequate built in cybersecurity. The report also recommends: (1) address cybersecurity when training the federal acquisition workforce, (2) use common cybersecurity definitions in federal acquisition regulations, (3) increase “government accountability” for cyber risk management, (4) institute a Federal Acquisition Cyber Risk Management Strategy, and (5) include a Requirement to Purchase from Original Equipment Manufacturers, Their Authorized Resellers, or Other “Trusted” Sources, Whenever Available, in Appropriate Acquisitions. DOD and GSA are now expected to develop an implementation plan that may be open to public comment.

A copy of the report can be found at:

http://www.vantagepointstrat.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/DOD-GSA-Report-Improve-Cybersecurity-Through-Acquisition-1-23-14.pdf

FY2015 Budget

The White House will release its FY15 budget request on March 4, a month after the deadline. Last week, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) began doing passback to federal agencies. Passback usually occurs at the end of November. During passback, OMB sends its decisions on agency budget requests to the federal agencies and the agencies can appeal the decisions prior to the final budget proposal. The process was delayed due to the late conclusion of the FY14 appropriations process.

FY2015 Appropriations

It was reported this week that House and Senate Appropriators may consider pre-conferencing the 302(b) spending allocations for the 12 FY15 appropriations bills before writing and marking them up in their respective committees. Appropriators used a similar approach to successfully reach agreement on the FY14 omnibus. Normally, the committees determine their 302(b)s independently of each other, and then wait until conference to negotiate the difference between each bill (some of which end up being up to $40 billion apart). Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) has said that she will use the FY15 topline spending level of $1.014 trillion that was agreed to in the budget resolution and not wait for Congress to pass an FY15 budget resolution. Hearings in the House and Senate Appropriations committees could begin before the President submits his budget to Congress in March.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) this week announced the new rosters for the panel’s 12 subcommittees. Three Republican members – Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL), Rep. Mark Amodei (R- NV), and Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) – were assigned to the appropriations committee last month, but did not receive their subcommittee assignments until this week. All three were appointed to the Legislative Branch subcommittee. Stewart and Roby were also assigned to the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee. Stewart was given a seat on the Interior-Environment subcommittee and Roby on Military Construction-Veterans’ Affairs. Amodei was also assigned to Commerce-Justice-Science and Financial Services subcommittees. Some other members already on the committee received new subcommittee assignments. New to the Defense subcommittee are Reps. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) and John Carter (R-TX). Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) got a seat on the Transportation HUD subcommittee and Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) joins the State and Foreign Ops subcommittee. And finally, the Energy and Water subcommittee welcomes Reps. Tom Graves (R-GA) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE).

Debt Ceiling

In his State of the Union Address, the President warned Congress to not use the debt ceiling as a negotiation tactic. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said that the debt ceiling will need to be raised by late February. Congress agreed to suspend enforcement of the debt limit until Feb. 7 in the deal passed last fall that reopened the federal government after the shutdown. The deal also allowed Treasury officials to use “extraordinary” measures to extend borrowing when the government approaches this new deadline. While Republicans are saying that they still want to get something in exchange for raising the debt limit, they have ruled out triggering a default. However, they may try to add policy riders including approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and changes to the Affordable Care Act, both of which could attract bipartisan support. The House could act on a debt limit bill as early as the second week in February, before they recess for the week of Presidents’ Day.

Political Updates

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat (former chairman) on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a 40-year veteran of Congress announced this week that he will not seek reelection in 2014. Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) is next in line and may be interested in returning as the top Democrat on the committee. Dingell was the chairman of the committee until 2009 when Waxman successfully challenged him for the position. While a number of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) close confidants, which includes Waxman, have decided to not seek reelection, Pelosi announced this week that she will be running again in 2014.

First term congressman Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL) submitted his letter of resignation to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on Monday after spending a month in a rehabilitation facility for alcoholism. Radel was caught buying cocaine from an undercover federal agent last October. Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) is expected to call for a special election, but has not set a date yet. The district is solidly Republican as Radel won it with 62% of the vote and Mitt Romney won it with 61% of the vote. Radel was on the Transportation and Infrastructure and Foreign Affairs Committees.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced Vice Admiral Michael S. Rogers as President Obama’s nominee to be the next Director of the National Security Agency, chief of the Central Security Service, and commander of the US Cyber Command. Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA Director since 2005, will retire March 14. Vice Adm. Rogers currently serves as the U.S. Fleet Cyber Command commander. While the NSA Director is not a Senate-confirmed position, Rogers will be called to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and the hearing could become a venue for members to air their concerns over controversial NSA surveillance programs. The President also plans to appoint NSA’s chief operating officer, Richard Ledgett, to become its next deputy director.

The President made several other defense and homeland security nominations this week. Mike McCord was nominated for the position of Pentagon comptroller. He’s now the deputy comptroller and, earlier, had spent more than two decades working as a SASC staff member. McCord would take over for Robert Hale, who has held the position since Feb. 2009 and has expressed a desire to retire. Miranda Ballentine, Walmart’s director of sustainability and renewable energy, was nominated to be an Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and logistics, replacing Terry Yonkers who resigned. Brian McKeon was named to replace Kathleen Hicks as Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense. McKeon has been chief of staff of the National Security Staff and deputy national security adviser for Vice President Joe Biden. And Christine Wormuth, now deputy undersecretary of defense for strategy, plans and force development, was nominated to be Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, replacing James Miller, Jr. If confirmed, Wormuth would become the second woman to serve in the post, the first being Michèle Flournoy. And at DHS, Reginald Brothers, Jr. was nominated to be Under Secretary for Science and Technology replacing Tara O’Toole.

Next week, the House may consider a California drought bill and the Sportsmen’s Heritage And Recreational Enhancement Act, while the Senate will take up the farm bill conference report.