December 15, 2023

Congressman Castro Highlights Wins for South Texas and Military Families in the FY2024 National Defense Authorization Act

WASHINGTON – Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20), a senior member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere released the following statement after voting to pass the Fiscal Year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) this week:

“As the proud representative of Military City, U.S.A, I’ve always believed that supporting our servicemembers and military families is one of our most sacred priorities in Congress. This year’s defense bill includes a well-deserved pay raise for our servicemembers, significant quality-of-life improvements for military families, and more than $150 million in new investments for Joint Base San Antonio. Through my work on the House Foreign Affairs and Intelligence Committees, I was also able to get provisions in the NDAA that improve transparency, accountability, and opportunity within our nation’s intelligence and foreign service communities.

“Over the past year, I’ve been working with a bipartisan coalition of Texas legislators to secure presidential permits for bridges across the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, Brownsville, and Laredo. As a result of those efforts, this year’s NDAA provides the permits for four bridges that will drive billions of dollars in economic growth for Texas and the country and create hundreds of thousands of jobs in South Texas. The annual NDAA process provides an important forum for conversations about our national defense and domestic priorities, and I was glad to vote this year for a bipartisan bill that supports the needs of Texas families.”

About the Puerto Verde Global Trade Bridge

The Puerto Verde Global Trade Bridge project will include a commercial bridge between Eagle Pass, Texas and Coahuila, Mexico, with rail and highway to connect the bridge to existing infrastructure and a multi-use residential park that provides substantial space for industrial development, with additional planned residential and commercial/services development. In total, the bridge project will bring more than $36 billion in gross domestic product to Texas and support 154,300 jobs in South Texas. Congressman Castro worked with Senator Ted Cruz to secure the bridge permit as part of the FY2024 NDAA.

Congressman Castro additionally secured funding in the FY2024 NDAA for major construction and land acquisition projects in at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, including:

  • $48 million for the Cyber Operation Center at JBSA-Lackland
  • $20 million for Child Development Center construction projects at JBSA-Lackland.
  • $90 million for the Chapel for America’s Airmen, a nondenominational center supporting the spiritual respite needs of JBSA servicemembers.
  • $10.8 million to complete the F-16 Mission Training Center at JBSA

Congressman Castro also supported significant wins for military families, veterans, and the communities around military installations, including:

Making Progress on Military Pay and Benefits by:

  • Authorizing a 5.2 percent pay raise for servicemembers.
  • Providing monthly bonus payments in 2024 to junior enlisted servicemembers.
  • Improving the Basic Allowance for Housing calculation to increase reimbursements for junior enlisted servicemembers and respond to rising rental costs.
  • Expanding the Basic Needs Allowance to help low-income military families.
  • Updating authorities for servicemembers to transition between components of the military.

Providing parental leave parity and housing and health support for reservists.

  • Providing access to Morale, Welfare, and Recreation programs and commissaries for remarried Gold Star spouses.

Improving Military Health Care by:

  • Reducing cost requirements for the first three outpatient mental health visits each year for “Active-Duty Family Member” category and “Young Adult” program beneficiaries.
  • Authorizing a study on opioid alternatives and a report on servicemember overdoses while expanding the availability of Naloxone for servicemembers and their families.
  • Requiring a review of medical resources supporting personnel assigned to missions in Japan and Guam.

Supporting Military Spouses and Children by:

  • Providing tens of millions of dollars to help local school districts support the needs of military children, including those with severe disabilities.
  • Requiring a review of mental health services in schools serving military children.
  • Requiring the DOD to develop an outreach campaign to support military child care needs.
  • Requiring the DOD to support military spouses in obtaining a doula and/or lactation consultant certification to expand childbirth and breastfeeding support and employment within military communities.
  • Expanding military spouse reimbursement eligibility for qualified licensure, certification, and business relocation costs when a servicemember transfers locations, transfers to reserve duty, or is placed on a temporary disability retired list.
  • Authorizing student loan deferment for dislocated military spouses.

Improving Housing Protections for Military Personnel by:

  • Requiring landlords to comply with the Military Housing Privatization Initiative Tennant Bill of Rights, establishing a Housing Working Group within the Office of Military Family Readiness Policy to review and make recommendations to the DOD regarding policies for privatized military housing, and requiring the annual Status of Forces survey to include questions on housing satisfaction and affordability.

Supporting Servicemembers in the Transition to Civilian Life by:

  • Strengthening the SkillBridge Program, which provides work experience to servicemembers nearing the end of their service.
  • Extending the Troops to Teachers Program, which helps servicemembers and veterans become certified and employed as teachers in K-12 schools.

Protecting Communities Around Military Installations by:

  • Extending access to environmental restoration programs to ensure that all defense communities have equal access to funding for PFAS cleanup, creating a prize program for innovations in PFAS destruction technologies, broadening the availability of technical assistance for communities dealing with DOD-related contamination, and improving and codifying the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership, which allows the Department of Defense to increase conservation efforts and prevent encroachment around military installations

Reducing Burn Pit Contamination by:

  • Requiring the Under Secretary of Defense to submit a report on incinerators and waste-to-energy waste disposal alternatives to burn pits. The FY2024 NDAA also directs the Secretary of Defense to brief the Armed Services Committees on current efforts, policies, and programs on incinerators and waste disposal alternatives to open air burn bits no later than March 2024.

In his capacity as a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Congressman Castro additionally secured nearly a dozen provisions to bolster America’s national security by strengthening bilateral and multilateral security partnerships and improving transparency, accountability, and opportunity within the intelligence and foreign service community.

Legislation authored or co-authored by Congressman Castro that was included in the FY2024 NDAA includes:

Foreign Affairs & Diplomacy

  • The U.S. -ASEAN Center Act, which supports the establishment and programming of a U.S.-ASEAN Center focused on strengthening trade, investment, and people-to-people relationships between the United States and member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Included as Section 6705 of the FY2024 NDAA. Introduced in the House as H.R. 6181 with Congressman Darrell Issa (CA-48) and introduced in the Senate by Senator Chris Van Hollen (MD) and Senator Mitt Romney (UT).
  • The Southeast Asia Partnership Expansion Act, which expands and improves a pilot program to improve cyber cooperation with foreign military partners in Southeast Asia. Included as Section 1315 of the FY2024 NDAA. Introduced in the House as H.R. 6182 with Congressman Darrell Issa (CA-48) and introduced in the Senate by Senator Tammy Duckworth (IL) and Senator Mitt Romney (UT).
  • The Accountability in Assignment Restrictions and Reviews Act, which supports reforms to the practice of Assignment Restrictions at the State Department, which preclude some employees who otherwise hold security clearances from serving in a particular country or working on issues related to that country, often because of their ethnic or national background and Assignment Reviews that subject certain employees to additional reviews, often because of family ties to a foreign country. Included as Section 6115 of the FY2024 NDAA. Introduced in the House with Reps. Ted Lieu (CA-36), Andy Kim (NJ-03), and Chrissy Houlahan (PA-06).
  • Provisions of the Restoring U.S. Leadership in International Organizations Act that will make service in a position dealing with multilateral institutions a favorable factor in consideration for promotion to the senior foreign service and establish a training program on multilateral institutions for foreign service officers and civil servants at the State Department who work on or at international organizations. Included as Sections 6201 and 6702 of the FY2024 NDAA. Introduced in the House with Rep. Sara Jacobs (CA-53) with Senate leadership from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
  • The Internet at Hardship Posts Act, which will improve access to internet service for foreign service employees. Included as Section 6225 of the FY2042 NDAA with Senate leadership from Senator Chris Van Hollen (MD). Introduced in the House as H.R. 6798.

Intelligence and National Security

  • The Intelligence Community Joint Duty Improvements Act, which strengthens national security by improving joint duty requirements that facilitate information-sharing and cooperation between U.S. intelligence agencies. Included as Section 7307 of the FY2024 NDAA. Introduced in the House as H.R. 6799 with Rep. Mike Gallagher (WI-08).
  • The Open Source Intelligence Availability Act, which requires the U.S. Intelligence Community to develop a plan to make unclassified intelligence products derived from open-source intelligence (such as translations of public documents produced by foreign governments) available to other U.S. federal agencies and entities, including Congress. Included as Section 7321 of the FY2024 NDAA. Introduced in the House as H.R. 6329 with Rep. Mike Gallagher (WI-08).
  • The Intelligence Community Families Act, which strengthens retention and addresses financial hardship for Intelligence Community employees by extending certain benefits, including in-state tuition for eligible dependents, that are already provided to Foreign Service and military families. Included as Section 7316 of the FY2024 NDAA. Introduced in the House as H.R. 6796 with Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01). This provision amends the Foreign Service Families Act, which was introduced by Rep. Castro, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), Senator Chris Van Hollen (MD) and Senator Dan Sullivan (AK) and enacted as part of the FY22 NDAA.

Congressman Castro additionally secured inclusion of Section 7322 of the FY2024 NDAA, which will improve public transparency by instructing the Intelligence Community to clarify guidance for prepublication review of materials produced by former members of the intelligence community.