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Why the NDAA is Much Bigger than Just the Defense Budget

The Project On Government Oversight has written a lot in the past about the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), on both the content of the behemoth bill and the process by which it is written. One of the hardest points to get across about the NDAA is that the hundreds of billions of dollars it authorizes is not limited to defense-related items.

For example, the final Fiscal Year 2015 NDAA included a provision, introduced by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ), that gave away the land rights of a sacred Native American site to a foreign mining company. Why was there no outrage about this before it happened? Because no one outside of the few staffers who worked to put together the final bill knew that the provision would be included. Even worse, this provision had been introduced in Congress before, but failed because of public scrutiny and a lack of congressional support. However, as a rider on a bill that must be passed, it was able to survive. As was the case with a host of other non-defense related land-swap provisions. The New York Times and a CREDO petition to stop the planned mining are highlighting this land deal now, and hopefully it isn’t too late to stop this egregious destruction of sacred and culturally significant land.

Senators McCain and Flake were able to sneak this provision under the radar because Congress has broken down to the point of almost coming to a complete standstill. With both sides increasingly unwilling to compromise and work across the aisle, fewer and fewer bills are making it out of Congress. As a result, the NDAA is one of the few substantial bills that they are able to pass every year and so has become home to a host of riders such as the Native American land swap that have not and most likely would not withstand full congressional scrutiny. When you sneak something like this on to a bill that “must pass” with no opportunity for amendments in the Senate, you end up with provisions that leave you scratching your head a year later.