As we navigate a presidential transition over the coming months, what should we expect in terms of continuity and change when it comes to national security priorities and investments?

Regarding policy priorities, there will be several areas of continuity with the Trump administration, with some adjustments to how they are pursued. These include: prioritizing the strategic competition with China, reducing security commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, improving supply chain and cybersecurity, issuing regulations to enhance the security obligations of the industrial base, retiring legacy defense programs and capabilities to invest in critical emerging technologies, and reforming federal acquisition systems to make the U.S. government a more accessible customer of technologies developed by U.S. commercial industry and the traditional defense industrial base.

There will also be areas to expect change: deterring a revanchist Russia across the spectrum of conflict will return as a priority, as will reinvesting in alliances and partnerships and associated multilateral institutions, harmonizing investments in nuclear modernization programs with the imperative to renew international arms control agreements, and confronting the national security implications of climate change.

As the Biden administration pursues these and other national security policy priorities, we should not expect significant cuts to overall national security and defense spending. But a Biden administration will likely look to re-balance investments across all elements of national power, focusing also on diplomacy and development abroad and U.S. domestic economic strength at home, in addition to defense. This could force the consideration of tradeoffs at the toplines of defense, foreign affairs, and domestic spending, but we expect any reductions in defense spending to be modest.

Lastly, we expect national security centrists will dominate the nominee slates for the national security departments and agencies at the cabinet and sub-cabinet level. This likely would have been the case regardless of the popular vote and electoral college margin of victory, but especially so given the likelihood that Republicans retain their Senate majority.

As we see the Senate trending Republican and the House majority remain under the control of the Democrats, priorities in the two bodies will remain disparate heading into the Fiscal Year 2022 budget cycle.

With Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma remaining Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, we are likely to see a push for increasing defense toplines and a strong nuclear deterrent. Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Ranking Member of SASC, and Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Senate Defense Appropriations Ranking Member, are likely to push for parity in defense and nondefense spending for any potential increases. Senate Republicans will provide a balance to the Biden Administration on defense spending priorities and may set up potential differences in personnel policy similar to what we saw under the Obama Administration when it comes to the involvement of American troops in global conflicts and overall troop and strength numbers.

In the House of Representatives, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington is likely to remain the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee with an opening for the Ranking Member which is a race between Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, Rep. Mike Rogers of MS, and Rep. Rob Wittman of VA. All three have slightly different priorities but would have similar views to Chairman Inhofe on overall levels of defense spending, nuclear modernization, and on dedicating resources to the competition with China and Russia.

Both bodies will focus on expediting efforts to modernize legacy defense programs, finding ways to integrate innovative nontraditional defense companies into the defense industrial base, and protecting the U.S. national security supply chain. The various restrictions on use of Chinese technology are likely to remain in place, such as those regarding Huawei, and further legislation in this area is not likely to slow down as the primary sponsors of these legislative initiatives will remain in their seats after this election.

If there is anything that seems clear coming out of this election cycle, it is that the foundation of bipartisan support for national security and defense issues will be key to making progress on them in a divided government.

 

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Photo of Samantha Clark Samantha Clark

Samantha Clark practices in the firm’s Public Policy Practice Group as well as the CFIUS and Government Contracts groups. Ms. Clark provides advisory and advocacy support to clients facing policy, political, and regulatory challenges in the aerospace, defense, and national security sector.

Before…

Samantha Clark practices in the firm’s Public Policy Practice Group as well as the CFIUS and Government Contracts groups. Ms. Clark provides advisory and advocacy support to clients facing policy, political, and regulatory challenges in the aerospace, defense, and national security sector.

Before joining the firm, Ms. Clark served in a number of senior staff positions on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, most recently as Deputy Staff Director and General Counsel. In this role, she managed the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual defense policy bill that authorizes the Defense Department’s budget. Ms. Clark worked on Chairman McCain’s legislative priorities to modernize the military retirement system and reform the defense acquisition system and served as an investigative counsel for the committee’s inquiry into cyber intrusions affecting U.S. Transportation Command contractors. During her time on the committee, she managed a multi-billion dollar policy portfolio that covered acquisition law and policy, national security law and policy, military, civilian, and acquisition workforce policy, congressional investigations, military end strength authorizations, military pay and compensation, law of war and detainee issues, and women in combat.

The Secretary of the Navy awarded Ms. Clark the Department of the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award for her “exceptional service to the Department of the Navy as Deputy Staff Director of the Senate Armed Services Committee,” and the Department of the Air Force awarded Ms. Clark her second Distinguished Public Service Award for her work leading specific legislative initiatives to modernize acquisition authorities and reform the military and civilian personnel systems in support of the Air Force during her tenure on the Senate Armed Services Committee.