Congress isn’t always known for compromise.
But for 62 years straight, the House and Senate have settled their differences and passed the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which sets military policy and authorizes later funding bills.
And with the Senate’s top defense legislators officially filing their version of the bill Tuesday, one of many impasses to overcome concerns the future of the Army Combat Fitness Test. Both legislative chambers want change, but their proposals sharply differ.
The embattled combat fitness test finally became the Army’s record test for active duty troops on Oct. 1, 2022 following a bumpy multi-year implementation period.
The House’s bill, which had its amended text filed on June 30, would direct the Army to adopt “sex-neutral physical fitness standards” for combat jobs on the ACFT.
Meanwhile, the Senate version’s authors want the test entirely replaced with the old Army Physical Fitness Test. The combat test, if the Senate has its way, would be downgraded to “a supplemental tool to assess physical fitness.” Army leaders, including Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston, have described the old test as inferior and anathema to the service’s effort to transform its fitness culture.
The Senate bill would also micromanage any changes to the classic test’s two minutes of push-ups, two minutes of sit-ups, and its two-mile run. The Army would need to pilot any tweaks to the test for “at least 24 months,” brief the proposed changes to Congress, and then wait “one year after” the briefing to formally put them in place.
The idea to eliminate the combat test came from Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said a Senate aide familiar with negotiations. It’s not clear why Cotton pushed for the change, and his staff did not immediately respond to questions from Military Times.
The defense policy bill still has a long road ahead before either of the proposed changes go into law — meaning it’s impossible to predict which proposed change to the ACFT (if any) will prevail.
First, the House and Senate must each finalize and approve their respective versions of the law. Then the two chambers will appoint a handful of lawmakers to a conference committee, where they negotiate to reconcile discrepancies between the two bills. Then both chambers must pass the compromise bill before it goes to President Joe Biden for signature.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard's border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.