Guam lawmakers defend Senate funding ahead of Marine buildup
Stars and Stripes
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan – Guam officials are defending $33 million in federal funds earmarked for facilities to help locals cope with an influx of thousands of Marines, following Sen. John McCain’s criticism of potentially wasteful spending this week on the Senate floor.
During a speech Wednesday, the Arizona Republican chastised the Senate Appropriations Committee for passing $20 billion in spending that was not authorized by the Armed Services Committee, including $33 million that will fund school buses, a museum and a mental health facility on Guam.
A prolonged U.S. recession has cast doubt on the multibillion-dollar plan to relocate the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to northern Okinawa and move 8,600 Marines to Guam. The Senate is proposing to eliminate any funding for the project in the upcoming year’s federal budget, calling it unaffordable, and federal auditors have said the military has not properly planned or tallied the full cost, which could reach nearly $24 billion over the next decade.
U.S. and Japanese officials said publicly for the first time during a June meeting in Washington that the 2014 deadline won’t be met, although they said they remain committed to the base realignment.
“The plan is… so much in doubt that both the Armed Services Committee and the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee have stopped funding Guam military construction projects until the Department of Defense provides a master plan and considers alternatives that may provide the needed Marine forward presence at much less expense,” McCain said. “In the face of all the doubt about the scope and timing of the eventual buildup, the Appropriations Committee put a premium on buying school buses, an artifact repository, and a mental health clinic in Guam. Those simply are not my idea of top Defense priorities in the fiscal environment we face.”
While not directly addressing McCain’s concerns about funding such projects before the full plan is set in stone, Guam Sen. Judith Guthertz and Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo defended the Guam projects as necessary to offset the burden that the extra troops and family members would place on the island’s civilian population.
The tiny island territory has been concerned about the impact on its roads, utilities, hospitals and schools if the buildup adds an estimated 24,000 new residents to its current population of about 180,000.
Guthertz said in a statement that the Department of Defense offered to fund the museum in view of widespread concern that the massive development planned for the buildup would destroy archaeological and culturally significant artifacts on the island.
Sniping at the construction funds for the mental health facility was particularly outrageous since the arrival of Marines and their dependents envisioned in the original buildup plans would push present mental health facilities in Guam past the breaking point, she said.
Bordallo said in a separate statement that McCain’s views are out of step with the Department of Defense, the House, and the State Department.
“Senator McCain’s comments are also not consistent with recent developments in Japan,” she said.
This month, Japan Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba, who took office this month along with his country’s new prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, said the government would commit all available resources to moving U.S. Marine Corps air operations at Futenma to Camp Schwab on Okinawa – a vital component of the base realignment.
“For the first time, the Government of Japan has a concrete plan on how to achieve tangible progress in Okinawa next year, and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has expressed his government’s support for moving forward with the realignment,” Bordallo said.
“The build-up in Guam is an absolute necessity for the United States to ensure regional stability, and Congress must provide the resources necessary to ensure that it is a win-win for both our military and Guam’s civilian community,” she said.