Bordallo Highlights NDAA Priorities During Conferee Meeting
Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo today highlighted three priorities for Guam during a meeting of House and Senate conferees to resolve differences to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018. Congresswoman Bordallo, as the Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee’s Readiness Subcommittee, is a member of the Conference Committee.
Congresswoman Bordallo underscored the importance of resolving Guam’s H-2B visa crisis for inside and outside the fence projects related to the realignment of Marines from Okinawa to Guam. Since December 2015, the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) has denied nearly 100 percent of visa applications from Guam. Congresswoman Bordallo included a provision in the House NDAA to provide USCIS flexibility to reverse the rate of denials for H-2B visas related to military construction and health care on Guam in order to ensure that the island has an adequate workforce to meet labor needs.
She also expressed her frustration and concern that the Navy disregarded Congressional intent by failing to issue a request for proposal for a dry dock in the Western Pacific. Congress authorized and appropriated $9.5 million last year for the Navy to charter a dry dock, which the Navy did not execute. Congresswoman Bordallo included a provision in the House NDAA that would require the Navy to move forward with this program.
Congresswoman Bordallo also discussed the need to transfer the former Navy ship repair facility (SRF) to the Guam Economic Development Authority, as required by the 1990 BRAC. The Navy does not utilize the former SRF and has allowed it to fall into disrepair. Congresswoman Bordallo included a provision in the House NDAA that would require the Navy to convey the former Ship Repair Facility to the Guam Economic Development Authority, at no cost to the Government of Guam, which would allow Guam to provide SRF capabilities to the Navy.
“The H-2B visa crisis has strained Guam’s workforce and undermined our construction and health industries. This has serious implications for both our civilian and military communities, and it is imperative that Congress provide relief. I stressed this importance to my fellow conferees, and I am hopeful that we will come to an agreement that allows projects to move forward inside and outside the fence.
“I also stressed the importance of establishing a depot level ship repair in the Western Pacific that would utilize American capabilities and American workers. It is unacceptable that the Navy did not carry out Congressional intent from last year’s authorization and appropriation laws, and instead continues to rely on foreign ship repair facilities.
“Additionally I underscored the need to comply with the 1990 BRAC and transfer the Navy’s former ship repair facility to GovGuam. The Navy has not maintained and invested in this property, which has led to substantial deterioration and decay. Transferring the property to GEDA would allow Guam to upgrade this facility and provide the Navy with this capability, benefitting both the Navy and our community.”
Chairmen, Ranking Members, and conferees, there are three items I will highlight that would strengthen the United States’ strategic posture, provide long-term savings, and increase readiness in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. While both our bills give our forces in the Pacific resources and authorities to deter aggression directed toward our country, allies, and partners, I hope we will find agreement—especially in light of the escalating threats by North Korea to my home district in Guam—to further strengthen our security in the region.
As you all know, a key priority for the DoD is the successful relocation of Marines from Okinawa to Guam. This bilateral agreement with Japan is a cornerstone of U.S. defense strategy in the Asia-Pacific and on which we, along with the Government of Japan, have dedicated significant time, energy and resources over the past decade and a half. The relocation will bring about 5,000 Marines and 1,300 family members to Guam, increasing the military’s presence by 70 percent, and place significant workforce demands on our community. While it is encouraging that earlier this year, the Department received a favorable biological opinion that enabled it to award contracts to start major construction required for the movement of Marines and their families, USCIS’s reinterpretation of the H-2B program’s application in Guam threatens the realignment and our ability to move forward on schedule and on budget.
To that end, both the House and Senate bills included provisions, supported by the White House and DoD, to provide temporary relief for Guam’s workforce issues. I believe there are positive aspects of both provisions, and I hope that the final bill will reflect a melding of the two, but it would be a mistake limit relief to only military construction projects. As all members with a military presence in their districts know, civilian and military communities are interdependent and rely heavily on their partnerships and shared levels of support to function. On Guam, this is exacerbated by the tyranny of distance and the simple fact that if a service is not readily available on island, an individual would have to travel nearly 4,000 miles to Hawaii or further to the U.S. mainland.
The House language in Section 10-62 allows H-2B workers to supplement construction workers and civilian hospitals’ staff to meet the increased demand related to the relocation. Guam’s organic construction workforce is not sufficient to meet the temporary construction surge and our civilian hospitals provide critical cancer, neuro, stroke and advanced wound care that is beyond the capability of military hospitals. I encourage the conferees to accept this part of the House provision and allow temporary relief inside and outside the fence while the civilian hospitals recruit, train and retain critical care specialists. This is a common sense solution that will save lives, improve readiness, and reduce costs.
Another provision I would like to address is Section 10-36 in the House bill, which requires the chartering of a dry dock in the Western Pacific. I am very concerned that the Navy failed to issue an R-F-P despite Congress’ express intent and appropriation and authorization last year of $9.5 million dollars for this project. It is deeply troubling to me that the Navy allowed this funding to expire, even as the Administration and our commanders testify before our committees on record-low readiness levels. Even more troubling is the Navy’s reliance on foreign labor and foreign ports to provide depot level repairs to our forward deployed and M-S-C fleet, including some of our most advanced war-fighting ships—such as the L-C-S—that are being repaired in foreign ports when American soil and American workers are present in the region. Last year, Congress gave the Navy explicit direction and resources to develop dry dock capabilities in the Western Pacific. The Navy’s decision to not issue an R-F-P is short sighted, not fiscally sound, and a complete disregard of Congressional intent.
Finally, Section 28-22 in the House bill would convey the old Navy ship repair facility on Guam to GovGuam, as required under the 1990 BRAC. The Guam ship repair facility has fallen in disrepair and is in need of investment to restore the ship repair capability. The House provision transfers the property to the Guam Economic Development Authority, which has committed to finding investors to restore the property’s infrastructure and provide the Navy with facilities that are capable of providing robust depot level ship repair. It is clear that the Navy has failed to invest in necessary maintenance that would have preserved this ship repair capability. Transferring it to GEDA would allow Guam to manage the property while providing the Navy with capabilities it needs on island.
I appreciate the opportunity to highlight issues of importance and would improve readiness in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. I look forward to working with you to resolve these issues.