Wittman stresses economic benefits in store for Marianas as part of buildup
Visiting members from the U.S. House Armed Service subcommittee on Readiness said Friday that the military buildup in the Marianas means more economic benefits and security to the region and sought to allay concerns about unfunded promises to both Guam and the CNMI made as part of these plans.
Readiness subcommittee chair Rob Wittman (R-VA 1st District) and Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU) spoke to reporters Friday night before a sit-down dinner with CNMI leaders and a trip to Tinian to tour Department of Defense project sites the next day. Wittman said they would be visiting Saipan, Tinian, and Guam to look at military project sites involving the Marines and the Air Force, while highlighting “training” as important element in building readiness.
Among others, Defense plans to use Tinian for live-fire ranges and to lease the entire island of Pagan for these purposes.
“The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas is an important part of that,” said Wittman, adding they wanted to understand the full scope of what the military plans are and what concerns the CNMI may have.
“We’ve been working so many years on this military buildup on Guam and we would like to see Saipan and Tinian as part of it,” added Bordallo.
Wittman, speaking to economic benefits, drew a parallel to his state of Virginia, where they have seven military bases either in or contiguous to his district and have the largest population of veterans and active military personnel in the U.S.
“That’s an important economic impact,” he said. “Our many men and women…also do an extraordinary job of volunteering their time to the community.”
Asked if these “economic benefits” meant more construction and contractor jobs to the CNMI, Wittman acknowledged this briefly but spoke more to “multiplier effects” of military personnel and families’ spending money and the local services related to that.
“All of that goes back into the local economy,” Wittman said.
Wittman highlighted their role in “getting all the pieces of information” to “build a framework” for the Defense’s budget bill, the National Defense Authorization Act. The Readiness subcommittee is the largest subcommittee in the House Armed Service committee and the “most important,” said Wittman.
According to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity in 2015, Wittman is among the many lawmakers of who have received defense industry contributions for their elections and leadership committees as members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees who were not appointed as conferees for the National Defense Authorization Act.
Wittman, among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in both the House and Senate, has received $649,969 in defense contractor contributions from a period of 2003 to 2014, according to the Center’s report in July 2015.
Bordallo added that Guam has benefited greatly from the military and believes that the CNMI should participate in this. The buildup means more economic benefits and more security, she said.
“More military is more security,” Bordallo said.
Bordallo acknowledged that the buildup could be “another reason to be threatened too,” noting a missile defense system in Guam that her constituents objected too.
But “we are a target,” she added, speaking to both Guam and the CNMI. “We must be protected. It’s important we have the training,” she said, and hoped “we come to some conclusion” on rifle training in the CNMI.
Wittman also said Friday that after the visit to the Marianas they would be holding hearings with the vice chiefs of the military, or the second in commands of the Air Force, Marines, and Navy.
The lawmakers were also drawn to concerns over the unfunded promises made in a programmatic agreement made as part of the Guam and CNMI military buildup in 2010.
Last October, Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo expressed concerned about the commitments made for Defense to fund a cultural repository and public health lab. “If commitments are not kept for whatever reasons there are and an agreement is broken then there is no agreement then we have to maybe start from square one,” Calvo told KUAM.
On the CNMI side, DoD said in 2010 that it would seek $1.7 million to fund and authorize a curation facility on Saipan and a cultural and interpretive center on Tinian. The two projects were set at $1.2 million and $500,000, respectively.
“The requests are still there,” Wittman said, when pressed on this issue. “They are still a priority.”
He added that there have been time challenges but that “it was not for a lack of commitment or focus” by Congress.
“We’ll be meeting with Gov. Calvo,” Wittman said. “We will be reiterating our determination to make sure those projects stay on track.”
Wittman said they will have to balance other military issues across other states but are “definitely committed” to the rebalance in the Pacific and the commitments that have been made for Guam and the CNMI.
“Like any other projects, you see across the United States. Sometimes there are hiccups or time delays but our job is that the commitment from the United States stays the same,” he added.
To these concerns, Bordallo added that there was a restriction on funds, mainly the billions of dollars supplied by Japan for the relocation of Marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam.
“There was a restriction and it came from the Senate. And finally this restriction was lifted, except for the one section that the governor [Calvo] was referring to,” Bordallo said.
“We’ll be working on that,” she added.