Hutchison: Military Construction Program Should be Fiscally Responsible Strategically Sound
VIDEO: Senator Hutchison’s Floor Speech on Military Construction.
Texas Insider Report: WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) delivered a speech on the U.S. Senate floor about the U.S. Department of Defense’s Military Construction program and its apparent strategy shift to expand overseas presence rather than increase primarily base troops on U.S. soil. Sen. Hutchison is concerned about the costs of this strategy shift and what that means for our American soldiers and their families and for the growing debt and deficits that are burdening American taxpayers.
A transcript of Sen. Hutchison’s remarks is available below after the video.
Overseas Basing and Military Construction
U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison
July 13, 2010
Mr. President, I rise today to talk about our Military Construction program and some concerns that I have about an apparent shift in strategy, what that means for our American soldiers and their families, and for the growing debt and deficits that we are seeing by the taxpayers in this country.
Without question, our Military Construction program should be both fiscally responsible and driven by the future security posture of U.S. forces. Dating back to the end of the Cold War, the U.S. military determined that our Armed Forces would be best trained and equipped for service when stationed at installations on U.S. soil. Our military adopted a “force projection” strategy that allows our U.S. stationed service men and women to deploy from home, rather than being based primarily overseas.
This Congress has been very supportive of the Army’s transformation to a more modular and expeditionary force structure, allowing more troops to be stationed in the United States. And we have done military construction to accommodate those troops coming back. In 2005, the Overseas Basing Commission reaffirmed the force projection strategy. It applauded the vision behind the Pentagon’s efforts to transform the military and re-station tens of thousands of military personnel back on U.S. soil. Our own base closing commission provided for the building of our military construction in America so that those troops coming back would have the hosing and training facilities to accommodate them and their families. So the Pentagon’s strategy, endorsed by the Overseas Basing Commission, has guided the way Congress directs resources and funding for Military Construction facilities.
We’ve invested more than $14 billion to build housing, stationing, training, and deployment capacities at major military installations in the United States. And we have proven we can best deploy from the United States – and we can do it more cost-effectively.
Despite these taxpayer-backed investments, the Pentagon’s current MILCON program is shifting military construction projects, military forces, and taxpayer dollars overseas. Strategically, this would set in motion a worldwide transformation of U.S. basing that would actually expand our overseas presence. And this at a time when the aid given to American efforts in the War on Terror is, with a few exceptions, not impressive.
Finally, DOD is pursuing expensive and in some cases duplicative military construction projects in Europe, Korea, and Guam without demonstrating adequate cost efficiencies or projected future costs. This shift in global posture fundamentally disconnects with stateside basing capabilities and reverses the Overseas Basing Commission’s recommendations that were passed by Congress.
In Germany, massive plans are underway to move U.S. Army Headquarters from Heidelberg to Wiesbaden. I question this move because European and African Commands already have substantial infrastructure in Stuttgart, where efficiencies would be available. And the Government Accountability Office does not believe the Army will achieve any cost-savings.
Not only would these huge and costly projects create thousands of foreign jobs, but they would require continuous taxpayer funding to maintain facilities and training capabilities.
The United States has averaged spending $278 million per year in Germany in the last 5 years, but the Department of Defense now plans to raise that spending to $750 million per year. It costs nearly 15 percent less to build in the United States than to build in Germany. And while American taxpayers have invested $1.4 billion in German infrastructure from 2006 to 2010, Germany’s contribution has averaged $20 million per year – or less than 10 percent.
This is a poor taxpayer investment considering the serious limitations to U.S. military training and deployment capabilities overseas. It would also create duplicative headquarters at several locations in Germany. Our troops must have access to training areas where they can maneuver freely, conduct live-fire exercises, and work with night-vision devices. Many overseas locations prohibit such intensive training. Others allow only certain aspects of the training to be done under closely monitored circumstances. These limitations hinder the readiness of our troops, while taxing our citizens more.
Deployment impediments also exist in Europe. During times of peace and war, our troops face restrictions traveling through many countries surrounding Germany. In 2003, deploying American forces from Germany into Iraq was complicated when several European countries denied U.S. troops access to air or ground routes. Merely having our troops forward-deployed is no guarantee that they will be available when and where we need them.
DOD is also planning to spend millions to build deployment facilities in Korea. The Pentagon is proposing to shift one-year deployments for troops alone to three-year tours that include their families. This change would expand U.S. presence in Korea from 30,000 service personnel to approximately 84,000, counting dependents.
Substantial taxpayer funding would be required to build adequate housing, schools, hospitals, fitness centers, childcare facilities, commissaries, and more. We have asked for the numbers that would be projected for this. The Department has not given us any numbers nor any projections on the costs of adding 50,000 more people into Korea than we now have.
Investing these resources into Korea makes no sense when we are already building up infrastructure and deployment capabilities at U.S. bases, where amenities to support military families are well-established.
Plans to shift Marines currently stationed in Japan to the tiny island of Guam are also problematic. There are significant environmental concerns with trying to accommodate such a large number of military personnel in such a small space – and the island lacks sufficient existing infrastructure.
In addition to that, the timeline for transitioning Marines stationed in Japan is implausible and the costs are staggering. They are now estimated at $16 billion. With these considerable barriers, better basing alternatives should be explored. Again, we have asked the Department to look into this, to give alternatives – we have suggested alternatives. We have received nothing back,
The Department of Defense has indicated that this new military construction program is intended to “build partnership capacity.” Some argue that U.S. presence overseas provides assurance to our allies and deterrence to our adversaries. History has shown that this is not always the case.
Basing American military personnel at key locations in Europe did not deter the Russians from conducting military operations against Georgia in 2008. Even with our 30,000 troops in Korea, North Korea did not hesitate to attack a South Korean naval vessel in May of this year. And let’s look at what the partnership agreements that we are seeking have given us so far. We are in a War on Terror in which the United States has 78,000 troops. Germany has 4,350. The United Kingdom has double what Germany has. So the UK, which has a small population, has more troops by double than Germany, yet we are looking at all of this build-up in Germany for building partnership capacity.
Germany contributes 4 percent of NATO troops to Afghanistan, but they have strict rules of engagement that include not going on offense and restrictions on night operations.
If we are going to do so much on our own, does it make sense for the American taxpayer to be building what would be about a $1.5 billion more in Germany in facilities that we already have in the United States. Or if there needs to be more Army building in Germany, at least do it in Stuttgart where the Army already has a headquarters instead of an all new operation in Wiesbaden.
If the United States really wants to assure our allies and deter our enemies, we should do it with strong military capabilities and sound policy – not by keeping troops stationed overseas, not siphoning funds from equipment and arms and putting it into duplicative military construction.
Instead of breaking ground on military projects abroad and advancing the Department’s new goal of building “partnership capacity,” we should be building American infrastructure. We are carrying the heaviest load by far in the War on Terror, and we are carrying it for freedom loving people throughout the world. We need to build-up bases in our country, which we have already done, to accommodate the strategy since the Cold War, and yet we seem to be reversing that strategy. And I am asking why. I have asked the Department of Defense, I have asked the Secretary of Defense for answers and have not yet been able to receive anything that would show why we would make such a huge investment in their foreign bases with training constraints and deployment restraints when we could do the same thing at home and deploy our troops at will.
Military Construction Investment Should Reflect Today’s Strategy
Following World War II, the U.S. constructed bases in Europe to establish a strong presence as nations rebuilt. We stayed in Europe and placed bases in Korea to protect the interests of America and its allies during the Cold War. The world has changed, and with it, our nation’s military’s priorities must also change. Our military construction investment should reflect our strategic principles. It should meet the needs of military families. It should maximize the force flexibility of our modern military. And it should demonstrate the fiscal discipline that taxpayers rightly expect. I hope the Department of Defense will continue to build the foundation of our military right here on American soil.
Deficit Spending and Amendments
Secretary Gates has made fiscal discipline a priority at the Department of Defense. He has said we are going to cut defense spending. So this military construction plan is puzzling. I’m not sure if the military and the department heads are on the same wavelength. We are looking at a $1 billion of foreign construction that we do not need with capacity that we have already built in American. I am asking the Department of Defense to look at this and to make sure that we are in every way having a respect for the taxpayers and making sure that our military and our families have the support they need. I believe that can be done at home.
I will offer amendments to reduce the level of spending in overseas construction and possibly in administrative costs at the Department of Veterans Affairs budget that do not affect Veterans’ health care or benefits. There’s more at stake here than just our military strategy, for our economy, and for the American taxpayer.
Out-of-control spending is putting the short- and long-term fiscal health of the United States at risk. The national public debt hit an historic $13 trillion dollars. That was in May. This year, the federal government is borrowing 40 cents out of every dollar it spends, and it is spending 67 percent more than it brings in. In pursuit of its costly and damaging big government agenda, the Obama administration has increased the total public debt by $2 trillion in less than two years – an increase of 23 percent in 16 months.
If the spending continues at this rate, at the end of Obama’s first term, he will have added an additional $6 trillion to the public debt. If we go along with the request of the White House, $6 trillion more will be added to our debt in this term. This is irresponsible and unsustainable.
As the appropriations process moves forward, I intend to offer amendments to bring Military Construction back down to levels that are consistent with the Secretary of Defense’s own stated objective, which is to military spending.
I am going to offer amendments that I believe will be responsible, will protect our forces, and be better for our military families. And it will achieve the spending cuts that the Secretary has said he believes are necessary.
We need to make the tough decisions. I am offering a way forward. I am offering common sense cuts that will assure that we will be able to meet the needs of our military, the security of our military, the security of the American people, and the respect for this enormous deficit. We can cut back on this deficit with responsible spending.
Mr. President, I have outlined some of these concerns in today’s Politico, and I’d ask that my op-ed be submitted for the record.
Thank you, Mr. President. I very much appreciate the opportunity to lay out the strategy I am offering the Administration. I hope that we can come back to the strategy that has been adopted by Congress over the last ten years that would have American troops in America, that would created American jobs in military construction, that will save taxpayer dollars, and assure that when our troops go into harm’s way they will not be blocked by European countries that do not allow us to use airspace, or train tracks or the ground. We cannot afford that kind of luxury in this kind of environment.