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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2010

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Chair, today I am offering an amendment to the fiscal year 2010 National Defense Authorization Act that will ensure that the Department of Defense has done their due diligence and that my constituents have access to information needed regarding a DOD proposal that will significantly impact our local community.

By way of background, over 20 years ago, the Navy entered into a Section 801 Housing agreement to build 300 units on Naval Weapons Station Earle. Because of changed home porting plans initiated in the 1990's, there are simply no sailors or dependents to live there. When Colts Neck was put into my district in 2003, the units were already 75 percent unoccupied.

Naval Weapons Station Earle's mostly vacant 300 units of housing at Laurelwood has long been--and is today--unnecessary, obsolete and a financial burden to the Navy. Regrettably, the Navy is still in a bind and has made one bad decision after another in an attempt to recoups losses they failed to properly anticipate in 1988.

Despite the fact that there are next to no tenants at Laurelwood, the contract stipulates mandatory federal payment to the developer--estimated to be $3.5 million a year--regardless of occupancy.

At issue today are the deeply troubling consequences imposed by an egregiously flawed contract. The so-called out-lease period which becomes effective in 2010 and ends in 2040 makes all 300 housing units available to virtually anyone with rent money, with a guarantee of unimpeded access inside one of the most sensitive munitions depots in the country.

The Navy's EIS and the ROD should have been comprehensive reviews of all relevant challenges, dangers, and costs associated with the proposed matriculation of Laurelwood to civilian use. They were not.

Both documents fell short in addressing the myriad of valid concerns raised by the community including security, education and transportation, to name just a few. The Navy initiated its review process of Laurelwood as far back as 2002 so the questions left unanswered by their ``analysis'' are numerous and troubling.

On education, for example, their study offers us no assurances whatsoever of anything close to fairness and equity. Under the Navy plan, local communities are left to educate hundreds of non-military children for whom the towns can not adequately plan without proper numbers. The Navy's assumption that a third of these children would be educated in public schools is unsupported and masks the real problems that these schools will face when the influx of between 300 and 600 new students happens. My amendment is necessary to ensure that the school boards have all relevant information and can plan and budget accordingly.

The Navy has been extraordinarily myopic on the paramount issue of security and both the EIS and the ROD are devoid of any meaningful analysis of the true costs to the Navy and surrounding jurisdictions if Laurelwood rents to civilians who are then able to drive onto and through the base.

We cannot hermetically seal our military bases but, in my view, the Navy's proposal unwittingly does the reverse: it creates vulnerabilities where they do not exist today. It compromises national security and unnecessarily puts the people on and around Earle in potential danger.

Shortly after federal prosecutors revealed that a group of young men were planning to infiltrate Fort Dix, which is also located in my Congressional District, and kill as many servicemembers as possible, Congress recognized the vulnerability of our military bases and took steps to ensure that those who are seeking access to our bases are thoroughly checked and accounted for.

However, the Navy now plans to remove these restrictions and allow any member of the public to drive onto and through the largest munitions depot on the East Coast.

Incredibly, the Navy believes that ``impacts to security from the proposed action are not anticipated.'' In my opinion--which is supported by a Department of Defense Inspector General (IG) report I requested earlier this year--the Navy is not providing adequate security at the base now. I requested this report after a security guard at the base raised concerns regarding the performance of the security contractors at Earle (D-2009-045). The IG produced troubling findings. They stated that the Navy did not know whether all contractor security guards had completed a background check or that they had completed all training required by the contract.

The Navy's security plan places undue faith in a fence as a means to deterring or mitigating access and appears to rely simply on adjusting already inadequate patrols currently performed by private security guards at no perceived increase in cost.

The Navy believes that ``additional security personnel will likely be required to patrol the additional perimeter fencing,'' but gives no clue whatsoever as to how many and at what cost. Again, this information--which GAO will provide in accordance to my amendment--is needed if a prudent decision is to be reached.

It is worth noting that two of the other installations that are approaching the outlease deadline share similar security concerns. Port Hueneme's security officials believe that ``allowing the general public to live in the units would, at a minimum, indirectly affect the mission of the base'' and require ``additional police officers and patrols, and an increased security budget.'' Ft. Hood recently required that the renters of their Section 801 Housing units must undergo a background check as a condition of residency--although given the demand for this housing by military personnel, no background checks have been conducted or are expected.

In my view, the 1988 contract itself--written long before the bitter lessons of the USS Cole, the Khobar Tower bombings, the destruction of our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, and 9/11--fails to anticipate and its authors could not have adequately understood as we do today the dangers inherent in proximity, enhanced 24/7 surveillance of potential targets, and the proliferation of sleeper terror cells.

The 9/11 Commission Report is replete with instances of dangers unrecognized, unacknowledged, and unanticipated that led to the worst terrorist attack on US soil ever.

I strongly believe that the Navy is in the process of compounding its initial 1988 contracting mistake with a far more serious one that is fraught with significant danger for Navy personnel and the people residing in adjacent communities.

Until now, the security of my constituents and the costs that they will bear when this proposal is implemented has been deferred to the interest that has a conflict of interest: the Navy.

My amendment would change that. It will ensure a thorough and comprehensive study of all relevant factors. It will allow our local community to adequately plan and budget for the impacts of the decision--which they overwhelmingly oppose--and I urge its adoption.

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