During an Armed Services Committee hearing, Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) today questioned Defense Department officials over the unexplained delay in contracting an independent study of U.S. security interests, force posture, and deployment plans in East Asia and the Pacific region. By law, the study was to be provided to the Defense Department by the end of March 2012. The independent study was one of a series of congressional reporting requirements mandated in the fiscal year 2012 defense authorization bill to ensure a strong U.S. presence in the region--while reducing costs and impacts on local communities. The independent study will inform a final report that the Secretary of Defense must submit to Congress by the end of June.
"I cannot emphasize strongly enough how important it is that, first of all, the law be obeyed and second of all that we reach an endpoint on this for the good of our strategic posture in that part of the world, and also for our relations with the Japanese and the people of Guam," said Senator Webb, a member of the Armed Services Committee and chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee's East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee.
"The situation in Okinawa is one of probably the top two most volatile domestic political issues in Japan. We need to get this going," said Senator Webb, adding that the independent study was necessary because "there are so many turf battles over in the Department of Defense."
Senator Webb also asked about the freeze that has been imposed on military-related construction projects on Guam, warning that it was "being misunderstood on Guam." Senator Webb continues to support an expanded Marine Corps presence on Guam, including rotational units, but the Department of Defense must first confirm the preferred laydown for Marines in the Pacific region and provide a master plan for military construction on Guam necessary to support it.
"We are not attempting to kill the program," said Senator Webb. "We are trying to un-stick it."
Senator Webb has traveled widely in Asia as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific. He has visited Okinawa and Guam twice in the past two years, and last year drafted a set of basing recommendations for East Asia that were supported by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin and ranking Republican John McCain. These recommendations were incorporated in the Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act. A key recommendation was to move U.S. Marine Corps aviation assets assigned at Futenma into Kadena Air Base, while dispersing a percentage of Air Force assets now at Kadena to other locations in the Pacific region.
Senator Webb's recommendations were based on his long-standing interaction with the Pacific region that spans more than 40 years, including service as a Marine Corps infantry officer during the Vietnam war, a defense planner who wrote a region-wide facilities analysis for the Governor of Guam in 1974, a Department of Defense official whose responsibilities included evaluating mobilization scenarios for Secretary of Defense Weinberger, a writer and journalist who has spent a great deal of time in Asia, and most recently as a member of the United States Senate.
The alternative basing recommendations are available here: http://webb.senate.gov/newsroom/pressreleases/05-12-2011-01.cfm
The final NDAA is available here.
A GAO report faulting current DoD plans for the realignment of military bases in Asia is available here: http://webb.senate.gov/newsroom/pressreleases/05-26-2011-02.cfm
Partial Hearing Transcript
Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing to receive testimony on the Department of the Navy in review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2013 and the Future Years Defense Program
Date: March 15, 2012
Honorable Raymond E. Mabus, Jr.
Secretary of the Navy
Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert, USN
Chief of Naval Operations
General James F. Amos, USMC
Commandant of the Marine Corps
Senator Webb: I remained to almost the end of this hearing because I was quite surprised, Secretary Mabus, to hear your response with respect to the questions from Chairman Levin and Senator McCain regarding the independent study for the layout from Okinawa and Guam that we had mandated. Perhaps this is just a miscoordination because I know it is not under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Navy, but I hope what you said is not right. We have mandated by law that there would be an independent study and that they would report to the Secretary of Defense 90 days after the signing of the National Defense Authorization bill which was December 31st, which means that this independent study not only was supposed to have been contracted but it is supposed to give its first report to the Secretary of Defense in about two weeks. Then the Secretary of Defense has up to 90 days after that to report to us.
This is not a small thing, as you know. We are not in any way up here attempting to kill the program; we are trying to un-stick it. Administrations have been working on this issue for a little more than 15 years now. I have had dozens of Japanese delegations visit my office just over the last year. I have another one coming in this afternoon. I have been saying to them over the last three months that there is an independent review that is going to take place, in tandem with the reviews that are going on. I am visiting Japan right after the first of April and I had assumed that there would be some sort of preliminary report in from this study. Now we are hearing that apparently there has not even been a contract let. I hope we can clarify this.
My understanding also is that the Navy has halted potentially about $3 billion worth of construction projects on Guam as we attempt to sort all of this out. Is that correct?
Admiral Greenert: I do not know that that number is correct in halting that. I will have to go back and do the research on that. There are some on hold, but the specifics and what they are based on, I had better check it out before I give you an answer.
Webb: We are in a freeze and it is being misunderstood on Guam. The situation in Okinawa is one of probably the top two most volatile domestic political issues in Japan. We need to get this going. I know there are continuing talks; we follow them every day in my office. But this is a part of it and it is designed to get an independent set of eyes on this because there are so many turf battles over in the Department of Defense, quite frankly.
Greenert: There are harbor projects, regardless of how many Marines on Guam, that are proceeding.
Webb: I know that. I came back from Guam a little more than two years ago and did everything I could to get the White House to put money into that from the TIGER funds. We follow this very closely. But at the same time, you know--and General Amos, I know you know as you and I have had many talks about this--one of the big questions on Guam was what the Marine Corps laydown would look like. I had my own questions about this when I first revisited Guam a couple of years ago because they were doing a laydown that included dependent personnel--family personnel--which was driving up infrastructure and the numbers from 8,000 to potentially more than 20,000 people.
We know this needs to be redone, but I cannot emphasize strongly enough how important it is that first of all, the law be obeyed and second of all that we reach an endpoint on this for the good of our strategic posture in that part of the world, and also for our relations with the Japanese and the people of Guam.