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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 - Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. COLLINS. Mr. President, I rise in support of the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act. This bill represents a bipartisan commitment to ensuring that our brave men and women in uniform have the resources, equipment, and support they require to defend the interests of the United States around the globe.

I wish to commend Chairman Levin and Ranking Member McCain for their efforts.

This bill represents a prudent path forward for the Department of Defense. But it is a path that could be shortly undermined if a compromise is not reached to avert the impending self-inflicted crisis of sequestration. Without action, sequestration could spell disaster for many of the programs that we would authorize through this bill. I stand ready to work with all my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, to correct the short-sighted policy of sequestration and determine a sustainable way forward for our country.

I am pleased this bill recognizes the importance of shipbuilding to our Nation's defense, authorizing $778 million more than the administration's fiscal year 2013 request for Navy ships.

While the total annual shipbuilding budget is less than what the United States pays each month on interest to service the national debt, the ships built by the Navy represent such an important part of our national military strategy. The Navy's fleet, as an instrument of national policy, has a positive effect upon global security that far exceeds the percentage of the budget it represents.

This bill authorizes multiyear procurement authority for both the Virginia-class submarine program and for up to ten Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. The two programs are projected to achieve savings of 14 percent and 9 percent respectively, when compared to the cost of annual contracting.

I congratulate both the chairman and ranking member for their willingness to direct the Navy to make good on cost-effective planning and, as a result, to increase the size of the fleet. For as we have heard this year in the testimony of virtually every combatant commander, the importance of the maritime environment continues to grow with each passing year.

As our Nation and our military look to the Western Pacific, that trend is sure to continue. Events this year in the South China Sea, which saw a disconcerting maritime standoff between the Philippines and the People's Republic of China, highlight just how important the maritime environment is to global security. Although thankfully the crisis abated, the ability of the Navy to respond with forward-deployed multimission platforms capable of operating in anti-access and area-denial environments must be maintained. Moreover, we must continue to make the necessary investments in both our public and private shipyards to allow for a strong domestic shipbuilding and ship repair industrial base.

I am proud that my own State of Maine contributes so much to the strength of our Navy. Maine, after all, has a proud maritime legacy. Tens of thousands of Mainers earn their living from the sea, as commercial fishermen or lobstermen, as merchant sailors, as Coast Guardsmen or Navy Sailors, as part of Maine's tourist industry, or as workers at Maine's public and private shipyards.

Bath Iron Works, a private shipyard and Maine's largest private employer, has been building ships for the Navy since 1893, and the shipyard continues to be known by the phrase ``Bath built is best built.''

Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, in Kittery, ME, is one of only four public shipyards that remain in the United States, and conducts repair and refueling work on nuclear submarines. Both of the yards, along with the other public and private yards across the country, are truly national strategic assets, and the workers in these yards are the world's leading experts in ship construction and repair. As Chinese yards continue to churn out modern warships, and as the Chinese fleet continues to expand, we cannot allow any of the capabilities represented by our shipyards to atrophy.

Given the events of this month in the Middle East, I am pleased this bill also authorizes important additional funding for the Iron Dome program and cooperative programs with the State of Israel. As the Senate has affirmed time and again, most recently on November 15 when we passed S. Res. 599 introduced by Senator Gillibrand, Israel has an inherent right to act in self defense. In that resolution, the Senate expressed our unwavering commitment to Israel's security--a security which unfortunately continues to be threatened.

While I commend the efforts undertaken by those in the Middle East and by Secretary Clinton to achieve the recent ceasefire, we must continue to make the investments necessary to guarantee Israel's security. I can think of no better investment than the Iron Dome system, which had a success rate of 80-90 percent against the hundreds of rockets fired into Israel's borders.

And while Iron Dome protects the State of Israel, we must also look at how to better secure the United States, particularly those states on the East Coast, from the threat of a missile attack from rogue regimes in the Middle East. According to the Pentagon's Annual Report on the Military Power of Iran, parts of which were released in July, Iran could produce missiles capable of reaching the U.S. within 3 years.

To address this threat, Senators Lieberman, Ayotte, and I have filed an amendment which would require the Department to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement and create a plan for establishing a missile defense site on the East Coast of the United States. Such a site, whether sea-based or on land, located in the northeast tip of our country, could better protect the East Coast from an intercontinental ballistic missile attack. Beginning an EIS now, a task which could take up to 18-24 months, is a prudent measure to preserve our options in the future.

Just as we must protect the East Coast, we must also provide the military the tools to protect the mental and physical wellbeing of military personnel. This year, the suicide rate amongst Active-Duty personnel has continued to soar. On average, more than one soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine has taken their own life every day this year. That is a tragedy of the first degree.

For every servicemember who dies in battle, 25 veterans die by their own hands. Not only have more military personnel killed themselves than were killed in Afghanistan this year, but the rate of suicides in the military significantly exceeds the rate of suicides in the general population. Veterans, many of whom are dealing with financial or posttraumatic stress, chronic pain, or depression resulting from their time in uniform, also face high rates of suicide. According to a Department of Veterans Affairs report this spring, a veteran commits suicide every 80 minutes.

While I applaud the military and the VA efforts to address this threat seriously, especially the Army, we can and must do more. To that end, I have filed an amendment with Senators Lieberman and Blumenthal to require the Attorney General to exercise authority granted to him by the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010 to establish a drug take-back program in coordination with both the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

There is substantial evidence that prescription drug abuse is a major factor in military and veteran suicides. The Army has reported that 29 percent of suicides had known history of psychotropic medication use, including anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medicine, anti-psychotics, and other controlled substances such as opioids.

I understand the legitimate concerns raised by some law enforcement officials that accountability of drugs must be strictly maintained and that these drugs must be prevented from being misused, abused, or sold in the black market. I am confident, however, that both the military--an institution that has developed and implemented programs for the handling of nuclear weapons and classified information--and the VA are capable of running a drug take-back program with the utmost accountability and highest of standards.

I have also filed another amendment to establish a resilience research program in the Army to study the effectiveness of the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program. This program is intended to improve the resilience of our active duty force.

The loss of even one servicemember to a potentially preventable suicide is unacceptable. We have a responsibility to take every practical step that we can to help the military win the battle against suicides. Over the past decade, we have made an incredible investment to prevent deaths or injuries from IEDs. Although the threat to our forces posed by suicide will not be solved overnight, it deserves a similar commitment to combat this epidemic.

Likewise, the high incidence of military sexual assaults also continue to warrant our attention, particularly after the scandal at Lackland Air Force Base. This bill includes two provisions that I support which would codify into law regulations that were issued by the Department earlier this year. We should all continue to watch the Department closely to see that the changes are implemented wisely, that the Department's policy of zero tolerance becomes a culture of zero tolerance, and that the incidence of these crimes is dramatically reduced.

In the area of mental health, this bill includes a provision to grant authority for additional behavioral health professionals to conduct pre-separation medical examinations for post-traumatic stress disorder. This provision would increase the number of medical professionals available to conduct evaluations because the backlog of cases within the integrated disability evaluation system is significant, and results in unacceptable wait times for our military personnel being processed for separation.

Unfortunately, the military does not even know the true scope of the backlog within the disability evaluation system, and I am sure that many of our colleagues receive letters from their constituents expressing this concern each week. This year's bill contains a provision I authored that would require DOD to collect data on the physical, mental, and behavioral health of Wounded Warriors in order to accurately assess the efficacy of the military's Wounded Warrior programs.

In Afghanistan, where many of our wounded warriors received their injuries, military personnel continue to pay a high cost. As we head into the final 2 years of combat in Afghanistan, after more than a decade of war, I have grown increasingly concerned about the high number of insider attacks and their effect upon our strategy to transition to Afghan Security Forces leadership and for U.S. forces to assume a training and mentoring role after 2014.

Each death caused by the tactic of insider attacks has a strategic effect upon the war, both in terms of the American people's perception, and the willingness of our partners in NATO and ISAF to remain engaged in battle.

In 2012 alone, 60 Coalition troops, representing 16 percent of Coalition deaths, have been slain at the hands of those upon which our strategy depends. It is for that reason that I, along with Senators Udall, Portman, and Shaheen have filed an amendment that would require the Secretary of Defense to report on the effect of insider attacks upon the progress of the war and the effect these attacks have upon our strategy and the behavior of our partners. Our Nation has made too great an investment in blood and treasure in Afghanistan; Congress must understand the strategic environment, and be presented with all the information to make informed decisions about how to proceed in Afghanistan.

The Afghan war has also left us with important questions about detention policy here at home that must be resolved. One of the questions that has been left unaddressed in the eleven years since the Congress authorized the use of military force to go after al-Qaeda and the Taliban is whether the Congress intended to authorize the detention of persons in the United States, and specifically the detention of American citizens. I have cosponsored an amendment with Senator Feinstein that would explicitly prohibit the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens captured on U.S. soil.

The final amendment I have offered, along with Senators Kerry, Brown of Massachusetts, Blumenthal, Whitehouse, Snowe, and Brown of Ohio, would require the Department of Defense to establish a temporary pilot program to issue domestically procured athletic shoes to Army recruits in initial entry training. DOD historically provided athletic footwear to new recruits that comply with the Berry Amendment, but DOD's current procurement process has allowed it to circumvent the spirit, letter, and intent of the law. I have no doubt that domestic suppliers will be able to produce a Berry compliant shoe, with minimal waivers necessary, that can meet the needs of recruits and the Army in a cost-effective manner. We should not allow government funds to be used to support foreign-made shoes, when American shoes are available. Much like our Olympic athletes should be clothed in domestically produced apparel, so too should our military recruits be wearing athletic shoes made in the U.S.A.

I am also cosponsoring two amendments that grew out of the work of the Commission on Wartime Contracting. I have cosponsored Senator Blumenthal's End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act to tighten the U.S. government's zero tolerance policy for any form of human trafficking. This amendment would require contractors to certify that they have plans in place to prevent such practices. It also makes it a crime to engage in such labor practices overseas on U.S.-controlled property or while working on a U.S. contract.

The Commission on Wartime Contracting also found that contingency contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan has been plagued by high levels of waste, fraud, and abuse--estimating that at least $31 billion had been lost to contract waste and fraud. Without high-level attention, acquisition planning and allocation of resources, we are likely to repeat the contracting mistakes of the last contingency operation.

Therefore, I have cosponsored Senator McCaskill's amendment to strengthen contingency contracting at DoD, State, and the U.S. Agency for International Development--USAID--by improving planning, execution, and oversight of this function at these agencies and requiring education for personnel who engage in contingency contracting.

From the Maine Military Authority and the DFAS Center in Limestone to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, from innovative composite and renewable energy research at the University of Maine to high-tech firms like Vingtech, Hodgdon Defense Composites, Maine Machine Products, and Mt. Desert Island Biological Laboratory, Mainers continue to support national defense with ingenuity and craftsmanship.

The investments authorized in this bill support these efforts in Maine and in States around the Nation, and they ensure that our military is the best trained and equipped in the world. I urge my colleagues to support passage of this bill.

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