Chairwoman Wasserman Shultz Statement at Navy and Marine Corps Installations and Quality of Life Update Hearing

2022-05-18 10:31

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Chair of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Navy and Marine Corps Installations and Quality of Life Update Hearing: 

Good morning. Today, we welcome Navy and Marine Corps installations officials and Senior Enlisted personnel to discuss the fiscal year 2023 budget, quality of life issues, as well as receive an update on installations. 

Today we have before us:

  • Ms. Meredith Berger, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Environment, Installations and Energy; 
  • Vice Admiral Ricky Williamson, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Fleet Readiness and Logistics; 
  • Lt. General Edward Banta, Deputy Commandant of Installations and Logistics for the Marine Corps;
  • Master Chief Russel Smith, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy; and
  • Sergeant Major Troy Black, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps.

Thank you all for joining us today to provide testimony on some very critical issues. We certainly have a lot to discuss, and I look forward to a productive conversation. 

Today, we look forward to engaging with the Department of the Navy on a host of important subjects that impact our sailors and marines. 

I was very pleased that the fiscal year 2023 President’s budget request was delivered to Congress early enough to allow us to discuss the request in-depth at this year’s hearing. 

I was also happy to see the fiscal year 2023 request is larger than what we saw as an inadequate request last year. 

However, as with the other Services, I am once again concerned with the budget request’s perennial reduction of funding for military construction compared to the previous year’s enacted levels.

This trend not only directly impacts the mission readiness of our forces, but also the quality of life of servicemembers and their families.

The fiscal year 2023 budget request for the Department of the Navy and Marine Corps is $4.5 billion, which is $399 million less than the FY 2022 enacted level. That is an 8 percent cut.

I recognize that the fiscal year 2022 spending bill offered a particularly high mark compared to recent years. However, with so much important MilCon work to be done, higher funding should be the norm, not the anomaly. 

This is especially important as we continue to see enormous cost increases in projects due to inflation, supply chain issues, and labor shortages. MilCon needs are rapidly increasing, and the budget should be a reflection of the best way to address those needs.

While the Navy and Marine Corps don’t have the most egregious cuts below last year’s levels, you still shouldn’t rely on Congress to continuously bail you out.

I shouldn’t have to remind everyone that the military’s own estimate is that nearly a third of our military infrastructure is in fair or poor condition. 

Even though Defense spending overall is increased every single year, military construction continually faces attempted reductions. 

MilCon isn’t just about weapon warehouses and warfighting. It’s about constructing modern, resilient installations that can withstand increasingly more powerful natural disasters. It’s combatting climate change and reducing environmental impact. It’s building child development centers, schools, and hospitals. It’s remediating land and water contaminated by harmful chemicals like PFAS. It’s providing quality housing for our servicemembers and their families.

As all the Services have said in these hearings, and I assume the Navy and Marine Corps will say today, that the most valuable asset they have is their people. Well, the recruitment, retention, comfort, health, protection, and readiness of those people starts with MilCon.

Reducing military construction funding, when there is an overwhelming backlog of required priorities, is not only a threat to our nation’s security, but is also just bad government. 

That being said, this hearing will also go beyond just this fiscal year’s budget request. 

Today, the subcommittee also looks forward to discussing quality of life issues and an update on installations. 

Sexual assault is still rampant across all Services, including the Navy and Marine Corps. The subcommittee will seek out answers as to why it’s still such a significant problem and what the Navy and Marine Corps are doing to remedy it. 

We’ll talk about child development centers (CDCs), which strive to provide young children of our servicemembers safe and comfortable childcare but are still not receiving the attention they deserve from the Department.

We will look for explanations as to why privatized housing continues to struggle with oversight and quality assurance, including the ongoing fraud scandal by one of its leading housing companies, and ask what the Navy and Marine Corps is doing to ensure it supports its servicemembers while holding its housing partners accountable.  

We’ll talk about what the Navy and Marine Corps plans on doing about the concerning rise in suicides among sailors and marines, as well as the worrying discriminatory state laws that impact all servicemembers. 

Additionally, we look forward to hearing how the Navy and Marine Corps are addressing the ongoing remediation of PFAS contamination and the transfer of closed installations to their local communities. 

As you can see, we have many important issues to discuss. As is the ongoing mission of the subcommittee, this hearing is yet another great opportunity to identify how we can do more to serve those who serve us. 

We look forward to a candid, fruitful conversation. 

117th Congress