Culberson Statement on Fiscal Year 2012 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Appropriations Act
House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Chairman John Culberson made the following remarks at today's Subcommittee mark up of the Fiscal Year 2012 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Appropriations Act:
"I want to welcome everyone to the markup of the fiscal year 2012 appropriations bill for Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies.
“First, I would like to say that it’s been a pleasure for me to work with my Ranking Member, Mr. Bishop in this inaugural year of my Chairmanship. Mr. Bishop has been by my side through every hearing we have had this year, providing thoughtful insights through our dialogue with each of the agencies for which we have responsibility. While this is my first year on the Subcommittee, Mr. Bishop’s prior experience with the agencies under our jurisdiction has been most helpful, and I want to thank him for that.
“I would also like to thank each and every Member of the Subcommittee for the time they spent attending hearings and for the language items they provided for the bill and report. Most of those items are included in this product, and it is a better product because of your contributions.
“I would like to take a few minutes to summarize this Chairman’s mark.
“The appropriations bill I am presenting today addresses the most urgent needs of our active duty servicemen and women, and our Nation’s veterans, while also recognizing the need to constrain federal spending as the country wrestles with large deficits.
“The total discretionary fiscal year 2012 funding for the programs under the jurisdiction of this subcommittee is $72.535 billion, a decrease of $1.252 billion from the budget request, and $615 million below the fiscal year 2011 appropriation.
“The bill before you today provides funding for 397 military construction projects contained in the budget request. We have deleted funding for three projects, and have reduced funding for another five projects which will allow them to move forward with only the funding they can use in the current fiscal year. The bill includes a rescission totaling $388 million due to the availability of unobligated balances from prior year appropriations Acts.
“The bill includes $483 million for construction of Department of Defense schools to address the problems highlighted in a report requested by the Committee in fiscal year 2010. The amount provided is the same as the budget request and will improve conditions at 15 schools in fiscal year 2012. On the subject of schools, the report includes language encouraging the Department to establish and publicize procedures which will allow for the establishment of Charter Schools when parents at the military installations see that as an alternative to local schools.
“The bill includes $1.1 billion for construction of 16 Department of Defense hospitals and clinics which fully funds the request in fiscal year 2012. The bill includes $1.3 billion for National Guard and Reserve Component construction. The bill includes $373 million for new construction of family housing.
“The bill protects the health and well being of our veterans by preserving the advance medical care appropriations already provided for fiscal year 2012 and providing the mandatory funding for disability, rehabilitation, education, and housing benefits. Advance appropriations as authorized by the House-passed budget resolution further protect the benefits next year for our brave veterans.
“But we have been cognizant of the overarching responsibility Congress has to reduce the deficit and contain the national debt. So we have made some difficult, but responsible, choices to manage the size of the VA budget.
“We have provided much of the additional funding requested for medical benefits for fiscal year 2012, but fenced it off to be available only if economic conditions create unmet need. We have reduced administrative expenses for the Veterans Benefits Administration by $129 million below 2011, although personnel levels for processing disability claims are increased within that level. Funding for most central headquarters offices is frozen.
“We fund medical research at the budget request level, which is $72 million below 2011. We accept the budget request’s proposed reduction of $486 million to VA major construction for total funding of $590 million. Because the VA has identified unobligated funds within the account that can be used for new projects, the program level for this activity will be $971 million. The mark reduces the budget request’s increase for Information Technology by $136 million (leaving a $25 million increase). While under better management, the development of the massive IT systems the VA needs remains problematic.
“The bill includes funding for the four related agencies under our jurisdiction. Three of the agencies are funded at the budget request. They are: American Battle Monuments Commission, Army National Cemeteries Program, and Armed Forces Retirement Home. "Funding for the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims has been reduced by $25 million. This funding was tied to design and land acquisition for a new courthouse. During the Subcommittee hearing this year, questions arose about the feasibility of the planned site and the total cost of the project. This bill deletes the funding for the courthouse and directs the General Services Administration and the Court to look at other options for building a new facility. There is money retained in the account for refurbishment of additional space at the Court’s current location to accommodate additional judges and staff.
“Finally, I would like to highlight a few additional provisions included in the bill: a prohibition on Davis-Bacon prevailing wage requirements for construction contract – I believe this provision will result in substantial saving for the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs; a requirement that contractors comply with E-Verify requirements of Executive Order 12989; and a prohibition on funding for construction or renovation of any facility in the continental United States for housing any individual who has been detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.”