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House Armed Services Committee Holds Hearing On Navy Training On Vieques Island
U.S. SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE HOLDS A HEARING ON DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE NOMINATIONS
June 27, 2001
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE BOB STUMP (R-AZ), CHAIRMAN U.S. REPRESENTATIVE FLOYD SPENCE (R-SC) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE DUNCAN HUNTER (R-CA) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES V. HANSEN (R-UT) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE CURT WELDON (R-PA) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JOEL HEFLEY (R-CO) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JIM SAXTON (R-NJ) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JOHN M. MCHUGH (R-NY) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE TERRY EVERETT (R-AL) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE ROSCOE G. BARTLETT (R-MD) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE HOWARD P. "BUCK" MCKEON (R-CA) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE J.C. WATTS JR. (R-OK) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE WILLIAM M. "MAC" THORNBERRY (R-TX) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JOHN N. HOSTETTLER (R-IN) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R-GA) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE VAN HILLEARY (R-TN) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JOE SCARBOROUGH (R-FL) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE WALTER B. JONES JR. (R-NC) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE LINDSEY O. GRAHAM (R-SC) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JIM RYUN (R-KS) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE BOB RILEY (R-AL) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JIM GIBBONS (R-NV) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE ROBIN HAYES (R-NC) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE HEATHER WILSON (R-NM) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE KEN CALVERT (R-CA) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE ROB SIMMONS (R-CT) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE ANDER CRENSHAW (R-FL) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE MARK STEVEN KIRK (R-IL) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JO ANN DAVIS (R-VA) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE EDWARD SCHROCK (R-VA) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE TODD AKIN (R-MO) (VACANCY)
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE IKE SKELTON (D-MO), RANKING MEMBER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JOHN M. SPRATT JR. (D-SC) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE SOLOMON P. ORTIZ (D-TX) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE LANE EVANS (D-IL) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE GENE TAYLOR (D-MS) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE NEIL ABERCROMBIE (D-HI) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE MARTIN T. MEEHAN (D-MA) U.S. DELEGATE ROBERT A. UNDERWOOD (D-GU) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE ROD R. BLAGOJEVICH (D-IL) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE SILVESTRE REYES (D-TX) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE THOMAS H. ALLEN (D-ME) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE VIC SNYDER (D-AR) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JIM TURNER (D-TX) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SMITH (D-WA) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE LORETTA SANCHEZ (D-CA) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES H. MALONEY (D-CT) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE MIKE MCINTYRE (D-NC) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE CIRO D. RODRIGUEZ (D-TX) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE CYNTHIA A. MCKINNEY (D-GA) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE ELLEN O. TAUSCHER (D-CA) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE ROBERT A. BRADY (D-PA) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE ROBERT E. ANDREWS (D-NJ) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE BARON P. HILL (D-IN) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE MIKE THOMPSON (D-CA) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JOHN B. LARSON (D-CT) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE SUSAN A. DAVIS (D-CA) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JIM R. LANGEVIN (D-RI)
PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE GORDON ENGLAND, SECRETARY OF THE NAVY
ADMIRAL VERN CLARK, CHIEF OF NAVAL OPERATIONS
GENERAL MICHAEL J. WILLIAMS, ASSISTANT COMMANDANT OF THE MARINE CORPS
STUMP: (joined in progress) ... convincing manner, I will remain convinced that the administration's decision is a step in the wrong direction.
To help us understand the complex issues today surrounding this subject, we have with us, the Honorable Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense; the Honorable Gordon England, secretary of the Navy; Admiral Vern Clark, chief of Naval Operations; and General Michael J. Williams, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps.
Before we get started, let me recognize Mr. Skelton, the ranking Democrat on the committee, for any remarks he may wish to make.
SKELTON: Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman. I look forward to the testimony of our witnesses today.
It's too bad that circumstances require us to be here today. But be that as it may, we will have some interesting questions for this distinguished panel.
Now since the tragic accident of April 19, 1999, there have been many attempts to find the right formula, which on the one hand allows resumption of critical Naval training, and on the other, addresses concerns of the people in Puerto Rico . In my view, we did that in the last legislative cycle.
The Clinton administration negotiated an agreement with the governor of Puerto Rico . The Navy signed on to it, and the Congress, after considerable deliberation and debate, substantially legislated in our conference the National Defense Authorization Act, the compromise.
This wasn't easy, and no party was completely satisfied, but it was a formula which gave both the Navy and the people of Vieques a chance to come out of these unfortunate circumstances with an acceptable measure of success. The Navy would have had a chance to continue full use of the range. And the people of Vieques would have had an opportunity to express their desires in a way that would be binding on the Navy.
As it now stands, the agreement is falling apart, and neither the Navy nor the people of Vieques are likely to gain from the outcome which will result. I find this, frankly, very distressing.
Perhaps even more distressing is the way in which these regretful decisions were made. If one is to believe the numerous press reports on the matter, it would appear that political expediency has taken a prominence over national security requirements. And I can only say, I hope that's not correct.
This very complex matter is extremely important, and at such time, we will have several questions and answers. As such, I expect I'll be submitting several questions for the record at a later time.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
STUMP: Thank you, Ike.
Gentlemen, your entire statements will be included in the record. Let me say first of all that unfortunately we're going to expect a quorum vote, or rather a journal vote, in about 30 minutes after the one-minute speeches.
But the floor is yours, sir, Secretary Wolfowitz, in any way you may wish to proceed.
WOLFOWITZ: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Congressman Skelton and members of this committee. I know how strongly this committee has supported the needs of our men and women in uniform to have adequate training, and I appreciate the opportunity to discuss that issue with you today.
I'm here largely because until Secretary England was confirmed at the end of May, I have the principal responsibility for Secretary Rumsfeld of dealing with this issue. So I would like to make some introductory comments before Secretary England and Admiral Clark and General Williams give more detailed testimony on this decision.
Following careful consideration and consultation with military leaders, Secretary England made a decision concerning the way ahead on Vieques . On June 15, he announced publicly his decision that the Navy plans to discontinue training on the Vieques range in May 2003. It is a decision that Secretary Rumsfeld and I fully support.
While Secretary England will explain the detailed reasoning that lead to his decision, let me briefly outline six broad considerations that put this issue in context.
First and foremost is the need to ensure that our sailors and marines, indeed all of our forces, are properly trained to meet any situation their duty may call for, including actual combat. As a matter of fact, the carrier battle groups that train at Vieques regularly find themselves shortly afterwards flying combat missions over Iraq.
Mr. Chairman, you have emphasized the importance, and I quote you, "of realistic training to protect the lives of American servicemembers." Let me assure you that protecting the lives of the men and women who wear our nation's uniform is one of our most fundamental concerns, one that we well understand and fully appreciate. However, a second inescapable fact guiding our decisionmaking is the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2001. That act, passed by the Congress, and signed into law by President Clinton on October 30 of last year, requires that training on Vieques beyond May 2003 will be determined by a vote of the residents of Vieques .
I am frankly surprised that so much of the commentary I have read on this issue in recent weeks fails even to mention this law or the fact that the Navy would not be able to train on Vieques beyond May 2003 unless it received a positive vote from the residents of that island, residents who have so far expressed strong sentiments to the contrary.
In signing this act into law, President Clinton said, and I quote, "Residents will determine through a referendum whether there will be any training at Vieques beyond that which is critical to the readiness of the Navy and Marine Corps to conduct at Vieques ," unquote. However, in the next sentence, he then went on to define, as the law effectively defines, critical training to be only, and I quote again, "training with non-explosive ordnance for no more than 90 days per year through May 1, 2003," unquote.
In other words, President Clinton declared, consistent with the law he was signing and with the compromise that was earlier mentioned that had been carefully and agonizingly worked out, that training beyond 2003 was not critical for the Navy and the Marine Corps. One can dispute that conclusion, but there is no disputing the fact that the law leaves the decision on Navy and Marine Corps training on Vieques to the residents of that island.
Third, the best available evidence strongly, indeed overwhelmingly, suggests the citizens of Vieques would probably vote the Navy's departure in 2003. Indeed, in the last gubernatorial election last November, 66 percent of the voters on Vieques voted for the two candidates who wanted the Navy out of Vieques , not by 2003, but within 60 days or sooner. The remaining 34 percent of the voters supported the candidate who ran on a platform of getting the Navy out by referendum by May 2003; a candidate, by the way, who subsequently demanded that the Navy leave before President Clinton left office.
Fourth, dictating national security decisions by local referendum is fundamentally flawed public policy. Win or lose on the Vieques referendum, it is a mistake to allow local elections to dictate essential matters of national security.
Fifth, given the near certainty that we will be voted out of Vieques , which would ensure our departure by May 2003, we must direct maximum thought and energy into developing alternate places and methods of training so that we can avoid trading degradation beyond that period.
WOLFOWITZ: Failure to confront the reality of Vieques and prolonging uncertainty over the outcome only reduces our chances of being prepared for the nearly inevitable future.
Sixth, continued training at Vieques until May of 2003 is critical for our sailors and Marines. For that reason, we need to find a way to lower the political temperature so that effective training can take place during this critical transitional period.
Secretary England, who answered the president's call to serve our country in our armed forces, brings to his position extensive experience as a defense industry leader. His abilities are surpassed only by his concern for the sailors and Marines who serve us so well.
Secretary England made his decision with one overriding consideration: to do the best possible job of meeting the requirements of the men and women who serve, given the constraints of the situation presented by the compromise reflected in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2001.
Secretary England was confronted with a difficult decision immediately upon taking office, and he has done an impressive job dealing with a far from ideal situation. His leadership is greatly appreciated by Secretary Rumsfeld and myself and, I hope, by the members of this committee.
Mr. Chairman and members of this committee, we share your concerns and we look forward to continued efforts to guarantee the combat readiness of our forces through effective training and to provide for the needs of all those who voluntarily defend the liberties that we hold so dear.
Thank you. I'll now turn the microphone over to Secretary England.
STUMP: Secretary England?
ENGLAND: Thank you very much. And Chairman Stump and Congressman Skelton, thank you for the opportunity to be here today to talk about the decision regarding Navy and Marine Corps training exercises on the island of Vieques .
Before discussing this subject, let me reiterate the pledge I made two weeks ago at the Naval War College and also on my very first hearing before the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee; that is, I pledge to be forthright, honest and direct in all my dealings with everyone and in every circumstance, and I repeat that pledge here this morning.
Accordingly, I welcome the opportunity to address this issue, along with Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz, Chief of the Naval Operations Admiral Clark and the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps General Williams before this very important committee.
As Secretary Wolfowitz indicated, Vieques was an issue I found on my desk upon confirmation as secretary of the Navy. Unfortunately, although people of good faith have worked diligently for the past two years to solve this problem, it has become a very contentious issue. After reviewing the situation, it was obvious to me that there was no fully satisfactory solution to Vieques , but this should not be a surprise.
Vieques has been an issue off and on since the Navy first began acquiring land for training in 1941. In fact, this committee conducted a study and issued a report on Navy training activities on Vieques in the late '70s and early '80s. History and culture have, and still do, greatly exacerbate the problems associated with training on Vieques .
There are several facts and dates I would like to present to you, as they were very relevant in my decision process.
First, as you know, Vieques is a combined training site for our sailors and Marines, and an alternate site or training approach is not likely to be readily available in the near term.
Two, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2001 authorizes, among other things, a referendum scheduled to be held on November 6, 2001. That referendum allows the registers voters of Vieques to decide one of two options; namely, to allow Navy-Marine Corps training, which may include live-fire training to continue indefinitely, or to decide that the Navy-Marine Corps training will cease no later than May 1, 2003. They are the two options allowed.
The act further authorizes up to $40 million to be invested in Vieques for economic assistance to the citizens of Vieques . An additional $50 million that was authorized, but not yet appropriated, can be spent after the referendum if the outcome of the referendum is positive; that is, continuing to train on Vieques .
Three, at the time of my decision, the next round of Navy and Marine Corps training was scheduled to commence the following Monday on June 18. The situation regarding Vieques has been mired in controversy and legal action since a tragic bombing accident on April 19, 1999.
For example, during the training exercises in April and May of 2001, 180 people were arrested. Of that number, 93 have thus far been found guilty by federal judges and sentenced from time served to up to 90 days in prison. Seven civil cases have been filed against the Navy; six in federal court and one in the commonwealth court, which has subsequently been removed to the federal court. And about 1,900 administrative tort claims have been made against the Navy, and more are expected. Four, Navy on-sight personnel reported that the situation was and still is disruptive to normal base and training activities and adds to safety concerns.
These are the facts and the situations available to me when I announced my decision on Friday, June 15. Based on these facts, it was evident to me that the Vieques issue was highly emotional with many entrenched positions that went well beyond the stated objective of the Department of the Navy: namely, effective training for our sailors and Marines.
ENGLAND: In this emotionally charged atmosphere, it was my genuine concern that events beyond the control of the Department of the Navy could have resulted in our not being able to conduct training on Vieques . Specifically, training could have become untenable well before May of 2003 and well before any alternative method or site could be developed. In my judgment, this downside risk was both high and that risk was unacceptable, and a decision prior to the June training was, therefore, important.
My rationale was two-fold: One to dampen the emotion and perhaps the demonstration surrounding the training scheduled for June. I did not want to have anything occur that might add to our risk. And, two, seize the initiative and refocus our efforts on the real issue. The real issue is effective training for our naval forces and not Vieques .
Based on the above rationale, I decided to do the following:
First, seek a legislative change to the FY 2001 Defense Authorization Act and cancel the November 2001 referendum. While the purpose of legislation was understandable and passed last year, upon assuming office and evaluating the current environment, this policy was troubling to me as a precedent for the future. A proposed change of that legislation has been drafted, and you will receive it shortly.
Second, actively plan to discontinue training by May 2003, thereby establishing an end point to this divisive issue.
And, three, support a study to help pull together ongoing efforts to identify alternatives to Vieques from both a geographical and technological standpoint and suggest other ways to provide effective training for our sailors and Marines. I believe firmly this is the very best approach for our sailors, our Marines, the people of Vieques and the people of the United States. Again, I do believe this is the best approach.
Regarding the viability of Vieques alternatives, a number of studies were conducted into the Vieques situation following the April 19, 1999, accident. Each of these reports, and I believe the committee is familiar with them -- namely, the Pace file, the RUSH panel and the Center for Naval Analysis reports -- have provided useful insights and will serve as a solid foundation for the alternative studies mentioned earlier.
No study, no study concluded that there was a site or approach that replicated Vieques exactly; but neither, neither did any of them conclude that alternatives were not possible. In fact, the CNA report clearly argues that a combination of several existing ranges appears promising to accommodate the various Vieques training events, granted with some changes that would need to be worked through and some investments that would have to be made.
Two years is a challenging time line; basically, until May 2003. But I believe if we approach this as a mission to be accomplished, then we will find alternatives that meet our primary goal, namely, well-trained Navy and Marine combat forces ready for deployment. CNA is being put under contract to perform this study which will be led by senior retired military officers.
I do want to thank this committee again for its leadership on this issue and reiterate my shared commitment to work with the Congress, Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Navy and Marine Corps to find a way ahead. Your support of this approach is, indeed, appreciated. This will put an end to the indecision, and certainty and clarity are important to the resolution of this emotional issue.
The deputy secretary, the chief of naval operations, the assistant commandant and I are ready to answer your questions. And I, again, appreciate the opportunity to be here today.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
STUMP: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
Admiral Clark, you didn't have a statement prepared?
CLARK: I do not have a prepared statement. I would just, Mr. Chairman, say that this is a subject of utmost importance to our Navy.
CLARK: My predecessors, of course, as you have indicated, have testified here before on this subject. My task as the chief of the Navy, is to organize, train and equip our forces to that they are ready to respond to the taskings of the national command authority. And that tasking always involves us going to the far corners of this earth with credible combat power.
The secretary has laid out a decision and challenges for us to proceed and to develop alternatives to the Vieques that we have known and used through the years. And we are pressing forward with that task.
And we're standing by to answer your questions.
STUMP: Thank you, sir.
WILLIAMS: Sir, I have no statement to make, and I'm prepared to answer your questions.
STUMP: Thank you, sir.
The chair recognizes the ranking member, Mr. Skelton.
SKELTON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Last year, we wrestled with this issue on the floor of the House and again in conference. We thought we had put it to bed.
So, Secretary England, let me ask you, the most recent published poll of the Vieques voters, which was done by the San Juan Star on June 11, had 39 percent favoring the Navy remaining on Vieques . Now this compares with only 18 percent in a poll published in El Nuevo Dia on February 5, and 4 percent in a poll a year earlier. Navy supporters also report that their canvassing indicates that public support of the island has been on the upswing.
So how was the conclusion that the referendum could not be won reached? And secondly, has the Navy surveyed the public opinion of Vieques voters?
ENGLAND: Mr. Skelton, a couple of responses are really in order. First of all, when the vote was taken earlier, as Secretary Wolfowitz pointed out, it was overwhelming against the Navy. The actual vote when we had the vote for the governor back earlier this year, that vote was overwhelming.
The polls do show an increase, but frankly the opposition has not really started working against the Navy in terms of their own efforts. So I view that as an interim situation.
Third, we have almost 2,000 tort cases filed against the Navy already and more expected. So that's certainly not an indication of support on the island of Vieques . So there is really no indication to me that we would win that.
In addition, my concern and the concern of the Navy on-site personnel is that, independent of the outcome of the vote, we do not believe this situation will change appreciably. That is, we will still continue to have protests, unrest. This is not a recent issue. This is an issue that goes back literally now a generation. It's deep-rooted. My judgment is it's not about to change.
It's very difficult to decide to remain in a place where you're not wanted. Frankly, it is not in our interests, in my judgment to try to remain in a place where the people do not want you to remain and cause disruption during our training exercises. It is in our best interests to find an alternative to Vieques , and that was the decision I made, sir, on that basis.
SKELTON: Mr. Secretary, do you believe that the announcement has diffused the situation? It appears to me that the announcement is similar to your standing in the middle of the road and automobiles coming in both directions, and you're getting hit by cars from both directions. So my question again is, do you believe the announcement has diffused this situation?
ENGLAND: Sir, we only have really one data point at this point. My hope and expectation was, by announcing it before the last round of training, that it would diffuse the situation. The last round of training has gone much, much better than the prior situation where we had 183 arrests.
So I do believe the emotion level has been lowered, and the exercises have been going on for the last week. While we have had some disruptions, no where near the level of disruptions that we had earlier. So that data point would tend to indicate that, yes, it did diffuse the situation somewhat.
SKELTON: What happens to the referendum -- that is, the law as we have passed it. What happens to the referendum if it's not repealed?
ENGLAND: Well, we will ask -- I mean, again, my request is, is that we change the law and not have the referendum, because a referendum, in my judgment, is bad public policy. So I would just as soon we not have people voting on affairs important to the United States Navy and to our marines. So we will request a change to the law. If the law is not changed, then certainly there will be a referendum.
But again, I will point out that, at least in my judgment, that will not change the situation that has been, frankly, a problem now for about 50 years. So while I would like to think that if we won the referendum, we could indeed be able to train there indefinitely, I still believe there will be a lot of pressure and a lot of disruption even if we win the referendum.
So I think it's in our best interests, our best national interests to change the law and not have that referendum, sir.
SKELTON: Thank you.
STUMP: The gentleman from South Carolina, Mr. Spence.
SPENCE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank all of you for being here this morning.
My interest in Vieques goes back to 1951. As a young officer I had the job of patrolling around Vieques to keep people from going close and possibly getting harmed.
But what I want to ask you about is, Mr. Secretary, you mentioned that the referendum would be bad public policy. I agree with you. The concern I have is, what if someone at one of our group in one of our ranges in this country somewhere decided that they wanted that range closed for some reason, and they started going on board that range and violating the law. What would our people do?
Our authority is in charge of the bases and ranges. Would they allow them to come on board there, or would they get rid of them and take them off and arrest them for violating the law? That's the concern I have. This is bad public policy when we allow people to do that anywhere.
As I remember, the property belonged to us. It was bought by the United States government years ago. It is not leased. It doesn't belong to anyone else but the United States government.
SPENCE: And I can't imagine this happening anywhere in the United States. And I just want to know what your comments are about that.
ENGLAND: Mr. Spence, my judgment is it's very important for our Navy and Marines, wherever we are located, to have a good relationship with our neighbors, and we work on that very, very hard here in the United States and around the world. I would have to conclude, over a long period of time, perhaps, we didn't work hard enough on Vieques . And I do believe we work very hard, we're a very good steward of the environment and we work very hard with our neighbors everywhere.
I'm not sure why we have the situation that we have on Vieques . Again, this was an inherited situation. But fundamentally we need good relationships with our neighbors, and that's true at all of our bases here in the United States and around the world. I believe it is better for the Department of the Navy to make this decision, whatever that decision, as frank as it is, better that this decision be made by the Department of the Navy than by the voters on Vieques .
SPENCE: Thank you.
STUMP: The gentleman from Texas, Mr. Ortiz?
ORTIZ: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to welcome the panel this morning.
ENGLAND: Thank you.
ORTIZ: You know, as the committee knows, I have stated consistently throughout the Vieques issue that we cannot send our sailors and Marines into harm's way without appropriate and realistic training. Now, this is an issue that we've discussed for sometime.
During my discussions in my office over the past two years about Vieques , I have been frank in telling the Navy that they were not good neighbors, and I think that they admitted to it. At one time, they had an AFLC (ph) officer for many years, and then all of a sudden, they withdrew that and there wasn't much communication between the peoples of Puerto Rico , Vieques , and the Navy.
And I know that you're looking at several sites. In fact, I talked to the Navy about sites, and I understand that there's a site in my district that they're looking at. I don't know how many sites you're looking at, and I think that it's incumbent, now that the news was leaked out about this site, it's incumbent to the Navy and me, since this is one of the sites under consideration, as to what type of training you're going to move into any of the sites that you're looking at. And in my area, as any area, there's people who strongly favorite it, and there's other people who are strongly against it.
And what we wanted to do was to have appropriate time to build that consensus, and this is something that the local officials have asked me. And everything was going fine until this story leaked out.
But maybe you can, Mr. Secretary, give me some input as to the site that you're looking at, whether you see that there might be good sites on the horizon. And if you do find the site that you really would like to move, what type of training are you moving from Vieques to whatever you're looking at?
ENGLAND: Mr. Ortiz, obviously, we're looking not to replicate Vieques . I don't think that's possible, maybe it is, but probably not with a very high probability of replicating exactly. Previous reports have said that's not likely. But we can, and our objective is, to put together this panel which will consist of senior military personnel to look at equivalent types of training.
Again, the important thing here is to be able to provide a correct level, a satisfactory level, the best level of training we can for our sailors and Marines. So the question is, can you do that in alternate ways, and can you do it in an alternate place or some combination thereof?
So earlier reports have pointed out some potential alternate sites, and recently some new ones had been identified. We will ask this panel to build on the previous work not only to look for alternate sites, but also to look for alternate ways that we might accomplish this training.
ENGLAND: So I'm confident this panel, based on the prior reports, will be able to come out with a satisfactory answer, a satisfactory answer to myself and, I believe, a satisfactory answer to the CNO and to the commandant.
ORTIZ: But you're looking for a site that will encompass the training that is being conducted in one place like you are doing in Vieques now. Am I correct when I say that?
ENGLAND: I would say, that's probably the most ideal, if we could find a single site to do that, yes, sir. But if we don't find a single site, then we would find a combination of sites or some alternate training approaches or techniques and some combination of the above.
ORTIZ: As the representative of the area -- at least one of the areas that you're looking at -- I have had calls from local officials who are very supportive.
ORTIZ: The thing is that, you know, we need to maybe build that support. I think that, as you're well aware, we have four military bases in my area. We have Kingsville; we have Corpus Christi; we have Ingleside; we have the Corpus Christi Army Depot.
But I think that we need to also send a message that, whatever site you're looking at, that the Navy will not break the commitments that have been made in the past, that when you make a commitment, you're going to stick to that commitment, and also the type of training that will come in.
I was in the military, and I know the importance of training. It is very important. I do not want to be one of the members of this committee that would send troops into harm's way without having the proper training.
And I thank you. Thank you very much.
ENGLAND: We agree. Thank you very much for your comments, sir.
STUMP: The gentleman from California, Mr. Hunter, is recognized.
HUNTER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And, gentlemen, nice to see you, and we're glad you're up and running. And I just wish this hearing was being held on missile defense or some other issue that we're working on. I think you probably have the same desire.
Mr. Secretary or Admiral Clark, could you kind of paint us a picture of Vieques in terms of the -- and maybe, Admiral Clark, this would be best coming from you -- paint us a picture of a standard military operation that heretofore we've conducted at Vieques . Give me an example of a typical training mission.
CLARK: Well, the issue of training -- and sometimes this doesn't get too much attention. In fact, in the case of what we're talking about today, the whole focus is Vieques .
We go to Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican op areas for training. And it's important, I think, that we focus on that. We talk about Vieques because it is the point of contention. My predecessor called it "the crown jewel," as the chairman has indicated.
But how we do this is that we divide these training periods into several windows. The entire interdeployment training cycle -- and we're a rotational force, so we deploy, we come home, we maintain the ships, we put them in the depot and the shipyard. And then, as they come out of that period, we oftentimes have had a large turnover in the crew, and so we start to work up to get them ready to deploy again.
The ships go out and conduct individual training exercises, and then the large event that occurs in the Puerto Rican op areas is what we call the COM 2-X (ph), and that's a composite training experience for ships and airplanes and submarines. And it includes electronic warfare training, it includes anti-submarine warfare training, it includes anti-air training. And it begins the integration of all of these units into a cohesive group.
That period generally takes, Mr. Hunter, three to four weeks down in the Puerto Rican op areas. We have an inner range and an outer range in Puerto Rico . The one that has gotten the attention is the inner range, and that's Vieques proper, where we then do, also, the integration with United States Marine Corps, specifically in the more advanced stages: supporting arms operations where we are operating in support of the marines on the ground.
And so there is a progression of activity that occurs in building either a carrier battle group or an amphibious ready group from the time it has returned from the previous deployment, gone through repair and then starts building itself back up, ready to deploy.
CLARK: Is that responsive to your question?
HUNTER: And you might just give us some specifics with respect to Vieques in that total training scenario.
CLARK: Yes, sir.
HUNTER: Where does Vieques come into play? And give us an example of the interaction of the forces on Vieques .
CLARK: Well, we do unit level training. For example, each one of the issues has been Navy surface fire support, some of you may remember it being called Navy gunfire support. And this is gunfire in support of troops on the ground.
And before that unit deploys, a destroyer or a cruiser, it must be certified in order to meet the guidelines that are established in the defense guidance for the readiness, the required readiness levels. And so, we will conduct the operations to certify that unit and make it the required readiness level. These will include a number of gunnery exercises conducted on Vieques .
Then, when the marines come ashore, we do what is called the supporting arms exercise. We operate in support of marines on the ground. And they are using their artillery pieces, and then they are calling in Navy gunfire support. So that's an example of what happens with them.
And then, the aviation element, the air wing conducts strike operation, either in close air support to the marines on the ground or they can conduct precision operations into the live-fire area there, or that we call the live-impact area. I stress that we have not been using live ordnance since the agreement was reached.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
STUMP: The gentleman from Mississippi, Mr. Taylor, is recognized.
TAYLOR: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Secretary, you've only briefly been on the job. You're a very nice guy. I think you've made the absolute wrong decision on this one. Admiral Clark, on the other hand, 18 months ago, I presented to the Navy and a series of admirals, some recommendations of what the Navy had to do to improve the relations with the people of Vieques . It's the only place that I know of where the Navy does not have excellent relations with the neighbors. And you all are better folks than that. I could tell you if we lost any of our bases in Mississippi, people would chop off their arms because you are great neighbors.
But I've made some recommendations, and I've got to tell you since you're here that I'm disappointed that you haven't followed up on any of them. There were some great opportunities. There is a clinic there that you could put some corps men in. CBs go all around the world building water systems. You ought to be doing that in Vieques . There are neighborhoods in Vieques that don't have running water. A great opportunity to make friends. You sponsor Boys and Girls Clubs and YMCAs all over the world. You ought to be doing it on Vieques .
But you've been an excellent steward of the property, and you don't deserve to give it up. The point that keeps being missed in all of this is, it's eight miles from the impact area to the nearest home. It's 10 miles to the nearest town. The Puerto Rican National Guard dropped bombs within one mile of south Mississippi when they trained at Camp Shelby last year. And yet, you didn't hear south Mississippians saying, "Get the heck out of here." It is important for national defense.
And, Mr. Secretary, I agree with you on the referendum. There shouldn't be a referendum, because that sets a terrible precedent. I disagree with you on the conclusion that we have to leave. The Navy needs to be a better neighbor, and you can do that.
It really is no ombudsman there for the locals to go to when they have a problem. There were some fishermen who had legitimate complaints -- "I've lost a net. I think the Navy caused my net to be lost" -- and no one to talk to. That's fixable. If you could fix that in Pascagoula, Mississippi, you could fix in in Gulfport, you ought to be fixing it in Vieques .
If the folks on Vieques don't wish to relocate, buy their property. We do that in locations all across the country. The Stennis Space Center in my home county of Hancock County; one-third of the county belongs to the U.S. government, they bought out the community. Folks had to leave so we could test rockets there. It happens all over the world, why not Vieques ?
Puerto Ricans are incredibly patriotic. As many Puerto Ricans as received the Congressional Medal of Honor as Mississippians; we're about the same size. Record numbers of Puerto Ricans served in the United States Marine Corps. But instead of sending young marines to the schools to tell them of the importance of national service, we've only let the other side go to the schools. And they had a contest when I was down there, $1,000 for the best cartoon that can depict the horrors -- that's their words, not mine -- the horrors of what the Navy has done to Vieques .
TAYLOR: So a little kid drew a C-5 dropping bombs on the island, and the island was crying. It got front-page coverage.
You're being taken to the cleaners. Yes, the fishermen are angry, they'd like their property back. They've been angry for 60 years. Yes, the folks who sold their property in 1941 would like to have it back at today's prices, but they sold it, fair and square.
But what's really driving this, Mr. Secretary -- and I wish you'd take the time to go see it for yourself -- is developers. This is being driven by well-heeled interest. Every one of those little camps on the island didn't just occur. Somebody had to buy those building materials, someone had to bring them food, someone had to bring generators, someone had to bring gasoline. These weren't poor folks doing this.
Somebody's footing the bill, and it's developers who want to get their hands on 16 miles of beachfront property, not buy it from the United States of America, but buy it from the Puerto Rican government because, like every other community that's been bracked (ph), they're going to want it for free. And then they're going to sell it to their friends. That's the scam. And the scam hurts national security. That's why I'm opposed to it.
I don't mind local folks saying, "Well, I wish you'd be better neighbors." That's every right to do so. But the fact that we are willing to hurt national security for a scam, so some developers can get their hands on that property for almost nothing, we should not be a party to, Mr. Secretary.
The Clinton administration pandered to Hispanic votes in making the request they made last year. I deeply regret that. I also deeply regret that this president is pandering to Hispanic votes, based on limited knowledge of the true facts, and it's going to hurt national security in doing so.
I appreciate the opportunity to say that, and I welcome your response to anything or everything that I've said.
WOLFOWITZ: Mr. Chairman, let me just make one comment. I can assure you -- you know, I said at the beginning of this, I'd be forthright, honest and direct and I appreciate you being the same way. Let me assure you in that spirit that there is absolutely no circumstance at which I would ever, ever endanger national security.
Again, my concern is, in this environment, if we are forced off the island before 2003, that is the most damaging thing that can happen to our naval services. For whatever reason, as you've mentioned, there was lots of other influences, other people involved who don't have the same interests you and I do have in national security.
I am convinced that it is crucially important that we remain on the island until 2003 and have the time to find an alternative. Keep in mind, if we lose the referendum, we will be off the island in 2003. And in my judgment and the judgment of a lot of other people, we will lose a referendum. So there is a foregone conclusion we will be off in 2003, I think, by a lot of people.
My view is make sure we can be there until at least 2003 or until 2003, so we have time to work on an alternative. The downside risk is too large, to me, for national security and not much of an upside potential. I would like to remove the downside risk and keep the upside at 2003. And I believe that is the best decision.
As I said in my testimony, there are no good alternatives, but I do believe some are better than others. And in my judgment, again, I have made what I believe to be the best decision out of a lot of bad opportunities for this decision. So this is the best that I know to come out with. The downside risk would hurt us. And I think that's an unacceptable risk.
And I do appreciate your concern. I have the same concern. I believe it's still the best answer.
STUMP: The gentleman from Utah, Mr. Hansen, is recognized.
HANSEN: Why, thank you, Mr. Chairman and gentlemen.
I know that you didn't make this, but you inherited it and I have feelings for you there. But that means you've also got to figure out the answer.
HANSEN: And I agree with the gentleman from Mississippi. I disagree with the answer from the Bush administration. And I've kind of liked your statement there, Mr. Secretary, when you pointed out we don't want to be places that people don't want us. You know, they don't want you in Okinawa. They've been to my office now, and they don't want you there. You know, they don't want you in Korea. You know they don't want you in Utah. They don't want you in Idaho. They don't want you in California. They don't want you in any of those places.
HUNTER (?): California wants you.
(UNKNOWN): And we need your electricity.
(UNKNOWN): Thank you.
HANSEN: California robs our water fair and square.
Well, let me point out, it's just a small handful of those people who don't want them in those areas. It's not the majority. I mean, I have a hard time believing it's the majority in Puerto Rico .
HANSEN: So when you get down to those areas, say, "All right. We've really established a precedent here, haven't we?" Now, the admiral there, he has to say these guys are ready for combat. What do you call that, C-1, C-2? They've got to be ready for combat.
And one of the things, as I read your criteria, Admiral, is that they go through live-fire before they go out. I've also read that a lot of these guys have been going out in these carrier battle groups in the last little while that haven't been ready for combat. I would be a little concerned. I don't know where you're going to get that done.
Now, Secretary, let me just say this. There's two issues we're looking at. One comes down to the idea of they're bombing too close. Come on. We could sit here, and you've heard everybody here talk about the idea. In my home state, they bomb closer than they do in Puerto Rico , and they've been doing it just as long as they have in Puerto Rico . In Oklahoma, where the Puerto Rican Guard trains, they bomb closer than they do in Puerto Rico . I don't know where we come up with this idea, but I guess if you've got to have something to come up with, that's one of them.
Now, we talk about the referendum. Let me ask you about this. Secretary Wolfowitz, I'm also sure you realize that the only way to avoid the referendum is to either change the law or for the CNO and the commandant to jointly certify that the Vieques training range is no longer needed.
I don't know, CNO, are you ready to do that? General Williams, is your boss ready to do that? I won't ask you, but you shook your head "no." Does that mean you're not ready to do it? So you're looking at us and saying you would like us to take the referendum --hang on a minute, and I'll get right back to you, if I may. So on the referendum, we find ourselves in that position.
Now let's go to the other issue, health. This is the one that always has been coming up at us. Well, let's go to health. All right, I think we will all agree that on the issue of health we have been looking into it in great detail.
Would you agree that the president has been woefully misinformed about the impact of military training? And in fact, isn't it true that investigation after investigation and study after study has shown that Navy-Marine training is not and has not harmed the people of Vieques ? Let's look specifically at some of these allegations. Admiral Clark, as you know, one of the most serious claims that has circulated in the press is the Navy training on Vieques has caused a higher than normal infant mortality rate. But isn't it true that in February 2000 the Puerto Rican health secretary publicly announced that the people making these allegations were misled by the public, by citing a report authored but ommitting (ph) infant mortality, regarding that? Isn't it true that this was omitted?
Another allegation is that the military training has caused higher cancer rates in Vieques . But, Admiral Clark, the facts don't support this claim. Admiral, is it your understanding that the cancer rates on Vieques fluctuate and are sometimes higher and sometimes lower than the cancer rates on mainland Puerto Rico ? And isn't it also true that both the cancer rates of Vieques and the overall cancer rate of Puerto Rico is lower than the U.S. national average?
I'm also sure you've heard the claim that the Navy-Marine training on Vieques has contaminated the local water supply. Obviously if it's true, that would be a significant concern, which is why Congress directed the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry to go to Vieques and evaluate the water supply. Do you all share my belief to learn that the ASDR found that not only is there no water contamination from the Navy and Marine activity, but that there's no pathway for any possible contaminants to go to that community?
Now, I can just go on and on on these these things, and we've checked out every darn one of these, and we can't find one scientific thing that backs up the health issue.
So here we've got an issue here that, number one, is a referendum. I don't know if the CNO or the commandant is ready to certify that they don't need Vieques . And number two, you've got health, and neither of them seem to be valid. Does that bother you at all, Mr. Secretary? It sure bothers me.
And let me just add, I'm really concerned that why people have blown this thing and politicized it so much when it really comes down to the basic question that you've all mentioned of training our sailors and our marines and sending them into action. Those two issues jump out at me, Mr. Secretary, and I personally feel it's the wrong decision.
And I think you've inherited the whirlwind. But just wait, Okinawa is next; then Korea and on down the line. And as the gentleman from South Carolina mentioned, we own the property. It is owned by the United States government.
Now, you're going to go clean that up? I've heard an estimation that's probably wild, but I've heard it will take $200 million to clean that baby up. Now, as chairman of the Resources Committee, if it goes that way in 2003, why do want to take that dangerous precedent? I think it would be much smarter to turn the whole thing into wilderness.
I think I've taken too much of my time. I apologize.
STUMP: Do one of you gentlemen care to respond?
ENGLAND: Let me first make a comment. I'll turn it over to the admiral and to the assistant commandant.
First of all, I would certainly not ask -- ever ask -- the CNO or the commandant to certify we don't need Vieques . I mean, we do not have an alternative. That is the base, and as I said, we need it until 2003 to have time to develop an alternative. So I certainly would not expect them to take that position.
Regarding health, Mr. Hansen, you're absolutely right. We have no data that would support the claims regarding any of the health issues that have been discussed regarding Vieques and training on Vieques . On the other hand, let me say that I do think that people on Vieques do perceive that there are health issues. So they perceive there are health issues, and while we have no facts to support that, the mere fact that they perceive there are problems make them real in their minds and make them issues that we do have to deal with.
So it is part of this environment that we have to deal with on Vieques . And whether it's real or perceived, it still is the same issue for us in terms of how we have to deal with those issues.
CLARK: Thank you for the opportunity to comment. The first point I would like to -- there are a lot of questions there, Mr. Hansen, so let me just start with the one about affirming the requirement or disavowing a requirement for Vieques , the way the law is set up.
There's been a lot of conjecture about the amount of discussion and the debate inside the Pentagon on this issue. And I just want to say that before Secretary England arrived, we were -- I have spent dozens if not -- I don't know if we get to hundreds of hours with Secretary Wolfowitz on this subject before Secretary England arrived.
And I remember the discussion when it came time to talk about the referendum and the issue of whether or not this was bad public policy -- having a referendum. And we made the point that for the referendum to step aside, by the way the law was written, the commandant and I would have to affirm that we no longer needed Vieques , and that we could not do that.
CLARK: And Secretary Wolfowitz's comment was, "I would never ask you to do that. I know you have that requirement."
So, first and foremost, I affirm the requirement for Vieques . I need the training capacity and capability that I have there.
The second point I want to make is with regard to deploying units C-1, C-2, C-whatever. C-1 means fully combat ready. C-2 means there are marginal deficiencies to being combat ready. C-3 is major degradations to combat readiness. And the defense guidance says specifically that we must deploy them at the C-2 level.
So I already, because I was the commander of the Atlantic Fleet when we were going through this period without being able to use Vieques , I have experienced trying to develop this product. And so we're not without experience. We learned how to get them to what I would call the minimum essential requirement to get them to deploy.
I make the point about needing the kind of capability that we get at Vieques because, as long as I'm in uniform, I am unfit in my office if I don't want the best training I can get for our people.
I say that, and I say that I have mixed emotions on this challenge. I, too, believe that the referendum was bad public policy, even though my role is not the political role up here, it's the military role. And that's been my position as we've had all of these discussions.
I also am concerned, and I have message traffic from my subordinate structure that says, we have to have support in able to conduct the exercises that don't put the people that we have trying to maintain security at risk. And there has been difficulty for our people trying to maintain security in this operational environment.
So we need Vieques . We need the capability that a Vieques brings us. We have already developed the capability, and it's spelled out in a CNA study that Secretary England talked about. We can work around and get our troops to a level that we can deploy them, but it isn't at a level that we believe that is the best that we should get to deploy them. And we're going to have to develop and create other ways to do that to meet the objectives and replace the capability like we have in Vieques .
STUMP: General Williams, if you would withhold, it's necessary we take a brief recess, about 15 minutes. We have a recorded vote on the floor. We stand recessed at the sound of the gavel. And when we return, General Williams, if you'd care to respond I'll recognize you.
STUMP: The committee will please come to order.
General, if you would care to respond, we'll have it on the record, and I'll make sure he sees it.
WILLIAMS: Yes, sir.
Like the Navy, the Marine Corps affirms the need for the capability that Vieques gives us. In our case, it's not simply live-fire. We can do live-fire of all of our artillery and mortars and aircraft at other places. It's the orchestration of supporting arms that makes Vieques so critical to us. And that's why we're determined to work very hard with the secretary to find a way, a place or a series of places where we can get that very critical training.
STUMP: Thank you, sir.
The gentleman from Guam, Mr. Underwood?
UNDERWOOD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And thank you for your presentation this morning. I think it's becoming a little bit more clearer how this decision was made.
Just for the record, Admiral Clark, I know that it's been mentioned that Vieques is the crown jewel for training opportunities. Do you want to qualify that crown jewel in the Atlantic as opposed to other areas?
CLARK: Yes, sir. That's very well said.
UNDERWOOD: The other item on that is, having said that, just for purposes of clarification and for the record, any alternative sites to this or anything to compensate for the loss of Vieques will be taken up either in the Gulf or in the Atlantic. There's no sense of picking some of this up in the Pacific.
CLARK: I will respond this way. One of the initiatives that we've been working on and my predecessor did was the requirement to reduce the at-sea days and the OPTEMPO in the training period where you're building these forces up. In other words, whether a unit is deployed or it's in the Mediterranean or in the Arabian Gulf or if it's in the Gulf of Mexico, it's still away from home. It would not be possible to meet any of our OPTEMPO goals if we were required to take Atlantic ships and move them to the Pacific to conduct these operations, so that's out of the question.
UNDERWOOD: OK, thank you.
Secretary Wolfowitz, since you were working on this issue from the initial point and, Secretary England, you have taken this up, before making this decision, was there any direct consultation with the new governor of Puerto Rico or the resident commissioner?
WOLFOWITZ: Well, Secretary Rumsfeld met with the new governor, I think, twice back in January and February, and there have been various communications with her, yes.
UNDERWOOD: OK. Was there any attempt to -- was there any discussion about the date to suspend in 2003? I mean, according to media reports, they seem to indicate that they were kind of surprised by this announcement. So, I'm asking, was there any communication with them or advance notice of it?
WOLFOWITZ: Well, the communications I'm aware of were communications focused on the obligations that we felt that she had under the agreement signed by her predecessor to provide adequate security for our training during our training exercises.
UNDERWOOD: So it would be impossible to characterize any discussions with the governor of Puerto Rico or -- in this case, I guess, the resident commissioner here in Congress wasn't even consulted -- it would be impossible to characterize that there was advanced negotiation about this particular decision, other than you saying that, "Well, we discussed the obligations under last year's law, and we discussed that and the general implementation," and then based on her conversation with you, went back and you kind of decided, "Well, this is the best course of action, given what she stated"?
WOLFOWITZ: Not that I -- I mean, you have to ask Secretary England. It was his decision. But during the period that I was involved, I was not aware of -- this was not a response to a proposal from her, no.
ENGLAND: Sir, the decision I made was made prior to the start of exercise which I felt was very, very important. So that decision was made literally in a period of days before exercises start on Monday, again, to reduce the emotion and, hopefully, have a more peaceful exercise than we had during the May time period.
Also, be aware that there is another referendum that has not been discussed that is not of the making of this body but locally. There will be a referendum that's scheduled in July, and that referendum is whether the Navy will stay or leave immediately. So they have a local referendum for the people to leave immediately. And then, specifically, in answer to your question, I had not talked to the governor before that decision. I have since talked to the governor, and so we have exchanged views on this subject. I don't think it would be unfair to say that the governor would certainly like to have the bombing cease as soon as possible and before 2003.
UNDERWOOD: Well, let me say this then, because we have talked about our relationship with our neighbors. Since there was apparently no specific discussion about this -- and I certainly would submit having probably the most similar status to Puerto Rico as representing Guam -- is that what we have here is that, in spite of the fact that the referendum is awkward, the proposed referendum was awkward and, perhaps, cumbersome and, in your words, presents a fundamentally flawed approach to our national security, I would have to say that the people of Puerto Rico have no final vote here in the House. They have no representation in the Senate. There is no -- it is a core principle of American government that there be consent of the governed.
In any analysis, any political, legal relationship, these people don't have consent of the governed, even in the making of the law on the referendum. But it did attempt to try to, in a way, balance that ledger -- balance that political ledger for participation.
And in light of the fact that now we're working hard not to have the referendum and then to learn, at the same time, that there was not advanced discussion with the properly elected officials of that jurisdiction seems to me to be inconsistent with any effort to try to attempt to establish a good neighbor policy; even consultation, even discussion. There is no other avenue.
They don't have representation in the Senate. They can't affect the national policy in the way that almost everyone else in this committee, except me, can affect national policy.
So I would have to disagree strongly with the notion that the referendum is fundamentally flawed. It may be awkward, it may be imperfect. But for now, absent the fact that there is direct consent of the governed, I don't know any other way to do that. And that's why I think I and some other members of the committee worked hard for that in the last Congress.
STUMP: Thank you.
The gentleman from Pennsylvania, Mr. Weldon, is recognized.
WELDON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you all for coming in today.
Admiral Clark, it was you would said that even though it's not your authority to cite public policy, you felt the referendum was bad public policy. I'll go beyond that, I think it was stupid public policy. And I have to accept part of the responsibility and blame because I was a part of the conference committee last year that backed down to the White House and the Senate request to have that referendum in there.
Let me give you an analogy: An hour from here is Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Harford County, Maryland. If you drive to Aberdeen, which I just was there speaking to their technology folks about three weeks ago, you hear the bombing and you hear the artillery shells going off all the time. There are pristine cottages all along the Chesapeake Bay. It's beautiful, but you have this bombing.
The analogy that I would make is that maybe we should give the Hartford County, Maryland, folks the chance to have a referendum. And the referendum would say, you can vote to eliminate the noise and the bombing, but you can keep all those jobs. You can keep those high- technology jobs that go with the Center for Technology. You can keep all those military jobs and employ all your county citizens, but, yes, you can vote to do away with the nuisance.
WELDON: That's what we've done in Vieques . The stupidest thing, I think, that I've ever been a part of on this committee. And I regret having been a part of that conference.
This is setting a precedent. It is going to come back to bite us in the rear end time and time again. We've got 33 major training facilities in the states. We've got eight to 10 major training facilities around the world.
Solomon Ortiz, who is my ranking member on the readiness committee, which I chair -- and I have worked hard and in a very diligent way to help you. We were the ones who brought the prime minister, as you know, of St. Kitt's and Nevis up to Washington because they had offered to assist us in trying to find a solution.
If we're going to have a referendum then I say, have the referendum. And the referendum should be for the people of Puerto Rico . You want the military presence in Puerto Rico , fine, vote for it. But it's going to be all or nothing. You want to get rid of Vieques , then get rid of Roosevelt Roads, get rid of every other economic impact on your territory. Because if you don't want our military there, as other states perhaps have to have their military presence for training, then do away with -- have that be the referendum. And then you might see a different outcome.
But to have the referendum on only whether or not you want the training, the bombing, is the stupidest thing that I've ever heard of.
And perhaps Roscoe, we should go to our good friend Bob Ehrlich and suggest we have a similar referendum in Harford County on the Aberdeen Proving Ground.
I agree almost totally with my good friend and colleague, Mr. Taylor, when he says there are other forces at play here -- economic forces. But there's another factor here. And this might not be politically correct for me to mention it, but I'm going to do it. It was pointed out to me by my good friend and colleague, Mr. Hansen.
All of those people down there protesting America's presence in Vieques are not necessarily good, solid, Puerto Rican citizens who support the ultimate goals and intentions of America and our military.
In fact, one of the leaders of that group is Lolita Lebron. Now, I don't know if any of my colleagues know who Lolita Lebron is. But when you take your constituents over the House floor and you open up the desk on the majority side and show the bullet hole in that desk, that bullet hole was fired by the same group that Lolita Lebron was a part of.
She was one of the group of Puerto Rican terrorists, went into our House chamber and fired and injured American citizens on the floor of the House.
This is what she said about the Vieques protest, quote, "another demand for respect." Quote, "a new strategy for liberation." In an interview last week, this is what she said, quote, she "was honored to have defended the nation," end quote, when she opened fire in the people's house. This is who we're kowtowing to?
Or how about the fact that Fidel Castro sent the head of the Cuban Interests Section to lead the fomenting of the arrest in Vieques .
Is this who we are bowing down to? Fidel Castro's Cuban Interests Section, Lolita Lebron, who shot our House chamber up and has no regard for America or the principles on which our country was founded?
We have kowtowed politically, and we've got to reverse it. And we ought to do it in this session, and we ought to do it in order to -- we should not have a referendum. No state has the right to overrule the federal government in terms of what are priorities.
And I understand that comments of my friend from Guam, but he has the same problem in the District of Columbia; they don't have a vote in the Congress either. That was the way our country was founded by the leaders of our country.
In fact, Mr. Chairman, I'm going to suggest that my colleagues support me because I think it's about time we introduced legislation in the Congress. And I brought this up in a hearing that I chaired on the issue of encroachment, which is a very serious problem for our military across the country and across the world.
And that is, we have an environmental impact statement, where, if states decide to take actions to build new highways or to build new ports, we have deemed it important to our country's security that we force that state to file an environmental impact statement as the consequence of that taking.
I say that it's about time that we have a national security interests statement. And let's require any state that wants to circumvent the authority of the federal government to have to complete a national security impact statement so that we can assess the impact on our national security. Perhaps that will then turn around this ridiculous debate over being politically correct in Vieques and Puerto Rico .
STUMP: The gentleman from Maryland, Mr. Bartlett.
BARTLETT: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Gentlemen, welcome to our committee.
I just want to follow up on something my good friend from Mississippi said, Gene Taylor. I think that there are interests there that do have to do with money, and that they would like us out of there because that's a very valuable real estate there for development.
And I would like to suggest that if we leave it -- I don't think we ought to leave -- but if we leave, we tell them that never, ever will the developers get this. We're going to make a wilderness out of it. It is not going to go to the developers.
I think you'll see most of the opposition disappear when you make it very clear that we're not going to spend $200 million there cleaning that up to give it to those people so that they can develop it. I think that most of the opposition will disappear if you do that.
The other point that I wanted to make, I just want to read a little something from a little document that I have here that's not often read from. I know that, but this is the Constitution and it's Article I, Section 8. It says, "The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, and to make rules for the government regulation of the land and naval forces."
Now, in the spirit of this to make rules for the government regulation of land and naval forces, don't you think it might have been a good idea to at least consult with the Congress before you did what I think the Constitution gives the Congress the prerogative to do? This was so high profile, so important to the security of our country. Don't you think that it might have been a good idea to at least consult with the Congress before you usurped their constitutional responsibility?
ENGLAND: Mr. Congressman, we had, on Monday, exercises about to start. This was on a Wednesday, frankly, when I concluded we need to do something and we needed to do it by Friday so that we would get it in the local press so that we would tone down the demonstrations.
Again, you recall my statement, we had 183 people arrested. We have a lot of legal cases here. It was getting very, very complex. In my view, we needed to tone down that situation, and we needed to do it before the next round of exercises.
So frankly, there was not a lot of time to do that. But the consultation we could, took place in that day and a half before the press conference.
The decision is to ask the Congress to change the law, to change the law so that we don't have the referendum and, again, to leave in 2003. But again, that was already, in our view, my view specifically, I think the view of a lot of other people, that was going to be the outcome of the referendum if we had the referendum.
ENGLAND: So, you know, this was nothing new into the equation, frankly. We had to leave by 2003, but let's do it in a way that we didn't have to set a precedent for everything else in the nation and the world. So there wasn't a lot of time to do this.
It was, I believe, given the circumstances at that time, and were that to exist today, frankly, I would come to the same conclusion. I do not know at this point of all the discussion I've heard in all these weeks, no one has yet given me a better set of alternatives, given the situation that exists.
BARTLETT: Well, how about changing the law, not having the referendum and staying there?
ENGLAND: The concern -- first of all, I do not believe we can continue to have effective changing in the environment that exists, and I do not believe that environment is going to go away. This is a deep-rooted problem that's been going on for a very, very long time. So this is not something we can just decree.
I am hopeful, frankly, of buying time until 2003 so we can work and find an alternative. Again, the worst situation for our sailors and marines is not to have an alternative and be forced to leave Vieques for whatever reason. With all these people protesting, the situation is difficult to train in, and it's not a very safe environment. So if we had any incidents in that environment, it could hurt us in terms of our ability to remain on the island until May 2003.
BARTLETT: Will you support us in the position that no way, ever, will this land go to developers? It's our land. We're going to keep the land. If we can't practice there, we're still going to keep that. I think that most of your opposition will evaporate if that becomes very clear, that this is not going to developers.
ENGLAND: I'm not sure I have the decision-making...
BARTLETT: I just asked you if you would support us in that position.
ENGLAND: I'll certainly work with you, sir.
BARTLETT: Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
STUMP: The gentleman from Connecticut, Mr. Simmons.
SIMMONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
As somebody who is serving as a freshman member in this legislature, I did not have the opportunity to vote for or against the legislation last year, which scheduled this referendum. But I would guess in retrospect that I would have voted against it, because I agree that it creates an adverse public policy for us to execute our constitutional obligations, which, as the gentleman pointed out, in the Constitution is to provide and maintain a navy.
I think that the legislative acts last year created part of this problem, and it's a problem that our administration and the secretary and members of the military now have to wrestle with. And I would suggest that the Congress, in fact, created part of the problem. And I appreciate that.
That being said, Mr. Secretary, in your testimony, you make the statement that the real issue is effective training for our naval forces -- "effective training." As a retired Army officer and a Vietnam veteran, I believe that effective training saves lives. It's just that simple. It saves lives. And as a member of this committee, we have an obligation to ensure, now and into the future, that our military forces, especially those being sent into harm's way, have access to effective training, because their lives and the success of their mission may depend on it.
Realistic training is important. I learned a lot about hand grenades when I was in basic training. But when I took that hand grenade in my hand and pulled the pin and prepared to throw it, the pucker factor went up. I don't know whether everybody understands that phrase, but think about it and you'll understand it. And then I threw that thing, and it blew. It really works.
And I guess what I'm saying is, when you have live grenades and live fire, live ammo, live exercise, live beach landing, the pucker factor goes up. And that's the next closest thing to being in combat, to being in the real thing, and that's an element of training that's critical.
I wear the airborne wings, and it was a lot of fun until we got up on the 70-foot tower. When you get on the 70-foot tower, the pucker factor goes up. Some people who did very up until that point didn't get past the 70-foot tower.
So my question to the folks is this: As we move forward to 2003, can you assure us that you will make every effort to guarantee that the alternatives will provide effective training -- effective and realistic training? And if, in fact, as we proceed down this path, we are not successfully achieving that goal of effective and realistic training, that you will let us know so that we can consider, once again, the alternatives?
ENGLAND: Mr. Simmons, absolutely, and you have my personal commitment on that, sir. We will definitely pursue this with great rigor. I can assure you that I understand that training is the discriminator for our military forces. Their level of training is what sets them apart from other militaries in the world.
We will pursue that with great rigor to make sure we have effective training, and if it appears we're falling short of that, we will definitely come back to this body and report on that. So, yes, sir, you have my commitment.
CLARK: I've said before the Congress before that not only do we need to train like we fight, we need to make sure that we give every young man and woman who wears the cloth of the nation the chance to experience the kind of challenges that they face in combat before they get to combat. So I go back to, by law, what my role is: organize, train and equip.
What hasn't been said is I was commanding the Atlantic when this agreement was reached, and this refers some to Mr. Taylor's comment about the things we need to do to be better neighbors. I mean, we've made a number of steps to try to make sure that we are conducting training that is really required there and that we're not taking advantage of a capability and abusing it in any way.
I have been investing in alternative approaches. My objective was, if there are other ways to do this at all, I want to figure out what they are. We've been doing this for the 18 months that I have been engaged in this process. And we will find some improvements, we will.
I will just tell you that I will come back before this body someday and give you and tell you that I have developed alternative means to do the Navy's surface fire support challenge. But that's still a unit-level kind of an issue, so the challenge for us is to find that capability that lets us integrate this capability. And the secretary has laid the task out for us.
And so, what I commit to you is that when you ask me the question when I come back, I will be as straightforward with you as he said that he's going to be, praising and assessing how far we've been able to come to meet the objective and the challenge that's been put out there in front of us.
ENGLAND: Yes, sir, absolutely.
STUMP: Secretary Wolfowitz, I know you notified us that you had to leave at a certain hour. Please feel free if you have to leave.
WOLFOWITZ: I do have to, but let me add, Congressman Simmons, I make the same commitment to you that Secretary England did. And I underscore also what you said, that this is critical to the safety of men and women that we send into harm's way to do the nation's business, and we owe them that effective training. It's absolutely essential.
SIMMONS: Thank you, gentlemen.
And thank you, Mr. Chairman.
STUMP: The gentleman from Virginia, Mr. Schrock, is recognized. SCHROCK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And then you, General, for being here today.
I've been sitting here trying to figure, when it got to be my turn, what was I going to say, and of course I think most of it's been said. Like Mr. Simmons, I, too, was proud to wear a uniform, and I wore it for 24 years, and it was in the Navy. So I think I understand what's going on here.
And I think the bottom line to all this is that safety of our troops in uniform has to be paramount, and we have to take them to train where they can get that best training so when we send them into harm's way they're not going to fall on hard times.
And I have a little piece of paper, I think every member does, that shows all the different options for realistic Navy-Marine Corps combat training, and it boils down to one place: Vieques . It seems like that's the only one currently that qualifies and answers all the questions that need to be asked and answered where we're going to send our folks.
And of course I want to say one thing about some of the demonstrators. If you look at a lot of the demonstrators who are down there, a lot of them are from mainland United States, so that bothers me, too. I think a lot of people who are professional picketers are down there doing that in Vieques . And if they do it there, they're going to do it at Oceana Air Station and Virginia Beach to try to get rid of the airplanes there. And they're going to try to get rid of every other military base that people might have some problem with.
And if put a crack in the dike here, and if we allow this to happen, where is it going to stop? This encroachment thing has already started to impact Pendleton in California, Fentress Airfield in Chesapeake, Virginia. And where does this stop? If we're going to be the truly great country and keep the defenses up, then we have got to make sure that we send our troops to train where they'll be best qualified, and I'm convinced at this point that is Vieques . Now, if somebody can come up with an alternative, that's fine.
Mr. Secretary, where, if we leave Vieques , where can we train? And how long will it take us to find another location?
I'm led to believe by some of the senior people I talk to in the district I represent that they've been looking and they haven't found anything that quite meets the qualifications that Vieques does. And you said yourself an alternative is not -- unless I misunderstood you -- an alternative is not readily available in the near term. We got to make sure when the time comes, and if -- and that's a big if right now -- if we do leave Vieques , where are we going to send our folks to train?
ENGLAND: We've put together a senior panel of senior military people, sir, to work that issue for us. Again, my concern is that we have the time to develop that alternative. The worst situation for the United States Navy is not to be able to stay on Vieques until 2003. I understand that most people focus on staying after 2003. My concern is assuring that we will be there until 2003 so that we do have time to develop alternatives, and I believe that is the biggest problem facing us.
So my approach is try to find a way to stay until 2003. Develop alternatives; we're bringing in the very best people we can. We've asked Center for Naval Analysis to do that, to bring in the very best people to head up this panel. And there are some studies that would lead to believe that there are some alternatives that can meet the objective for the training.
My own assessment is, we have focused more on Vieques than we have on the requirement to adequately train -- effective training for our men and women in uniform. I want to shift the discussion to effective training for our men and women in uniform and away from Vieques . If it takes us back to Vieques , we'll certainly come back and report on that. I, frankly, believe that we will find an acceptable alternative.
SCHROCK: And I absolutely agree with that. And we do need to be good neighbors. The military does need to be good neighbors. And I can assure you, in the district I represent, the Navy's the best neighbor we have.
ENGLAND: Thank you.
SCHROCK: And they say we don't need to go where we're not wanted. Well, if we allow one group to do that, every single group, every community that has a military installation in this country is going to do that. And I think we'll fall on hard times if that's the case.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
ENGLAND: Thank you, sir.
STUMP: Mr. Jones of North Carolina is recognized.
JONES: Mr. Chairman, thank you very much.
And obviously when you're this far down on the ladder most of the questions and thoughts have been expressed. But I would like to take just a couple of minutes and say to Secretary England that I wish you well. You've got a tough job. I think you're a fine man, and I think you'll be a great leader.
I must tell you, though, I was thinking, I was on that subcommittee on readiness with Mr. Weldon and Mr. Ortiz, and we held a hearing, and I saw the men -- happened to be all men -- in uniform, generals, talking about the encroachment issue and the fact that it was almost, in a way, it was surreal, and I'll tell you why.
I was listening to these men in uniform talking about the fact that they were winning awards because of what they had done as it related to the Endangered Species Act, and how, in many situations, they were not able to train because of the Endangered Species Act. And yet I sat there and listened and listened, and it seemed like, you know, I was in another world, because they were talking about winning awards, not talking about training to win battles, but to win awards because of the Endangered Species Act.
JONES: So I have two bombing ranges in my district, quite frankly, the Third District of North Carolina. And it is no issue, because the people of the Third District of North Carolina understand that this is not a safe world.
And I'm sorry about this situation in Vieques . And I was reading this handout from the Special Panel on Military Operations, and it says, "Because no suitable alternative to Vieques exists, curtailment of operations would have an immediate impact on Navy and Marine readiness."
And I guess what I'd like to say as you go forward again -- I'm being repetitious to some things that have already been said by people on both sides of the political aisle.
If we continue -- I think about since I've been in Congress since 1995 and all the social engineering that's taken place and all the issues that the previous administration followed in a social engineering way, that when we talk about the readiness of our men and women in uniform and the fact that they're not going to get the training that they need that is comparable to what they have down in Puerto Rico , we have got to find a comparable training environment for these men and women. Because there's going to come a challenge one day to this country, and I hope and I pray that we will be ready. But if we continue to bring the environment of training -- to narrow it down to where we're going to be so restricted, then I don't know where we're going to be.
So I'm rambling right now, and I realize that, but I am frustrated. I share the frustrations of Mr. Taylor, Mr. Weldon, a number of people on this committee, because we do and we should meet our constitutional responsibility to make sure that our men and women in uniform are ready to defend this country.
So please know that this committee -- the offer has already been made by the speakers before me, that whatever we can do to make sure that we have comparable training -- because if we don't, then I think we need to fight and stay where we are, quite frankly. And I am willing to be a small part of that effort as a foot soldier here in the United States Congress.
So thank you for allowing me to express myself, and again I wish you well as secretary of the Navy.
ENGLAND: Thank you, sir.
STUMP: The gentlelady from California, Ms. Sanchez, is recognized.
SANCHEZ: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And I'd like to thank the panel for coming before us today.
I actually have a different look at what is going on here with this Vieques issue. First and foremost, I want to say that I think --I, along with the rest of the members of this committee, are very concerned about training and about the safety of our personnel and making sure that they have the right experience in going into conflict.
But I actually am very optimistic that our Navy and our Department of Defense will find an alternate site rather than Vieques . But, you know, I just want to say that one of the biggest problems I have with this is, having already been to Vieques and having spoken to the Puerto Rican people, you know, they're divided on a lot of issues, but on this issue they seem to be pretty unified as far as I can see, even across the different parties there.
And so, I guess one of the reasons I have problems with saying, well, this is the same situation as a Camp Pendleton in California, which is just outside my district, is it -- you know, there is no representation from Puerto Rico . I mean, we in California have two senators, and you how strong that can be when someone tries to take a base away. We have 52 members of Congress with voting rights here in the Congress. People who cast their votes in California get to cast it for a president, which means that the administration should be reflective or try to appease the people who are voting for them. There is a decision. There is a way to cast a vote. There is a way to stop things. There is a way to debate.
But with the Puerto Ricans , they don't have any of that here. They don't have a vote in the Congress. They can't have that expressed. And so, that's why I think this referendum was actually a good idea because it allows the Puerto Rico people to actually cast a vote about how they really feel.
And I guess I'm more concerned -- because I do believe that the training and the safety of our men and women is so important. I'm concerned that we had a process where we were going to have a referendum and we were going to get to see what people really thought in Puerto Rico for the first time because, as I said, they don't have a vote here in the Congress, and here comes a president who turns that world upside down and -- with whose -- did he consult any of us?
I guess my questions would be, the decision was made on Wednesday, June 13. Were you involved? Who was involved? We get reports from Newsweek and other places that this is a political decision by this president. I don't know that our committee was consulted in any way. I wonder if the Senate's committee was consulted. You know, what happened here? Why is it that -- and this referendum and the change of that to now this presidential decision. Actually, this doesn't make any of the sides happy because, you know, the Puerto Ricans think -- many of them, a majority of them -- that that can be turned around, and, you know, three months down or a year down the road, the president can say, "Oh, you know, now we've decided we needed it, and the referendum didn't take place."
And I know that, as a candidate, this president promised to uphold that referendum. So I guess I'm asking, Mr. Secretary, can you shed any light on why this presidential decision versus letting the process that this committee had moved forward, move forward?
ENGLAND: Let me discuss the decisionmaking process, because there's been a lot in the press and there's been a lot of discussion about the decisionmaking process. I would like to tell you exactly how this decision was made and what circumstance it was made, and perhaps clarify this issue once and for all.
Wednesday, I went to the White House with Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz to discuss a number of issues. Vieques was on the agenda, but I'm not sure it was the primary item. When we got to the meeting, Secretary Wolfowitz asked if I had any views regarding Vieques . I was the first one to speak in that meeting. I said that Vieques was my responsibility. It was not anyone else's responsibility but mine.
ENGLAND: It was important to me that the secretary of the Navy and the Department of the Navy make decisions that effected our sailors and Marines. And therefore I felt this was a decision that I had to make and that I had already made this decision, which is the decision I have given to you today.
The three specific areas that I had announced in the following Friday, I said I have made this decision. I believe it is the best decision for our sailors and Marines and therefore, I was going to go forward, discuss this with the Congress and announce it, but announce it in time that it would have an affect on the training the following Monday. That's the way I left.
Of course, a lot of the information got into press very quickly. I made the comment that the communication system in Washington, I wish we had such a system in the military, because it's far more advanced than anything we have in terms of speed or communication.
But I did then go forward to make phone calls and consult in the Congress to the extent I could before making the public announcement on Friday. By then, of course, a lot had already been in the press and in the TV, et cetera.
But I will reiterate to this committee that after looking at all the facts of this matter, it was my firm conclusion that this was the best way forward. It is still my firm conclusion today. I mean, frankly, though these weeks have passed by, no one has given me a better situation, frankly, or recommendation to go forward, that considers all the facts, the downside risk and the potential. I still believe this is the best approach to go forward.
That's how the decision was made and, yes, there was not much time to consult. But my concern was, if we did not dampen the rhetoric and the emotion, after all the problems we had during the last training exercise when we had all the lawsuits and all the arrests, et cetera, that it would be adverse in terms of staying on Vieques and staying until 2003.
So in my view, I needed to buy time until 2003 so we could find an alternative.
ENGLAND: That is the situation.
SANCHEZ: So in your view, you made the decision? None of these lobbyists who went there and none of the governors from New York or Florida picking up the phone and calling on behalf of the governor or Puerto Rico , none of this entered into it? It was just your decision?
ENGLAND: I've never met with any of the lobbyists or any of those people.
SANCHEZ: But they met with the president. That's why I'm asking you.
ENGLAND: I can assure you that the decision was mine, and that is a decision I went forward with, and it is the decision that I support today.
SANCHEZ: May I ask one more question, Mr. Chairman?
STUMP: Very briefly, please.
SANCHEZ: That was on the morning of June 13. It was reported in the newspaper that you told Representative Hansen the afternoon that the decision was not final. Is that a correct statement?
ENGLAND: I was, at that point, consulting with the Congress. I had basically come to my conclusions. I had stated those conclusions. I went to the Hill to meet with people, to have discussions because, obviously, I was still open if there was something around that, you know, specific conclusion. But basically there were no other findings that influenced that conclusion, so that's how we went forward in announcing on Friday.
SANCHEZ: So you made the decision. You had a meeting in the morning. You made your decision.
SANCHEZ: You picked up the phone, you went around to the Hill and you consulted with members of this committee, Mr. Hansen and others, and you told them the decision was not final, or you told him the decision was final -- I don't know, I really didn't get any answer for that.
ENGLAND: I told him this was my conclusion and I respected their input and advice.
STUMP: The gentlelady's time has expired.
SANCHEZ: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
STUMP: The gentleman from North Carolina, Mr. Hayes.
HAYES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Having been here since the beginning and listening to everything that's been said, it's clear to me that a mistake has been made here. And decision -- and Mr. Secretary, you just said that you take responsibility for it. I would strongly suggest that you go back and revisit this issue. Now, do we own the ground, as Mr. Spence said?
ENGLAND: Yes, we do.
HAYES: Is there an alternative, General Williams, that will provide the force protection, the training and necessary resources we need to protect our men and women in uniform?
WILLIAMS: At this time, sir, I don't know of one.
HAYES: That's exactly right. The answer is no.
We've talked about valuable real estate. Finances are an issue. The long-term financial security of Puerto Rico is far better served if our military forces continue to stay there.
It's clear that maybe we do need to improve our relations. There are things we can do, but it occurs to me that we are boxed into a referendum. Whether that's a good decision or a bad decision doesn't really matter. A referendum's out there. It appears to me that elections have been won where the facts did not support the right side nearly as well as they do here. So as a part of your ongoing thought process, re-look at the referendum, all right?
Let's have a referendum. There are people who know how to win elections, based on the facts, financial security of Puerto Rico , the national security of the United States of America and our protectorates. We can win that election, if that's where we need to go.
But we cannot give up Vieques . We cannot give up this asset. We do not have the luxury of time to analyze every possible site where we might cobble together something that would hopefully work. There are numerous hot spots around the world which may break out at any moment.
Paralysis by analysis is not what we need. Force protection is what we need. I would submit to you that we have made a mistake. Everybody can make a mistake.
I've listened very carefully and I appreciate the thorough thoughtfulness that you obviously used. I don't doubt, in any way, the intention that you had. But we cannot allow a small group of people to put at risk our men and women, our national security.
Will you go back and re-think this position and see if there isn't an alternative to the decision that has been made, including whatever needs were the referendum? Would you do that, sir?
ENGLAND(WITNESS): I'll be happy to do that, sir. On the other hand, I do not know of any other facts to this matter, and I do agree with you that training is crucially important. And therefore, it is crucially important that we maintain the ability to train until 2003 so we can develop an alternative.
General Williams is correct, there's no alternative today. There have been studies that point to alternatives. I'm convinced, and when you look at those studies, it does indicate that there are other opportunities for training and we need to pursue those. So this does give us the opportunity to continue to train our men and women in uniform until May of 2003. That's crucial that we buy that time to develop an alternative.
HAYES: We are in agreement, but I do not see the people of Puerto Rico forcefully throwing us off Vieques .
Now someone mentioned the fact that we are putting our security people at risk because of threats to our training exercises. We are under threat in Bosnia, Kosovo, the Sinai, North Korea. That is a part of the reality of military existence. We want to minimize that threat but, please, do not take the main asset that we have for training and force protection because of political reasons. Do not bow down to this small group of protesters who are simply wrong.
Thank you, sir.
STUMP: The gentleman from Indiana, Mr. Hill.
HILL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Secretary, we thank you for being here. We see that you're between a rock and a hard place and in the vice and fully appreciate it because I think everybody on this committee has been right where you are once or twice in their political careers.
You have mentioned a couple of times that you are optimistic and that you can point to some studies that demonstrate that an alternative site is out there. Could you tell me what those studies are?
ENGLAND: Yes, sir.
Primarily it's the Center for Naval Analysis. There was a study that was completed in August of 2000, and that study basically concluded that there was no exact replacement for Vieques but there were, indeed, promising alternatives to provide an equivalent level of training for our forces.
So, again, I think most people have concentrated on the first conclusion; that is, there's not a direct replacement for Vieques . But the studies have not concluded there are no alternatives to Vieques . Again, the objective is training, effective training, for our men and women in uniform. So we do live-fire training in various places. So this is a combination. This is kind of the capstone of the training.
The question is, can you accomplish this in some other manner or with some other technology or in some other place? I mean, that is the question to be addressed, to make sure we have training equivalent to what we have in Vieques . And the studies would led you to believe that, yes, there are alternative ways or alternative places that we can get an equivalent level of training.
And if we can do that, then it is in our interest to do that rather than to continue in what is a very hostile environment on the island of Vieques . It's not to our benefit to remain in an area which is hostile to our sailors and our training and our marines. So if we can find an alternative place, we would much rather do that.
HILL: You're aware of the Fallon Pace Study (ph), I'm assuming, aren't you?
ENGLAND: Yes, I am. HILL: I want to quote you from this: " Vieques is the only location in the Atlantic where realistic multidimensional combat training can be conducted." The study also says, "... alternative sites..." -- and determined that "none could provide the level of flexibility in combat realism. Without Vieques , deploying units would have no opportunity to conduct multidimensional, fully integrated, phased-warning training. Air rings would deploy at reduced readiness. Cruisers and destroyers would not be fully ready to support operations. The Navy-Marine team would deploy without having tested its ability to integrate, organization, execute and sustain high tempo combat operations. Standards would have to be waived and reduced levels of readiness accepted."
Now, that is a study that has been completed, and it sounds pretty compelling to me. The studies that you are pointing to, you're not being specific with or bringing up what you call alternative sites. How do you respond to this study?
ENGLAND: OK, sir, a later study that built upon those studies was a study conducted by the Center of Naval Analysis, and it built upon the Fallon Pace (ph) reports. That was the foundation of that.
And the summary of that study has said, "In our search for alternatives, we found no single training range that is superior in all respects." So, again, it confirms what you said.
Overall, however -- and then it did point out some alternatives. And those alternatives, one of them it pointed out was the Virginia Cape complex that includes Camp Lejeune, Cherry Point, the Dare County (ph) ranges and also Ford Bragg, so they are a promising alternative to Vieques .
Now, sir, my view in this is, there's been different studies and that's why I felt it was important to bring together a senior panel of military people to look at these studies and look at the work that's been done since these studies to fully understand what the alternatives are and how we might accomplish this training. Because most of the work has been to look for a replacement for Vieques , not to do equivalent training for our sailors and Marines. That is a very important distinction in my mind.
So most effort, again, in the past, has been looking for a replacement for Vieques , not necessarily looking to see how do we do an equivalent level of training? That can be alternate sites and it can be alternate techniques. It does need to be looked at, and that's why there is a senior panel being developed to do that, sir.
HILL: Well, I see my time has run out. I'm skeptical. When you have a statement like this that has been made, we, as members of this committee, want to put some reliability in those kinds of statements. And you're talking about other studies. What I hear you in a sense saying is that this study is flawed, is that correct?
ENGLAND: No, sir. That study, again, looked for a replacement for Vieques , so it was a study different than the following studies and different than what the charter of this new study group will be. HILL: Well, I'm out of time.
STUMP: The gentleman from Connecticut, Mr. Larson.
LARSON: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
And thank you, Secretary England.
Let me start by asking with respect to other situations that we have departed from, primarily Collabra (ph) and Hawaii, what was the process that was involved in that historically, in terms of our ceasing training on those islands?
ENGLAND: Well, sir, from the reading that I've done in that regard, which I have to say is certainly not extensive but enough to understand somewhat the situation on Collabra (ph), of course that was a very contentious issue at the time, pretty much as Vieques is today. And my understanding, part of the solution to that problem was to move a lot of the training to Vieques . So to some extent, the problem shifted from Collabra to Vieques .
But that was a very contentious issue. From what I read, it's almost exactly the same circumstance we find ourselves in today. And I would again comment that this circumstance is not new today. This has been an ongoing difficulty, and in my view it was necessary that we bring this to closure. I mean, this has been an issue for a long time. This was here long before I showed up on the scene, sir.
LARSON: So this is not precedent-setting, in other words?
ENGLAND: Sir, I do not believe this is precedent-setting. I believe this is a unique situation we have. I believe what will be precedent-setting is having the referendum. That, I believe, is a bad precedent.
LARSON: Well, you know, there's a lot that's been said today, and it's been an enlightening discussion. It's heartening in many respects to see Congress grapple with a problem in democracy when issues of national security and training conflict with the consent of the governed. And I'm reading McCullough's book on John Adams and listening to the struggle that our forefathers went through. And listening to the debate here, one could imagine similar discussions taking place in the Continental Congress and in the parliament of England.
I associate myself with the remarks of Mr. Underwood, who was talking earlier about the fundamental consent of the governed as being a core principle here, and agree with your assessment. This seems to be, as Adams would say, something, given the situation in Collabra (ph), given the amount of time that this has taken place, that has developed in the hearts and minds of the people not only of Vieques but of Puerto Rico and even here in the United States because of this, it's become a symbolic issue in terms of the consent of the governed. So I believe that the Bush administration has acted wisely.
I am heartened by the fact, and share the concerns with a number of my colleagues about the training activities, that you share optimism about our ability to secure a place. But I hope that the lesson that's learned here -- and it gets back to something that Mr. Taylor said -- is about being a bad neighbor. And more than being a bad neighbor, it's about the arrogance of power.
LARSON: And when you have that power over Vieques in Puerto Rico , that if we aren't good neighbors, that if we don't conduct policy and when people are without representation, this is what the result is going to be.
I hope that's a lesson that we learn going forward.
STUMP: Now, the gentleman from Alabama, Mr. Riley, you're recognized.
RILEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Secretary, thank you for being here today.
I think you are absolutely right. This is a problem that has been going on for years. And I guess that's one of the things that concerns me as much as anything
Admiral Clark, when you were here last year, we have had testimony after testimony after testimony for the last two to three years that there is no replacement for Vieques .
It amazes me today that you could make a unilateral decision within two days without any consultation from anyone in Congress, to make that by yourself, based on the fact that for the last two years of testimony that I've heard since I've been here, everyone has said we cannot replicate, we cannot replace, we can find no other alternative that has the airspace, that has the landing capabilities, that has everything else.
Now, when we get to the point that we make a decision without any consultation from Congress, or maybe you consider Congress' role is irrelevant. I don't. But if you do, I still have a problem when you make a decision that is backloaded. You made a decision that we would move within three years so we could stay there for the next three years. That's great. What if you don't find a suitable replacement? Then what do we do?
From everything that I've heard for the last four years on this committee, there is no other replacement. You have told me that you hope that you can develop alternative training methods; that there are other sites available. But that contradicts everything I've been told for four years on this panel -- that we absolutely have to have it.
Admiral, if I remember, I think you've called it the "crown jewel" of our military training procedures. Now we're going to take the crown jewel -- that is all green here -- and we're going to go find another base somewhere, we hope. But rather than finding the base first, rather than finding something that we think might be adequate, why didn't we find that first, then make the decision to move, rather than make the decision to move and hope that we can come up with an alternative solution?
ENGLAND: Sir, I need to remind you of one thing, and that is --if we have the referendum and lose the referendum, which is expected -- we must leave by that agreement. This is not my agreement.
This is something that is passed into law, handed to me. That law says that that referendum, if the citizens vote, you know, in that referendum in the way against our interests, I think our interests of the Department of the Navy, then we have to leave by 2003.
RILEY: Then I think that we ought to be doing everything we possibly can in the interim to make sure we don't lose the referendum. I think the referendum is a stupid idea. I'm sorry that we are bound within that constraint. But I don't think that we should acquiesce right now or give up without a fight, when we're talking about one of the -- and again this is testimony that I've heard for the last four years -- on a piece of property that is irreplaceable.
Now if there is no other piece of property out there, we've got some time to either try to change the referendum. We've got some time to go in and have a successful outcome to the referendum. There has been testimony after testimony by members of Congress up here who have different ideas on how we might could achieve that.
But I don't think you took any of it into consideration when you made this decision. You said that you went into the meeting, and this was a part of an agenda, but it really wasn't the focus of attention that day.
So you're telling me that after we spend four or five years up here talking about this -- hear testimony that refutes everything that you say -- that you go in and essentially off-of-the-cuff make a decision that day that is going to affect training for years and years to come and set a precedent that I don't think this country will ever overcome.
ENGLAND: Once again, sir, I need to remind you that we had just finished an exercise where we had a lot of turmoil, a lot of arrests, a lot of civil suits. We were embroiled in a very emotional situation, a very legalistic situation. This was an effort to calm down that situation before the next exercise.
RILEY: So you're telling me that if we had not had scheduled maneuvers for the next Monday, then you would have taken more time to consider this?
ENGLAND: Yes sir, I would have. But I felt like I didn't have the time to do that because of the upcoming operation.
RILEY: Was there a possibility that we could have changed the operations? I don't think that we can make these kind of decisions without any consultation from Congress. Or if that's the case, then there is absolutely no need for us to sit up here and go through the hearings and spend the time that each one of these members of Congress have put into this over the last three or four years, listening to testimony of the Joint Chiefs, telling us that there is no way this could happen.
And then without any consultation, that day, for you to make a decision, I think is just absolutely wrong. We can change the date of the referendum. We can even cancel the referendum legislatively. But we didn't have the option to do that, because no one on this committee or no one in the Congress was consulted before you made the decision.
ENGLAND: I guess, sir, my view was that the facts were all well known up to this point in time and I no one had come forward with any other resolution of this issue. I do believe ...
RILEY: I think you have heard probably ...
ENGLAND: This is a resolution to the issue.
RILEY: ... twenty-five different other, you've said that three or four times today, Mr. Secretary, and I have to respectfully disagree. You had probably 20 different people come up here with a different solution, and I think better solutions that what you made. So don't say that you have no other options. There are a tremendous amount of options out here. Every member on this committee has offered you an option. Problem is, we didn't have the option to discuss that before you made the decision.
STUMP: The gentleman from Hawaii, Mr. Abercrombie is recognized.
ABERCROMBIE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Aloha, Mr. Secretary.
ABERCROMBIE: Does that make you feel a little better?
ENGLAND: Yes, it does. Thank you sir.
ABERCROMBIE: I want to -- excuse me, Mr. Underwood and Ms. Sanchez and to some degree Mr. Larson anticipated the context that I wanted to remind ourselves about.
I think I probably am a little more sensitive to it for the simple reason that we're the last state in the union. Hawaii is the last state in the union. We didn't come in until 1959, and we were subject to territorial status before that.
Now essentially what we have -- part of the problem here and I think it's part of the problem that Admiral Clark has to deal with, although I will say parenthetically, as Mr. Taylor pointed out, Admiral, that the question of relationships and so on was raised in this committee over and over again. And to that degree the Navy shouldn't be surprised by the lack of positive response as a result of I think a failure to act as expeditiously as we should have in some of those relationship-building exercises that might have taken place. But that's blood under the bridge now.
So what we're really dealing with here, Mr. Secretary, are we not, is essentially the colonial status of Puerto Rico .
You can take and change, you know, talk about votes and previously in Puerto Rico how close it was between statehood and independence and the present status and so on. But the plain fact of the matter is that Puerto Rico can't be considered like another state. Some of the conversation that's taken place today, it's as if Puerto Rico was like Hawaii or Alaska or Mississippi or Oklahoma or Minnesota or what have you, and it's not.
Essentially Puerto Rico has colonial status. And people in Puerto Rico can talk about it any way they want with respect to the relationship they have with the United States. They don't have senators and they don't have representatives.
ABERCROMBIE: That's the way it is. And so therefore, is it a fair statement to say that you have to, in the end, regard decisions with respect to Puerto Rico in a much different context and manner than you would with respect to any other state of the Union?
ENGLAND: I hadn't thought about it that way, sir, but I expect that's true.
ABERCROMBIE: Therefore, with a question of the referendum, I quite agree. You can't have referendums on everything. You have a referendum, in effect, every two years in the House of Representatives. We renew our licenses. This is representative government and I should be expected to be able to make decisions and stand for election on the basis of those decisions or the outcome of those decisions. But that doesn't exist in Puerto Rico .
Therefore, the idea of the referendum -- I understand why it was put together, but it kind of put us into a limbo status with respect to how we make decisions. I don't think that this was anything in the end other than political. I give you credit for taking the heat on this decision, and I don't doubt for a moment that what you say is true -- that you made this decision and that you're standing by it.
But this was fundamentally and profoundly a political decision, and that doesn't mean, to me, that that's a bad thing. All military decisions in the end have a political basis at bottom, from the ones who have the ultimate authority. And in this particular instance then, this has to be taken as the administration's position. And is it fair to say that while you are here personally taking responsibility today, certainly for the implementation of this decision, that this is in fact the administration's decision?
ENGLAND: No, sir, it is not. Maybe now. They definitely supported my decision, but my -- as I stated earlier to you, sir, I examined these facts and I went forward with my position on this matter.
ABERCROMBIE: But at best, Mr. Secretary, all you can do in the end is make a recommendation. If the president wanted to override your decision, certainly he could have and would have.
ENGLAND: Yes, but I appreciated his support.
ABERCROMBIE: OK. So the administration is supportive of this decision now. Is that a fair statement?
ENGLAND: That's a fair statement. Yes, sir. I said it earlier. I appreciated both Secretary Rumsfeld and the president's...
ABERCROMBIE: All right. Now, absent action by the Congress, then, this decision will be carried forward. Is that a fair statement?
ENGLAND: Well, it requires action.
ABERCROMBIE: Absent action to the contrary by the Congress.
ENGLAND: It requires action by the Congress.
ABERCROMBIE: Excuse me. I understand.
Absent action to the contrary -- that is to say, in opposition to this decision, by the Congress, then this decision will be carried forward. Is that correct?
ENGLAND: Yes, sir.
ABERCROMBIE: OK. What do we need to do -- taking as a point of conversation now, that there is not an effort made by the Congress to reverse your decision or alter your decision or to send it in a different direction or send it back to you for reconsideration, what are the next steps that you recommend to be taken by this Congress with respect to budgetary considerations and policy considerations? I think in the light of some of the criticism you've been receiving to this point, that it's fair for us to ask you, then, if we do not seek to reverse, alter, change this decision, what recommendations do you have right now for this Congress as we address the upcoming budget and the budgets in 2002 and '03, and the policy considerations that should be associated with those budgetary considerations?
ENGLAND: Sir, at the moment, I have no additional recommendations to make. I would hope that this body would go forward with our recommendation and change the law so that we do not have a referendum in November. So beyond that, I don't have a further recommendation sir.
ABERCROMBIE: That's what I'm driving at. Does the Congress --if the Congress does not -- the reason I just needed a few more seconds -- what I'm trying to get at, are you saying that the Congress -- unless the Congress repeals -- and you're not making a recommendation for the Congress to repeal the referendum, right?
ENGLAND: We are providing language to change the law so that there will not be a referendum in November of this year. Yes, sir.
ABERCROMBIE: You are making that recommendation.
ENGLAND: We are making that -- yes, sir. That is the recommendation we're making and we are coming forward with language to do that, sir.
STUMP: The gentleman from Indiana, Mr. Hostetler.
HOSTETLER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Gentlemen, thank you for coming today.
Admiral Clark, I have a question for you. What portion of Roosevelt Roads Naval Station is necessary to support the training at Vieques that will be terminated as a result of this decision?
CLARK: Well, you ask a very good question. Clearly, the Roosevelt Roads architecture and structure has been built up to support the inner and the outer range in the Puerto Rican op areas. Part of any solution that is recommended and put forward by this panel that's put together will have to deal with the issue of the requirement to sustain our presence in Roosevelt Roads.
You know, having been responsible for this kind of activity, I can say that we seek to integrate our forces as rapidly as possible to reduce the amount of time at sea and to optimize and maximize the integration in their training. And so it is clear to me that if we are not using Vieques , there will be elements of the Roosevelt Roads piece that will no longer be required. That will have to be determined as we analyze the proposals that are put forward in the future, and because we're talking about an integrated package about how we develop this product that we roll out on deployments.
HOSTETLER: And is that a substantial amount of Roosevelt Roads that are elements...
CLARK: Well the Roosevelt Roads architecture, there's an airstrip there. We launch aggressor aircraft out of there. We launch support airplanes out of there. It's a major piece of what we sustain down there. The outer range is electronic warfare. And all of this kind of capability is there to support the battle group and the amphibious ready group when it comes down there. The question will be: Will it be viable to go down there if we don't have Vieques as a piece of it?
HOSTETLER: Right. We might have to make an excuse, if I can use other words, we might have to make an excuse to...
CLARK: Well, I would just -- I would say -- you mean an excuse to go?
HOSTETLER: To go there.
CLARK: Well, I would say that the issue will be whether -- how we effectively use our resources. When I come before this committee and other forums and we're talking about the budget, and I'm on record here as talking about I need more resources. I'm going to use the resources the best way I know how to build the Navy of today and the Navy of the future. And so I can tell you that we invest $250-$300 million a year down there to make that operation go. And if we don't need it because we're not utilizing the facility, I've got other places to use it.
HOSTETLER: Thank you, sir.
Mr. Secretary, you said several times today if we have the referendum -- and at the very end of the discussion with Mr. Abercrombie I think we were coming a little bit closer to the realization that according to current law, the referendum is going to go forward. Regardless of the decision you made, the referendum is going to take place.
And so it's going to be necessary for this body -- and quite honestly we know what the picture is today, but politically speaking as someone that's been through political forums, been through political exercises, two years is 10,000 years in political terms. So there is the possibility, if the understanding of the people of Vieques and Puerto Rico is made clear on this issue, that in fact the referendum may not -- that may be very iffy at this point -- but the referendum may not come out the way that we see it today through a glass potentially darkly. It might not come out that way.
And so, as you said at the end of Mr. Abercrombie's -- in response to Mr. Abercrombie, you said that you need language to eliminate this referendum. And you also need language that is going to pass this committee in authorization, in conference and on the floor to say not only will we not have a referendum, but we are definitely leaving Vieques at this time when there is no good alternative.
Now that will be very difficult in my opinion. It was necessary last year to get an authorization bill to the president's desk that he would sign at that time for that administration.
But my question is, if there is a repeal of the referendum on this authorization, but there is no language regarding the concrete removal or the removal of concrete, however you want to say it, the removal of our presence at Vieques , is this administration going to veto that authorization bill based on that?
ENGLAND: Sir, I don't know but that's not what I would recommend doing. So I don't know what the outcome will be if that's what this body decides, but that's not what I would recommend. We are providing language that we will recommend to you and I believe that will obviously be our best judgment of what should be passed by this body.
HOSTETLER: Right. And I may have just one moment, Mr. Chairman.
STUMP: The gentleman may proceed.
HOSTETLER: But in fact you will agree with me that as the law is now, the referendum will take place.
ENGLAND: Oh, absolutely, yes, sir. That is the law.
HOSTETLER: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
STUMP: The gentleman from Illinois, Mr. Kirk.
KIRK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Secretary, I understood you had a difficult time a few years ago when you shared the tank ride with Governor Dukakis. I don't know if that's a worst time than this or not, but you've certainly been in there before.
For me, you know, I've put on the uniform to defend this country but also to defend democracy. For that, I'd like to switch languages, if Mr. Reyes, can correct my pronunciation. I just want to say that: (SPEAKING IN SPANISH).
Which is to say, I think after two years we can find another place. I think I'm the only elected Member of Congress that trained on Vieques . I spent last August there as part of the Truman Battle Group work-ups.
KIRK: But I do have one technical question and this is for Admiral Clark. You own CINCLANTFLT. We not only have alternatives in this country, but also in others. And I know that 5th Fleet, 6th Fleet has bombing ranges as well.
Can you run through some of the other country alternatives that we have as the battle groups make their way to the Persian Gulf?
CLARK: Well, we in fact, are always examining those availabilities because one of the practical realities of being able to conduct this kind of sophisticated warfare is that skills fade over time. So we never, ever deploy a battle group without seeking to refresh those skills.
We have at given times been able -- we have used the range at Scotland for Navy surface fire support. We've used the range in the Sardinia on the southern tip at Capo-Teulada. There are ranges in the Middle East. We know about the Udairi range because of the unfortunate accident that occurred there. There is a range in Israel.
Each of those have been evaluated, looking at the ability to do combined arms training. And fundamentally, the only one that we have made the most use of has been Capo Teulada in Sardinia. There are limitations on our ability to use that facility. But those are the major ones that come to mind. We can provide a full accounting of that, if you would like, for the record.
KIRK: I think the committee would appreciate it because I know we have got good relations on the way out -- Tunisia, Israel, Egypt, Bahrain -- all that could offer us training opportunities as the fleet gets out there.
I would also hope that we would make a more political decision. I know the developers -- I saw them on Puerto Rico . They definitely command the public attention and they're financing part of this effort. I think if we give this up, it should be part of the Nature Conservancy's new national park for coral reefs in the Caribbean and not a developer's haven. That might take some of the heat out of this debate as well.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
STUMP: The gentleman from Texas, Mr. Reyes?
REYES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you for holding this hearing. And Mr. Secretary, thank you for being here. I know it's been a long morning for you. And gentlemen, thanks for your testimony.
There are a number of things that I would like to enter into the record, but because of time I won't be able to. So, Mr. Chairman, I would like to submit a written statement for the record.
STUMP: Without objection. If you have a question, you can submit those also, sir.
REYES: All right. Thank you.
But I would like to make several comments in the time that I have. There are a number of issues here that are important from different perspectives. I guess the most important issue for me personally as a member of this committee, as a veteran and as a veteran of Vietnam, is the fact that in order for us to do a good job in the context of the relationship between the military with due civilian oversight, there has to be accountability.
I'm very frustrated that in the issue of Vieques , the Navy not only has done a very poor job of public relations with Puerto Rico , not only have they done a poor job in the stewardship of the facility and all of the associated things that have been mentioned here this morning by different members, but it's still going on now.
And I say that because as a chair of the Hispanic Caucus, we held a hearing several weeks ago where we invited a representative from the Navy to come in and explain, answer to some of the allegations that were being made about the treatment of the protesters. We were at that time told that it was not possible because there was litigation in place.
Less than 48 hours later, the Navy was very much willing and did provide an individual at the DOD briefings, not only to explain the position of the Navy on Vieques , but to refute some of the testimony that had been heard just a couple of days before at that hearing here on Capitol Hill.
We have written several letters that we have yet to get responses from the Navy or the Department of Defense.
REYES: And I think it's important that we remember that it's one thing to treat Puerto Rico , because they have no representation, as a colony. But it's another to treat members of Congress with that kind of disrespect and disdain.
And I wonder, Admiral, if there is any good rational answer as to why we have not heard from the Navy; why we have not seen better cooperation in a very hard issue for all of us, because believe me, those of us on this committee know and understand the importance of adequately trained individuals. Today, there are 21,000 active duty Puerto Rico citizens serving in this nation's armed services. There are four medal of honor winners from Puerto Rico . I served with many Puerto Ricans in Vietnam.
I don't understand the position of the Navy as it relates to this issue and as it relates to the fact that we have not gotten any cooperation from the Navy. If you could comment on that, I would appreciate it.
CLARK: I can comment on that. Let me start with the response to the caucus. The decision was made to send the individual to represent the Navy Department at that hearing. That was not my decision. I defer to the secretary if he would like to address that further.
You know, I am very troubled when I hear the Navy -- all the things that are the fault of the Navy in Vieques . It's been one of the most frustrating things that I've ever experienced in my life. We have sought to reach out -- and by the way, it's a matter of record that we have over the course of since 1941 that everything hasn't been done perfectly by the United States Navy. So let's get -- you know, make sure the record speaks for what it is.
I cannot answer for all of the activity over the course of the last 62 years. I don't know how to do that. But I can answer for the activity that I've tried to be part of. We have taken a number of steps to do what we said we were going to do in the construct of this agreement, including the -- I was the Atlantic Fleet commander when the question came before me, from Washington, "Do you need the land on the western end of the island? And would you support turning that over to the Puerto Ricans ?" And my comment, straightforward, was, I no longer need that land. I will not cling to it for the sake of clinging to it. And I support you taking the action to release the land.
We took action to remove the products that we had that were part of the military apparatus and so forth. We did that in good faith. It is difficult. We have tried to -- Representative Taylor asked the question, you know, why aren't you doing more in the schools? Why aren't you working in the health clinic?
We have sought to do that. This is one of the issues that I believe caused Secretary England to make the judgment that he did with regard to -- and he hasn't told me this, but he has talked frequently about what the environment is like. We have been prohibited from taking actions that we would like to take because of the political landscape that exists on the island.
You know, I can't undo that. I cannot do anything about the perception problem that the secretary has addressed with regard to health issues. Congressman Hansen went into detail on the reality of those health issues. But when the populace is being told time and time again that the Navy is enlarging the hearts of the children on Vieques , this is a difficult thing for me to deal with. The evidence does not support that kind of belief. But these are the circumstances that we are in.
I want you to know, Congressman Reyes, that we are trying -- we reassigned a flag officer down there. We have a group of people who are trying to reach out to the people on the island. We are trying to maintain our part of the bargain and the agreement. And I can't undo the history. I can be held accountable and responsible for where we are today and the future. And that's fair for me to be held accountable in that way.
REYES: Then, Admiral, if I can just follow on. What was the thinking in providing a briefer to the media and not one to members of Congress that wanted to know and understand what had occurred at the demonstration?
CLARK: I think the principal issue there that you speak to was that there was a claim that the Navy had engaged in particular activities and the principal issue there was to express that the Navy wasn't engaged in the activities that had been suggested. And it was a clarification of where that line was and where the Navy involvement was and where other agency involvement was.
TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman?
REYES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
STUMP: I have one more speaker, if you would.
TAYLOR: If I may, Mr. Chairman.
STUMP: Go ahead.
TAYLOR: The Admiral mentioned prohibitions on community-related activities. What prohibitions, Admiral?
CLARK: Well, I'm talking about the political environment. I've had cases where we wanted to have people go to meetings and we were advised by the local authorities, don't go there because we can't guarantee your safety. TAYLOR: Admiral, as I have told you folks, I'm sorry to say, ad nauseum, every one of us has been elected. Every one of us has tough neighborhoods. You know how you get a tough neighborhood on your side? You go there. You sit down and listen to what they have to say. Not one time, not twice -- you keep going back until you resolve your differences. You all really haven't tried that, Admiral, in all due respect.
STUMP: The gentlelady from New Mexico is recognized.
WILSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I've listened this morning to much of this and read your testimony last night. And my priority and concern is the readiness and training of our people, to make sure they're ready to go to war. And I think there are some lessons learned here and they don't have to do with whether or not we should have referenda or how best to do training. They really do have to do with the issues that my colleagues raised, and that is the relationship between the military and civil society.
And you can't have a base without the support of the neighborhood. And you and I know that, and love of country and commitment to the nation's defense certainly goes so far and they go a long way with me. But for the long term, I would hope that the lesson here is for all of our services to look at the policies we pursue and the programs we pursue, and whether that serves the long-term interests of relations between our bases and the people that surround them.
New Mexico is, as you gentlemen well know, is the home of a large number of military installations -- White Sands Missile Range is about the size of the state of Rhode Island. We fire short-range ballistic missiles from the border with Arizona, cross over civilians in the state of New Mexico, to land at White Sands Missile Range. We try to blow them up on the way.
We have three air force bases. We're very willing to allow low flowing and a lot of experimentation that some folks might have problems with in other parts of the world. And we are very happy to have the United States military in New Mexico.
But things like out-sourcing and bundling of contracts and employment problems and equal employment opportunity and even whether the base is open for the Fourth of July, go a long way to making that support easier.
And sometimes it's the little things that make for big problems over a 20-year period and make it harder and easier to see people rise to positions of leadership in a local community who may harbor resentment, who may feel they're being picked upon whether because they're poorer than other states or because of the color of their skin.
And I think we need to face up to that reality as a country and work hard, not just individual commanders but as a service and as a department as a whole to look long-range at the relationships between the military and civil society, whether it's science and math tutors in the school or showing up to load water to go to take care of families who've lost their homes.
Admiral, I'd like to ask you, what do you need in a site? I know that -- you know, New Mexico has a lot of beach. We don't have any ocean so we're out of the options here. But what are you looking for? What is your ideal site to replace Vieques , and what are the criteria for selection?
CLARK: Well, we fundamentally need the capability to do the unit-level training and then to advance that level of training to the integration of all of the elements of a task force that is being called upon to deploy forward.
WILSON: Admiral, help me out here.
WILSON: Acres, capacity, infrastructure -- what are you looking for?
CLARK: You need -- the principle thing you need is air space and sea space. And I can't give you an exact acreage, but I'd be glad to provide it for you. But you need air space where you can stack a lot of air planes and that you can match the kind of activity that is going to occur when we go conduct an operation in the Arabian Gulf like our battle group is doing today.
And that involves -- and the problem we have with some of the other ranges that our air space is cluttered is that you can only get two or four air planes in at a time. There aren't any real world military operations where it happens like that. You do it with 50 at a time with all the support airplanes and so forth. You need enough space for -- when you're talking about dropping ordinance or firing guns so that there are safety distances on the other side, the fall (ph) shot and so forth. So those are the issues that are at hand.
WILSON: It would be very helpful, I think, for this committee to see -- I'm sure you've got colonels and captains and lieutenant colonels and lieutenant commanders all coming up with criteria for selection and what you really need and what your ideal place is now that it looks as though this is not going to happen.
And I think I'm closer to my colleague Mr. Kirk, although he speaks better Spanish than I do, that I think that the result of this referenda we can see, and we need to be preparing for the future here. And I would be very interested in, what are your criteria for selection? How are you going to go about this process so that we can keep our men and women trained the way they need to be to go to war.
And I thank you gentlemen for your time.
STUMP: The gentleman from California, do you have another question?
HUNTER: Yes, thank you, Mr. Chairman. Just one very quick question. It's been, I think, a good hearing.
Gentlemen, let me just reaffirm what essentially you gave me at the start of this thing, that this is a combined arms operation. Admiral Clark, that's what you exercised here. And it's necessary for you to have a place where you use the entire team. That is, you stack aircraft, as you said. You need lots of sea space for your ships. You also need a land area because you integrate the air operations and offshore artillery operations with Marine Corps movement.
This is basically where the United States practices its Normandy-type operations or Iwo Jima-type operations or other operations where you have the maximum amount of exposure for the soft bodies that we send ashore in the form of Marines or Army personnel. And that's a pretty unique requirement.
So you need to have -- you need to have land space where you can basically practice assaults. That's pretty tough to find. And I look through this inventory as we went through this thing, and of all of the options, all of which are incomplete because none of them have all the aspects of Vieques . So I think you'd have to conclude that if you wanted a place where you trained your Marines and other service personnel to the optimum -- that is, where they have the best chance of coming home alive -- they need the Vieques training.
And, Mr. Secretary, it looks to me like the best we can derive from these reports that have been propounded on top of reports is: If you start with the first report that says Vieques is the optimum situation where you get the optimum training, the best we can do right now is hope that somehow we're going to find another place that approximates that training, but there's no assurance that we'll get 100 percent of the value of training that you get from Vieques . Is that true?
ENGLAND: Mr. Hunter, I don't know if that's exactly true. Again, the question is: Is there another means? And I don't want to pre-suppose this panel of experts. Is there another means to give that level of training...
HUNTER: So I'm not asking -- so I understand, Mr. Secretary, and I respect that position. I'm not asking you if there might not be another means out there. But what I'm saying is, you don't know for certain right now that there is another means. You're going to ask that question.
ENGLAND: We're going to ask that question. And I need to add that based on the studies that have been done, it leads me to believe that there are other answers.
HUNTER: OK, but you're hoping at this point, but you don't have that for sure.
ENGLAND: We don't have that for sure. No, sir.
HUNTER: So what we're doing is we're giving up an asset in hand that we do know for sure provides optimum training in return for a probability that we can find something else that's close to it but we're not sure. We don't have it.
ENGLAND: But Mr. Hunter, we're not giving it up. Again, remember...
HUNTER: I -- no, I understand.
ENGLAND: On this referendum -- I mean what has been dealt us, right, is a hand that says in May 2003, we will leave if the vote is that way on November 6.
HUNTER: Mr. Secretary, I understand. Your -- this body has put together this requirement. The ultimate package we passed with the referendum that put you in a box.
ENGLAND: Yes, sir.
HUNTER: Here's my recommendation, and I'm sure you've gotten lots of recommendations today. I think this thing can be retrieved. You've got less than 10,000 folks living on this island. You've given a massive piece of territory to them. And in that respect, I think the Navy is to be congratulated.
I think there's a lot that could be achieved with a lot of good public relations work. You've got a fairly small population. You've got an enormous American stake here, and you've got a lot of cross connects with the great service record of folks in Puerto Rico . And a lot of the young marines and sailors who would receive this training that might save their lives in a combat operation would be helped by this. Folks from Puerto Rico who are in the United States uniforms who are going to maybe be having to go ashore in some of these difficult exposure situations, they need the training that Vieques affords.
So I think this thing can be retrieved. And I would just hope that, understanding that you've got a real problem here, that we could go back and try to rework this thing.
HUNTER: I think the worst of all worlds would be if we let what I would call the development element -- and it's obviously there, the developers and the guys that want this waterfront property -- be allowed to go in, create a political situation that for 40 or 50 years didn't exist and basically get this wonderful asset for national security, have it given to them, then charge us a couple hundred million bucks to clean it up and get enormous amounts of money out of the U.S. Treasury and force us to forfeit this asset. I think that would be the worst of all worlds.
So let's try to retrieve this thing, and let's work together and try to work something out. I think it could still be done.
STUMP: The gentlelady from Virginia is recognized. Did you have a question?
All right, the gentleman from Mississippi, Mr. Taylor?
One more to go, gentlemen, and we will be through here.
TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, I would ask that the trip report that I submitted for November 29 through December 3, 1999, be included in the record...
STUMP: Without objection.
TAYLOR: ... my trip to Vieques , including the recommendations I made to the Navy then when I returned to Washington, that apparently made it to the circular file cabinet.
So since you're here, I will repeat what I said then.
Admiral, I think you need to go down to Vieques , go down to the town square in Isabella II and say, "We're going to be a better neighbor starting today. I'm going to appoint an ombudsman who is a Spanish speaker with prior service, so he knows how to get things done, in the military and he is the go-to guy. He's a civilian. He's your go-to guy if you've got a problem with the United States Navy, and he's going to live right here on the island.
"We're going to station some people on the island between the city and the range. That way if anything goes wrong on the range, it's going to be our guys who get hit. And guess what? I'm not going to let my guys get hurt. And it is eight miles from the range to the nearest house. "We're going to get the United States Seabees down here. We go all over the world drilling water wells for people and we've run waterlines for folks. We are going to fix those neighborhoods that don't have running water. You are, after all, patriotic Americans. There are a heck of a lot of Puerto Ricans that are serving our country right now. We're going to treat you like Americans."
I'm sorry Ms. Sanchez isn't here, but I would remind her when she says that the folks in Vieques are different because they can't elect a congressman. But I happened to be in the majority of congressman who voted to give them the option of becoming a state, and they made the decision not to become a state. And I do think that should be said for the record.
But, Mr. Secretary, I'm in total agreement with Mr. Hunter. There are no other options and therefore, we cannot just fold and go home. And the only option that I can think of, and it's not a very good one, is the fact that Colombia kept most of the islands off of Panama when Panama became an independent nation. And therefore, there are a number of uninhabited keys out there in the Caribbean that quite possibly we could negotiate with the Colombians on a lend-lease program similar to what we did with the British prior to World War II.
I'm not so sure the Colombians are going to love that idea, and I could tell you the environmentalists will probably raise a holy stink if we take any undisturbed area and try to start bombing it, which is why I think the only alternative that makes any sense at all is being a better neighbor in Vieques .
But I would really hope that you two gentlemen will be the ones, because I can tell you from my visits down there, what the Viequens are desperately looking for is for someone to say, "We haven't been good neighbors, but we can be good neighbors. We're going to be good neighbors."
We're good neighbors everywhere else in the world. And quite frankly, all they've really gotten on Vieques is bombs. Any other installation in the world, there are jobs associated with it. There are guys going into town with the boys and girls clubs, with the YMCAs, Toys for Tots, all of those things that you do in every community in America. Because so few personnel are actually on the island of Vieques , you haven't had that opportunity.
But you can change that. These are all things that are fixable. And I would really encourage you to do that. I don't buy that there are prohibitions. Yes, you want me to go stand next to you? I will do it. If they start throwing rocks, I will be right there when they start throwing rocks. But, Admiral, you've got to start somewhere.
In six elections, I've lost one of my 11 counties one time. I called a town meeting there less than a week after the election because if those folks had a problem with me, I wanted to hear it from them. And I've carried that county three times since then.
It's no fun to have somebody tell you they're not happy with your behavior. Let them get it off their chest, and let's start working to resolve those differences, because they are Americans. They are patriotic. And they don't have a problem with the U.S. military. I heard it time and time again, they have a problem with the Navy. So let's fix it.
And my offer -- I'm sincere -- you know, if you want to go down there, you know, I'll stand next to you, because I'm about as gringo-looking as they come.
OK. But we want to let them know the gringos are sincere about trying to improve our relationship because they're important to us and therefore we have to be important to them.
STUMP: Does the gentleman from Hawaii seek recognition?
ABERCROMBIE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
As you know, Mr. Secretary, Mr. Taylor was elected directly out of high school to the Congress and so that accounts for his appearance here today.
But on that, so we're absolutely clear and in following Mr. Taylor's observations and admonitions. I want to make sure, you are going to submit language to the chairman with respect to changing the requirement for the referendum. Am I correct?
ENGLAND: Yes, sir.
ABERCROMBIE: OK. If that passes, then what happens with respect to what you recommend to the chairman to do in this authorization?
ENGLAND: There will not be a referendum, and we will plan to leave by 2003. And in the meantime we will stand up a panel of senior military officers to work for an alternative.
ABERCROMBIE: If the Congress does not pass your recommendation to require -- ending the requirement for the referendum, then what takes place?
ENGLAND: We will follow the law, and the law is we will have a referendum. And if the referendum -- whatever the outcome of the referendum is, that is what we will abide by. We would hope that the people of Vieques would also abide by that referendum.
ABERCROMBIE: If the -- the referendum would state what?
ENGLAND: The referendum -- there is a choice of the referendum, and the choice is the U.S. Navy can stay and include a live ordinance and stay indefinitely using live ordinance. Or the other selection is the Navy leaves by the May of 2003.
ABERCROMBIE: OK, my last question then, Mr. Chairman, in that regard. If the Congress does not pass legislation that you recommend, repealing the requirement for the referendum, what will the position of the administration be with respect to that election? Will it be passive? Will it participate in reaching voters? What will the position be? What will you do?
ENGLAND: So far, Mr. Abercrombie, we have -- the act also, the Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2001 also authorized up to $40 million to be spent for the health and welfare of the citizenry of the...
ABERCROMBIE: I understand that.
ENGLAND: ... on Vieques .
ABERCROMBIE: I understand that. Excuse me, Mr. Secretary, I understand that. What I said is what will -- will you participate in the election or will the administration participate in the election? That is to say, will they campaign?
ENGLAND: Yes, sir. What I was trying to explain to you, of that fund, we have already obligated $5 million for the people on Vieques for job training and other things mentioned by Mr. Taylor to help the people directly on Vieques that...
ENGLAND: ... that hopefully helps the Navy establish that rapport, which could have an outcome on the election.
ABERCROMBIE: That's my point, Mr. Chairman. In other words, all of the commentary that came your way today, if the referendum actually takes place, then you will be campaigning to stay...
ENGLAND: Yes, sir.
ABERCROMBIE: ... which, in effect, would reverse the position that you have today, right, if we win the referendum?
ENGLAND: Sir, the question is, whether you win or lose, does it change the situation on Vieques ?
ABERCROMBIE: Well, if the -- that's my point, Mr. Chairman. The reason I ask these questions at this time is that you've got a tough decision to make here, it seems to me, in what you recommend. And if the referendum goes ahead, if we don't change recommend -- if we don't carry forward language changing the referendum and the referendum goes forward, Mr. Chairman, presumably then the Navy and the United States government will campaign to try and stay. And if we win the referendum, doesn't that reverse what you say you will do?
ENGLAND: Mr. Abercrombie, it could. If you win the election, by the election it says you can stay forever and you can use live ordinance. So indefinitely you can stay on Vieques . The question is, if you win the referendum, will that actually occur? There's a lot of...
ABERCROMBIE: Because you can then run into opposition from the governor of Puerto Rico and so on and so forth, right, regardless of the referendum?
ENGLAND: Regardless of the referendum, since there's a lot of other people outside of Vieques today, who are on the island of Vieques . The question is would that situation change?
ABERCROMBIE: I got you. And that's why I thought it was necessary to get on the record that this was the dilemma that you face.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
ENGLAND: Yes, sir, thank you.
Gentlemen, we thank you very much. We know it's been a long day. We've appreciated it.
ENGLAND: Thank you, very much, sir. Thank you.
STUMP: The meeting is adjourned.