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SUBCOMMITTEE ON DEFENSE OF THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON APPROPRIATIONS
The value of Puerto Rico if Vieques is no longer a place for the U.S. to train forces. What would happen if the Navy were to cease exercises at Vieques? What would happen to Roosevelt Roads, for example? What would happen to the other military presence there?
SUBCOMMITTEE ON DEFENSE OF THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON APPROPRIATIONS HOLDS HEARING ON NAVY/MARINE CORPS BUDGET
July 23, 2001
SPEAKERS: U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JERRY LEWIS (R-CA) CHAIRMAN U.S. REPRESENTATIVE C.W. BILL YOUNG (R-FL) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JOE SKEEN (R-NM) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE DAVID L. HOBSON (R-OH) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE HENRY BONILLA (R-TX) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE GEORGE R. NETHERCUTT (R-WA) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE RANDY "DUKE" CUNNINGHAM (R-CA) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE RODNEY P. FRELINGHUYSEN (R-NJ) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE TODD TIAHRT (R-KS) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JOHN P. MURTHA (D-PA) RANKING MEMBER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE NORMAN D. DICKS (D-WA) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE MARTIN OLAV SABO (D-MN) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE PETER J. VISCLOSKY (R-IN) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES P. MORAN (D-VA)
WITNESSES: HONORABLE GORDON R. ENGLAND SECRETARY OF THE NAVY
ADMIRAL VERNON CLARK CHIEF OF NAVAL OPERATIONS
LEWIS: The committee will come to order.
LEWIS: Mr. Young?
YOUNG: Mr. Chairman, thank you very much.
I want to ask you about something a little different. There was a very interesting article that appeared in the 21 June issue of Caribbean Business entitled "Pocketing a Prudent Penny." The author details the amount of federal spending in Puerto Rico . Last year, there was almost $17 billion, $16.8 billion to be exact, of federal funding in Puerto Rico . This represents over 40 percent of the island's gross national product.
Over the last five years, the total is over $77 billion. Of last year's $16.8 billion, $12.1 billion was direct expenditures and obligations. Over a billion of that went to defense or defense related expenditures, including $253 million for salaries and wages for military and civilian DOD employees.
The island currently receives a rebate from the U.S. Treasury of the $250 million a year excise tax on Puerto Rican rum. Puerto Rican residents and companies pay no federal income tax.
Mr. Secretary and Admiral Clark, I'd like to hear how you would respond to this, not necessarily on the level of the funding, but I'm curious about your thoughts about the value of Puerto Rico if, in fact, Vieques goes away and is no longer a place for us to train forces before they deploy. What would happen if the Navy were to cease exercises at Vieques? What would happen to Roosevelt Roads, for example? What would happen to the other military presence there?
I think it's a very important issue, because in that region, we are able to exercise not only our surface ships, but we can exercise our submarine fleet, and we can exercise our aviation capabilities all because of the nature of the geography in that part of the world. If we lose that, I think we take away the ability to give our troops the best training possible before we send them on deployment.
But I'm curious as to your reaction. If Vieques goes away, what happens to the rest of the U.S. military presence there?
ENGLAND: Chairman Young, let me let the CNO answer first, and then let me make some comments.
CLARK: Well, Chairman Young, you've hit the nail right on the head. I'm sitting here talking about a significant shortfall in resources that I have today. When we sent battle groups to the Caribbean op areas, the benefit of it is the integration of those operations, and it builds around Vieques . We're spending around $300 million a year to keep that base going down there.
So one of the issues will be for us to address the value of Roosevelt Roads if we do not have a Vieques . I don't make a preemptory kind of conclusion at this stage in time, but I'd say that my opinion would be that the operations would be of significantly lesser value without the use of Vieques . And I don't need Roosevelt Roads if I don't have the ability to send battle groups down there to train.
So while that would have to be looked at carefully to make sure that we have not missed any unintended consequences, I would say that, given the pressure that is on resources for us and the shortfalls that I've addressed and what I need to recapitalize the Navy, if I wasn't able to go utilize that whole training area with an integrated force structure, the likelihood that I need Roosevelt Roads is not great.
ENGLAND: Chairman Young, let me comment. I fully support the CNO's comments regarding Roosevelt Roads, so I stand behind his comments 100 percent.
Let me make a few comments on the broader issue here, because I guess what has always concerned me about Vieques is that instead of a win-lose or a win-win situation, we could end up where everybody loses. And, certainly, the people of Puerto Rico have the good will of the federal government and the beneficiary of the good will of the U.S. taxpayers, and they certainly don't want to lose that good will.
The Navy certainly needs to retain our testing capability through May of 2003, and, as you know, we will be requesting a change in the legislature so we will not have a referendum, and we will plan to leave in May, 2003. Nonetheless, it is important that until May, 2003, we have the support of the political leadership in Puerto Rico, and I would hope that the political leadership would recognize that we need that facility until May of 2003, that they would support our presence there in terms of security, and they would eliminate extraneous issues, the lawsuits, other referendums, et cetera, all these various activities that have been going on in addition to the mainline activity.
I would like to put Vieques behind us. There's major issues that we of the Naval services have to address, and I would certainly hope the political leadership in Puerto Rico shares that view so that we have a win-win situation rather than a lose-lose situation.
YOUNG: Well, I agree with the comments that both of you have made. If I can remember recent history, we had a similar situation in the Philippines, and there was a lot of pressure to move us out of Subic Bay. It seems to me my recollection is we just moved out of the Philippines totally. We took all of our military presence. Is that not correct?
CLARK:Yes, that's correct.
ENGLAND: Yes, sir.
YOUNG: Well, thanks for you comments, because I'm from Florida. We have a bombing range in Florida. It's called the Avon Park Bombing Range, and I've been to both places, Avon Park and to Vieques . It seems to me that we have an impact there in the Avon Park area that is every bit as close to population as it is in Vieques
Now, I wonder, if Vieques goes, then do we close down Avon Park, or do we close down some of the other areas where we do this type of training? I'm really concerned about it, because I'm committed to making sure that before we deploy a troop, we give them the best training that is humanly possible to give them.
LEWIS: This has been a very worthwhile day. We appreciate your taking your time.
And with that, with your leave, the session is adjourned.
CLARK: Thank you, very much, sir.
ENGLAND: Thank you.