Saturday, November 14, 2009

DOD confident of base move

DOD confident of base move

By Amritha Alladi • Pacific Daily News • November 13, 2009

Department of Defense officials are confident that the United States and Japan will reach a favorable agreement regarding the relocation of the Futenma base to northern Okinawa, and subsequently, the shift of 8,000 Marines to Guam, said Derek Mitchell, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs.

But in the meantime, the DOD is "giving them the respect they deserve" by allowing the new Japanese leadership time to review provisions of the 2006 U.S.-Japan bilateral agreement.

During the first day of the Guam Community and Economic Development Forum hosted by the University of Guam at the Sheraton Laguna Resort yesterday, Mitchell, responding to the concerns of Guam residents, said he expects the two countries to reach an agreement, and that the question of what might happen if the agreement falls through is only "hypothetical."

He and Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo said Guam's strategic placement in defense operations in the Asia-Pacific region, along with the millions of dollars that have been approved for buildup projects, indicate that the buildup is still scheduled to go through.

"I'm quite confident we will work this out," Mitchell said.

His confidence stems from the fact that Japan's leadership has already "put their money where their mouth is" with the direct contribution of more than $300 million to the U.S. government to fund their commitment to the military buildup on Guam.

Over the last 15 years, Mitchell said there have been several attempts to find a different approach to the relocation of Futenma. Yet in the end, it always boils down to the same result, he said.

Bordallo, too, highlighted the increased federal funding Guam has received in preparation for the buildup.

"Challenges exist with the new government in Japan over the current design of the Futenma replacement facility," she said, in a recorded speech presented via DVD. "I am confident that the new leadership here in Washington, D.C., ... will be able to find a solution to this challenge so that both countries maintain their commitment to this strategically important endeavor." She added that the government of Guam has been provided another $220 million in grants and loans through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for infrastructure projects.

That's an unprecedented investment by the federal government into infrastructure projects on Guam, Bordallo said.

She further stressed that President Obama's signing of the Fiscal 2010 Defense Authorization Act into law on Oct. 28 reaffirms the Obama administration's commitment to realizing the buildup, as it approves $734 million for military construction projects alone.

And an estimated $14 billion in buildup construction projects is expected to be spent in the next decade on Guam -- including on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance facilities at the Andersen Air Force Base, she said.

So the shift of the Marines to Guam could be a good thing, if Guam agencies foster relationships with the federal government to leverage funding opportunities, she said.

Provisions in the defense bill reinforce stringent oversight of military operations that mandate diligence, accountability and transparency on the part of the military. The establishment of a DOD Inspector General to oversee inter-agency operations will help to avoid problems faced in Iraq and Afghanistan with regard to federal government contracting practices, Bordallo said.

For example, the bill mandates contractors develop recruitment plans to hire as many American workers as possible, and the governor of Guam would have to certify the need for foreign workers on Guam under H-2 visas, she said.

The bill also establishes the deputy secretary of defense as the leader of inter-agency and inter-departmental affairs, whose role includes coordination of buildup operations with the executive branch, Congress, the Japanese government and people of Guam.

"This places responsibility for the buildup at the highest level of decision-making and management within the Department of Defense," Bordallo said.

The forum continues today with panel discussions on economic development opportunities for Guam tourism, the airport and the Port Authority of Guam, workforce development and employment needs, and investment in human capital through education.

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