Monday, November 16, 2009

GAO report slams Defense: Guam needs more timely buildup data, agency says

GAO report slams Defense: Guam needs more timely buildup data, agency says

By John Yaukey • PDN Washington Bureau • November 15, 2009

WASHINGTON --Guam's government needs more timely information from the Defense Department about the planned transfer of 8,000 Marines and their dependents from Japan so it can better plan for the necessary infrastructure buildup and financing, a government report out Friday said.


"The government of Guam is expected to be largely responsible for funding and constructing ... off-base roads and utilities and providing certain public services," said the report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office.

The movement of Marines, which is expected to begin next year with preliminary construction, would also require bringing in additional support troops from the other service branches.

If implemented, the transfer would increase the military population on Guam from 15,000 in 2009 to about 29,000 in 2014, and to more than 39,000 by 2020, according to the GAO report. That would increase the island population of 178,400 by about 14 percent over those years, the report said.

The transfer of the Marines would be a huge economic boon for Guam if it's prepared to handle the influx and all the jobs the move will create.

It's estimated the move will cost $15 billion or more and will generate as many as 20,000 construction jobs during peak phases, GAO has determined.

But thus far in the planning process, some of Guam's government agencies have had a difficult time accurately estimating construction and financing costs.

For example, when Guam officials received updated information on some of the road improvements necessary, the cost estimate dropped from $4.4 billion to $1.5 billion, GAO reported.

The Pentagon responded to the GAO report by saying it is sharing information as soon as it becomes available and that it has planned several consultant studies that should help Guam officials plan better.


Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo yesterday said the GAO report highlights the need for continued cooperation between the Defense Department and the government of Guam.

Bordallo noted that GAO concluded when the Defense Department and other federal agencies have closely consulted with the local government, the island has been able to develop clear and well-reasoned plans for off-base development, as it did with the 2030 Guam Transportation Plan.

The GAO report stated: "In instances where DOD was involved in clarifying or providing updated information on its buildup requirements, and the government of Guam used independent consultants to develop and verify cost estimates, we found that the government of Guam developed cost estimates that may better reflect likely final requirements and may better justify investment decisions since they are informed by expert analysis and the most up-to-date planning information."

Bordallo said she appreciated the Obama administration's "continued high-level focus and attention to getting the military buildup on Guam right."

"However, I continue to impress the importance of having an Economic Adjustment Committee meeting to address financing of major civilian infrastructure needs at the federal level," the delegate said. "The president and my colleagues in Congress are committed to the success of the buildup, both in and outside the fences."

Bordallo said she will be meeting with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to discuss Guam's infrastructure needs on Monday, Washington, D.C., time.

Critical part

The movement of the Marines from Okinawa, Japan, to Guam is considered a critical part of the nation's Pacific military and diplomatic strategy.

The Japanese government has been under intense political pressure to get the Marines off Okinawa since 1995, when three U.S. servicemen raped a 12-year-old girl there, straining U.S.-Japan relations.

In all, the U.S. has about 50,000 military personnel in Japan.

Obama in Japan

President Barack Obama discussed the move with Japan's Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama when they met Friday in Tokyo.

"The United States and Japan have set up a high-level working group that will focus on implementation of the agreement that our two governments have reached with respect to the restructuring of U.S. forces in Okinawa, and we hope to complete this work expeditiously," Obama said. "Our goal remains the same, and that's to provide for the defense of Japan with minimal intrusion on the lives of the people who share this space."

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