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Military

07 February 2002

Some House Armed Services Members Say More New Ships Needed

(Base closings, troop levels also concerns at Rumsfeld hearing) (710)
By David A. Denny
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- Several members of the House Armed Services Committee
told Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a hearing February 6 that
the proposed defense budget's funding level for shipbuilding in fiscal
year 2003 is too low.
Rumsfeld, accompanied by Air Force General Richard Myers, chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and by Defense Department Comptroller Dov
Zakheim, responded that the relatively young average age of the fleet
allowed for a short-term shift in funding priorities away from
shipbuilding and toward naval aviation, readiness and personnel
programs.
The FY 2003 budget calls for building five new ships, as well the
conversion of two Trident nuclear ballistic missile submarines to fire
cruise missiles. Funding is not proposed to reach what is considered a
replacement level of nine to 11 ships until the fifth year of the
budget.
"[T]here aren't enough contracts to keep our six major shipyards,
whose only customer is the United States Navy, going," said
Representative Charles Taylor (Republican, North Carolina).
Representative Thomas Allen, (Democrat, Maine), whose district
includes the Bath Iron Works shipyard, described the proposed
shipbuilding budget as "profoundly discouraging." And Representative
Jo Ann Davis, (Republican, Virginia), whose district includes the
Newport News shipyard, said "[w]e have problems right now even keeping
the engineers and designers that we need."
Representative Ike Skelton of Missouri, the ranking Democrat on the
committee, mentioned the proposed contingency fund of nearly $10,000
million as a concern.
"[I]nstead of expecting a blank check, the Pentagon should present
Congress with a well thought-out proposal," Skelton said.
Skelton led several other committee members in voicing concern that
the proposed troop levels are too low, and recommended that the Army
increase active personnel "by at least 5,000 soldiers this year, with
subsequent increases to follow." He also faulted the shipbuilding
level, and said "[w]e need to build seven ships, in my opinion, in
fiscal year 2003, and nine ships in 2004, to reverse the downward
trend in our Navy shipbuilding." He also criticized, as too low, the
4.1 percent proposed military pay increase, and wondered whether too
much money was being budgeted for missile defense.
"I think we may be devoting a great deal of money that we may not be
able to spend as [we] had hoped in the missile defense area. It's
unclear to me whether the department can wisely execute all of the
money that is requested in that area," Skelton said.
Representative Jim Saxton, Republican, New Jersey) was one of several
congressmen who complained that military construction is budgeted at a
26 percent lower level than the current year.
Two committee members -- Democrats Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii and
Silvestre Reyes of Texas -- expressed confusion and concern over the
establishment of a separate military command for homeland defense.
"How that's supposed to work is beyond me," Abercrombie said. "I think
that needs to be elucidated a lot more clearly before there's going to
be any new ... [commander in chief] approved for homeland defense."
Reyes, a former 26-year employee of the U.S. Border Patrol, said, "I'm
concerned because I have been in opposition to militarization of the
border ... and I would like for you to tell us what the role of this
new command ... would be and how it interfaces with the United States
Border Patrol, the Customs [Bureau], the inspections process."
Rumsfeld responded, "the United States military has no intention or
plan of getting involved in INS [Immigration and Naturalization
Service] or Customs or Border Patrol activities except on a very
short-time basis." He added that agencies requesting military
assistance have been required to agree that such assistance would not
last past August 15.
Military relations with other agencies would only be in a support
role, Rumsfeld said, "except for a couple of unique, distinctive
things that involve weapons of mass destruction ... where we are a
first responder, for example, in the capital area on some things."
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of Information
Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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