Ranking Member Wasserman Schultz Statement at the Navy and Marine Corps Fiscal Year 2024 Military Construction Budget Hearing

2023-04-18 14:08

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Ranking Member of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's hearing on the Navy and Marine Corps fiscal year 2024 military construction budget:

Thank you, Judge Carter.

Welcome back Assistant Secretary Berger, Vice Admiral Williamson, and Lieutenant General Banta. I look forward to your testimonies and to hearing how the Fiscal Year 2024 budget would improve the condition of Navy and Marine Corps infrastructure and improve our military readiness. I also would like to hear from each of you how robust funding for housing and quality-of-life projects could build on the progress of past years, to the benefit of our sailors and marines and their families.

The progress the Navy and Marine Corps makes towards improving the quality of life for our Sailors, Marines, and their families will undoubtedly help recruitment and retention efforts. That is why continued strong investments in these programs is essential and why I am pleased to see an improved budget request from the Navy and Marine Corps this year.

The Fiscal Year 2024 budget request for Navy and Marine Corps military construction is $6 billion, which represents a $1.7 billion increase over the 2023 enacted level and an even larger $2.2 billion over the 2023 request. While I am generally pleased with the overall direction of this funding request, there are certain specific areas I do wish to discuss. For example, the Navy and Marine Corps Family Housing Construction request is $277 million, which would equal a $60 million cut from the enacted level. From the Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program to the build-up in the Pacific, there are a number of crucial initiatives in this year’s budget which show why continued investment in military construction is crucial to our national security.

Unfortunately, as Republican leadership proposals to dramatically cut government spending continue to circulate in the news, it is imperative we examine what these cuts would mean for our servicemembers and their families, the condition of our military infrastructure, and ultimately, our military readiness. Cuts back to the FY 2022 spending level would slow essential construction projects revitalizing our naval shipyards, strategically vital construction through the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, and investments to improve the quality of life for our sailors, marines, and their families.

In addition, I would like to hear from our witnesses on the following topics, including the progress we have made on these issues and how they will affect the Navy and Marine Corps budgets moving forward.

For example, contamination from the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage facility continues to be a concern to me. Recent reports say that local Hawaii families not only had their water polluted by fuel, but also by anti-freeze chemicals. This development has only sharpened the health concerns surrounding the incident. I hope to hear an update on the planning for both immediate cleanup and long-term solutions.

The Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program represents crucial investments in our Navy’s infrastructure to reconfigure, modernize, and optimize our four aging Naval Shipyards into new modern facilities that will serve this Nation into the future. We must ensure this program is taking care of the Navy’s shipbuilding needs now and well into the future.

Turning to privatized housing, the Government Accountability Office’s recent report recognized the progress that all of the services have made in increasing oversight of the housing portfolio but also listed a number of further steps that need to be taken. I hope the Navy and Marine Corps will fully embrace these additional accountability measures and will fully implement the recommendations, including increasing communication with residents regarding their rights and options.

I want to hear from our witnesses on the progress that has been made towards improving access to mental health resources for our sailors and marines

Finally, I would like an update on Navy and Marine Corps efforts to prevent sexual assaults and improve trust in the reporting system.

Thank you to all of the witnesses for being here today. I look forward to your testimonies. I yield back.

118th Congress