December 17, 2019

Udall Votes for Major Defense Bill to Strengthen New Mexico & Nation

Measure includes paid family leave for all federal employees, including thousands in NM, provides relief to NM communities impacted by PFAS contamination, includes military pay raise, and supports the state’s national labs and military bases

Despite positive provisions, Udall says bill is a “missed opportunity” for Congress to prevent unauthorized war

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) joined the full Senate in voting 86-8 for the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a major national defense bill including several measures that Udall championed to support New Mexico’s federal workforce, service members and military families, veterans, communities facing PFAS contamination, military bases, nuclear security labs, and defense programs across the state.  

The annual NDAA sets policies and funding levels for the nation’s military and defense operations at the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which are then funded through annual appropriations bills passed by the Appropriations Committee, where Udall is a senior member. This year’s bill, which authorizes $738 billion for national defense, includes critical provisions to benefit the national security missions being carried out at New Mexico’s national laboratories, military bases and installations, along with efforts championed by the New Mexico Delegation to provide relief to communities impacted by PFAS contamination.  

In a historic achievement, this year’s NDAA also secures 12 full weeks of paid parental leave for all workers across the federal government, a major step forward for New Mexico’s 28,000 federal civilian employees and their families. The NDAA also authorizes funding and resources for military construction projects at Holloman Air Force Base, White Sands Missile Range, and Kirtland Air Force Base to address new mission requirements and support the continued vitality of New Mexico’s bases.

“New Mexico plays a critical role in the national defense. Home to military bases, federal installations, and national labs, our communities support the critical work being done to keep Americans safe and to grow the state and national economy. This legislation brings significant new family leave benefits to the military and federal workforce in New Mexico as they play an indispensable role in keeping our country safe and growing our economy. I am glad that this bill secures 12 weeks of paid family leave for federal workers – which will provide economic security to the thousands of federal workers in New Mexico and their families. And I am particularly proud to have helped secure provisions that will bolster safety at our national labs and to provide long-overdue relief to communities impacted by PFAS contamination,” said Udall. “I’ll keep working in the Appropriations Committee to provide the strong resources our state needs to keep making our important contributions to national security.”

“And although the final national defense bill is a win for New Mexico, I regret that Congress missed an opportunity to reassert its authority over matters of war, and to prevent endless or unauthorized military conflicts that are not supported by the American people. I am deeply disappointed that the final House-Senate agreement does not include my bipartisan amendment that would prevent the president from entering an unauthorized war in Iran, despite the fact that a bipartisan majority of both the House and Senate voted in favor of it. And I am disappointed that Congress failed to heed the bipartisan majorities calling for ending U.S. involvement in the Saudi campaign in Yemen which has become both a quagmire and humanitarian disaster,” said Udall. “New documents obtained by the Washington Post now show without a doubt that U.S. deployment in Afghanistan lacks clear goals or strategy after 18 years and $2 trillion spent. When we turn to this bill again next year, I urge my colleagues in Congress to do their constitutional duty and take real action before we spend yet another year in Afghanistan or this administration launches us into another war in the Middle East. In the meantime, I will continue to speak out against Congress dodging its constitutional authority to speak on matters of war and peace – we owe it to our service members, our military families, our veterans, and to the many who have given their lives to protect the nation to take the hard votes.”

Specific provisions of the NDAA that Udall championed include: 

Pay Raise for Troops:  The NDAA authorizes a 3.1 percent pay raise for members of the Armed Forces.

Paid Family Leave: This year’s NDAA also secures 12 full weeks of paid parental leave for all workers across the federal government, a major step forward for New Mexico’s 28,000 federal civilian employees.

PFAS Damages Act: Udall, along with Senator Martin Heinrich and Representative Ben Ray Luján, introduced the PFAS Damages Act to provide relief to communities and businesses impacted by PFAS contamination in groundwater around Air Force bases in New Mexico and across the country. In 2018, the U.S. Air Force confirmed that firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals (PFOA and PFOS) used around Cannon Air Force Base and Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico contaminated nearby groundwater. The contamination has affected several agricultural wells near Cannon Air Force Base that feed New Mexican dairies, causing major disruptions for the local dairy industry.

The PFAS Damages Act is included in the NDAA. The measure would ensure that DOD takes precautionary action to prevent human exposure, including through agricultural products, provide alternative water or water treatment for contaminated agricultural water, and acquire contiguous property that is contaminated.  The Act would also mandate that the Department of Defense (DOD) create a plan of action to clean up contaminated sites and take all necessary steps to prevent further risks to public health.

Construction Projects at New Mexico Bases and Facilities: The bill authorizes $63.7 million for military constructions projects in New Mexico. 

Holloman Air Force Base: $20 million for the construction of a climate-controlled, storage and shipment facility at Holloman Air Force Base for military support equipment.  

White Sands Missile Range (WSMR): $5.8 million to build a solar, natural gas, and battery system micro-grid at White Sands to ensure uninterrupted power reliability.  

Kirtland Air Force Base: $15.5 million for the construction of a Combat Rescue Helicopter Simulator Facility at Kirtland Air Force Base. 

$22.4 million for the construction of a UH-1 Replacement Facility at Kirtland to house new simulators used for training flight crew personnel.

DNFSB Provisions: The FY2020 NDAA includes a committee amendment from Senator Heinrich to ensure that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reviews DOE’s Order 140.1 on information sharing -- an order that undermines the DNFSB’s oversight responsibility by restricting its ability to get health and safety information from DOE sites -- and a Heinrich-Udall floor amendment that clarifies that Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) board members may serve up to two terms, ensuring better continuity at the board which is the only independent safety oversight over DOE nuclear facilities. 

Environmental Cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL): The bill authorizes $195.5 million for soil and water cleanup and removal of radioactive waste offsite. Funding will help address the hexavalent chromium and Royal Demolition eXplosive (RDX) plumes in groundwater around Los Alamos.

Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP): The bill authorizes $398 million for WIPP, including $17.5 million for repairs of aging equipment.