April 07, 2016

At Hearing on Military Construction Budget, Udall Pushes to Strengthen NM Military Facilities

Priorities include addressing WSMR maintenance backlog, White Sands National Monument crash cleanup

WASHINGTON - At a hearing today of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies, U.S. Senator Tom Udall pressed Department of Defense leadership to take full advantage of New Mexico's unique position to help the military meet 21st-century national security challenges. Udall focused on unmatched testing capabilities at White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), but raised concerns that a large maintenance backlog will prevent the facility from maximizing its potential to enable the military to advance the latest cutting-edge technologies.

"The military's ability to meet future global challenges is directly tied to its facilities. That's what it uses to train, to test, to evaluate and to carry out its missions," Udall said. "What concerns me is that years of reduced [military construction] budgets - and deferred maintenance - have resulted in facilities and infrastructure that may not be adequate or may not be advanced enough to test and evaluate new technologies."

Udall said that WSMR has repairs and maintenance backlogs of over $220 million, but the Army is only providing 69 percent of the funding it needs for sustainment, restoration and modernization.

Assistant Secretary of the Army Katherine Hammack told Udall that the maintenance backlog is an issue across the military due to sequestration, but there is not enough funding to make progress. "That's why we are addressing the worst first," Hammack said. "But the challenge is as we continue to be unfunded due to budgeting constraints, the backlog will increase - and unfortunately that means that facilities will fail faster."

Udall will continue working to secure funding to address the maintenance backlog - especially at New Mexico's military facilities - as the subcommittee writes its fiscal year 2017 appropriations bill.

Udall also raised the 2014 unmanned aerial vehicle crash at White Sands National Monument, and secured a commitment to resolve the issue and clean up this site: "A four-mile stretch of the monument remains closed today, due to serious concerns about contamination in the soil, including access to two popular family-friendly trails. There have been some frustrating bureaucratic issues preventing cleanup related to interagency funding."

Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter J. Potochney told Udall that they are close to resolving the bureaucratic delay. "I'm not happy at all with the fact that it has taken us this long. I can assure you we're watching it very careful now," Potochney said, adding that he cannot commit to a timeline but expects cleanup to be done "expeditiously."

"I think it's important we move forward so we make sure that we have a good long-term relationship between the Air Force and the White Sands National Monument, which work very closely together to achieve - as you know - a lot of these national security objectives," Udall said.