Fine Print: House Bill Would Sharply Raise Cost of Guam Realignment Project

Thousands of U.S. troops and their families are to move to Guam, above.
Thousands of U.S. troops and their families are to move to Guam, above. (2004 Photo By Mark Allen Leonesio -- U.s. Navy Via Associated Press)
By Walter Pincus
Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Alittle-publicized provision in the fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill approved by the House last week would double the $10 billion cost of construction on Guam as part of the realignment of U.S. military forces in the Pacific.

The planned move of 8,000 U.S. Marines and about 3,600 other U.S. military troops and their dependents from Okinawa and mainland Japan to Guam over the next five years was originally expected to cost about $15 billion.

Of that total, $10 billion would be in construction of facilities, family housing and public utilities.

But a provision in last week's House bill would require that construction companies pay their employees working on Guam's realignment construction projects wages equivalent to rates in Hawaii, which are 250 percent higher than those on Guam, according to the Joint Guam Program Office.

The Congressional Budget Office report attached to the House bill estimates the growth in labor costs from this provision alone "would increase the need for discretionary appropriations by about $10 billion over the 2010-2014 period."

The provision was authored by Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), the fourth-ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

Another amendment Abercrombie added to the bill would limit to 30 percent the proportion of foreign workers that would be allowed to work on these projects.

"At a time when a depressed economy has dealt a body blow to our construction industry, the Department of Defense should not even consider turning over badly needed jobs to foreign workers at questionable wages," Abercrombie told his constituents.

"This is a huge opportunity to put Americans to work, in an American territory, building an American military base. My amendments provide clear guidelines to manage the buildup while ensuring quality work for our service members and their families," he added.

Another provision would require the secretary of labor to report to the House and Senate Armed Services committees by June 30, 2010, "on efforts to expand the recruitment of construction workers in the United States to support this effort; on the ability of labor markets to support the Guam realignment."

Not everyone agreed with Abercrombie's proposals. Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), also an Armed Services Committee member, said during debate on the bill, "This provision will lead to inflated wages in Guam, while taking American jobs from construction projects in Texas, Maryland and Virginia."

The realignment, first agreed to in 2006 by the Bush administration and Japanese government, was designed to reduce tensions caused by a large, unwanted American military presence on Okinawa. In February, during her trip to Japan, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton restated the U.S commitment "to modernize our military posture in the Pacific."

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