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Below is a transcript of the testimony:
DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:
This hearing on the Military Construction of Veterans Affairs and Related Agency subcommittee will come to order. Thank you all for participating in this hearing about the Navy and Marine Corps installations and quality of life update. Before we begin, as this is a hybrid hearing, we must address a few housekeeping matters.
For the members joining virtually, once you start speaking there is a slight delay before you are displayed on the main screen. Speaking into the microphone activates the camera, displaying the speaker on the main screen. Do not stop your remarks if you do not immediately see the screen switch. If the screen does not change after several -- several seconds, please make sure you are not muted.
To minimize background noise and ensure the correct speaker is being displayed, we ask you to remain on mute unless you have sought recognition. Myself or staff I designate may mute participants' microphones when they are not under recognition to eliminate inadvertent background noise. Members who are virtual are responsible for muting and amusing themselves.
If I notice when you are recognized that you have not unmuted yourself, I will ask the staff to send you a request to unmute yourself. Please then accept that request, so you are no longer -- muted. I remind all members and witnesses that the five-minute clock still applies. If there is a technology issue, we will move to the next member until the issue is resolved and you will retain the balance of your time.
In terms of the speaking order, we will follow the order set forth in the house rules, beginning with the chair and ranking member. Then members present at the time the hearing is called to order will be recognized in the order of seniority alternating between majority and minority and finally members not present at the time the hearing is called to order.
Finally, House rules require me to remind you that we have set up an email address to which members can send anything they wish to submit in writing at any of our hearings or markups. That email address has been provided in advance to your staff. The subcommittee has come to order. Good morning. Today, we welcome Navy and Marine Corps installations officials and senior enlisted personnel to discuss the fiscal year 2023 budget, quality of life issues as well as receive an update on installations.
Today, we have before us Ms. Meredith Berger, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Environment Installations and Energy. Vice Admiral Ricky Williams -- Williamson, excuse me, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Fleet Readiness and Logistics. Lieutenant General Edward Banta, Deputy Commandant of Installations and Logistics for the Marine Corps.
Master Chief Russell -- Master Chief Russell Smith, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy. And Sergeant Major Troy Black Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps. Thank you all for joining us today to provide testimony on some very critical issues. We as always have a lot to discuss, and I look forward to a productive conversation.
Today, we look forward to engaging with the Department of the Navy on a host of important subjects that impact our sailors and marines. I was very pleased that the FY '23 President's budget request was delivered to Congress early enough to allow us to discuss the request in-depth at this year's hearing. And I was also happy to see the FY '23 request is larger than what we saw as an inadequate request last year.
However, as with other services, I'm once again concerned with the budget requests for perennial reduction of funding for military construction compared to the previous year's enacted levels. This trend not only directs impact -- directly impacts the mission readiness of our forces, but also the quality of life of service members and their families.
The FY '23 budget request for the Department of the Navy and Marine Corps is $4.5 billion, which is $399 million less than the FY '22 enacted level. That's an 8 percent cut. Now I recognize that the fiscal year 2022 spending bill offered a particularly high mark compared to recent years. However, with so much important MILCOM work to be done, higher funding should be the norm, not the anomaly.
This is especially important as we continue to see enormous cost increases in projects due to inflation, supply chain issues, and labor shortages. MILCOM needs are rapidly increasing, and the budget should be a reflection of the best way to address those needs. While the Navy and Marine Corps don't have the most egregious cuts below last year's levels, you still should not rely on Congress to continuously bail you out.
I shouldn't have to remind everyone that the military's own estimate is that nearly a third of our military infrastructure is in fair or poor condition. And repeatedly, whenever I ask people who are in front of our subcommittee, why the cuts continue to be proposed? The answer is just as well, it's a matter of priorities.
Well, the quality of life of our service members should be a high priority. And the readiness of our troops should be a high priority. And toys, for lack of a better term, should not be a higher priority than making sure that the quality of where our troops live the readiness in terms of prep -- preparing them through training centers and other infrastructure investments caring for their children, all of those things impact a service members ability to do their job.
And it shouldn't be an afterthought or just discarded as the first time something else becomes more important. You know, even though the spent -- defense spending overall is increased every single year, military construction continually faces attempted reductions. MILCOM isn't just about weapon warehouses and war fighting.
It's about constructing modern resilient installations that can withstand increasingly more powerful natural disasters. And no one knows that better than Judge Carter and I and other members on this committee. It's combating climate change and reducing environmental impact. It's building child development centers, schools, and hospitals.
It's remediating land and water contaminated by harmful chemicals like PFAS. It's providing quality housing for our service members and their families. As all the services has said -- have said in these hearings and I assume the Navy and Marine Corps will say so today that the most valuable asset they have is their people.
Well, you know, as the expression goes words matter, but action matters more. The recruitment, retention, comfort, health protection, and readiness of those people start with MILCOM. And there's a more colloquial expression way to say that as well, which I will spare you in a public setting. Reducing military construct -- it's just bad government.
That being said, this hearing will also go beyond just this fiscal year's budget request. Today, the subcommittee also looks forward to discussing quality of life issues and an update on installations. Sexual assault is still rampant across all services, including the Navy and Marine Corps. The subcommittee will seek out answers as to why it's still such a significant problem and what the Navy and Marine Corps are doing to remedy it. We'll talk about child development centers, a high priority of our committee members, which strive to provide young children of our service members safe and comfortable childcare but are still not receiving the attention they deserve from the department.
We will look for explanations as to why privatized housing continues to struggle with oversight and quality assurance, including the ongoing fraud scandal by one of its leading housing companies. And ask what the Navy and Marine Corps is doing to ensure it supports its service members while holding Its housing partners accountable.
We'll talk about what the Navy and Marine Corps plans on doing about the concerning rise in suicides among sailors and Marines as well as the worrying discriminatory state laws that impact -- impact all service members. And additionally, we look forward to hearing how the Navy and Marine Corps are addressing the ongoing remediation of PFAS contamination and the transfer of closed installations to their local communities.
As you can see, we have many important issues to discuss. And as is the ongoing mission of this subcommittee, these hearings is yet another great opportunity to identify how we can do more to those -- to serve those who serve us. We look forward to a candid and fruitful conversation. And now I'd like to recognize my friend and colleague Ranking Member Judge Carter, for his opening remarks.
Thank you, Madam Chair. Good morning to everybody. Welcome. We're glad to have you here. We're glad to see the Navy and the Marine Corps witnesses here today. It's -- today, the hearing is going to conclude a review of the services FY '23 budget requests. As we prepare to write our bill, we face many challenges including cost increases, inflation and how to address the large backlog of inadequate military facilities and infrastructure.
We didn't arrive at this situation overnight. And there's no one -- one thing or one group that is responsible. While I regrettably must agree with -- that the Defense Department is underfunded military construction, I believe it is incumbent upon this -- subcommittee to rectify that. And therefore as my wife told my son when he had chosen to play -- go to spring practice instead of go to baseball his junior year, and she said, and then you wanted to play baseball.
My wife said, if you don't ask, the answer's no. Well, you got to ask if you want something and tell us these things. And we'll fight the fight. Thank you, Madam Chairman for leading this subcommittee. I look forward to continuing to work with you and our colleagues to do our best for our nation soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, guard -- guardians and veterans in FY '23. be sure to ask if you got something we need to know about.
I yield back.
DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:
I don't -- thank you. The gentleman yields back. Thank you, judge Carter for your remarks. I don't see either Chairwoman DeLauro or Ranking Member Granger, so appreciate all the witnesses taking the time to be here and sharing your expertise. For opening testimony, we'll start with Assistant Secretary Berger and move down the list as follows: Vice Admiral Williamson, Lieutenant -- Lieutenant General Banta, Master Chief Smith and then Sergeant Major Black.
Without objection, all written statements will be entered into the record, and you'll be recognized for 5 minutes to summarize your opening statements. Assistant Secretary Berger, you're not recognized for your open -- opening statement to summarize your remarks.
Thank you, Madam Chair. Thank you, Ranking Member Carter and distinguished members of the Committee. It's my pleasure to be here today to testify on the Department of Navy's installations and qualities of life. Secretary Del Toro has identified three enduring priorities for the Department of Navy to maintain and strengthen our maritime dominance, empower our people and strengthen our partnerships.
And we've requested priorities that support -- excuse me, we have requested resources that support these priorities. Our 95 Navy and Marine Corps installations across the country and around the world play an integral role in enabling the capacity lethality modernization and readiness of our naval forces.
They are the shore platforms that support and project our maritime dominance. The Department fiscal year '23 budget requests nearly $3.8 billion for military construction projects, a $1 billion increase over our '22 request. With these resources, we will continue to optimize our naval shipyards, enable operating capability of platforms such as the Columbia class submarine and the F-35, modernize our support infrastructure and support the relocation of submarines from Japan to Guam.
This budget also invests in facilities that empower our people and improve quality of life for our sailors, marines and their families through the construction of new family housing in Guam, a new child development center in San Diego and barracks complexes in Japan. This budget request also continues our commitment to improve oversight of our privatized housing for families.
I appreciate this committee's persistent attention in this area, and I'm committed to working with you to ensure our service members and their families have the safe and healthy homes that they deserve. With an eye towards partnerships and alliances, Marine Corps and Navy installations are uniquely situated to build relationships in the local communities that host them.
We work together to collaborate on shared challenges to develop regional plans that enable military readiness and support community priorities. And to partner with local governments to obtain installation support services. Finally, as members of this committee know and the chair acknowledged in her opening remarks, we've all seen how climate change, sea level rise and extreme weather directly impacts the readiness of our installations This budget request continues the Department and Navy's long-standing approach to incorporate resilience into how we operate, plan, construct and recapitalize our installations.
We are also building resilience to flooding and storm surge through shoreline restoration projects and deploying nature-based solutions across our ranges and installations. I'd like to thank the Committee for your steadfast support and attention to issues most critical to our marines and sailors and for your partnership with the Department of Navy.
I look forward to answering your questions and engaging today.
Thank you, Secretary Berger. Appreciate your -- your remarks and -- and your service. Vice Admiral Williamson your full written testimony will be entered into the record, and you are recognized for 5 minutes to summarize your remarks.
Thank you, ma'am. Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz, Ranking Member Carter and distinguished members of the subcommittee. In conjunction with the other members of the panel, I appreciate the opportunity to provide an update on the quality and resilience of our naval installations. On behalf of our sailors and their families, thank you for your continued support of the Navy, its military construction program and our 71 installations around the world, which enable us to strengthen readiness and to support the delivery of more lethal platforms.
Additionally, thank you for your ongoing focus on the Navy's quality of life programs, which are critical to the overall success of our Navy. In December of last year, the Chief of Naval Operations issued a call to action for every Navy leader to apply a set of Navy proven leadership in problem solving practices that empower our people to achieve exceptional performance.
For my organization, we have fully embraced this call because this is how we have always done business. Constantly self-assessing and benchmarking as part of an effort to get real and self-correcting our discrepancies to get better. To meet the challenges of strategic competition in an evolving threat environment, we must enable global logistics with the resilient shore infrastructure and be honest about our current performance.
Maintaining our advantage at sea requires transformational change ashore to support and sustain the fleet of the future. We recently released the Naval Global Strategy Ashore, which is the Navy's strategic direction for the Navy Shore Enterprise aligned with the National Defense Strategy. Our Navy requires shore platforms to be capable of supporting full spectrum, multi-domain conflicts with near-peer competitors, while also protecting against and responding to and recovering from attacks or disruptions intended to degrade operations.
This strategy provides a roadmap for identifying and resourcing all shore operations activities and investments, enabling fleet warfare capabilities that align with the CNOs navigation plan. Navy installations located in the United States and around the world are essential shore platforms from which naval forces train, deploy, maintain forward presence to enable geographic combatant commanders to meet operational requirements.
They modernize in ready organic industrial base is a vital component of readiness. The Navy is leading the efforts to take an enterprise-wide approach to optimize infrastructure at shipyards, depots and logistics complex -- complexes which repair and modernize our ships, submarines and aircraft. The Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program, SIOP is a critical program to prepare the nation's four public shipyards to meet the future needs of the Navy's nuclear-powered submarine and aircraft carrier force.
Funding applied to our installation also supports climate resilience, which is an important component of the installation mission readiness. The Navy works to ensure installations and infrastructure are resilient to a wide range of challenges including extreme weather events. It is a privilege to testify before the committee today.
I look forward to answering your questions.
Thank you, Admiral Williamson. I appreciate your remarks and your service. Lieutenant General Banta, your full written testimony will be included in the record, and you're recognized for 5 minutes.
Good morning, Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz, Ranking Member Carter and distinguished members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to discuss the Marine Corps FY '23 Military Construction Budget request today. First, I'd like to thank you for the funding for last year's budget request and our unfunded priorities list.
That funding which totaled over $2 billion accelerates our Commandant's Force Design initiative, supports quality of life projects and invests in the Marine Corps ability to fulfill its Title ten obligations now and in the future. Our installations play a key role in meeting the challenges facing our nation.
The Marine Corps overseas installations are especially critical as advanced naval bases in support of naval and joint operations. We need modernized infrastructure that is resilient against threats ranging from kinetic attack to cybersecurity breaches to damage from extreme weather. To meet these challenges, the Marine Corps has requested over $1.2 billion for military construction projects in FY '23. This year's request has a broad focus and includes projects that invest in several key areas including life, health and safety issues, quality of life projects and infrastructure support for new platforms.
Over half of this request is focused in the Pacific, including four projects on Guam that will help posture the 22,000 Marines located west of the international dateline in a fighting stance. The quality of life for our marines, sailors and their families is integral to the readiness and effectiveness of our force.
A new child development center at MCAS Miramar will be complete this summer and three more projects are planned in the fit up. The Marine Corps is in the process of renovating 12 barracks in FY '22 and we plan to renovate 15 more in FY '23, which will improve the lives of approximately 4000 Marines. Last year, the Marine Corps focussed on family housing included implementation of the remaining provisions in the Tenants Bill of Rights.
The Marine Corps continues to work with its housing partners and the other services to ensure that our housing is safe and meets the needs of our residents. This year we plan to invest over $230 million in family housing construction and operations, including building family housing units in Guam. The Marine Corps strives to invest in resilient installations that enable operational readiness.
Recent infrastructure investments include projects that reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and off base energy grids. For example, Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany is the first Marine Corps net zero installation. The base generated more power through green energy sources than it consumed in calendar year 2021 and provided about eight megawatts back to the local grid.
The Marine Corps is also invested in microgrids at five installations that can power mission essential functions for more than two weeks ensuring continuity of operations. Finally, the Marine Corps is investing in the modern -- modernization of its organic industrial base. These projects optimize existing facilities, construct new facilities and improve workflow processes and productivity at the Marine Corps two depots.
The Marine Corps is currently undergoing a significant transition in how it is organized, trained and equipped to meet current and evolving threats from our peer adversaries. Our operational capabilities are adapting to meet threat changes and we need to invest in next generation infrastructure to match the Marine Corps evolving capabilities.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today and for your oversight, input and support as we determine the infrastructure requirements that will best position the Marine Corps for mission accomplishment. I look forward to working with you to sustain our warfighting capability and the readiness of our -- of our power projection platforms.
And I look forward to your questions. Thank you.
Thank you, General Banta, and thank you for your service. Master Chief Smith, you are recognized for 5 minutes to summarize your opening statement. And my apologies for not greeting you properly when I came in. You're recognized for 5 minutes.
RUSSELL L. SMITH:
Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz, Ranking Member Carter and distinguished members of the subcommittee. I'm honored to speak to you on behalf of the sailors who serve our United States Navy. I've appreciated this opportunity over the past four years as an enlisted sailor unique to my position to speak to Congress with very unambiguous language.
Our budget request will perpetuate our readiness to fight near-peer competitors. And my testimony allows me to highlight our greatest priorities. Continuous fleet engagement with sailors and their families indicates that mental health, childcare, competitive compensation, continuing education and sailor quality of life issues are at the forefront of concern.
An increasingly unstable geopolitical environment has led to greater demands for naval forces. Sustained adequate funding ensures that we stand ready whenever and wherever our nation requires it. Our people are the X factor, the decisive advantage that cannot be seen when comparing forces on paper. To attract and retain a capable force, we must invest in them on par with our investment in aircraft ships in the submarines we trust them to operate.
While our ships are deployed at a consistent pace over the past 34 years, we do so today with just over half the sailors we had then and just -- and less than half the ships. This op tempo has significantly increased challenges to mental health and quality of life for our sailors. You rightfully expect our sailors deliver -- to deliver and they absolutely endeavor to, but they need critical support.
Emerging from pandemic constraints. We face some of the perennial challenges such as critical shortfalls in childcare and mental health care capacity. The post-COVID environment has also created some new challenges. Most formidably with recruiting. An abundance of altruism among this generation portends continued success in meeting recruiting goals, but the cost of that effort is -- is climbing.
John Paul Jones once said sailors mean more than guns in the rating of a ship, implying that the value of combat units lies in the quality of the sailors. Sailors living and working conditions directly equate -- and their living conditions directly equate to combat readiness and are as important as technical training, parts availability and operational sets and reps the flight hours and steaming days -- days we need to be ready.
The pandemic exacerbated an already critical need for greater mental health care capacity as it has for many Americans. We've closed some gaps with creative approaches, but still battle to better support our sailors. Except for the most egregious cases, those are the precipice of suicide, appointment times average five weeks.
I can personally attest to this as I sought care last year -- last spring and I had to use a private provider at my own expense, something our sailors should never have to endure. We are legendary and the most successful models to maximize efficiency. An example of this is the San Diego based Mental Health Operational Outreach Division or the MHOOD Clinic, which serves as a hub for regional resource coordination between the chaplaincy, fleet and family support and many levels of clinical treatment, caring for proximally 100 walk-ins each week.
Scaling this success and increasing close access to support services including on board ships and at the waterfront optimizes readiness, it builds trust with units and commanders, and reinforces that there is no wrong door for sailors seeking care. We've had some success, but few outcomes remain achievable through efficiencies alone.
Mental health programs must continue to receive support and recognize we are in a fierce competition with the civilian sector for the talent that facilitates it. The shortage of quality -- of affordable quality childcare remains a significant issue. Today, the demand is as high as ever and the pandemic reduced available options and led to cost for private care practically unaffordable for the junior sailor income.
Military construction generated over 2000 new spaces and increases to the subsidy assistance programs have defrayed the cost. However, the demand still far outstrips the supply, leaving a shortage of 4700 spots in fleet concentration areas and an average of 128 days on the wait list for childcare. A key component of combat readiness is retaining our workforce.
The US Naval Community College will growth critical thinking skills and advanced fleet performance, yield warfighting advantages and increase job satisfaction and retention. We also continue to improve our advancement and assignment processes. The detailing market assignment policy great places -- places greater emphasis on sailor desire, comparing available billets with optimal assignment timelines and eventually paying compensation.
By better recognizing and promoting true talent, we are ensuring our best performers feel incentivized to stay in Navy. To fight and win across the maritime domain, we will always be the Navy's top priority. Best served by ensuring sailors are trained, equipped and their critical needs met, able to focus on the fight.
Our equipment is among the best in the world, but requires trained and resilient sailors to operate it. Our sailors will enable victory over an enemy of superior numbers and cannot be taken for granted. Years from now, I believe we will look back on this time and understand this to be an inflection point for the Navy.
The demands on our service are high as are the stakes. I am grateful to the Congress for their continued strong support to ensure sailors are equipped to defend the nation as we can all agree that do more with less is no longer a viable course of action in today's security environment. It's an honor to be here before you my final time representing our sailors and I thank you for your unwavering support for the men and women of the United States Navy.
Thank you, Master Chief and thank you for your service. And I really wish you Godspeed on -- on the way to your next endeavor. Last but certainly not least, Sergeant Major Black, your full written testimony will be included in the record, and you are recognized for 5 minutes. To summarize your remarks.
TROY E. BLACK:
Ma'am, thank you. Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz, Ranking Member Carter and distinguished members of the subcommittee. I'm honored to speak to you today on behalf of your United States Marine Corps. You care attention to our marines and our families is not lost on me. And we all appreciate all the endeavors in evidence you have provided to us in order to meet our challenges.
As you know, we're fighting the single most important thing to our corps. The Marine Corps is your crisis response force because we require to be the nation's most ready when least ready. And since I met -- last met with you last year, the Marine Corps called upon to respond to many crises from aboard amphibious ships 24th Expeditionary Unit along with special Mag Taft crisis our Central Command responding last year in Afghanistan to conduct the largest noncombatant evacuation operation in US history.
We lost 11 marines, one Navy corpsman and one soldier in an operation in 16 other marines were wounded, but we brought to the United States 100,000 people from Afghanistan. The Marines also supported in CONUS the assistance to those refugees. Simultaneously, a 7.2 earthquake hit Haiti and marines respond aboard the USS Anchorage in support of that delivery security and 113,000 pounds of support to the Haitian people.
Over the last year, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit again aboard Navy ships simultaneously provided full combat logistics and combat support to Central Command and Africa Command. Our 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit operating in the Indo-Pacific in support of deterrence against our adversaries and providing support and security to our partners and allies.
In Southern Command, the Marine Corps took part in exercise unit toss, [ph] an annual exercise involving 19 partnered Marine and Navy organizations. And most recently, the United States Marine Corps Second Expeditionary Force was deployed in support of Exercise Corps response in Norway, strengthening alliances in Europe.
And today like every day throw a 30,000 Marines forward deployed and forward stationed in support of our national defense. Your Marines are currently engaged with our partners and allies across the globe, and we thank you for their support. In addition to the stresses that are associated with these deployments and the operation commitment of the Marine Corps life stressors continue to impact our Marines.
Marines are subject to the same exact stressors as all Americans. With regard to suicide, this past year we had a 30 percent decrease in deaths by suicide. However, with this decrease, we are still focused on getting even lower an impact and how we impact suicide prevention. Our education and training in those aspects and leadership that is provided to mitigate the suicide behaviors is paramount.
Sexual assault and sexual harassment remain a challenge within the military and the Marine Corps. These behaviors all affect the quiet life of our marines, and they are not tolerated. I'd like to think this Congress for your continued support with prevention programs and resources to help us mitigate mental health challenges, suicidal behaviors, sexual assault cases.
However, we are always looking for ways to improve. Our Marine Corps doctrine publication on warfare talks about the human dimension. Success in the battlefield is through the moral, mental and physical success of our marines. As such, one of the things the Marine Corps has taken on in the last couple of years is develop a holistic human performance program that addresses all of these issues and one holistic program.
The strategy is ongoing, and I look forward to bring you updates in the future of how we've collected all of our resources, placed them in one strategy that will impact the moral, mental, physical, spiritual and social fitness of our core. As mentioned previously about -- by my peer, the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, our true advantage against our adversaries is our people, not equipment, not things.
It's time for us to begin to treat our people like we do those equipment like we do those things. This Congress continues to support and gives us advice on how to best do that. And I personally thank you. I think you're also for the recent resources to -- construct new child development centers, barracks and privatize military house -- housing that do improve the quality of life for our marines.
However, one of the top reasons that marines leave our service is due to their poor living conditions. We must continue to seek resources in order to prove -- improve those conditions. The Marine Corps is also thankful to us support through our commandant with a force designed, specifically talent management.
This is the recruit and retention conversation that we continue to have, how we continue to find the very best marines to serve, how we continually find ways to retain those very best marines, train and educate them to be able to compete and overwhelm our adversaries. And this is only through our talent management procedures and -- and practices that we are conducting.
Lastly, we want to healthy -- we want to continue to foster healthy commands leaders of irreproachable character and then make it known to our friends and partners that warfare is what we do and what we do best. We are the Marines. We train, we fight, and we win period. Chairwoman, Ranking Member, thank you for your continued support.
For all members of this committee, I'm look forward to your questions and discussion. Thank you.
Thank you very much, Sergeant Major Black. Thank you for your service. And thank you all for your testimony. We will proceed -- proceed in the standard five-minute rounds alternating sides recognizing members in order of seniority as they joined or were seated at the beginning of the hearing. Please be mindful of your time and allow the witnesses to answer within your five-minute turn.
I want to begin today Assistant Secretary Berger by welcoming you to your first MILCOM VA hearing. And I recognize that the FY '22 MILCOM, you know, the whole appropriations bill in the omnibus was only enacted in March. But you know, every single year, the president's request seeks to increase overall defense spending as I mentioned in my opening remarks.
But you know, I would say for some reason, but I really kind of know what you're likely to respond. Military construction is consistently neglected. The Navy and Marine Corps have requested four and a half billion dollars. That's $400 million less than in FY '22 enacted level of $4.9 billion. That's an 8 percent reduction from one year to the next.
And given the testimony of Sergeant Major Black, there are really significant quality of life needs. And those quality of life needs when not addressed, affect retention. And we want to make sure that no matter what branch of the service that we retain -- recruit and retain our best and brightest. And they don't feel very respected or appreciated and aren't as prepared as they should be without making sure that they don't have distractions from their quality of life.
So can -- can you talk about what impact the level of funding that we provided in FY '22 had? And -- and now -- and then explain to the committee why the department's request for FY '23 was dramatically lower than what was enacted in FY '22? And does that indicate because it's certainly in the message that we would receive that the Navy and Marine Corps simply have less needs in FY '23?
Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz, first, thank you for the additional funding that you were able to put in last year. It is funding that we will use and use well and purposefully. The request that we put in this year, while lower than enacted is higher than the request that we put in last year. And so as ranking member said, we're -- we're telling you more of -- of what we need.
And so we did put in that higher request for that reason. Some of the highlights that you'll see in the ways that we're using this funding are for SIOP, which will give us a once in a lifetime opportunity to recapitalize our shipyards. This is important for our people and our quality of life because this is how we will make sure that they are equipped with what they need to succeed in terms of mission.
We have barracks that are coming in at Kadena in Japan. This goes straight to the heart of what you talked about, making sure that people have the places to live that are in a -- in a place that's comfortable for them and supports their ability to live, train and be equipped to fight. We are looking across at -- at other opportunities as well to ensure that we're providing people with the things they need.
The childcare center that will go in at San Diego is one of 12 across the fit up. And so as we look to make sure that people have what they need so they can focus on their work, those are some of the highlights in the way that you'll see us spending. We are also taking a hard look at -- that MILCOM is one of our tools and making sure that we are using resources wisely and well in both the Navy and Marine Corps.
And I'll turn to my colleagues to give them an opportunity to expand but are looking at how we look at our portfolio as a whole, so that we are using our MILCOM wisely and well. And along the other types of funding that we have to make sure that we are taking care of our installations and supporting our people.
Okay. Well -- thank you. As we turn to the vice admiral and the general, I'd like you to give the committee and a sense of how you are held back by -- and I realize that the requests, you know, are not -- you know, that they're sent up and your -- you're defending what was -- what was ultimately in the President's budget.
But how are we going to actually make sure we protect the quality of life and address the needs of the military, particularly your branches of the service with, you know, continually lower -- seemingly lower requests than what you actually need. For both of you, the admiral and -- and general, whichever, whoever wants to go first.
Chairwoman, thanks very much for the opportunity to comment on this. So as Secretary Berger mentioned, we are making investments this year in our quality of life to include maintaining our CDCs, investing in family housing and renovating barracks. And we --.
I don't have much time, so if you can answer my question specifically. Because it's a lower request, 8 percent lower, you definitely have more needs than what was in your request.
Yes, ma'am. It is part of the balanced approach that we take across our portfolio. So it does meet our immediate needs. We recognize that there is more to do. And we would certainly appreciate continued support from the Congress as we go forward.
Right. As I said in my opening statement, we can't budget where you ask for less than you need counting on us to give you more that is more closely aligned to your need. That's not fair. And it's not fair to your service members. And it's not fair to us in terms of how we prepare our -- our mark for consideration.
Yes, ma'am. As Secretary Berger said and General Banta, the same holds true for us, not to give you the prioritization. But one thing that I want to emphasize to you is obviously we take the care of our sailors and their families very seriously. One of the things that we have implemented and is I believe reflected in our budget submittal.
You mentioned it. My chief taught me a long time ago, a ship's just a hunk of steel. What makes it lethal are the sailors that go in it. And so having that discussion and implying that to our operational outcome has forced us to look internally and make the choices necessary as we'll discuss and its childcare, housing, some of these other things where you see the increase in our budget request.
And just before I -- I yield to the Ranking Member, if Master Chief Smith and Black can both answer the -- how these requests impact the quality of life of the people you represent.
Chairwoman, I -- I think both Sergeant Major and I both very clearly stated our -- in our opening statement that we -- we place the highest premium on people. And to the ranking members comment in the beginning about, ask. I've been bringing it up at this committee every year I've come in here that we need money for firefighting trainer to ensure our ships are ready to prevail in combat because the next fight is going to be -- it's going to start there and we're going to need that.
But getting that built, getting that on the list and staying on the list because of the -- the low threshold of -- of what gets built with the small budget that we have has been painstaking.
Ma'am, first, I'll concur with the master petty officer of the Navy, but in every conversation, I've ever had when it comes to our people, I've ended with one thing, need to put more resources towards quality of life for -- for our marines and their families. Installations writ large, I mean, I think we all know we're doing a lot of infrastructure that's aged.
So how do we get rid of some of that infrastructure? How do we replace it or just not replace it? The cost to maintain all of it, however, is another -- another part of that resource that we have. So it becomes a case of too much too little to sustain it. And then what we need to do. Well -- that rolls over on how the workspaces our marines work in, the spaces that our families live in, the recreation, all those things are impacted by these decisions.
Just reinforcing what the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy said in every conversation I've ever been, I've said we probably need -- we need more to get after that.
Well, this is why we have the chief enlisted leaders here as well, because we need to make sure that we get a balanced perspective. And -- and that helps us prioritize, so I appreciate it. My time has expired, and the ranking member is recognized for 5 minutes.
Thank you, Madam Chairman. Did you get us information about what -- if you have any information about firefighting equipment and the cost, get it to us and let us take a look at it.
Sir, I -- I do have that information. I think that EN4 probably has the finite information you're looking for with costs, but it's approximately $240 million is the ask for the -- the damage control and firefighting trainer. What we have right now is a facility that can only demonstrate. It cannot train or qualify because it's got a crack in the foundation, and it has to be raised and rebuilt.
They cannot put sailors on air, so they can't face fire the way you would in a training scenario that would allow us to qualify those sailors. So sailors go out to the Bonhomme Richard. They arrive the week before the fire. They're not qualified damage control firefighters and have to be removed from the situation rather than be contributing to a firefight they're not qualified to be in.
Well, if you get us that information that -- if we get lucky, we -- you know, can always get lucky. Maybe we can help. I've got a couple of questions for you and Admiral Williamson. The USS George Washington, I just read an article about unfortunate suicides aboard the George Washington while undergoing midlife restoration.
It appears that the living conditions aboard the ship are a contributing factor and affecting the morale of the sailors. My question is what's going on? Why are the living conditions poor? What's the Navy done? And why does it seem that the ship's leadership acted -- or has it been actively involved?
Sir, thank you for the opportunity to answer that. Frankly, as you probably are aware there was quite a bit of social media furor over a non-statement that I didn't make. But what it did unearth was some real significant frustration with the conditions that sailors are exposed to there and frankly in a lot of other places.
I think that it's too early to tell you that there's a problem with leadership because frankly that isn't what I smelled when I walked aboard. I had a talk with the crew that was very frank. I was very complimentary of what they have to do and the conditions they have to endure. Because to be honest with you, as a sailor who's been through several dry -- dry docking, it is the hardest thing.
Far harder than deployment to go through a yard period where you are in dry dock. And I dutifully own the decisions of our service to prioritize the way they do. And when I said things like I can't get you, I can't build you, it's me recognizing that there are no resources apportioned for that, but sailors do need those things.
They do need quality places to live. They need places to get out of the heat zone, so to speak, in a yard period and escape it. You know there are some -- some -- some challenges that come with the geography of Newport News and parking that just don't look easily solvable. And the pragmatic answer is just to be honest with them and acknowledge and validate how they're feeling, the frustration that they're facing while still telling them that frankly, if they don't do what they do, Stennis doesn't have another -- or I'm sorry, the George Washington doesn't have another 25 years of life to defend this nation.
So I think we will probably know more after they take a little bit deeper look into what -- what's going on in general on the ship. We've already moved some folks off. There were some sailors who did not want to move -- did not want to leave the ship. The CNO and I talked about this yesterday, but those who are willing to and wanted to were moved off recognizing that they're going to be in the yards quite a bit longer than maybe they originally thought.
So is it -- is it Newport News is the problem?
I wouldn't say that Newport News is the problem, but the geography of the base and where it's at, the fact that there are two carriers in RCOH which is not happen often makes it really, really pressurized when it comes to parking facilities of all sorts. And the ability to take care of sailors the way we would choose to if we could.
Now, are they working on the ships or are they just living there while somebody else works on the ships?
No, no, no, they're working, sir. Everybody that's there has -- has -- has jobs. It's not frankly, which is the frustration. It's not what they were paid to do by the Navy. It's not why we hired them. It's what they do to maintain their equipment much like a racecar driver might be very interested in the mechanics that go on underneath the hood before they take it out on the track.
Our sailors have a job to do that it also involves maintaining the equipment that they fight with.
Well, that's unfortunate suicide right there And George Bush, George H.W. Bush had the same issues with suicide. It just seems to me that the Navy ought to be looking into that and come up with some ideas to save those lives. Admiral, do you want to comment?
Yes, sir, I absolutely agree. In my previous life I was an engineer and I've done several availabilities. And I absolutely agree with MCPON. That is probably some of the most challenging times we have. I also agree with MCPON that, you know, it's not that -- it's not Hampton Roads itself, but the conditions.
Obviously, we're looking at that as SIOP. You know, how do we build back better. How do we build what is necessary to accommodate two ships and availability going forward, not only for the maintenance of the ship but also the maintenance of the sailor?
Well, thank you. That's not real satisfactory, but at least we got some glimmer in there what is -- what is going on. By the way, I live in Williamson County, Texas named after a hero of the Battle of San Jacinto, so you've got a good name. [Laughter] The -- the issues on the firefighting equipment, we got some extra last year.
We might get some this year. We always pray for it. And maybe we could do something about that. Because I know fire on-board ship is a really, really, really bad thing. And you've got to be able to be well trained on that. And if we're not getting the equipment for them to train, we got to do it somehow.
So we'll -- I'm going to we start to work on that for you. I yield back.
Thank you. The gentleman yields back. The chair of the full committee, Ms. DeLauro, you are recognized for 5 minutes and welcome to MILCOM VA.
Well, thank you very, very much, Madam Chair. And I appreciate the opportunity to be here. And -- and I want to thank our witnesses for the testimony this morning. As the chairwoman of -- of the subcommittee, Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz and myself, you know that we are committed to doing all that we can to help improve the quality of life for our service members and for their families.
On February 17th of this year, a recall was issued on Abbott Nutrition's infant formula products due to bacteria contaminating products at the company's Sturgis, Michigan plant. That has resulted in infant deaths and hospitalizations. I've been closely tracking all the national infant formula shortage as has a member of this subcommittee, Congressman Sanford Bishop, who chairs the Agriculture Subcommittee of Appropriations and we've been tracking that and the recalled product with food safety at the forefront.
And while we've introduced emergency supplemental appropriations bill to address the domestic supply of the formula, we look also to address the long-term root causes of the issue so that it -- we can try to prevent this from happening again. And military families are not exempt from the challenges that face other American families.
And I'm eager to hear from you about how we can address the infant formula shortage issue for service members and their families. And I just have two questions which I'd like to pose to Assistant Secretary Berger and anyone else who might want to join. What challenges are military stores having in restocking their shelves?
How can we better support them in securing infant formula for service members' families? And what is -- what are your departments hearing regarding the current experience of service members and their families in securing infant formula?
Congresswoman, this is an issue of which I am aware, but I also know that our senior enlisted have very good visibility on the topic and I would like to yield for their expertise for our responses.
Thank you. Thank you.
Ma'am, good morning. Sergeant Major Black here. Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps. Madam, this is -- this is a great topic. And this -- this current challenge with baby formula -- just highlights a greater challenge that we're having. And I'll give you one example. Primarily, I would -- I would use the conversations that the commandant and I've had on travel when we get out to our more -- distant locations, things outside of the United States, Okinawa for us, Guam, for us. At the end of the supply chain as it were, in those locations, we learned a few things during COVID and that was at the end of the supply chain there's less and less opportunity for families to have what they need.
And this is just another -- in a series of those challenges. Now how that supply chain works, the myriad challenges that are to maintain that and to get -- to get supplies we need to -- to sustain our families is a very complicated one, ma'am. I think it's something that we should probably come back with a more detailed description of. But what I can tell you having visited those locations, ma'am, there are challenges and there are things we need to get after.
And with this current challenge with the formula is just one of those.
Well, I know. And I -- I -- I see Congressman Bishop on the phone. And as I say on the -- on the zoom in, he chairs the AG Subcommittee. And this issue is important to that subcommittee. And to that end, we're going to be -- there is a hearing tomorrow that he's holding with the director of the FDA, Dr. Califf.
But what we need to know from you is how -- we need to work together with you as to how we are really providing for our servicemen and women here. And I'm sure they're frantic about being able to get, you know, a product so that they can, you know, feed their babies. And so we would really like to know what the situation is with the military.
And then work with you as to how we can address it so that that becomes part of the -- of our -- the answer to -- to this very, very serious of crisis which is putting -- families should not have to choose between a supply and safety. And we want to make sure that when we're talking about families, we're including our military families as well.
And we would very much appreciate a report from you or information from -- from all of you that can provide us with what information we need to work in conjunction with addressing this problem, so. Thank you, Madam Chair. And I'm happy to -- to yield back.
Thank you, Madam Chair. The gentlelady yields back. Mr. Gonzales, you are recognized for 5 minutes of questions.
Thank you, Madam Chair. I appreciate your leadership on this hearing. I'm going to focus on the USS George Washington because when we think about housing, we traditionally think about brick and mortar, but not life on -- on board a ship. And for me, my toughest time in the Navy was when I was in three section duty as a senior chief on the Michael Murphy.
You're either on duty, getting off duty or about to get on back on duty. And it was very difficult for my family. I'm going to lean on you, MCPON because one, there's no more stars we can give you. There's no more medals we can pin on your chest. And I think you can give me some straight answers. One is how many sailors have passed away during your time as MCPON?
Sir, I don't -- I don't have the exact number of how many have passed away since August 28th, 2018. I -- I read all the sitrep messages that come through that discuss suicides. As somebody who myself as a young kid was in that same situation, I can empathize and sympathize. And that's why we place the highest priority on our people.
Right, right. What about you Sergeant Major, how many Marines have died under your -- while you've been sergeant major of the Marine Corps?
Thank you. This is very important. Sailors dying is -- is the last thing we want any family member to have to deal with. MCPON Smith, out of the sailors that died on board the USS George Washington, how many were living on board the ship?
It's my understanding that four were living on board the ship.
Okay. I -- I've been told that -- that sailors eventually had the option of moving off the ship is what pretty much stopped the suicides from occurring. Why did it take three sailors committing suicide in a week to find them habitable housing?
The ability to -- first of all the -- the actions of the crew and -- and the -- and the -- the horrible circumstance of suicide did not wake someone to the problem to make them say now we need to move people off board. Recognizing that they were going to be in the yards a lot longer and knowing that instead of moving them off and then trying to move them right back on a month later that now we're projecting, I think it's -- it's March of -- of '23 that we can put them somewhere where they'll be put.
And not -- and minimize the churn. Frankly, moving them on, moving them off, moving them on because that's also incredibly disruptive. I think it's telling that -- that some sailors did not choose to move off.
If you -- and I've got a limited time here, if you lose one sailor or marine or airman or soldier or guardian, I mean that should be a wakeup call to any leadership. If there's a DUI, if there's a sexual assault, anything of that line, that's a red flag that says something is wrong. Three -- three people in an a week is a glaring issue.
What I'm getting at is we can't just continue to run the same plays and expect different results to happen, finding ways around it. This isn't going to be the last ship that's in the yards. And how do we prevent that next ship from having these same issues. My next question is for you, MCPON. The Navy sent a special psychiatric rapid intervention team sprint to the USS George Washington in late April.
These teams provide short term mental health support to requesting commands after traumatic events. Who requested this team and when did they arrive?
The command requested the team. And they -- they arrived within I believe 48 hours of being requested. I'd have to go back and look.
Okay, that's fair. How many personnel are on this team?
I can't tell you. It depends on the size of the unit. It depends on what the need of the command is. What the ask is. It's tailored to the -- to the issue at hand.
Was this Sprint team able to connect with any sailors? Was the Sprint team able to connect any sailors with local resources for long term mental health care?
Do you know how many sailors?
I don't know. I've got my head.
Okay. To me the damage -- basically the water -- the dam broke, the sailors were dying. The sprint team to me is what stopped that. And the leaders -- it took the leadership a while to figure out to use the sprint time. I would love to learn more about it. I love for us to study how we can get ahead of this.
Do you know what the cost -- how many sprint teams could have been deployed -- do you know the cost of the sprint teams?
I don't know the exact cost because again at scale it depends on the circumstance. So it's going to be more depending on the size of the unit and what the ask is. What I can tell you is that as soon as the ask was made, the team was put together and they were sent down there to talk to the crew. It's not the only thing it was done.
And it was not the third suicide that prompted it because we offer -- we always make the offer for help and assistance as soon as something like that happens on any unit. There is an investigation that will, I believe look into the command climate and other things that may have been contributing factors.
But it's too early to tell. And I don't have the results of that, so I can't comment.
I'll just say and I know I'm out of time, but I'll just say when we think of housing, we traditionally think of brick and mortar. It isn't that way in the Navy. It isn't that way in the Marine Corps. It isn't the way in services. And I just -- I want to prevent how can this committee help prevent the next suicide -- the next death from occurring regardless of -- of service.
So, Madam Chair, I'm out of time and I yield back.
Would you like a response or are you finished?
No, I'm finished. I'll wait for the second round.
Okay. Thank you, the gentleman yields back. Mr. Case, you're recognized for 5 minutes.
Master Chief, I do want to follow on my colleague's questions, because you know we -- we can talk installations and buildings and all the things, but when -- when you lose three sailors like that, it breaks your heart and it makes you ask the question that I have asked which is what are we doing or not doing in this Congress.
I had a very long talk with Sergeant Major Black yesterday about this and I asked him a simple question. Is -- what are we missing? Are we -- Are we missing that -- are we missing that conditions are different or that personnel are different or that command is different or that installations are different?
Why are we still losing good people?
And let me just make one other point. And I'm asking it not only broadly as a member of Congress, not only as a member of the Appropriations Committee, but today as a member of the Military Construction Committee. So I think your answer from that perspective is well, I'll take care of housing and childcare and -- and you know facilities that can actually maintain and improve the quality of life.
But I have to ask myself the question is that -- is that it? I mean is that all I can do on this subcommittee at least, so I need that same straight answer. What -- what am I missing?
So the best answer I can give you, sir, frankly sailors are no different than we were. We have different priorities. We have different skills and attributes. But sailors are no better or worse than we were when -- when I first came in. They still have the basic human -- same basic human needs. When a sailor takes their own life, it breaks my heart because there are a lot of things that we do to try and keep people on the team.
And we need every member we have on our team. I have myself been in a place where I struggled, and I had teammates who swelled up around me. I lived on my first two ships. I -- we don't do that anymore. We have home port of shore. But there is a -- there are lots of things that have to converge. Some of it is our -- on our end.
Our chief petty officers, our senior NCOs need to do more to lean in and be that first care provider to be that first compassionate shoulder that says what's going on that recognizes the difference in or a change in pattern that lets you know that something's different and something needs to be done. I had a friend, Commander Joe Price who was the -- was one of my junior officers when I was at SEAL Team 4 in the mid-nineties.
And when I ran into him again, he was getting ready to take over as a SEAL of SEAL Team 4 and we met over in the Far East. And I had a great couple of days with him. And when I left and went back to the fleet as a command master chief on a destroyer and I heard that he had taken his own life as the CEO of that team in theater, it -- it blew me away because I just seen him.
And I still to this day wonder, did I miss something or was there something I didn't see? Suicide is a massive problem for us because it's the one thing we can prevent, absolutely, by getting inside people's headspace and connecting to them. And we talk a lot at the deck-plate-level about the connectedness.
There's no app. There's no -- honestly better barracks will help. You know, quality of life issues absolutely make a difference. But the way we need to get after this is mostly in our end, we need to connect in a way that we haven't done in a couple of decades because electronics have taken us away from that human interconnection that helps us understand what's going on in a teammate's head.
But to the point that you ask, what can you do? Sir, I have to be honest with you, the priorities as the chairwoman pointed out and the sergeant major and I prioritize people, it's really hard for the Navy because you know, they're not toys, they're weapons. These are the things we use to fight. We are -- a Navy can't fight without a ship or an aircraft, a submarine or the things we use as implements of war.
And that's a conundrum because we have to buy those things and the technology that comes in them matters. But a ship is not -- when you commission a ship, they say now bring her to life. And it's when the sailors rush in that, that actually happens. And we do place the highest premium on people. I would probably make different puts and takes to make sure that I had the shore facilities.
We had a secretary who used to say constantly infrastructure equals readiness. If you look back to the shore and there's no pier. If you look back at the shore and there's no logistics chain like we have been experiencing on both -- in both theaters, we are not able to fight. The Truman -- after they got the RAZ, [ph] I went out to the Truman last week and went -- right before I got there, they had a RAZ that brought them up to 32 percent.
They have 600 pallets on the way that will make them whole on about the first or 2nd of June, but it's taken that long to get supplies because of all a confluence of problems and issues. Some preventable -- a lot of them not. But nobody cares, I promise you more than the quality of life of our sailors and marines than the two of us sitting at the ends of this table.
Thank you for your honest answer.
The gentleman yields back. Mr. Valadao, you're recognized for 5 minutes.
DAVID G. VALADAO:
Thank you, Madam Chair. And thank you to all our witnesses today for your time and testimony. I want to echo what my colleagues have said today that regarding suicide and mental health. In preparing for today's hearing, I was reviewing some of the questions from last year and my first question was on mental health and I'm obviously incredibly concerned again when you discussed these tragic losses of life.
I don't know if the problem lies in funding, culture, access or that we were simply just not asking the right questions. But from some of the testimony today, it's -- obviously, it's all of the above. But we need to do more, because what we were doing is obviously not enough. On the George Washington, there was 2700 soldiers from -- or sailors on there from what I understand.
400 of them were staying on the ship itself. And from what I've read almost 300 have been given accommodations off the facility or off the ship. There's still about 100 left. What's the situation with those hundred?
It's my understanding there's about 184 that still reside on the ship. And what I got in the conversation I had indirectly because I wasn't there yesterday, is that they chose to stay on the ship. So -- to be honest with you, as -- as somebody who does not like a long commute, I have -- I have suffered through conditions on -- on ships because I would rather not deal with a longer commute.
But it's my understanding also that those sailors were all offered a place to move off to.
So they do have access to some facility if they wanted to -- if they chose to leave the ship right now?
Okay. And then you mentioned a review of the situation there. From what I've read, it looks like it might not be ready till March of next year. Is that accurate?
It's my understanding that March of '23, but I -- I will find out and I'll get a better answer back to you.
Okay. Is there any way we can speed that up if it is accurate that it is March?
I would probably have to defer to a whole lot of other folks that -- that do ship maintenance to answer that. But I will get you an answer. We'll take that for the record, sir, and answer that.
And then, my colleague here mentioned having people on -- having access to folks to talk to -- that our sailors have the ability to talk to. I've married into a Navy family. And obviously, I have a lot of friends with the Naval Air Station, Lemoore being in the district. A lot of constituents and friends who are sailors and have spent a lot of time away from family not having access to ways of communicating with their family.
Has that changed much over the years? Is that something we're looking into?
The ability to communicate with -- Person -- with their own family? Obviously, we want them to have access to people who are experts. But if they have -- they don't have that at least having access to talk to their own family to give them some sense of home. So over Thanksgiving, I went out to the USS Carl Vinson, served them Thanksgiving dinner.
And when we were out there, noted that they have something called O3B, which provides near constant access to the Internet. Obviously, operational concerns. They do shut it off from time to time, but sailors could face time from their personal device at sea. And we have something called Star -- Starlink?
Starlink, which is going to be far cheaper and we're able to put it on smaller platforms. And that's -- that's going to be coming in --. And incidentally the -- the Carl Vinson saw dramatic drop in suicide related behaviors after they installed O3B.
And so with people having access on it, you mentioned it, but that -- making sure that sailors aren't giving away any sort of critical mission details is obviously concerns, but we haven't seen any concerns on that front yet.
Well, to be honest with you, as a CI person, their -- there's always risk and that scares the crap out of me. But frankly, the way the ship has managed it with -- with what we call it mission control incom, [ph] they've -- they've done a great job.
And the Starlink you mentioned is the one that I think we've all heard about from the private side, right?
All right. Well, I appreciate that. And that's something obviously that there's a lot of concern from all of us.
And to the point, sir, that you made. The best part about that is with O3B, Vinson saw a dramatic drop in suicide related behaviors. There is something to being able to be connected when you're away from home.
Well, and even just in the last few days, I've had at least one spouse mentioned that they haven't communicated with their spouse in probably four weeks, so.
Not every unit has it, but they do have things like sailor phones, email and lots of other ways to communicate currently.
All right. Well, I appreciate that. Ms. Berger, on-base housing, it's great to hear that you're prioritizing visiting our bases. I can personally attest to that that you gain much deeper understanding of the issues facing our service members by seeing these facilities firsthand. And I'm sure you would agree that there is much to be done.
In your testimony, you mentioned you're working on a review of the unaccompanied housing facilities and a ten-year plan to address those facilities that are in unsatisfactory condition. Can you tell us about what you have seen so far?
Yes, I've had the opportunity to visit some of the unaccompanied housing and see firsthand. And as you noted leadership [inaudible] is important. We are taking our work as directed under the NDA to make sure that we have a ten-year plan with a focus first on those that are in the -- the worst day of repairs.
So our Q3, Q4 and making sure that we prioritize those first and will provide the report to -- to Congress as -- as requested with more detail.
Any idea when that report will be done?
I will need to check, but I think it's this summer that will have it.
Okay, I appreciate that because I think all of us are very interested in the results of that. And I'm sorry, I didn't notice the time. I'm out of time, so I yield back.
Thank you. The gentleman yields back. I'm adding leeway just because of how critical some of these topics really are. Okay. Mr. Bishop, you -- you're recognized for 5 minutes of questions and Mr. Bishop is virtual.
Thank you. Thank you very much, Madam Chair. Let me just emphasize the concerns that were raised by Chairwoman, Ms. DeLauro. She and I introduced legislation to try to address the situation with the infant formula. And I understand that it's a great deal -- it has a tremendous impact on the morale and welfare of our -- of the Navy personnel if their problems at home of feeding there -- their babies.
And of course, the shortage of the infant formula, the safety of the infant formula is something that has got to be vitally important to the quality of life of our military personnel. I would like to ask you if you would just comment on whether or not you have heard of concerns from service members and families with regard to that?
And if -- during the last several weeks where it has come to the forefront, there has been any -- any response at all with respect -- with respect to Navy personnel. Is APHIS and does the commissaries have access to adequate infant formula? Is it a problem with our military families just as it is with the broader general public?
Congressman Bishop, thank you again for the question, sir. Sir, I'll just make a comment that I mentioned before. The current challenge with baby formula highlights a longer problem that's been going on for some time, mostly COVID related originally complicated by our supply chain challenges during that period.
And now it's being highlighted once again with the baby formula issue. Here's what I would offer, sir, is -- is another just reinforcement on that point. The commandant and I traveled to Okinawa here a couple of months ago. That's about at the end of our -- of our supply chain when it comes to their support to our families, the commissaries exchanges in this thing.
And in those locations, it did not just occur in the last couple of weeks that there were a shortage of necessary items. So baby formula currently is -- isn't -- is an issue, but the overall challenge, sir, is not something new. So in a greater sense, the supply chain challenges that we have are -- are the root cause at this point of the challenges for our families in disparate locations.
Thank you. Please know that we're doing our darndest to try to get this bull by the horns and get it addressed. Let me turn to climate change for a moment. Could I ask you to -- the panel to comment on concerns with regard to changes in the naval operations as a result of climate change? And what has the Navy and Marine Corps done -- what have they done to implement resiliency for you with respect to climate change and sea -- sea levels which have accompanied that?
How -- how has that impacting naval operations? And what are the projections? And how are you going to handle it?
Congressman Bishop, the Department of the Navy has identified climate change and its impacts as a mission critical focus. It is something that impacts everything that we do from acquisition to execution of mission. And it is a warfighting imperative. We have identified critical -- critically in trouble installations on both coasts.
And we are looking across the enterprise at how we can be more resilient. This includes our buildings, the way that we are building and assessing the resilience. We have put installation resilience plans into effect across the Navy and will be soon complete on the Marine Corps. This is something that touches at every point, and I want to make sure to leave some time for my partners here to comment specifically on how impactful it is to them.
Yes, sir. Thank you very much for the question. Obviously, a lot of our Marine Corps and Navy bases are very close to the coastline, so mission readiness is absolutely vital in being able to combat against any threat that impacts that mission and our bases. We work very closely with our commands. We have a climate change handbook which allows us to better plan our base design.
We've increased work with academia in local communities who also in those areas suffer from the same things. And that is -- is a result of our -- results in us looking at higher standards, whether it be earthquake, hurricanes, whatever the case may be. In addition to that, we also use the climate assessment tool which gives a commander the potential impact to his base and also some degree of the exposure of his base.
We're also leveraging technology. The United States Naval Academy is a fantastic example of this where they have actually built a digital twin, which shows the impact to climate potential -- climate change over time. We're looking at being able to expand that to our other bases. And I can give you more examples, but I want to be courteous at the time.
Thank you, Congressman. Just to add to what both Admiral Williamson and Secretary Berger said. I completely concur with the impact that it has to our installations and the importance of resilience in the face of climate change. I would offer you as an example. The rebuilding of Camp Lejeune in the wake of Hurricane Florence.
Building to all the latest unified facilities criteria, re -- building in areas that are out of the 100 or 200 year flood plain. And then also leveraging other -- other things like installation, master planning efforts and microgrids to improve the resiliency of our -- of our power systems and our water systems aboard our installations to better protect against -- against the effects of climate change.
I believe my time has expired, but I thank you for your responses.
Thank you -- thank you, Mr. Bishop. The gentleman's time has expired. Mr. Rutherford, who is participating virtually, you're recognized for 5 minutes of questions.
Thank you, Madam Chair and Ranking Member. I'd like to follow up on Congressman Bishop's line of questioning on some of the shoreline repair projects. Assistant Secretary Berger, I understand there's an issue where some shoreline repair projects using sheet piling are designated as construction projects where -- that require millions of dollars, while other projects using Riprap are classified as repair projects and would require O&M [ph] dollars.
And my understanding is that the use of sheet piling is more cost effective, requires less of a footprint actually and is actually more -- has less environmental impact. So last year Assistant Secretary Schaffer said the department was working on classifying the definition -- reclassify and I guess the definition so that shoreline repair projects would be more easily accessible to installations.
Are -- can you tell me, are these discussions still continuing? And are you going to expand the definition of what qualifies as a repair project?
Congressman Rutherford, first agree that shoreline resilience is essential to making sure that we enhance our resilience. I was remiss as long as we are on this theme of climate and resilience. The Navy -- the Department of the Navy is soon to release its climate strategy and you'll see a lot of the items that you all are identifying reflected in there as we continue to move forward very purposefully on focusing on this type of resilience in the aggregate.
To your specific question, sir, I would need to go back and get you a firm answer on that. I do not know where the definition exchange is, but I am glad to follow up on that and give you a fuller answer.
That would be great. I know Marine Corps support facility in Blount Island specifically has some work that could certainly use a -- a redefinition. And so let me -- let me ask this question as well. The last time I visited Naval Station, Mayport, they reached me on the projects that they have developed to address resiliency issues on -- on the base there.
And it's my understanding that they were able to bundle all of their resiliency projects, it would cost $180 million in military construction. However, MILCOM process requires them to request each project individually. Our -- are you looking at ways that we can actually, you know, bundle these projects so that we can get better cost savings out of it?
Congressman, in terms of our acquisition strategies in general, we always look to make sure that we are getting the -- the best return on value for dollars. And so if there is an opportunity to package any of these projects that we are pursuing, whether because they are near in geography or they are of similarly suited need where we might be able to find inefficiency there, it's certainly something that we pursue.
This is also a place where we can make sure that we are considering our small business partners and taking a look to make sure that we're connecting those opportunities which can often be more of a challenge. So we use an eye towards that as well to make sure that we're inclusive of the people who can provide support services to us.
Okay. Thank you. And I'd like to jump back to privatized military housing. I know earlier Vice Admiral Williamson, Lieutenant General Banta, we -- we had a hearing earlier this year on the issues with military private -- privatized housing. And quite frankly, I was shocked to hear how many children were falling out of windows.
And I know in the FY '18 NDAA, the Navy was working to implement the Evans law that came out of that -- that bill to check back to retrofit these -- these windows of privatized military housing facilities. But I understand we've even had one child fall out of the building that had the retrofit. Is -- is anyone looking to make sure that -- that the retrofit is going to be sufficient to stop children from falling out?
Obviously, it's not right now because we've already had one fall out again. Can either of you answer that, what we're doing on that?
Sir, this is Admiral Williamson. I'm sorry, I was not tracking that incident, but you're absolutely right. If that did occur after we put the required compliance to prevent that, we absolutely will have to go back and take a look at it. So I'll be happy to come back to you, do the research and provide you any information I can find.
Thank you very much. And I -- Madam Chair, I see my time's expired.
Thank you, Mr. Rutherford. The gentleman's times expired. Ms. Pingree, you're recognized for 5 minutes of questions.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair. Thank you so much to all of the witnesses. I appreciate your service and your testimony today. I apologize. I've been going back and forth to other hearings and haven't had a chance to listen to all the questions. But let me ask a couple of things. I want to talk about something in the -- in the CIA. [ph] As you might know, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is in my district in Kittery, Maine.
And I want to address climate change issues there, which I know a couple of your recent questions have also done. Naval shipyards obviously are -- are very vulnerable to sea level rise. And a 2016 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that without efforts to prevent or reduce flooding, Portsmouth would be permanently impacted by increasingly frequent and severe tidal flooding.
And the threat of storm surge may become intolerable for shipyard operations. Fortunately, I know there are efforts underway at Portsmouth to address resilience need and to mitigate flood risk. Additionally, this subcommittee included language in the FY '22 report urging DOD to prioritize efforts to improve the resilience of military installations and to encourage installations to develop plans that take into account future and current -- current and future risk from extreme weather including sea level rise.
So Admiral Williamson, as part of the SIOP, I understand the Navy is formulated detailed area development plans intended to guide the key improvements at each shipyard based on modeling information developed as part of the shipyard's data collection efforts. How is the Navy incorporating data and modeling around climate risk including sea level rise into these plans?
And to what extent will the Navy prioritize infrastructure upgrades that specifically address installation resiliency?
Yes, ma'am. Thank you very much for the question. Obviously, as we build the detailed plans to build the shipyards back, the resilience of the shipyard is absolutely a priority. I'll give you a great example of the dry dock in Norfolk that's currently being constructed. We exceeded the NDAA language in the build back.
We went to the 300-year flood plain. As you mentioned using data. I talked about the Naval Academy and the modeling they did based upon the projected sea level rise there, how it will leverage that -- that data and apply it to all the shipyards to get a more holistic view of when we develop our projects that not only are we in accordance with the UFC standards, but also in accordance with resilience as it pertains to those shipyards.
Additionally, I think for all the shipyards, we're very dependent along -- on the local community. So also looking and partnering with the local community, local academia, as I mentioned, ODU down in Norfolk, University of Hawaii in Pearl Harbor to gain better understanding and leverage their learning. So that when we put back the shipyard that it will last, you know, for the next hundred years and also be resilient to any potential earthquake, flooding, hurricanes, all those things.
Thank you. And I -- I -- I so much appreciate that this is part of the focus because those of us who are in coastal communities in coastal states are -- are certainly worried about this. My other question is about the -- the Portsmouth dry dock extension project and I might run out of time, but I -- if we don't get a chance to answer, I'll be happy to get your answer afterwards.
You know, in -- in that -- in the current plan there's the ongoing multi-mission dry dock number one modernization project, which I think we all know is critical to East Coast maintenance and repair capabilities for the Virginia class submarines. We all know how critical those investments are. And years of underfunding in the shipyard infrastructure facilities and capital equipment, most of which is past its expected service life had left -- has left all four shipyards in poor condition.
I want to talk about the serious challenges the Navy has had in accurately assessing what this effort will cost. The initial price tag of $21 billion over ten years looks to be a significant underestimation. The GAO recently reported the dry dock costs alone have already exceeded the expected level by over 400 percent.
For Portsmouth in particular, we know the naval cost -- estimate for the multi-mission dry dock project was well off the mark. And without the additional funding that this committee was able to provide for FY '22, the project could have been disrupted due to the Navy's miscalculation. I'm just interested to know what specific lessons the Navy has learned from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard dry dock modernization project in terms of improving its cost estimates And how is the Navy applying these lessons learned to ensure that cost estimates for the future improvements of funding for Portsmouth and other dry dock projects are as accurate as possible?
I just used up the last minute of my time, so I know we'll move on to another member, but I really would appreciate if you could follow up in writing on that particular question. Thank you so much. I yield back, Madam Chair.
Thank you. The gentlelady yields back. And I assume your -- you'll be able to answer her question for the record. Thank you. The gentleman from Florida, Mr. Crist is recognized for 5 minutes.
Thank you, Madam Chair. Secretary Berger, I was pleased to see in your testimony that the Navy's investing in energy, climate and cyber resiliency in fiscal year 2023. As you know, there are Navy installations across Florida like in Pensacola, Key West, Jacksonville where the storm surges could inundate these installations and flood waters.
You touched on this briefly in your testimony, but can you expand on the investments the Navy is making to rapidly respond to extreme weather events?
Yes, Congressman and thank you for the question. Being from Florida, I know we both really appreciate the impacts that happen when we see the impacts of climate change.
Where in Florida are you from?
Fort Lauderdale, sir.
Excellent. Beautiful Broward.
Yes, beautiful Broward.
Please continue, thank you.
Yes, sir. But I grew up knowing about those impacts and so recognize them very forcefully and sharply as I think about it in the context of the Department of the Navy. And so the investments that we're making go across the spectrum, it is to harden our installations when we do have the opportunity to be strengthening, rebuilding, repairing when we see those impacts.
It is creating opportunities for resilience in terms of our energy. So that if we do see a storm impact come through, there is opportunity for both storage in that resilience so that we can continue with mission. It's making sure that we are thinking about what it means to be operating in this environment, everything from salinity to temperature to other impacts that we see on our installations.
And we are investing across the spectrum as we think about this. And I mentioned the strategy that is coming out. We think about this as climate readiness as mission readiness. And we see this as a warfighting imperative because we think about our installations at -- as the place from which we launch. And in every way that they are impacted, we are further challenged in the way that we execute.
And so for that reason that -- those are the types of investments we're making. Our energy resilience, making sure that we have that independence when we are impacted by storms, strengthening those installations and ensuring that the people who live there work there, train there and launch from there Are able to succeed in their mission.
Excellent. Hurricane Michael caused considerable disruption to shipbuilding operations in Panama City, Florida. There are many shipbuilding hubs just not on the Gulf Coast, but across the country that face similar risks. It's only a matter of time before we may see major damage to a shipyard from a hurricane or similar extreme weather event.
What are we doing to improve resiliency at shipyards, especially those where we are building vessels vital to our national defense security? Please.
Yes. As -- as Admiral Williamson mentioned in terms of shipyard resilience, that's a consideration as we do our planning in SIOP. We have to plan against flood plains, storm surges and some of the impacts that I just mentioned. I have had the chance to travel to shipyards where we are seeing these building and they are considering similar resilience efforts as -- as we consider as the Department of Navy.
And so whether it is in our public shipyards where we are focused and working or at our partners at private shipyards, they are similarly looking at opportunities to share energy resilience and other wise strengthen. They are often -- also lifting things up off the ground to make sure that it is at that higher flood plain.
So as I have had the chance to interact with our shipbuilding partners in the private sector as well, I have seen similar resilience measures to those types of considerations that Admiral William -- Williamson mentioned in his testimony.
Wonderful. Thank you very much. As a point of personal privilege, please give your father my regards. And I yield back, Madam Chair. Thank you.
The gentleman yields back. We're going to begin our second round. I would anticipate us wrapping up at 12:30. Master Chief Smith and then Sergeant Major Black, sexual assault continues to be a problem for DOD, including the Navy and Marine Corps. I would say, especially the Navy and Marine Corps in FY '20. And your annual report on sexual assault in the military, 1724 reports of sexual assault were filed in the Navy and Marine Corps.
I really would like to explore with you why there is such an exceedingly high number. Additionally, when breaking out the Marine Corps statistics in FY '20 in that report, sexual assault report rate skyrockets to 5 -- 5.9 reports of sexual assault per 1000 Marines, which is the highest rate of any service and the highest level since the Marine Corps started recording in 2010. So starting with -- with you Sergeant Major Black, can you explain to the subcommittee why that number is so high?
And for both of you, what is the problem in the Navy in the Marine Corps with sexual assault? And you're not being -- I don't feel like in the time that I've either been the chair or the ranking member that there has been an appreciable reduction on the contrary in -- in sexual assault in your service.
Madam Chairwoman, thank you for the question. Sexual harassment, sexual assault continues to be a top priority in the Marine Corps. I know you expect me to say that. Quite frankly, I'm not satisfied with the numbers myself. I can't tell you the continued support of this and all other members who are concerned about these actions inside of our services is beneficial.
I will point to some of the recent changes that I think are going to help us. The changes to military justice and how we're going to now be able to work through our sexual assault cases and in particular through the adjudication process and investigatory process. Those will help. I think the continuing education we provide to our leaders to our individual marines will continue to help.
I'm never satisfied with the conversation in that because when reporting goes up there's more trust. And because the actual number of sexual assaults has not necessarily come down. However, I do know there is continued trust in the chain of command because there are more reported. Few go unnoticed. Few go unaddressed.
And few go unadjudicated. In fact, none go unadjudicated. And I can provide separate numbers specific to our adjudications, ma'am, if you'd like in writing at the end of this. I think what we should not do is have a discussion about -- about what we should not be doing. And what we should not be doing is taking their eye off the ball.
I'm not giving you a satisfying answer either because the numbers haven't shown that there's actually anything occurring, ma'am. But I can tell you from me personally, I'm married to a retired marine, and I live every day with the experience of what a woman's career in the Marine Corps looks like. She's a retiree.
We've got two children. We've had a whole entire career inside the Marine Corps. And I can tell you right now that if -- that we should continue to -- continue to press this issue because until it -- until it -- we get the numbers going in the -- opposite direction, ma'am, I'm not satisfied any more than you are with where we're going.
Sergeant Major, what -- what new steps is the Marine Corps taking to tackle what is an unacceptable -- there's no sexual assault that's acceptable, but yours of any branch is unacceptably high. How are your efforts evolving year over year? What are you doing when you have, you know, a problem as serious as this and you have to do something disruptive?
And I'm not hearing you talk about any specific steps that you're taking to try to make an appreciable difference in reducing sexual assaults.
Ma'am, first of all, I'd like to offer you a long list of the things that the Marine Corps is doing. But that's a long-extended list, ma'am, and I don't think our time provides that. But what I'll tell you is that, again, as you talked about --.
Then then instead answer what you're doing to change the culture of the Marine Corps so that it's ingrained in everyone that sexual assault is absolutely unacceptable. And not tolerated.
And a change -- ma'am, the change in our Marine Corps is that our leaders are telling the marines what is right and wrong. I believe also the continued understanding of how we respect each other, no matter what our gender etc. is, is part of the solution here, ma'am. And I think that any continued changes that we have seen in military justice are going to help.
Culturally, ma'am, I don't -- I don't see systematic challenge. What I do see is in individuals that don't necessarily understand what is right and wrong. We need to continue to get after those individuals. But ma'am, I will not sit here in front of you and tell you that the Marine Corps has -- has a sexual issue.
This is -- Sergeant Major, this isn't about individuals. This is about your culture. If you have individuals, too many individuals that -- that don't understand that sexual assault is unacceptable and that they don't have the right to do whatever they want with another -- with a woman then -- then you've got a culture problem.
So is there anything being done programmatically to address the clear culture problem in the Marine Corps on this subject?
Ma'am, the culture -- the cultural challenges as you describe are individual issues. Culture of the Marine Corps is not one where sexual assault, ma'am, is acceptable. These are individual issues.
Then you're recruiting the wrong people and not -- not screening. If you're saying that by individual, you mean that you've got people who don't understand that are Marines that they can't just do whatever they want to a woman. And so that would -- that begs the question, do you have a screening problem.
Chris Mark and are you recruiting the wrong type of Marine who doesn't understand the sexual assault is a really serious problem among be tolerated?
We continue to look at our recruiting process, ma'am, for many reasons. We do. I can tell you that -- we take the very finest that we have and we recruit them. We bring them in to be marines. They become great marines. But there are individuals, ma'am, that once we have them we have to -- we have to continue to change the way that they are, the way that they think.
Okay, we're going to really -- I'm going to need you to come in and talk with me in -- in my office more specifically because your answers are really just not acceptable.
Thank you, ma'am. I appreciate the opportunity to talk. Frankly, to start with, and -- and I'll echo what Sergeant Major said. No answer is going to be good when we have numbers that are trending in the wrong direction, frankly. We continue to drive culture and ethics lower into our leadership training to the point where we are now discussing these things more robustly inside the boot camp envelope.
It starts actually in -- in the delayed entry program for sailors that are in it. And then in boot camp and beyond at every level of leadership training, we now talk more specifically and deliberately about culture and ethics and getting ahead of it. We did a task force which met with some scrutiny from members of this committee last year when I was questioned called Task Force One Navy.
And through it, we learned that we do have a lot of simmering issues to include racism to include bias to include misogyny. And frankly what Task Force One Navy informed us, and frankly, junior sailors have asked for is a change to our core values. Because as you pointed out when you started words matter.
And bringing respect, which is already mentioned in two of our three core values up to the top line and making it a fourth core value is something that the CNO has on his plate and he's preparing to talk to the Secretary of the Navy about. I'm not going to tell you that just adding a word to the core values is going to make everything better.
But when we start to institutionally talk more about as Sergeant Major and I have talked at these conferences, we do on -- on the national discussion on sexual assault, you don't assault someone you respect. You don't sexually assault someone you respect. And learning to treat our female teammates and frankly male on male sexual violence happens as well.
And it's very unreported. But all of these things, if you respect your teammates, you don't hurt them, you value them and you look to fold them in. It's -- that's -- it's in all ties together with what we talked about with regards to suicide, connectedness and belonging, and feeling like you have a place on the team, and you are valued.
And so we are preaching and teaching that at every level of leadership opportunity that we have.
Okay, I'll say the same. And I appreciate your -- your more empathetic answer, but I'd like an opportunity to talk with you further about this because culturally, there's something wrong. If individuals don't understand that sexual assault is unacceptable. I'm just going to take one additional minute to -- to ask this question and then -- and then I'll turn it over to Judge Carter.
As you know, on Monday, May 2nd, an initial draft majority opinion was leaked, which will likely result in the Supreme Court voting down the landmark Roe versus Wade decision. If the opinion goes unchanged in its final form, there will be massive ramifications for women, including those in the armed services.
Women in the military already have a higher rate of unintended pregnancies than civilian women. Currently, the Defense Health Agency has the limited authority to only provide abortions in the cases of rape, incest or danger to a woman's life. For those female soldiers in states with restrictive abortion laws, their options for safe abortions might be completely erased if Roe V Wade is overturned.
Last week, the Army told the subcommittee they were crafting policy to address this situation. Master Chief Smith and Sergeant Major Black are the Navy and Marine Corps, also working on a policy to protect and support female service members and their families if Roe versus Wade is overturned? Master Chief?
Ma'am, I would just say that I -- I think ahead of any change in the law, it would be premature for me to comment on what the surgeon general, the CNO and the secretary may be doing within the Navy.
I'm just asking if there's any policy being worked on now in anticipation of that possibility.
Ma'am, I'd have to take that for the record and go back and talk to the surgeon general and some others in our chain of command to find out and get back to you.
Okay. Sergeant Major?
Ma'am, likewise, but no specific change yet. In terms of the law, I'm not aware, but we can come back on the record, ma'am, and answer that question for you.
Okay. And then I just ask both of you, what would the department -- will the department do to offset the expected impact on recruitment and retention of qualified female troops if this does -- if the decision is handed down who currently make up 20 percent of the active-duty force?
Again, ma'am, ahead of any change in the law, I -- I have no idea what this might do to retention or recruitment. I -- I think we'll have to take a hard look at that if -- if the law actually changes.
Ma'am, again, likewise, I'm not certain what -- what Roe v Wade has to do with our recruitment and how that would affect retention, ma'am. I just don't know at this point. We have no data to support that.
You already have really restrictive policies. And in states where access to abortion care might be completely eliminated. Obviously, it would be really difficult and impact retention because the percentage of female -- the percentage of female troops that -- that end up unexpectedly pregnant is higher than the average population.
So you would be disproportion -- if you aren't aware of that already, you would be disproportionately impacted. So it is something that you should definitely go back and suggest be looked at more carefully. Thank you for your indulgence, Dr. Carter. You're recognized for 5 minutes.
Thank you, Madam Chairman. The Army and Air Force have reported that they are expecting projects for FY '23 cost -- to cost between 25 and 30 percent more. What increases does the Navy anticipate? Why wasn't the increase factored into the budget request question mark. And as you begin preparing for '24 when you factor in inflation to your request?
We -- we, Ranking Member, are mindful of a moving inflation target and supply chain impacts and others that can impact the cost. We are watchful of that and especially as we look forward continue to monitor it. But do see that we have had that impact -- '22 where we're seeing that impact now is as we look at the mid-year.
And we'll continue to be watchful of that in terms of what inflation impacts will -- will be considered. But we have taken that into account and anticipate that we'll need to be watchful of unanticipated things and mindful of that.
Thank you. Because that's your job. We -- we need you to help us keep up with that stuff. Shipyard -- the shipyard infrastructure program will cost billions and billions of dollars, and it will take up to 20 years. And I understand the cost of these. They are four big projects. However, I'm concerned -- concerned about 20 years because we just heard in the big committee about what's going on in the Pacific.
And quite honestly that's -- that 20-year timeline is not acceptable. And what can we do to -- to get that better? I don't want us to lose sight of our original goal and get sidetracked. Just tell me what you think about the timeline. Is it realistic? And can we speed it up? If Congress can provide additional funding in '23, could you use it? Are there other ways this subcommittee can support a program such as just the planning and design funding that can speed the process along?
Yes, sir. thank you very much for the question. As the site op matures, obviously the dry docks were a must do. We had to do that. We had Virginia class and Ford coming out. That -- absolutely must do. But when you look at the other two LOEs associated with the dry docks, obviously the recapitalization of our infrastructure that being equipment, what we -- what the workers actually use.
But then the -- the actual optimization piece. As we develop our area development plans and those become more mature, we're beginning to get clearer vision of what the critical path is. We have to build the shipyard while we're maintaining the ships that go through the shipyard. As we mature that process, I do believe there are some tremendous opportunities to pull things to the left.
Matter of fact, in our budget we have set aside a lot of resources for PND money as we begin to see clear. Additionally, I believe as we mature that and we understand better the market, obviously right now you mentioned inflation had a tremendous impact on some of the projects. We've looked at that going forward to keep those on track.
We've added money into the projects. Additionally, we've also found that adding additional PND money and getting to about a 30 to 40 percent design is also very critical in ensuring that we maintain -- maintain our momentum. We're also very grateful of the ads that you provided us last year that helped us move.
We're also looking at our environmental studies. We're looking at all the digital twins, the digital threads that we're developing now, which should add to that maturity and allow us to come back to Congress with full transparency on what that plan is going to look like in the future, sir.
Well, you know, we -- we could get in the future in a situation where no new starts can -- can be not funded. Therefore, we need to get high behind getting every one of these four shipyards as a beginning board. So we're not stuck -- we're stuck with a CR somewhere down the line with a no new start issue.
So I encourage you and I encourage the secretary to look hard about what we can do to assist you. But quite honestly, we are way behind in shipbuilding as compared with our -- our potential enemy in the Pacific. And they're just rolling them out faster than you can imagine. And they may be junk, but the rolling them out.
And we got -- we've got to be able to be ready when the time comes. I have -- if anything's going to keep me up at night, that's going to be it.
So do you -- put your thinking cap on and see the ways we can begin to look at every shipyard and give us at least some kind of start on the -- process so if we run up against a CR, which we all hate, then we can still have an issue to do some things, Okay?
Thank you. I yield back.
The gentleman's time -- time has expired. He yields back. Mr. Case, you are recognized for 5 minutes.
Thank you, Madam Chair. Secretary Berger, we've all been through a long and difficult and intense six months plus on the Navy bulk fuel storage facility at Red Hill. Thank you for your own efforts. We obtained through this Congress and through the President funding for FY 2022 $1.1 billion-plus, which is rapidly being used.
The president came back for FY 2023 and his budget coming out of DOD with a $1 billion request for FY 2023. But to my knowledge, we don't have the details of exactly what will be requested and towards what so that we can make informed decisions. At least I haven't seen it yet. Do you know whether there is a -- what is the status of the further evaluation of the request on the Red Hill funding at $1 billion?
Which -- which by the way I completely support. I think we're going to be north of $1 billion even in FY 2023 as we sort through this really, really difficult process of -- of -- you know, stabilizing, remediating d fueling and closing Red Hill, which is all happening in a very short period of time and locating alternative bulk fuel storage facility or other capabilities for our country.
so a straight appropriators question, where's -- where's the detail?
Congressman just a quick thank you for the time we got to spend together in Hawaii. I really appreciated your perspective, especially as we at the front end of what will be an enduring and purposeful focus on making sure that we remediate and -- and follow everything through to its end in direct -- in keeping with the Secretary of Defense's direction, but also the environmental and community -- commitments that we have there that are critically important.
As for the funding, this is a please and thank you for the funding that we -- we got this year as well to be able to get after some of these really critically important focuses. Going forward, we'll have environmental remediation to do. We will have support of closure per the secretary's direction. We'll have community aspects to focus on to include health, environmental wellness and other aspects.
And so I will take back and work with OSD, who is the overall overseer of this funding and so working purposefully with them, but also, we'll make sure to get you the details that you're looking for.
But do you have the expectation that it will be a $1 billion -- it will continue to be a $1 billion request in this FY 2023 for the totality of Red Hill out of DOD?
Out of DOD, I -- I don't want to speak for DOD since it is ultimately a Department of Defense request, but it is something I can take back to make sure you get a good answer, sir.
Okay. And also just obviously this -- this -- this subcommittee has a significant piece of that, but so -- so obviously do other subcommittees especially ACT D. [ph] Thank you. Admiral Williamson, back to SIOP. And appreciate all of your interaction and efforts on SIOP, on the shipyards. I endorse everything that Congressman Pingree talked about.
I'm looking forward to your answer to her question. On Pearl Harbor in particular, we of course, are part of SIOP Dry Dock 3. Is a major improvement necessary for the next class of subs? We're on a tight, tight timetable. We've worked, I think well with you. You have it in your budget. You have it in your out years.
I think we're -- you know, not -- I want to -- I don't want to say on track on these projects, but certainly it's coming along. The waterfront production facility was a critical part of SIOP for Pearl Harbor, which was left out altogether of this budget and future year defense planning. Over on the Senate side, last week, my colleague and coconspirator on this Congress -- sorry, Senator Hirono directly as secretary -- Assistant Secretary Stefani [ph] to commit to a review of the waterfront production facility, which is -- which is designed for efficiencies and cost benefits over the long run.
And you've been to Pearl Harbor, and you know that you can build a world class dry dock, but if you don't have the production facilities to go with it, then you're going to lose the efficiencies of that dry dock, much less the -- the utilization of it. And so can I ask for your commitment similarly to the Senate side to go back and take a look at the waterfront production facility as to -- as to putting it back on your tracking in future years?
Yes, sir. Thank you very much for the question and the support obviously for the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard. As a way of an update, the plan in engineering, as you know is done this year. We're going into design next year with construction to start in '27. We're looking right now very actively of balancing not only the waterfront support facility, but also that with the construction of the dry dock.
It's very critical that we don't get those two things in contrast with each other. But you have my commitment to come back to you with a more detailed answer.
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Madam Chair. Another issue that's obviously going to have an impact on morale is inflation in supply chain. Master Chief Smith, Sergeant Major Black, either one can respond to this. But inflation in the supply chain concerns have driven up prices around the country and our service members are feeling the pain just as much as the rest of us. Some of my constituents have expressed concern about Ray's -- rising food and supply costs at the commissaries.
And a Blue Star Families survey noted that 14 percent of the enlisted active-duty families are concerned about food security. From a quality of life and force readiness standpoint, are there any other flex -- additional flexibilities or resources you may need to ensure our military families basic needs are being met?
Sir, thank you for the question. I'll go first. It's -- it's an additional portion of what Mr. Bishop had asked, sir. Sir, the answer is all yes. Inflation impacts all of us. It impacts us in this room. It definitely impacts our junior service members. And our youngest marines right now feel the largest impact to -- to inflation.
That inflation cost is found in our food costs, whether it's in a commissary, which generally is below the -- outside the base market, but definitely outside the base because, well, a lot of our marines live out there as well. Challenges with BAH rates, not only are our we impacted by -- impacted by inflation.
The -- the challenges of flexible BAH rates that move as fast as the housing market does, obviously, those two things online. Those are impacts to our families. The challenges to our supply chain. I mentioned our disparate locations, which obviously would be a concern of all of us in this room. Being here in the United States, there's more access.
When you're in a location such as and again, I'll mention Okinawa or Guam. That's as far away as you can be from the proverbial flagpole, things get there last. And when they get there, they're at a greater cost. So inflation impacts that whole spectrum. It goes from childcare costs. It goes down to all the things we've spoken about -- about here.
Those are cost to our families. That cost to our families -- we have a saying in the Marine Corps, I think all the servers are shared. You might recruit a marine, but you retain a family. And if we can't get a handle on those costs that are in burdened by our families, then that's going to impact our retention.
So there's kind of a holistic look at it, sir.
Sir, thank you. The -- frankly the -- the danger in going second is he said most of the things that matter. But -- but frankly I can't overstate --.
I'm just going go to the third question here. I mean, we got a lot of great questions and obviously we struggle.
I can't overstate how important the commissaries are to our folks because that does put affordable food in -- in front of them and gives them the opportunity to purchase it.
Yeah, that's an issue that we've been struggling with here and it affects a lot of us on a lot of different fronts. But obviously the cost is something that has to have a huge impact on -- on the -- all of our enlisted sailors, marines, airmen, everyone. So next one on the infrastructure. Vice Admiral Williamson, the Navy's facilities maintenance backlog and I know this has been touched upon already, but it is something we really need to push on. Our backlog is hovering around $21.9 billion, while the fiscal year '23 budget request includes $3.5 billion for facility sustainment and restoration, I'm concern that we are critically behind in our maintenance And while I welcome and encourage new construction, we must prioritize facility sustainment and modernization, otherwise our investments rapidly lose their value and degrade overall readiness.
I did have a trip a few years back that we traveled to Okinawa and Japan and saw some of our facilities and I'm still surprised by deterioration of some of the buildings. I mean to the point where the guys were actually having chips, flakes of metal fall on them as they were working on engines because the roof was so deteriorated.
What's the plan? What's -- how are we moving forward from this, especially since the request was so low?
Yes, sir. Thank you very much for the question. Absolutely, I concur. And part of the -- the strategy that -- that I talked about in my opening comments is actually aimed exactly at what you talk about. Our self-talk is we have so much infrastructure, we can't afford it. My first question is okay, what did you demo?
So how do we systematically look at the infrastructure we have and relate it to an operational outcome? As we look at those mission capability chains, that should give us some insight in what's needed, not needed. Because I'm not simply going to be able to get $21 billion to sustain what I have. Additionally, moving forward, our self-talk, we got to get innovative about this.
Our self-talk is I build a building that has a life expectancy of 67.5 years. I have care -- carriers in our -- or hangers in our inventory that are approaching 100 years of life. And yet I'm putting the brand-new generation aircraft in it. We talked about the impact of the sailor. You know, I have to leave and go to another hangar to use the head.
I'm working in an unlighted facility. It's time for those to go. So can I buy back ten of those for the same price as a brick and mortar would cost me? Can I still meet the fleet's requirements? Those things will also help us drive down and better highlight which pieces of critical infrastructure we need to sustain.
Additionally, I think -- and you know, we talked about SIOP. We're about to spend a lot of taxpayer's money on SIOP. How much is it going to cost us to own it and sustain it properly for the next 100 years? Those are all things we're doing to get after it. We have to drive down our footprint and also be very focused on our investments and also be very innovative in our approaches to being able to solve this problem, sir.
My time is up, so I appreciate it. And I yield back.
Thank you. The gentleman yields back. And Mr. Bishop, you are recognized for 5 minutes.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair. The Marine Corps logistics base in Albany, Georgia is a vital component of the Marine Corps logistical operations, and it houses the command and has the headquarters. It's home to the Marine Corps Logistic Command's Maintenance Center. And they recently achieved the platinum level in the sector of the Navy's Energy Excellence Awards, which will be officially declared net zero emission status, I think next week.
I'm very proud of their efforts in combating that, so I just kind of wanted to highlight that and give them a salute. But General Banta, you included Albany's Consolidated Communications Facility at the Marine base as one of your MILCOM unfunded priorities. I believe very strongly that this facility is worthy of an investment of taxpayer dollars as it will serve the -- as the installation service notes to support innovation with the realm of robotics industrial technology.
It is one of my top priorities for the Marine Corps and I'd like to get some indication from you as to how we can get that moved up to your higher priority so that we can get -- get that done. Another priority of mine is to support the Albany base's agreement to co-locate an Army Reserve center from the 81st Veterans Division of the Army Reserves.
The Army Reserves will manage the construction, but we'll be depending upon the Marine Corps to check back to provide the necessary oversight and project support so they can meet their project timelines and milestones. It's an efficient and effective use of MILCOM funds across services. And I'd like to check back to check back to have your comments on those -- those items, if you could.
Congressman, thank you very much for the question and also for acknowledging our logistics base. Albany's accomplishment as the first net zero installation for the Marine Corps is certainly worth -- worth acknowledging, so thank you for that. To your point about the -- the relative positioning of the projects on Albany in terms of moving it up, our -- our unfunded priority list is prioritized based on those projects that provide the greatest value back to the commandant's priorities, particularly with force design and with supporting the budget themes that he has.
So I could come back to you perhaps with a more detailed discussion on that, but right now we feel that it's appropriately sited on our unfunded priority list relative to other projects. In terms of the -- the Army Reserve unit coming to Albany, I am aware of that issue. I don't have that much information on it right now.
If it would be okay, I would like to be able to take that for the record and come back. But I do agree that if there are opportunities where we can co-locate DOD commands aboard installations, and it makes sense from both a fiscal perspective and is a better use of taxpayer dollars than we should consider that.
Sir, I hope that is sufficient for an initial answer to your question. I'd be happy to come back to you with more details.
Thank you very much. I would like to -- to -- I do have some follow up with you in that regard, maybe have some discussions about how we can be able to establish the justification for moving it up. So perhaps the commandant can perhaps look at -- take a second look at it. And of course, it's my understanding that there's already an agreement to -- to locate the Army Reserve Center on the base.
It's just a matter of meeting the timelines and having all of the support in place and the necessary logistics to meet the project timelines. I just kind of wanted to bring that to your attention and lift it up to make sure that the Marine Corps did all that it could do to make sure that -- that the trains run on time in getting that done.
Congressman, thank you. I'll make sure that we get back to you with information on both of those issues.
Thank you very much. My time is about to expire, so I will yield back.
Thank you, Mr. Bishop. The gentleman yields back. I believe there are no other members who are planning to ask a question in the second round. And so that concludes today's hearing. I want to thank all of our witnesses for participating and for their service. Obviously, your testimony here today will help us as we begin to craft the FY '23 Appropriations Bill.
We appreciate your service and look forward to continuing this important work with you. The committee staff will be in contact with your Budget Office regarding questions for the record and then we'll have several questions to submit as came up. And you have some -- some follow up for us as well. And I'd imagine other members of the subcommittee will have additional questions to submit for the record.
If you'd please work with OMB to return the information for the record to the subcommittee within 30 days of receiving them, we'll be able to publish the transcript of today's hearing and make informed decisions for FY '23. I want to remind members that our next hybrid hearing is the MILCOM VA member day, which is tomorrow, May 19th at 9 a.m. And with that, this hearing is adjourned.
List of Panel Members
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FLA.), CHAIRWOMAN
REP. SANFORD BISHOP (D-GA.)
REP. ED CASE (D-HAWAII)
REP. CHELLIE PINGREE (D-MAINE)
REP. CHARLIE CRIST (D-FLA.)
REP. DAVID TRONE (D-MD.)
REP. SUSIE LEE (D-NEV.)
REP. ROSA DELAURO (D-CONN.), EX-OFFICIO
REP. JOHN CARTER (R-TEXAS), RANKING MEMBER
REP. DAVID G. VALADAO (R-CALIF.)
REP. JOHN RUTHERFORD (R-FLA.)
REP. ANTHONY GONZALES (R-TEXAS)
REP. KAY GRANGER (R-TEXAS), EX-OFFICIO
US MARINE CORPS DEPUTY COMMANDANT OF INSTALLATIONS AND LOGISTICS FOR THE MARINE CORPS EDWARD BANTA
DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF THE NAVY FOR ENVIRONMENT, INSTALLATIONS AND ENERGY MEREDIT H BERGER
US MARINE CORPS SERGEANT MAJOR OF THE MARINE CORPS TROY BLACK
DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY MASTER CHIEF PETTY OFFICER OF THE NAVY RUSSEL SMITH
DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY DEPUTY CHIEF OF THE NAVAL OPERATIONS FOR FLEET READINESS AND LOGISTIC RICKY WILLIAMSON
18 May 2022
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