U.S. Senator Tom Udall joined the Senate in voting 71-25 for the bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets policy for defense and national security programs, including several priorities Udall has championed for New Mexico. In addition to fighting for New Mexico’s military bases and national laboratories, Udall successfully included a measure in the bill that strengthens the open-air burn pits registry he created to help veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals and fumes while deployed overseas.
The NDAA authorizes several new military construction projects at Cannon, Holloman and Kirtland Air Force bases. Additionally, it encourages investment in infrastructure at White Sands Missile Range and increased Laboratory Directed Research and Development at the national labs. It also authorizes funding for New Mexico’s national labs and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, including a $20 million increase for cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to help resume safe processing of transuranic waste drums. Further, the bill authorizes funding to continue the B61 Life Extension Program, which supports jobs at LANL and Sandia, and the Chemistry and Metallurgy Replacement Project at LANL.
“New Mexico’s military bases and national labs are doing vital work to keep our nation safe and find innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems,” Udall said. “This bill advances several policies that will strengthen our labs and bases and sustain thousands of jobs. I am also proud to have fought to include provisions to support research at our national labs, the open-air burn pits registry and military construction projects at New Mexico’s military bases.”
NDAA is an authorization bill, meaning it sets policy and planned spending levels for federal agencies. These measures are actually funded through separate legislation in the appropriations process. Udall, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said that while he voted for the NDAA, he is disappointed that Republicans are continuing to apply damaging across-the-board cuts (known as sequestration) to appropriations bills and funding additional defense needs through a one-time loophole. These gimmicks will weaken our national defense and New Mexico communities, while creating uncertainty about future funding for our troops and their families. Udall supported an amendment to the NDAA that would have removed the budget loophole from the bill and encouraged Congress to end sequestration cuts to all programs, but the amendment was not incorporated.
“I’m disappointed the bill uses budget gimmicks and loopholes to get around sequestration cuts without lifting draconian caps on nondefense spending. This is a poorly planned short-term fix that will have long-term negative implications,” said Udall, who has worked to end sequestration. “Across-the-board spending cuts have hurt our state’s economy and cost New Mexicans’ jobs. Medicare, education, law enforcement and other programs need adequate funding, and play an equally important role in keeping our nation strong. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I will keep fighting to support our national security along with all the initiatives New Mexico families depend on.”
In addition to measures important to New Mexico’s military bases and labs, Udall supported numerous new provisions in the NDAA that impact New Mexico, including:
– An amendment Udall authored to require the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to share information relating to the exposure of members of the Armed Forces to airborne hazards and open burn pits.
– A provision based on a bill Udall introduced to increase the maximum percentage each laboratory director may set aside for Laboratory Directed Research and Development from 6 to 10 percent of the lab’s budget.
– Authorization for funding for New Mexico’s national labs and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, including a $20 million increase for cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory to help resume safe processing of transuranic waste drums.
– Authorization for construction projects at Cannon Air Force Base, including a pumphouse, fuel storage, a squadron operations facility, training facilities and a new entry control gatehouse.
– Authorization for constructing a Space Vehicles Component Development Lab at Kirtland Air Force Base.
– Authorization to build a new Fixed Ground Control Station at Holloman Air Force Base, which will be used to accommodate the growing number of Remotely Piloted Aircraft missions.
– Authorization for constructing a Marshalling area at Holloman Air Force base to support the F-16 training mission.