U.S. Senator Tom Udall has joined the Senate in voting 70-27 for a major defense policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The bill — the result of an agreement between the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives — includes several priorities Udall has championed for New Mexico. In addition to programs important for New Mexico’s military bases and national laboratories, the bill includes Udall’s measure to strengthen the open-air burn pits registry he created to help veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals and fumes while deployed overseas.
“This bill is important for New Mexico’s labs and military bases, as well as our troops and defense employees,” Udall said. “I fought to include several policies that will support research at our labs, strengthen our bases by continuing construction projects, and sustain thousands of jobs. I’m especially proud that the bill enables us to continue to build the open-air burn pits registry so that we can improve our work to help our troops and veterans suffering from illnesses related to inhaling toxic fumes in Iraq and Afghanistan get the care and treatment they need.”
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 (WIPP). Further, the bill authorizes funding to continue the B61 Life Extension Program, which supports jobs at Los Alamos and Sandia national labs, and the Chemistry and Metallurgy Replacement Project at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).
While the NDAA is an authorization bill, meaning it sets policy and planned spending levels for federal agencies, these measures will be funded through the appropriations process. A member of the Appropriations Committee, Udall added that he is disappointed that the House and Senate conference committee did not reach an agreement to end across-the-board cuts known as sequestration. Instead, the NDAA funds additional defense needs through a one-time loophole that does not allow the budget certainty that New Mexico troops and military communities need to plan for the future.
“These gimmicks will weaken our national defense and New Mexico communities, while creating uncertainty about future funding for our troops and their families,” Udall said. “I supported an amendment to the NDAA in the Senate 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 in the final bill. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I will keep fighting to end sequestration and provide the resources and support needed to keep our national defense and our military communities strong.”
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 5 percent to 7 percent.
– Authorization for funding for New Mexico’s national labs and WIPP.
– 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 (RPAs).
– Authorization for constructing a Marshalling area at Holloman Air Force base to support the F-16 training mission.