Congresswoman expects to see construction begin on the new Marine base this year where Government of Japan funds will be used for initial infrastructure development.
Guam – Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo delivered her annual report on federal issues beginning with a discussion about Guam’s self-determination.
Bordallo urged island leaders to “begin the process of educating the public of their status options and to schedule a political status vote.” The Congresswoman said she is expecting “a favorable decision soon” on a grant proposal to receive funding from the OIA for an educational campaign on self-determination and Guam’s political status options.
Bordallo also spoke about the economy and it’s tourism cornerstone. She spoke about continuing the push for a China visa-waiver but she also noted that there are emerging middle classes in Southeast Asia that Guam could tap into as new markets for tourists. She called on Governor Calvo to “exercise authority provided in the 2008 Consolidated Natural Resources Act to petition DHS to add Vietnam and the Philippines to the Guam-CNMI visa waiver program.”
The Congresswoman talked about the progres made on the Guam military buildup. She touted her work on last year’s defense bill in which there was $272 million for military construction projects on Guam and her work to lift restrictions on $106 million for civilian water and wastewater projects that were provided in previous appropriations bills. She also said President Obama’s FY17 budget request provides nearly $250 million in military construction projects in Guam. It includes over $80 million to complete water and wastewater infrastructure improvements as well as additional funding for a public health lab. She promised to continue to push to remove restrictions on a cultural repository and public health lab in the House’s defense bill. She said this year we should expect to see construction begin on the new Marine base where Government of Japan funds will be used for initial infrastructure development. She re-itterated Guam’s delinkage from the delays of the Futenma base move in Okinawa but she also stated “We cannot let our guard down especially as we look towards a new Administration next year.”
READ BORDALLO’S FULL SPEECH BELOW:
Hafa Adai Governor Calvo, Speaker Won Pat, Chief Justice Torres, distinguished guests and my dear people of Guam:
I am honored to stand before you this evening to report on federal issues important to our island and our people. Over the past 13 years, we have made progress on a variety of issues and overcome challenges that face our community. I have worked hand in hand with our elected leaders and our community stakeholders to advocate for federal policies that improve the quality of life on Guam and provide better opportunities for families and future generations. I believe our “One Guam” strategy is critical to our success and we are beginning to see the fruits of this strategy bear out. I am humbled by the trust and confidence the people of Guam continue to place in me to represent them in the U.S. Congress.
As we begin this evening, we can’t overlook the unique discourse that has been taking place in the national primary. The debate we see unfolding is unlike what we normally see here on Guam. Our culture and heritage frown upon such distasteful commentary and insults. So I commit that I won’t be criticizing the size of anyone’s hands or calling them liars, phonies, or even LOW ENERGY. I would never make such comments about my political opponents.
Any discussion on our work to improve the quality of life on Guam should begin with our efforts to resolve the longstanding question of our political status with the United States and our efforts to exercise our right to self-determination. Resolving our political status is an important long-term goal that will give our people an opportunity to determine the political future of our island. I continue to support efforts to provide federal resources that will help educate our people about legal status options that are available to them. I commend local leaders and the Commission on Decolonization who continue to keep this issue at the forefront and who recently submitted a request to the Office of Insular Affairs to fund a political status education campaign. While this is a local issue that we must decide for ourselves, I am committed to supporting initiatives that encourage our action on self-determination.
I was pleased when last month, Assistant Secretary Esther Kia’aina and the Office of Insular Affairs hosted a conference that brought together island leaders, federal government officials, policy experts, and island stakeholders to discuss the political statuses of Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa. I commend UOG president and our former Congressman, Dr. Robert Underwood, for outlining the legislative and political history of Guam’s self-determination efforts, and the challenges that we have faced in moving this process along.
I have been encouraged by recent progress we have made, and I appreciate the leadership that the Office of Insular Affairs has taken to assist us with our efforts. I continue to urge our local leaders to begin the process of educating the public of their status options and to schedule a political status vote. I have been in close contact with Assistant Secretary Kia’aina regarding the proposal that Guam submitted for setting up a political status education campaign. I know that she is seriously looking at the proposal, and I expect a favorable decision soon. This grant award will be in line with federal legislation I passed in 2010 that clarified the ability of OIA to provide funds for political status education. The grant will also be in line with commitments that I secured from former Assistant Secretary Tony Babauta and Assistant Secretary Kia’aina. I hope that these funds will provide the initial investment needed to move this process along. I will work to ensure that our island receives any additional federal support to promote our self-determination efforts.
While we make progress in resolving our political status, I continue to work diligently to improve opportunities for our working families, the middle class, and the underprivileged. It is imperative that we build a strong economy that provides good paying jobs, is able to sustain our families, and gives our children a brighter future.
A cornerstone of our economy is a robust tourism industry. I continue to work with local leaders and stakeholders to bolster our tourism industry. Guam is a major hub for international travel between the U.S. mainland and the Asian continent. I have worked cooperatively with the Guam Visitors Bureau, the Guam International Airport, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other local stakeholders to address issues that have arisen.
I share concerns that visitors to our island are experiencing long immigration processing times when they arrive. The airport is the first impression visitors have of Guam and a key component of GVB’s marketing campaign is to promote Guam as a convenient and family friendly destination. These long-processing times, which in some cases exceed the length of the flight visitors take to reach Guam, are unacceptable. I thank GVB General Manager Nathan Denight and Board Member Therese Arriola for bringing this issue to my attention. I have written to and had discussions with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to request that they secure additional officers and deploy technologies that could help alleviate these long wait-times. I have a commitment from CBP that they will work to ensure that Guam International Airport has the resources to meet the immediate demands resulting from FESTPAC. I know that CBP leadership will authorize overtime for officers and monitor daily the passenger loads to see if even more resources are needed to process visitors on Guam. I still urge CBP leadership to add more personnel on Guam as well. In the long-term I will work with our local stakeholders and CBP to install new technology at the airport to automate forms required under the Guam-CNMI visa waiver program. I believe this may help expedite and improve visitors’ experiences at the airport over the long-term.
Additionally I continue to work with local leaders and our federal partners to diversify the tourists we target and include additional countries in our visa-waiver program. I thank Senator Tina Muna Barnes, who has been instrumental to maintaining our vibrant visitor industry, as well as Senator Dennis Rodriguez for their leadership on these important endeavors. I have supported the Obama Administration’s efforts to work a reciprocal agreement with China to offer up to 10 year visas for visitors to our respective countries. Over time, I believe that we will be able to attract repeat Chinese visitors to Guam using the 10 year visa. I appreciate that our local partner United Airlines has established permanent flights between Guam and Shanghai and in the years to come I believe that other routes can be developed as we bolster the Guam brand in the Chinese market. However, we cannot lose sight of other countries that have a developing middle class in Asia. Let us get ahead of curve and work to attract those visitors to our island. Countries, particularly in Southeast Asia have growing middle class populations that have disposable income and want to travel. Consistent with this idea, I commend Sonny Ada and the Guam Chamber of Commerce for urging the inclusion of Vietnam and Senator Rodriguez for his advocacy to include the Philippines in our visa waiver program.
I now call on Governor Calvo to exercise authority provided in the 2008 Consolidated Natural Resources Act to petition DHS to add Vietnam and the Philippines to the Guam-CNMI visa waiver program. Governor, I commit to work with you, local stakeholders and our federal partners to address any challenges that may arise in this endeavor. We have made great progress in developing our tourism industry, but let us build on it and continue to innovate and further diversify our tourism portfolio.
Another component of our economic improvement is the progress we have made in moving forward with the realignment of Marines from Okinawa to Guam. Over the past two years, we have worked hard to ensure that this important strategic and economic endeavor remains on track. This whole-of-community effort requires effective coordination, communication, and also patience, but tangible developments are becoming more commonplace. We have come a long way in the past several years, and I am pleased that several benchmarks and conditions placed by the U.S. Senate have been met and addressed.
Last summer, the Department of the Navy published the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and corresponding Record of Decision, which were key steps in formalizing the relocation process. These decisions were the result of thorough consideration of public and resource agency comments, interagency discussions, and most importantly, input from our community. Further, last December the Port Authority dedicated the expansion project which was funded by $50 million from the Department of Defense. While the funding was meant to address the immediate impacts of increased cargo loads resulting from the build-up, it helps to relieve a potential chokepoint in our own civilian economy. I was proud to fight for and support this funding and I appreciate the efforts of Senator Tom Ada and past and present Port leadership in working to modernize our Port to support our economy.
With support from our local leaders and our entire community, I have been able to secure significant funds related to the build-up. In last year’s defense bill, I worked with my colleagues to provide $272 million for military construction projects on Guam. These projects build off of our past efforts to harden facilities and develop site and infrastructure capabilities, and they are a firm indication that progress continues to be made. Additionally, I worked to lift restrictions on $106 million for civilian water and wastewater projects that were provided in previous appropriations bills. These funds will help GovGuam upgrade our existing water and wastewater system and is part of the DoD’s commitment to ensuring that the buildup is also good for Guam’s civilian community. These benchmarks and investments were made as Congress continues to impose deep cuts to all discretionary spending. However, despite the challenging fiscal environment in Washington, I continue to make progress on our issues and advocate for consistent funding for projects related to the build-up.
President Obama’s FY17 budget request provides nearly $250 million in military construction projects in Guam. This investment continues to demonstrate our commitment to the strategy and that the realignment is moving forward. The budget also requests over $80 million to complete water and wastewater infrastructure improvements as well as additional funding for the public health lab. As in previous years, I will work to remove restrictions on funds I have already secured for a cultural repository and public health lab in the House’s defense bill. Furthermore, this year we should expect to see construction begin on the new Marine base where Government of Japan funds will be used for initial infrastructure development. As the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Readiness, I will continue to work to protect and fight for these critical resources.
These projects are all indications that we continue to make progress on the realignment effort. As Chairman Rob Wittman stated on his visit to Guam last month, the buildup “Is light years better than we were three years ago.” I know this process has been contentious at times but our “One Guam” strategy has worked. We have military construction investments, we are now moving forward with civilian infrastructure investments, and we are holding the DoD accountable to its other commitments. We are de-linked from the efforts to relocate a new Marine runway in Henoko but we must remain vigilant. We cannot let our guard down especially as we look towards a new Administration next year. To that end, I appreciate the support of Governor Calvo, the Guam Chamber of Commerce and the Guam U.S. Asia Security Alliance for their continued support and advocacy for the realignment.
I also continue to work to hold the DoD accountable to commitments made to the people of Guam. Part of the “four pillars” of DoD’s pledge for the buildup, is the commitment to hold less land after the buildup is complete than it did when we started this endeavor. This is the DoD’s “net negative” strategy, and I take very serious the concerns that are brought to my attention by our community. I will always fight to ensure that their concerns are addressed.
Last month I placed a hold on a non-buildup related construction project the Navy was proposing following concerns that were expressed by Governor Calvo and several original landowners. I requested that the Navy provide additional information to address the specific concerns that were raised, as well as information regarding their broader approach for returning lands to the people of Guam. I have met with Navy leadership for initial discussions on the “net negative” strategy. This is a process that is ongoing and we will have many more to come. The Navy remains a partner, but I am striving to ensure that their promises produce real concessions for our people rather than merely providing token offerings.
Many people ask me, will the commitment to the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region continue into the next Administration? My answer is ABSOLUTELY YES. Although the resurgence of Russia and on-going challenges with ISIS in the Middle East makes people uneasy that the rebalance will not continue, this is false. China’s militarization of the South China Sea and their continued assertiveness in the region is why the rebalance strategy will not end. I believe that given the recent activity in the South China Sea and the fact that such a large percentage of U.S. trade and economic activity is centered in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region the rebalance strategy cannot and will not significantly change. The challenge for the next Administration is how to address the broader challenges of the U.S. role in the world and how do they see a foreign policy strategy that recognizes our role across the globe. We are a Pacific country and I will work with any future Administration to make sure they continue to focus on our region.
Puerto Rico Crisis
Closer to home, other nations look to the U.S. to see how we take care of our own. There are significant challenges that remain in our country, and nowhere are these more evident than in Puerto Rico. We are all aware of the fiscal crisis impacting Puerto Rico and the challenges that Puerto Rico’s government is facing to meet their debt obligations. I continue to work with my colleagues and the Administration to help our friends in Puerto Rico while also addressing similar challenges in the other territories. My colleagues and I have been adamant with Congressional leadership and the Administration that any efforts to address fiscal challenges in Puerto Rico must also include solutions that benefit each of the smaller territories.
As such, the Administration has recommended a plan that builds off past proposals I have made. The Administration proposes reforming the Medicaid program to bring Guam and the other territories in line with the 50 states. This proposal would give state-like treatment to the territories, and increase the arbitrary 55% federal match for Medicaid expenses on Guam to more similar state-like treatment. This would go a long way toward addressing health care costs on Guam and free up much needed local resources to fund other local priorities like paying GMH’s bills and improving their overall financial situation.
The Administration also proposes to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and give a cover over for Puerto Rico. While I am disappointed the smaller territories are not currently included in this, I am encouraged that Congressional leadership continues to indicate that if such a fix to EITC were in any Puerto Rico bill, a cover over would apply to the smaller territories as well. I recognize the benefits that EITC has on many families on Guam, but it also places a significant burden on our local treasury that GovGuam cannot afford. So if EITC is addressed in any Puerto Rico legislation, I will fight with the other Delegates to include cover over protections for the smaller territories.
I am working to include my bill to give the government of Guam flexibility in extending Social Security to GovGuam employees in the Puerto Rico bill. I believe that my bill helps to address in Guam one of the key contributors to Puerto Rico’s debt challenges—namely the collapse of Puerto Rico’s pension program. I share many residents’ and local leaders’ concerns that GovGuam’s retirement plan will not be able to provide for government retirees, and I commend Senator Mike San Nicolas and Vice Speaker BJ Cruz for working diligently to address this challenge now, before it leads to a Puerto Rico-like situation. I am actively working with the House Ways and Means Committee to move this bill in its own right, but I am also looking for legislative vehicles, such as any Puerto Rico bill, to help solve this problem. I believe that incorporating new employees into Social Security would provide retirees with a more secure retirement footing.
The bottom line is that the commitment to address Puerto Rico’s financial challenges is the perfect opportunity for our community to address some our own pressing issues. I appreciate that the Administration is pushing efforts that would address some of our legacy issues, but the exact composition of the Puerto Rico bill and its chances of passage in Congress remain unclear. As I warned our community after the 2010 elections, very conservative elements of Congress have hijacked progress in Washington. So while finding a fix to Puerto Rico’s financial crisis may seem like a no-brainer to most Americans and to most on Guam it’s not the same for conservative members of Congress. Their hatred of Medicaid expansion and desire to have offsets on all legislation that increases spending may make passage of a comprehensive measure near impossible. Despite these obstacles I will endeavor to include Guam in any final legislation that may be developed in the coming weeks.
In a similar vein, the challenges we face with Compact impact require us to look for alternative solutions that can meet the scrutiny of a fiscally conservative majority in the House and Senate.
I continue to advocate for increasing mandatory funding for Compact impact. Along with members from Hawaii, the CNMI, and American Samoa, I am a cosponsor of legislation that would increase Compact impact to the GAO recommended $185 million per year. I have also worked hard to protect nearly $3 million in discretionary spending in the Interior’s annual budget, and I appreciate that Assistant Secretary Kia’aina included this funding in the President’s FY17 budget request.
However Republican objections to increasing spending on any legislation require leaders to think outside the box and to develop innovative solutions that can produce real results. It is an easy political soundbite to say that the federal government owes us more money, and leaders in Washington haven’t done enough, but real leadership is recognizing the challenges and looking for solutions to accomplish our goals.
This is why in January I introduced the Compact Impact Relief Act to address the longstanding issues the Compacts have on Guam’s treasury and the delivery of public services to local residents. I commend Senators Frank Blas, Jr., Rory Respicio, Brant McCreadie, Jim Espaldon and Speaker Won Pat for recognizing the challenges we face with Compact impact. In particular, I note the innovative ideas Speaker Won Pat has suggested to create a regional healthcare provider that could, if implemented properly, reduce the need for compact migrants to seek health care in affected jurisdictions.
My relief bill targets four areas that are most impacted by Compact impact.
· First the bill addresses health care by allowing GovGuam to use so-called unreimbursed Compact impact towards paying for Medicaid benefits provided to local residents. This provision would provide significant savings to our local treasury, and is another opportunity to free up much needed resources for GMH.
· Second the bill addresses education by including Compact migrant students in the federal Impact Aid program.
· Third the bill addresses housing by providing a preference for U.S. citizens and nationals over Compact migrants when receiving federal housing and Section 8 assistance. I continue to support extending assistance to Compact migrants, but I believe that U.S. citizens should be prioritized when they apply. I was successful at including this provision in another bill, H.R. 3700, the Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act of 2016. It takes creative thinking to get pieces of this comprehensive legislation put into legislative vehicles that are moving forward in Congress.
· Fourth, and finally, the bill addresses the underlying challenges of Compact impact by commissioning a study to research the viability of the Compacts and make recommendations to Congress on policy alternatives moving forward.
I have also introduced legislation that would make Compact migrants eligible for AmeriCorps, just as they are eligible to serve in our military and receive federal student aid. I was disappointed to learn that several COFA migrants were kicked out of the program after they had already started their service because they were not U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. I commend Vice Speaker Cruz for finding a local solution to this problem last year. These migrants are role models to others and they want to serve our community.
I also support restoring Compact migrants’ eligibility in Medicaid and providing economic assistance to COFA governments. These are some of the efforts that I have made in the past year to address the challenges we face with Compact impact. I appreciate the support of Senator Mazie Hirono who is working with my office on this particular effort in the U.S. Senate. I continue to work every day to find solutions to these challenges, including exploring whether some of these proposals to address Compact-impact can be included in any Puerto Rico relief bill.
Finding and enacting creative solutions to the Compact-Impact problem will go a long way to addressing some of Guam’s economic challenges. Providing more funding for the problem is the easiest solution but it’s not the most likely outcome, not in this political environment. I continue to work to find pragmatic solutions to Compact impact, so we can free up local resources to pay for other priorities like investments in infrastructure, public schools and helping Guam Memorial make its payments.
Third Leg of Economic Stool
As we work to address current challenges to our economy, we must also look to diversify and find new ways to sustain it. The rebalance to the Asia-Pacific strategy coupled with a renewed interest in a forward military presence in the region provides our island with additional economic opportunities apart from just construction dollars and more tourism. This renewed focus in the region gives us an opportunity to develop an economy based on information technology and broadband.
I believe that Guam can better leverage IT and support services in the future. I am aware of an endeavor where new fiber optic cable lines will be tapped here on Guam to essentially build a cloud storage facility. I know that other companies are looking to build redundancy in fiber optics lines in the Pacific. Investment in IT jobs will lead to good paying jobs that will last well into the future. Online systems, cloud storage and IT infrastructure will play a key role in the development of the U.S. economy in the years to come. It is important that we take advantage of our strategic location and the fact that Guam is provided the protections of U.S. laws to harness the potential of IT on our island. Not only will it benefit business but our education sector can piggy-back on this IT infrastructure for research and development. I would like to recognize Senator Tony Ada for his efforts in the Guam Legislature to introduce legislation that seeks to improve access to broadband and IT infrastructure on Guam. I also applaud Dr. Robert Underwood and UOG’s Chief Information Officer, Rommel Hidalgo, for recognizing this potential and looking to tap into existing IT for research and development. Further, I believe that the Trans Pacific Partnership will be enacted in the coming years and while we do not benefit directly from this trade deal, our location could help to foster our island as a location to bring businesses together and leverage the benefits of the TPP deal.
I appreciate the efforts of the Imagine Guam initiative but we need a more focused effort on our economic future. I call on Governor Calvo and our local leaders to convene a group that would develop a strategic plan to leverage the potential benefits of IT or the implementation of the TPP agreement. I would work with this group to provide the Congressional perspective and to identify potential grants that would help develop this strategic plan. In order to truly build on the progress that we’ve made in stabilizing the military build-up and our tourism industry, we should look to the future and develop that third leg of the economic stool. Let’s start to look forward and begin to lay the groundwork for this.
If we decide that we want to leverage the possibilities of the IT economy on Guam it will also require that we invest in workforce development so that our children have the skills needed to develop and sustain an IT infrastructure on Guam. We must also invest in training our workforce to support IT like we have for other industries on Guam.
Economic Security for Families
Further, to build on the progress that we’ve made economically we must not forget to take care of our workers. The Presidential debate has frequently focused on what each candidate’s plans are to take care of workers and develop more economic opportunities. Workers must be paid a fair wage and we must enact legislation that recognizes the importance of families in our economy. We can’t force men or women in our workforce to decide whether they want to keep a good paying job or have a family. Enactment of the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993 was an important step forward to recognizing that workers need time when they want to start a family or have a very difficult medical situation, but we now must go further.
Two years ago, in my role on the House Armed Services Committee, I worked with Congresswomen Tammy Duckworth and Nicki Tsongas to extend the full benefits of FMLA to servicemembers in the U.S. military. We felt it was important that if we want women to serve in the military that they are afforded the same protections under law as their civilian counterparts. While we were not ultimately successful in getting our provision into the final defense bill, we did begin discussions within the military on this important matter. I am pleased that earlier this year, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that women in the military can take 12 weeks of fully paid maternity leave. I am proud that our effort led to greater change in the Department. Locally, I appreciate and strongly support the efforts of Senator Mary Torres to extend fully paid paternity leave for up to 6 weeks to all mothers and fathers in GovGuam. This is an important step forward to support our working families and I hope that more private businesses will also take steps to promote better work-family life balance.
Beyond creating new economic opportunities and fighting for individual protections, it is also important that we fight to protect our economic interests from unscrupulous actions of rogue actors. The partisanship in Congress requires that we reach across the aisle to get things accomplished. I believe that I have demonstrated this time and time again. As evidence of my longstanding relationships and ability to set aside differences to do what’s right for our nation, this past year I guided to passage H.R. 774, the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015, which helps protect our nation’s waters from illegal fishing. This bill has worldwide impacts as it reestablishes American leadership and sends a clear message that the United States will not tolerate illegal fishing within our waters. Passage of this bill is a clear example of the achievements that we can make when we leverage the relationships that we have built in Congress. This was a bipartisan effort over several Congresses that brought together Democrats and Republicans to support a common goal. This is why seniority and bipartisanship are so important to getting things done in Congress.
I recognize the Guam Fisherman’s Co-op, for their invaluable work in communicating Guam’s needs with federal agencies, and I especially thank Manny Duenas and his son for their dedication to Guam’s reef and fisheries and their fellow fishermen. I will continue to work with the Co-op as well as with the Western Pacific Fisheries Council to help to promote our fishing industry and protect our cultural fishing practices.
And people who are no strangers to protecting our very way of life are our Guam National Guard. I would like to recognize our men and women serving in the National Guard who train and stand ready to protect our island whenever disaster strikes. Our National Guard is the best and largest per capita in the nation, and I am so proud of all their accomplishments. It has truly been an eventful year for our Guard. Earlier this year I was proud to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony at a new assembly hall in Barrigada with the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Frank Grass. Additionally, since my last address, two Lakota Light Utility helicopters were delivered, and they will help contribute to rescue missions, humanitarian assistance operations, and many of the other responsibilities of the Guam National Guard.
Knowing of the tremendous capabilities of our men and women in the National Guard I continue to advocate for opportunities to further integrate our Guardsmen into other national security missions. I appreciate the efforts of General Rod Leon Guerrero who is working with me to take advantage of these additional missions. Whether I’m advocating for the possibility of a Guard-sourced security force unit associated with the THAAD or assisting with a permanent tanker mission on the island, I know our Army and Air Guard stands up to the task.
In supporting all who serve our nation in uniform, I also recognize the importance of identifying and supporting strong candidates to serve in our armed services in the years to come. One of the prime responsibilities I have had during my time in Congress is nominating individuals to the U.S. Service Academies. Guam has provided exceptional candidates to each of the Service Academies, and I am very proud of each cadet and midshipman from Guam. I believe that Guam has more to offer, which is why I included a provision in last year’s defense bill to increase the number of service academy appointments that can be credited to Guam to four per Academy. This means that now more students from Guam can have the opportunity to pursue higher education while also serving their country. This year I had the honor of nominating 18 bright young men and women to the academies. Not only do these students gain unparalleled experience, they make our island proud. As the Ranking Member on Readiness, I make an effort to visit them and to be provided updates on facilities sustainment at the Academies. Let us congratulate all those who are attending the Academies now and who have in the past.
It is rare that I visit a base or host a hearing without meeting a service member with roots in Guam. For example, just four weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Senior Airman Paula Pelayo at a Readiness Subcommittee hearing in Washington DC. She is the daughter of Edgardo and Rosanna Delacruz from Dededo and is currently stationed at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. Additionally our island saw for the first time, the elevation of one of our daughters to a general officer in the armed forces. On April 30, 2015, Tracey L. Smith was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General in the U.S. Army Reserves. In doing so, she became the first woman from Guam to hold a general officer rank. The pride I feel every time I meet fellow Guamanians diligently serving and protecting our country is truly incredible and the success of people like Paula and Tracey reflects greatly on our island and its community.
While we reflect on and appreciate our current and future service members, we must also recognize that their service has been enabled by those who served before them. On Guam, each of us knows family members and friends who have served our nation honorably in uniform. While I could speak at length about my gratitude to them, and their families, for their sacrifice, our primary responsibility is to ensure that they get the recognition, benefits, and health care that they deserve and have earned. Years of sequestration and uncertain budget authority have caused great challenges nationwide in upholding our duty to care for our veterans. While I am proud of the progress we have made this year in improving veterans’ services on Guam, our work is nowhere near finished, and we continue to work toward improving services to them.
The design phase is well underway for the remodel and expansion of the Community Based Outpatient Clinic with the design award expected in the last quarter of this year and final construction completion in early Fiscal Year 2019. The Department of Veterans Affairs is working closely with NAVFAC-Marianas to ensure this $5.5 million dollar project, remodeling 5,500 square feet and adding 2,800 square feet, will better meet the health care needs of our veterans seeking access at the clinic.
Further, this past year, I also worked to improve the delivery of health services to our veterans who utilize the VA Choice Program. I admit that there were several challenges in ensuring that veterans on Guam were able to fully benefit from this program, and we continue to work with the VA in Hawaii as well as contractor TriWest to be sure that every veteran receives the care that they have earned. I appreciate the many veterans who visited my office to discuss the challenges that they faced, as well as the leaders of our veterans’ service organizations who met with me to find solutions that addressed the unique needs of veterans living in Guam. In the long-term, I believe the Choice program will provide even greater access to quality care for our veterans on Guam. I also greatly appreciate the continued advocacy of Senator Frank Aguon for our island’s veterans. He is a tireless advocate on their behalf and I also appreciate his involvement in my own Veterans council, which I established 13 years ago. He worked with me to make sure the Choice program work on Guam as well as calling for greater oversight and resources from Hawaii to support our veterans. While we have made progress, there is still work to be done. I commit to every veteran on Guam you will always have an advocate for your needs in me.
Just as we work to support our servicemembers, guardsmen, and veterans, we must give special recognition and reaffirm our firm commitment to supporting Guam’s greatest generation who endured the occupation of Guam during World War II. This extraordinary generation sacrificed so much and demonstrated unwavering loyalty to the United States. I cannot express enough my immense gratitude and respect for the survivors, and I continue to fight for the passage of war claims for the atrocities they experienced.
That is why I have reintroduced H.R. 44, the Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act. Resolving war claims for the survivors of the occupation is the right thing to do. It would give closure to those who are still with us for all that they lost and suffered through during the War.
Unfortunately the opposition to war claims legislation continues in Congress, especially with Republican majorities in the House and the Senate. Republican objections, primarily in the Senate, are not based on rational argument or any spirit of negotiation. I have addressed legitimate legislative concern that has been raised—from narrowing the bill’s focus, to finding an offset that does not add to federal spending—however Republican objections are based on ideology and a fear that precedent could be set to give reparations for past injustices like slavery.
However, I will not cease in my determination to doing all that I can to move this issue forward. I also welcome and support any effort to resolve war claims through a federal lawsuit. Given the gridlock in Congress and continued conservative opposition to war claims, I believe this may be the most viable solution. I understand an effort may be underway to pursue this approach and I look forward to better understanding the “way forward” on this matter and seeing how I can be supportive. Our people deserve better and the survivors of the occupation deserve to be appropriately recognized by the federal government for their loyalty and fidelity to our country despite the atrocities they endured.
It is our responsibility to care for our environment and our natural resources. Our ancestors entrusted us with the island that we have, and we must work to protect it. However the challenges that we currently face—climate change, growing demand on limited resources, an expanding population, and the introduction of invasive species—require that we balance resources, responsible management, and scientific research that anticipates needs and opportunities. As a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, I have supported legislation that will conserve, protect, and cultivate our natural resources, and empower the local community to participate in these programs and processes.
One of our most precious natural resources is Guam’s coral reef. They are a critical resource for our economy and culture, and they are a crucial source of subsistence for our island fishermen. As such, this year, I will reintroduce the Coral Reef Conservation Reauthorization Act. We have come a long way from when coral conservation was first made into law in 2000. But there always needs to be room for improvement. We’ve learned since 2000 that jurisdictions like Guam desperately need an emergency response mechanism and appropriate funding for damages done to our coral reefs. We know that our oceans have no borders, and there must be international learning and cooperation to preserve these crucial habitats. I also know that further codification of the Coral Reef Task Force is a priority for Guam, as this Task Force puts jurisdictions at the table with federal partners. I will work hard to find the leadership on both sides of the aisle to move this bill forward.
I also want to recognize Senator Tommy Morrison and our Mayors for their leadership to protect and conserve our natural resources, especially in southern Guam. I commend their efforts to ensure that any proposal to develop parts of Southern Guam addresses concerns from the local community and does not adversely impact the quality of life and character of our southern villages.
Another challenge that our island faces is from invasive species. We are all well aware of the challenges posed by the Brown Tree Snake and we now see the impact of the rapidly expanding coconut rhinoceros beetle. The budget for OIA this year would include additional funds to address the impacts of invasive species on lands other than those of the federal government. This is the first attempt to take a broader approach at addressing invasive species and their impact on our local economy. I am working to support that budget request and seek additional funding from other agencies and departments as well. I also want to hold these departments and agencies accountable for their contributions to the Micronesia Regional Biosecurity plan through the annual appropriations process. To that end, I want to commend Senator Rory Respicio for taking the lead in the Guam Legislature to hold local agencies accountable for their part in supporting the Regional Biosecurity plan.
Similarly we must also work to promote education on our island. I am proud of the increased opportunities provided by our local education system but we can and we must do more.
In particular, I commend the University of Guam for working to obtain $6 million in federal grant assistance for the EPSCOR program, to support the Guam Ecosystems Collaboratorium. I commend Dr. Terry Donaldson and Dr. John Peterson at UOG for their tireless work on this endeavor.
Guam Community College is also an important component of Guam’s higher education system and I am proud of all that they have accomplished. Dr. Mary Okada has been relentless and innovative in developing the best community college in the region, and I cannot count the number of times I have been invited on campus for groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings! So to Dr. Okada and her team, thank you for your dedication to Guam’s students.
In addition, I worked with Congressman Raul Grijalva, to amend the PRISM Act, to ensure that colleges and universities that serve Asians and Pacific Islanders, such as UOG and GCC, are eligible for assistance from DOI to establish preservation training and degree programs important to preserving and promoting indigenous cultures.
I also continue to work to support elementary and secondary education on Guam, especially in programs that promote development in science, technology, engineering and math. I have cosponsored several legislative proposals to improve STEM programs for our schools and our young women. Technology and science should be easily accessible for Guam’s students. Geopolitically and literally, the people of Guam are at a crossroad, and we must prepare our students and future workforce to face the challenges ahead. I commend Dr. Jon Fernandez for his leadership over the Guam Public Schools System. In particular, I recognize that he worked to achieve the first district-level accreditation for Guam DOE. I also appreciate the efforts of Speaker Won Pat and Senator Nerissa Underwood for their tireless efforts in support of our education system. They have sought to provide the necessary resources and programs that will improve the education of our children on our island.
I have been proud of the progress that we have made to further promote and preserve our Chamorro language and culture. Our island’s indigenous heritage is the lifeblood of our community, and it is important that we protect it for future generations. I have been proud to support local organizations in their efforts to teach Chamorro language and culture, especially to our youth, and I have often supported applications by these organizations for federal funding opportunities. I believe that it is imperative that we build off of the progress that we have made and ensure that organizations have the resources they need to continue their efforts to promote and protect our culture.
I also work diligently every day in Washington, D.C. to promote our culture and island to policymakers and federal officials. Every July, I work with the Guam Society of America to host a wreath laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery and a reception on Capitol Hill to educate the greater Washington DC community about Guam’s unique history and culture. I insist that these events feature our Chamorro culture, and they have helped to give a better understanding of our culture and traditions.
Additionally I am working with local stakeholders to support the upcoming Festival of Pacific Arts. This is an opportunity for Guam to showcase our famous island hospitality as well as better educate not only our community, but all our visitors of the rich heritage of the Chamorro people. I commend the many organizations and volunteers who are working to ensure that this event is successful. I hope that our entire community comes out to support FESTPAC and welcome our visitors with our warm Hafa Adai spirit. I look forward to working with our partners as we prepare to host FESTPAC.
As I close this evening, I want to end where I began and reiterate my hope for the people of Guam to finally exercise their right to self-determination and deciding the political status of our island. Self-determination is a statement of our political maturity and it would finally give the people of Guam an opportunity to state how we want to be recognized in the world. I have a deep appreciation of the importance of this issue. When Ricky was alive he worked tirelessly to spur debate and challenge our people to recognize the good that could come with voicing our choice for our political future. Ricky instilled in me a firm understanding of why this issue is important to the people of Guam, and that it must be the people of Guam who decide for themselves the structure of their self-governance. Self-determination is the ultimate legacy that we can leave for our children, and it is an issue that we have waited far too long to address. I hope that we will move quickly to resolve our political status, and as I have said, I am committed to ensuring that our efforts receive the full support and resources of the federal government. Let us get this done for our future.
If there is one thing that I hope you take away from what I have said tonight, it is that Guam continues to make progress on the host of issues and challenges that we face every day. I recognize that there is still much that we have to do, but I am up to the challenge. With the position of leadership that I hold in Congress and a desire to maintain a “One Guam” approach to solving our island’s most pressing issues, I believe we will build on the progress we’ve made in the coming years. It has been my honor and privilege to represent our people in the U.S. Congress over the last 13 years. I do not take for granted the incredible trust that you place in me, and I work daily to meet the expectations that you have of me. As a community we continue to build a better Guam and I look forward to continuing to build on the progress that we have made together to leave our children with a legacy they will be proud to inherit.
With that, I appreciate you listening to the short version of my address tonight. Madam Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that my full remarks be included in the legislative record. Thank you. Si Yu’os Ma’ase. May God bless the United States. And may God bless our beautiful island of Guam.