Kilili: Defense bill benefits Marianas

Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (file photo)

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the 2020 Defense authorization today. CNMI Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan says the bill has several provisions of specific benefit to the Northern Mariana Islands, including funding for the Tinian divert airfield, help for insular area small businesses, and paid parental leave for federal employees.

The NDAA, or National Defense Authorization Act, also raises military pay by 3.1 percent.

$316 million is authorized in the bill for the Air Force Divert Airfield Project on Tinian over a three-year period. In 2020, the first year, $10 million will go to fuel tanks and a pipeline and hydrant system. $25 million will be used for a parking apron. And another $10 million is for general airfield development.

The House-approved bill, also, includes language that Congressman Sablan offered allowing students in associate’s degree program to apply for a new technology and national security fellowship. The paid fellowships will place college students in a STEM field in Department of Defense or congressional offices.

Sablan successfully blocked a provision in the House-passed defense bill that only allowed American-owned or -operated companies with a national security waiver to be awarded telecommunications contracts for Defense Department facilities in the U.S. Pacific territories.

The provision would “place well-established, reputable businesses in the U.S. Pacific territories at an unfair disadvantage and stifle competition for DoD telecommunications services and equipment contracts across the Pacific,” Sablan told the House Armed Services Committee in an August 29 letter on the issue and the offending provision was removed from today’s bill.

Section 875 of the Defense bill extends to all the insular areas a provision that currently allows federal agencies to double the value of a contract awarded to a Puerto Rico business. Sablan is a cosponsor of legislation, H.R. 3428, to make this improvement for all insular small businesses.

The House also agreed today to give all federal employees 12 weeks of paid parental leave in the case of birth, adoption, or fostering. This has been a top Democratic priority and it means the nation’s largest employer, the federal government, now provide this key benefit.