News release: Senate approves key defense legislation

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman today reported that the Senate has approved key defense legislation that gives strong support to New Mexico’s military installations and the state’s two national laboratories.

The bill, called the fiscal year 2010 Defense Authorization Bill, passed the Senate 68-29. The House of Representatives passed it earlier this month, so it can now be sent to the president for signature. Defense spending must beauthorized through this bill before funding can be released; the spending bills that fund the activities authorized in this measure move through Congress separately.

“This important legislation outlines where and how our defense dollars will be spent, which is why it is so important to New Mexico. I believe this measure does a very good job supporting our national laboratories and our defense installations,” Bingaman said.

The bill contains the following:

Cannon Air Force Base

$15.0 million for a consolidated communications facility

$41.27 million for C-130 maintenance hangar facility

$11.59 million modification to hangers to support CV-22s

$6.0 million for a C-130 ammunition loading ramp

At Bingaman’s urging the Senate adopted an amendment have the Air Force and the U.S. Special Operations Command begin the process of evaluating the life of the existing AC-130 gunships and plan for their replacement. Eight of these gunships are in the 16 Special Operations Squadron now at Cannon, some of which are 40 years old dating back to Vietnam. The gunships are the airplane of choice by ground troops in Afghanistan and Iraq for close air support operations.

White Sands Missile Range

The bill authorizes an additional $6 million increase for the High Energy Laser Test Facility at WSMR, to begin testing the next generation solid-state laser, putting the facility on a new track to test next generation battlefield laser systems. In addition $3 million is authorized to develop software to integrate the large airspace surrounding White Sands Missile Range, which handles training by Holloman Air Force Base, White Sands Test Range and Fort Bliss.

Holloman Air Force Base

$5.5 million for a consolidated munitions maintenance facility for the F-22 Raptor

$5 million for continued development of the High Speed Test Track, which when completed will be the world’s fastest magnetic levitation test track.

$10.4 million Fire / Rescue Station

$37.5 million Facilities for UAV Training Wing

National Guard

$39.0 million for an Army aviation support facility at Santa Fe

$30 million to support Army Guard Counterdrug efforts of which $3 million is for New Mexico

In addition the bill asks the Secretary of Defense to develop a transition plan for the Air Guard from F-16 and F-15 fighter aircraft to F-35 and F-22 aircraft.

Other Department of Defense issues relevant to New Mexico, and authorized under the Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA):

$6.43 billion for maintaining the stockpile

$2.18 billion for stemming the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction

$55 million for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Replacement Facility construction at LANL

$24 million for upgrades to the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center as part of the overhaul of the complex so it can provide stockpile science in the 21st century to ensure we do not have to test.

$189.0 million for clean up funding at LANL, to avoid missing milestones in the clean up consent agreement between the Department and the State

$220.34 million for WIPP

In addition at Bingaman’s urging the committee asked the Administrator of the NNSA and the Undersecretary for Science at the DOE to develop a long-term roadmap so that major facilities at NNSA sites such as the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center can be used for other DOE research program whether fundamental or the applied energy sciences. Bingaman feels it is critical that the weapons laboratory begin to diversify their research portfolio as we draw down the stockpile, this roadmap will help with that diversification.

And the bill contains a Bingaman amendment aimed at improving the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICPA). EEOICPA, which Bingaman helped create in 2000, compensates Department of Energy employees for illnesses they developed because of their service. In the amendment adopted in this bill, the Office of the Ombudsman is expanded to assist employees applying for compensation under Part B of EEOICPA. Currently, the ombudsman can only assist employees applying under Part E.

Finally, bill contains a separate measure that Bingaman has long supported that prevents discrimination. The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act strengthens the ability of federal, state, local, and tribal governments to address hate crimes based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. The legislation will enable the Justice Department to assist state, local, and tribal authorities with the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes. Nothing in the legislation impacts the ability of individuals to exercise their First Amendment rights.