Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, in Hawai’i on his first Pacific tour, yesterday said a jobs requirement added to a defense bill by U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie would jeopardize the planned $15 billion move of 8,000 Marines and their families from Japan to Guam.
“It’s no secret that we oppose his (Abercrombie’s) amendment to do that,” Mabus said. “For one thing, we don’t think we can afford to make the move if that happens.”
Abercrombie yesterday said defense authorization bills passed by the U.S. Senate and House are in conference committee “and we’re talking over what some of the (jobs amendment’s) implications are.”
The Hawai’i Democrat said the Obama administration is “open to discussion” over the amendment.
“So I have a lot of confidence that our point of view is going to get a fair hearing,” Abercrombie said. “Now, whether we prevail, or prevail exactly the way I’d like to prevail, I don’t know.”
Abercrombie’s amendment to the House version of the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act requires that 70 percent of jobs for the Guam buildup go to Americans and that wages be set at levels for similar projects in Hawai’i.
A Congressional Budget Office report estimated the measure would double the $10 billion construction cost for the move by 8,000 Marines and 9,000 family members from Okinawa to Guam, where labor costs are much lower than in Hawai’i.
Madeleine Bordallo, Guam’s delegate to the House of Representatives, previously predicted Abercrombie’s measure would be heavily altered or omitted.
Mabus, a Democrat and former Mississippi governor, is the 75th secretary of the Navy. He took over the job in May. As secretary of the Navy and Marine Corps, he is responsible for an annual budget of more than $150 billion and 900,000 people.
Mabus said the February grounding of the cruiser Port Royal is a concern.
“Anytime you’ve got a ship that runs aground it raises concern,” Mabus said. “But we’ve taken a good look at what caused that. I think we understand it and I don’t think it speaks of a big training and readiness concern across the Navy.”
Mabus recently traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan, and he said 12,000 to 14,000 sailors operate on the ground in the region — more than the 9,500 at sea. He said he visited a Provincial Reconstruction Team in eastern Afghanistan headed up by a Navy submariner.
By William Cole