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Service members, local communities will feel the effect of budget cuts

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas

Member, House Homeland Security Committee and Veterans’ Affairs Committee

 

As a result of Congress’ failure to reach a long-term budget agreement, federal agencies continue to struggle with deep budget cuts and employee furloughs.

The Department of Defense (DoD) alone faces $43 billion in cuts due to sequestration.

Although DoD and Secretary Chuck Hagel acted quickly to try to soften the blow, service members will still feel the impact of the across-the-board budget cuts.

Without careful consideration, these budget cuts will have serious repercussions for service members and the communities where they reside. This reality serves to remind us that we must work hard to protect our men and women in uniform from Washington’s inability to find a long term budget solution.

As the Fort Bliss representative in Congress, I recognize the impact these budget cuts will have on service members, civilian DoD employees, and the communities they help support.

Since 1849, Fort Bliss has been an integral part of the El Paso community, and it is currently the second-largest installation in the U.S. Army. Fort Bliss supports a total population of 170,000 and is the single largest employer in the region. With a $6 billion yearly impact on the local economy, it is one of the biggest economic generators in El Paso.

To echo the words of former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, "Fort Bliss is the premier post in America."

The installation’s continued growth is not only good for our national defense but also essential to the economic prosperity of our region. A reduction in troop size and services would be detrimental to Fort Bliss and the El Paso community at large.

Recent projects at Fort Bliss have spurred economic activity and demonstrate how Army facilities can help drive future innovations.

In the last few years, Fort Bliss has led the charge in the development of on-site renewable energy technologies that include wind, geothermal, solar, and waste-to-energy programs.

Combined, the variety of energy sources will allow Fort Bliss to reach its goal of generating all of its own electricity.

These projects will help shape the future design of military facilities throughout the country and allow our military to become a more responsible steward of our energy resources. Budget cuts, however, threaten DoD’s ability to partake in innovative programs that improve the quality of life for service members and have the potential to generate worldwide change.

Another concern is the threat to current military construction projects and contracts.

Fort Bliss is in the process of building the William Beaumont Army Medical Center, a hospital that will service 90,000 active duty members, retirees, and their families.

As DOD and the Army work to make tough budget decisions, we must spare critical community projects, like the medical center, that will have a direct and beneficial impact for our military men and women.

Budget cuts at the Department of Defense will also translate to less money for equipment repairs, training and education, and pay to civil servants. Cuts to these essential military and personnel services lower soldiers’ morale, and most importantly, undermine service members’ performance and mission readiness.

Our service members and civilian military personnel cannot fulfill their duties if we do not provide them the necessary resources.

Earlier this year, sequestration threatened to eliminate funding for military tuition programs.

In March, I introduced bipartisan legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to restore funding to those programs.

Tuition assistance programs constituted only 0.1 percent of DoD’s annual $700 billion budget, yet they allowed service members to take 870,000 classes and earn over 50,000 degrees, diplomas, and certificates.

Thanks to bipartisan pressure from the House and the Senate, Congress did the right thing and reinstated funding to the military tuition assistance programs in the final version of the continuing resolution that passed in March.

These programs are part of the promise we made to the brave men and women who serve our country, and they should be protected from indiscriminate budget cuts.

I came to Washington to help Congress find solutions to its ongoing budgetary crises.

We face tough fiscal decisions in the months and years ahead, but we must remain cognizant of the impact our budget policies have on our men and women in uniform and their quality of life.

In a time of budgetary uncertainty, we must find a balance between fiscal responsibility and our moral obligation to support those who defend our country.

I remain committed to tackling those challenges with my colleagues in Congress.