Commentary

Collins: Defense Bill Benefits America's Military and Maine's Economy

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By Senator Susan Collins

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I have always worked to support our troops and their families.  The 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), recently passed by the Senate, not only will strengthen our military, but also will benefit Maine’s economy and help create good-paying jobs at time when they are sorely needed.

Maine’s contributions to our national security stretch from Kittery to Limestone and affect workers in every one of Maine’s 16 counties.

The NDAA will provide essential training, equipment, and support to our troops.  The legislation will provide critical force protection to our men and women in uniform; help restore our military’s readiness; and continue the development of technologies to counter existing and emerging threats.

The 2013 NDAA authorizes important funding for Navy shipbuilding, including $3 billion for the U.S. Navy’s DDG-51 program and $669 million for the DDG-1000 program, both of which are being built at Bath Iron Works (BIW).  I am especially pleased that the bill includes a provision that I requested that provides multi-year procurement authority for up to ten DDG-51 destroyers, one more than the President’s budget request, which would help ensure the workload at BIW though 2017.

In April, I was delighted when the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Admiral Jonathan Greenert, accepted my invitation to visit BIW — his first visit to Maine since becoming CNO.  During that visit, he not only saw the first DDG-1000 that is being built at Bath, but he saw first-hand the talent and dedication of the men and women who work at BIW.  Admiral Greenert told me how impressed he was with the pride and professionalism of the workforce.

The bill also authorizes $6.3 billion for Navy ship repairs, which includes the overhaul, refueling, and maintenance of nuclear-powered submarines at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNSY) in Kittery.  During his visit to Bath, Admiral Greenert also spoke highly of the workforce at PNSY.  It was extremely encouraging to hear him say that “Portsmouth fills a critical need for overhaul of our submarines … I don’t see that need diminishing at all in the future.”

The Defense Authorization Act also includes funding for many other defense-related projects that will benefit Maine, our economy, and our national security.  The bill authorizes $412 million for depot maintenance at National Guard repair sites, including the Maine Military Authority in Limestone; $6.9 billion for procurement of 29 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft — components for the F-35 are built at Pratt & Whitney in North Berwick and at General Dynamics’ facility at Saco Defense; and $606 million in funding for research and development for the CH-53K marine helicopter.  Hunting Dearborn in Fryeburg manufactures the rotor shaft for this helicopter.

In addition to funding for procurement of the Common Remotely Operated Weapons System, or CROWS, portions of which are building in Biddeford, South Paris and Arundel, the bill also authorizes $232 million for research and development of aerospace propulsion systems.  The University of Maine conducts research on new propulsion and power technologies.

I successfully secured language in this bill that would require the Secretary of Defense to report to Congress regarding the growing threat of insider attacks in Afghanistan.  Congress must understand the nature and scope of this problem.  We must help ensure that the Pentagon and the Afghans are taking every possible step to prevent these attacks and ensure the strategy in Afghanistan is not undermined by their tragic occurrence.

In addition, an amendment introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), that I cosponsored, would prohibit the indefinite detention, without charge or trial, of American citizens suspected of terrorist activities who are arrested on American soil.  Since 2001, terrorism has claimed far too many victims, both at home and abroad.  It is crucially important that in pursuing the War on Terrorism, we assure our fellow citizens that their constitutional rights – the very foundation of what makes us Americans – will not also be one of the victims.

Another amendment that I authored, along with Senator Joe Lieberman (I-D/CT), would require the Attorney General and Secretary of Defense to jointly establish a prescription drug take-back program for military members and their dependents.   Leaders in the military have told me that prescription drug misuse is a major factor in military suicides and the Defense Department needs the authority to accept and destroy excess prescription medication from troops.

As co-chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, I’m also pleased that an amendment I cosponsored with several of my colleagues would reauthorize the Fire Grants Act and the U.S. Fire Administration.  The Assistance to Firefighters Grants, the Fire Prevention and Safety program, and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response program are invaluable to fire departments throughout the nation and right here in Maine.  They help fire departments purchase new, used, or refurbished vehicles, and obtain equipment for interoperable communications, chemical detection, and other purposes that are essential to first responders.

A conference committee, of which I am a member, will now meet to work out the differences between the Senate-passed and House-passed versions of the Defense Authorization bill before a final version is sent to the President.

The National Defense Authorization Act provides vital resources to our troops and our nation.  It also boosts Maine’s economy by recognizing the enormous contributions made by our state to our national security.

About Senator Susan Collins

Susan Collins has served as United States Senator from Maine since her election in 1996. She has served as the ranking member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging in and previously as the Chair of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security from 2003 to 2007. Since the retirement of former Senator Olympia Snowe in 2012, Collins has had the distinction of being Maine's Senior Senator.

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