By Naina Rao
The 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes $841.4 billion in funding for the Defense Department, is on track for President Biden’s signature this week, unleashing a wave of opportunities for Guam, where the U.S Congress authorizes an unprecedented amount of $3.2 billion for military projects.
Bobby Shringi, Guam Del. James Moylan's chief of staff, provided a detailed overview of the recently passed 2024 NDAA, highlighting the potential economic impact on Guam.
Shringi underscored the significance of the $3.2 billion in authorizations for various military projects, emphasizing the potential for a substantial economic resurgence for the local community.
"While these projects are military-centric inside the installations, a lot of these projects will require tons of new jobs,” Shringi said at Monday’s press conference.
“There's going to be a great economic resurgence over the next few years because these projects are not going to be completed without the efforts of the local community," he added.
He outlined the diverse range of jobs, from bookkeepers and accountants to consultants and legal professionals, that will be required, offering a boost to local businesses and services.
The key components of the NDAA include over $166 billion for communication upgrades at Joint Region Marianas, $2.2 billion for new and continued military construction projects within military installations such as Camp Blaz, Andersen Air Force Base, and the Naval Base. Additionally, there is $27 million allocated for an Air Force Reserves portal facility and $6.9 million to complete the National Guard's readiness center.
A significant highlight is the increased funding for the Guam missile defense program, now totaling $545 million.
Shringi stressed that this investment prioritizes the safety of the community, turning the defense system into a vital asset against potential threats.
A noteworthy allocation of $290 million for military housing construction inside the fence aims to address the housing shortage and reduce dependency on local inventory.
“This correlates to rising housing costs,” Shringi said. “If we can reduce the dependency, we’re now moving in a direction where we can start seeing costs sort of stabilized to a certain degree.”
Shringi acknowledged the housing challenge, especially with the influx of H-2B workers and military personnel, emphasizing the need to find solutions to alleviate the squeeze on available housing.
In response to questions regarding the number of on-base units to be constructed, Shringi acknowledged that the details were not available but stressed the need to continuously advocate for increased funding in the subsequent NDAA process.
Elaborating more on the H-2B extension, a crucial aspect of the NDAA, provided a five-year extension to the program that was set to expire in 2024. The extension aims to attract skilled foreign labor, essential for the numerous projects planned on the island.
Shringi highlighted the potential increase in tax revenues from H-2B workers, contributing to the island's economic growth.
Shringi also provided insights into the ongoing efforts to secure funding and a legislative vehicle for the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.
The Conference Committee has dropped the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act expansion from the compromise version of the 2024 national defense bill, which would have included Guam in the program.
Congress took that off the table for now and without an extension, the RECA fund currently expires in July 2024.
While facing challenges related to funding, Shringi expressed optimism about the progress made and the commitment to continuing the efforts to pass the legislation.
Furthermore, Shringi discussed the Committee on Compact Impact and Fairness Act and upcoming hearings on the Compact of Free Association reimbursements.
The annual $30 million compact impact funding program for Guam and other U.S. jurisdictions that host COFA migrants expired on Sept. 30.
Instead of renewing the compact impact funding program, the administration has endorsed CIFA, which would pipeline assistance funds directly to the migrants living on U.S. soil.
Shringi outlined the challenges related to funding, emphasizing the importance of educating Congress about Guam's unique challenges and resource needs resulting from COFA agreements.