- Udall Joins Senate in approving National Defense Authorization Act
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall joined the Senate in voting 91-3 for a major defense policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes several priorities that Udall has championed for New Mexico’s military bases and national laboratories.
The bill also includes Udall’s measure to strengthen the open-air burn pits registry, which was created to help veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals and fumes while deployed overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I’m extremely pleased that this bill includes policies I fought for to support research at our labs, strengthen our military bases by continuing construction projects, and sustain thousands of jobs in New Mexico,” Udall said. “This bill also allows us to take an important next step in the effort to ensure our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans get the care and treatment they need for illnesses related to inhaling toxic fumes from open-air burn pits.”
Although he supported the bill, Udall added that he is disappointed that the NDAA continues to block the president from closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
“I have long called for the prison to be closed, and I’m extremely disappointed that rather than shutting it outright years ago, we are still holding more than 100 detainees awaiting trial or transfer,” said Udall, who also serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Guantánamo Bay prison is a stain on our nation’s history. It isn’t keeping us safer — in fact, it continues to be used as a recruitment tool for terrorist groups worldwide. It’s time to close the prison for good.”
The NDAA authorizes several new military construction projects at Cannon, Holloman and Kirtland Air Force bases. Additionally, it encourages investment in infrastructure at the White Sands Missile Range and authorizes funding for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) and New Mexico’s national labs — specifically the Chemistry and Metallurgy Replacement Project at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and the B61 Life Extension Program, which supports jobs at Los Alamos and Sandia national labs. The bill also increases Laboratory Directed Research and Development at both labs.
Udall’s burn pits amendment requires the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to share information about when and how service members may have been exposed to airborne hazards and open burn pits, which the military used to incinerate everything from medical waste to unexploded ordnance.
Udall and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., led the bipartisan effort to create the burn pits registry, similar to those created for Agent Orange and the Gulf War. The registry was created in 2013, but Udall is continuing to work to strengthen it and ensure veterans get the care they have earned.
The NDAA is an authorization bill, meaning it sets policy and planned spending levels for federal agencies. The policy measures will be funded through the appropriations process. A member of the Appropriations Committee, Udall said he is relieved that the House and Senate were able to reach an agreement that reduces the impact of across-the-board cuts known as sequestration, which have been harmful for New Mexico families and hindered our military’s readiness.
“As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I will keep fighting to end sequestration cuts and ensure Congress provides the resources and support needed to keep our national defense and our military communities strong,” Udall said.
In addition to measures important to New Mexico’s military bases and labs and to advance the creation of the burn pits registry, Udall supported numerous new provisions in the NDAA that impact New Mexico, including:
- A provision based on a bill Udall introduced to increase the maximum percentage each laboratory director may set aside for Laboratory Directed Research and Development from 5 percent to 7 percent.
- Authorization for funding for New Mexico’s national labs and WIPP.
- Authorization for construction projects at Cannon Air Force Base, including a pumphouse, fuel storage, a squadron operations facility, training facilities and a new entry control gatehouse.
- Authorization for constructing a Space Vehicles Component Development Lab at Kirtland Air Force Base.
- Authorization to build a new fixed ground control station at Holloman Air Force Base, which will be used to accommodate the growing number of remotely piloted aircraft missions (RPAs).
- Authorization for constructing a marshaling area at Holloman Air Force base to support the F-16 training mission.