McCarthy: We Saved Jobs at China Lake
A total of 211 new jobs at China Lake will be filled, according to Congressman Kevin McCarthy on Friday. McCarthy stopped short of saying that President Donald Trump has been persuaded to exempt Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake from his federal hiring freeze. McCarthy did say, however, that the individual jobs had been approved to be filled.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman William McClellan “Mac” Thornberry added that while there may or may not be another round of BRAC closures, he does not think China Lake has much to worry about.
McCarthy was in town to take Thornberry on a tour of the base on Friday. Afterward, the two spoke at a luncheon hosted by the China Lake Alliance at the Springhill Suites.
Talk centered largely on the future of China Lake. McCarthy kicked things off by answering the obvious question about Trump’s federal hiring freeze. “I had a quick conversation with him [Trump] on that as well. He said go ahead and work through it.” McCarthy said seven positions were initially approved, then 204 more.
“All the vacancies are gone,” he said.
In an interview later at the Daily Independent office, McCarthy said that he had spoken with Rear Adm. (retired) Kevin Sweeney, chief of staff for Defense Sec. James Mattis on the subject.
“When I talked to him, I had just gotten a letter back and said that I this really didn’t solve my problems,” McCarthy said. When asked whether he should bring it up with the president at a meeting later that day, McCarthy said Mattis took a look at it.
“Within the week we had moved through a backlog of 204 and they had cleared [those],” McCarthy said. “I feel that we had worked out the difficulty, because there is no backlog now.”
He said that, as Thornberry touched on during the China Lake Alliance luncheon, it supposedly wasn’t the president’s intent for a hiring freeze to affect military installations like China Lake.
“When you think of military, you’ve need the essentials and you got to get those,” McCarthy said.
Thornberry, meanwhile, was cautiously reassuring about the prospect of another round of base realignment and closures. He said that while another BRAC may take place, it is highly unlikely China Lake has much to worry about.
“No one should take anything for granted but I don’t think you all have anything to worry about,” he said. “Your ranges and so forth are a unique invaluable asset here which we could not possibly throw away. They could never be replicated. I see zero prospect that anything adverse would happen to the facilities, the land or to the mission.”
Thornberry stated emphatically that he does not want to see another BRAC similar to the one in 2005, which he said actually cost the country money.
“As long as I am around and have a say-so, I will not have another 2005 BRAC. That was a disaster. And as of last year, it still had not gotten to even [financially] yet. In other words it’s costing the country more money 11 years later than it saved. We can’t afford a repeat of that.”
Thornberry said that an alternative to actually closing facilities would be to downsize outdated infrastructure on the installations. He said the Obama administration failed to comply with his request for data on excessive infrastructure.
“I am not inclined to support another BRAC until I see hard empirical evidence that there is too much infrastructure,” he said.
He added that even if there is excessive infrastructure, “maybe we need to devote some funding to tearing down and consolidating buildings within facilities and installations. In other words, shrink the footprint of the installation, but not necessarily close it. Because if you close it you are never going to get it back.
“I don’t know that there won’t be another BRAC. Maybe there’s some other ways to reduce infrastructure on installations without the whole BRAC process.”
Fresh from his tour, Thornberry spoke in glowing terms about China Lake, praising the installation, the workforce and the surrounding community. Both McCarthy and Thornberry emphasized several times that the international situation makes the unique research and development capabilities of China Lake more valuable to the US than ever.
“A lot of what we do in the armed services committee is have classified briefings about what the bad guys are doing. I think I saw much of the answer this morning to what the bad guys are doing . . . it’s our young, incredibly, smart committed people who, if we can give them the resources and get the bureaucracy off their neck, can find answers to just about any problem,” Thornberry said.
“Our new president said the military has to be fixed, it has to be funded,” McCarthy said.
According to Thornberry, the military budget was cut more than 20 percent since 2010-2011.
“The world is not 20 percent safer than it was then. We are not asking less of the men and women who serve,” he said.
He said the cuts have damaged the military.
“I hate to say this, particularly in the shadow of China Lake, but the Navy has testified before us that more than half the planes the Navy has cannot fly today because they are waiting on maintenance or spare parts or other things,” Thornberry said. “I can give you statistics that are equally bad for every one of the services.”
He added that a fully ready and supported mission is critical.
“My bottom line is it is fundamentally wrong at every level to ask somebody to go out and perform a mission for which they are not fully prepared and fully supported with the best equipment this nation can provide,” Thornberry said. “We’ve got a lot of repair work to do to make up for the damage that has been done through several years of sequestration and so forth.”
Thornberry also said that defense is 14.7 percent of the federal budget, as opposed to 50 percent when John F. Kennedy was president.
“Under sequestration it had to absorb 50 percent of the cuts,” he said. “The military got hurt worse than anything else and meanwhile the world did not get any safer.”
He said timeliness is key in research and development. “The world is moving too fast, technology is moving too fast, our enemies are moving too fast for us to move at the speed of 1950s bureaucracies. So acquisition reform has been a key part of what we are working on and what we have so much more to do.
“If we take another 20 years to build the next airplane, it’s going to be out of date by the time it gets there. Take these brilliant young people and let them do things at the full speed at which they can perform and not have bureaucracy holding them back.”
Another question was about the possibility of a per diem increase, putting the amount assigned to Ridgecrest more on par with the larger Los Angeles area.
“I am still very hopeful that we are going to make that happen,” McCarthy said.
Ridgecrest falls under Kern County/Bakersfield area. Travel per diems allocate an average of $96 per night for lodging, versus the Los Angeles area, which is afforded an average of $150 per night for lodging (this area includes Los Angeles/Orange/Ventura, and Edwards Air Force Base, and excludes Santa Monica).
At the DI office, McCarthy noted a few things have already been done., but per diem remains an ongoing matter.
Locality pay for those who work at China Lake, which takes into account cost of living in the places where people work, was shifted to the Los Angeles area rate.
“Per diem is important, but the way we’re tied in — and we’ve been working on this — one thing we think we need to going forward is to get some more information,” McCarthy said. “We think there is a way we can get it done and we are working with the mayor on getting more information to get it through.”
He added that commissions are the ones who determine per diems.
“We’ve got to show them how we are closer tied, because [people] come up here for a meeting, but they go stay in LA because of the difference and the locality of where and how close we are,” McCarthy said. “I always think the aerospace corridor should be one [area], because of how close everything is. I think once we make the case all the way through, we’ll get that. That’s one we’ve been working on.”
In the end, he called it a matter of fairness. “The reality is we are in the aerospace corridor, you’re not going to drive over to Bakersfield, but that’s the area you’re being tied into.”