I request that we observe a moment of silence for the victims of the Tucson shootings, for the full recovery of all who were injured in that incident, including my good friend Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, and for the victims of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Counsel General Kimura, please know that the people of Guam offer our thoughts and prayers for the recovery of the communities affected by the disaster and we also offer our condolences to the families who lost loved ones. Your country, our ally, has our full and steadfast support as the relief efforts continue.
It is my honor to stand before you today to report on federal issues important to our people. First, I congratulate Governor Eddie Calvo and Lieutenant Governor Ray Tenorio as our newly elected Chief Executives. I also congratulate the new and re-elected members of the 31st Guam Legislature. I thank Speaker Won Pat and the Guam Legislature for hosting this Congressional Address, and I appreciate the warm hospitality of all the Senators.
We stand at the crossroads of an important time for our island. As the Guam build-up begins in earnest, we should look past the horizon to envision what our island could be like ten, twenty, or many more years beyond. Decisions we make today, and the foundation we build today for our island, will determine if we have prepared Guam for the future. Just as President Obama exhorted Congress and our nation to "Win the Future", I echo his call and extend my hand to all of you, the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, the Speaker and Senators of the Legislature, the Mayors and Vice Mayors, our indigenous Chamorro community, our business community, our education community, our young people, our ethnic communities, veterans, public and private sector employees, and families all across our great island to come together, to work together, and to win the future for Guam.
As we embark on this journey to our future, one of the first steps—maybe the most important step—is to resolve our political status through a legitimate act of Chamorro self determination. Last year Congress passed, and the President signed, a bill I authored to provide federal funding for political status education in the territories. I have asked Assistant Secretary Tony Babauta to make this a top priority, even as his budget cuts dictate that not all needs will be met in this fiscal year. I commend the Governor for stating that this is also his priority, and Senators Pangelinan and Respicio for their initiatives to move us toward decolonization. Resolving our political status, and decolonizing Guam, is a process that will cause us to examine our relationship with the United States, and determine what is best for our island and our people. We need to get on with this process and I will do my part in joining with the Governor and Legislature to make the self-determination vote a reality.
We cannot win the future for Guam if we do not resolve past injustices that have marked our history. The history of Guam, written years ahead, should reflect that justice was finally given to the greatest generation—the World War II generation—that endured the occupation of Guam. Last year, we moved H.R. 44 further along in the legislative process than ever before. The legislation has now passed the House of Representatives five separate times. The Senate, however, remains our stumbling block. During informal conference negotiations on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 we were able to reach consensus with Senator John McCain by compromising on the war claims language. Begrudgingly, I agreed to eliminate the payments to descendants of survivors who suffered personal injuries during the occupation of Guam. I did so because I felt we owed it to our mañaina to move this important issue forward.
Unfortunately, and in the final hours of the 111th Congress, a small group of fiscal conservatives in the Senate objected to the compromise war claims provision, after we had reached agreement with House and Senate leaders to keep H.R. 44 in the compromise version of the national defense bill. Due to unique legislative procedures that were needed to pass the bill at the end of lame duck session, any single Senator could object and hold up the bill in its entirety. This group held up the bill and the Senate Armed Services Committee leaders ultimately removed the war claims provision from the bill. Once the bill came back to the House, I was ready to object to the legislation because of the importance and gravity of this matter. However, I obtained a commitment from Chairman Buck McKeon that he would carry the compromise version of Guam war claims in this year's defense authorization bill.
As we begin to draft this year's defense authorization bill, I will continue to work closely with Chairman McKeon and I believe he will live up to his word. Resolution of this matter is critical this year as the build-up begins in earnest. We need to right this wrong and we need to bring resolution to this matter once and for all. The tone in Washington, D.C., is very different and I have no illusions that this process will be any easier, but we must continue to build on our previous successes. I continue to call on the Governor, the Guam Legislature and our community to support our efforts to get over the last hurdles in the Senate. We have moved the bill far in the Senate last year and I remain hopeful that, barring some unforeseen obstacle, we will be able to build on our past success and pass H.R. 44.
However, as we look to the future, the most important challenge will be the build-up. We all recognize that the build-up presents many challenges but also many opportunities. We are challenged to ensure that our environment is not harmed, and that our capacity for growth is not overwhelmed. By signing the Programmatic Agreement, Governor Calvo and State Historic Preservation Officer, Lynda Aguon, have given the green light for more than $1 billion in military construction projects related to the build-up to commence. As we move forward, the signing of the Programmatic Agreement is an important step to further the relationship between the Government of Guam and the Department of Defense. I believe the Governor will work diligently, as he has already demonstrated, in negotiations with the Department of Defense to ensure that our island truly benefits from the build-up. I thank the Speaker and Members of the Legislature who reached out to me in January to discuss their concerns and share their input on many important issues surrounding the military build-up. I also want to thank former Lieutenant Governor Kaleo Moylan, who, on behalf of the Guam Chamber of Commerce and other business stakeholders, facilitated meetings between Members of the Legislature, business stakeholders, the Governor and me. Our dialogue has helped clarify a number of issues involving the Programmatic Agreement, and we must build on this dialogue in order to ensure that we get the build-up done right.
As such, I sponsored a provision in last year's defense authorization bill that establishes a framework for the integration of our water and wastewater systems on Guam. I made a commitment to you, last year, that we would seek authority for the Navy to integrate the water and wastewater system with GovGuam. During the legislative process, two changes were made that I argued against during committee deliberations. They were not in my provision. I had hoped that we could make further changes during conference when the House and Senate reconcile their respective versions of the bill. This is the normal course of addressing provisions in the defense bill that need further modification and we had good reason to believe that we would have that opportunity in conference. However, the defense bill did not go through the regular conference process and we did not have the opportunity to make further changes to the provision. I apologize if some Senators felt that I did not highlight these provisions in my discussions with the Legislature, and in retrospect, we could have had a fuller discussion on these issues.
There are two issues that cause concern. The first change to my provision required the payment of fair market value for the system, and, we countered that such payment should be offset by unreimbursed Compact-Impact costs. Since the mid-1990s the Congress and the Administration have insisted on the payment of fair market value for conveyance of federal assets. The current fiscal environment made this even more compelling for the fiscal conservatives who insisted on fair market value. Given this reality we tried to find an appropriate way to offset this cost. But I would emphasize that I agree with the Governor and Senator Guthertz that Guam ratepayers should not have to pay for the integration and consolidation of the two systems. Offsetting with unreimbursed Compact-Impact costs is one way to ensure that there is no direct payment from GovGuam to the Navy. This approach recognizes that it is unlikely that an appropriation for unreimbursed Compact-Impacts costs in the amount it is estimated to be over $400 million could ever be achieved in this very difficult budget environment. Therefore, using Compact-Impact as an offset for the fair market value requirement is a way to get something of enormous value for Guam without having to make a cash payment to the Navy for the fair market payment of the assets.
Let me take a moment to share my perspective on the influence of fiscal conservatives in Congress and in our national discourse. Fiscal conservativism has been on the rise for years but their influence in both the House and Senate has now reached a point where their views must be recognized. They brought the Senate to a standstill prior to the November elections and having won seats in both the House and Senate they have been a controlling force. Their agenda is driven by our huge national debt of $14 trillion. Their influence on legislation has caused problems for many bills and many programs. They oppose new programs, expanding programs, new spending and earmarks. It has affected our agenda both with H.R. 44 and with this provision for the water transfer. The reality in Congress dictates that you must address their concerns in meaningful ways. Therein lays my rationale for the Compact-Impact offset for the fair market value of the water system.
The second provision, which I too find unacceptable, requires Navy voting representation of 33 percent on the Consolidated Commission on Utilities (CCU). I agree with Governor Calvo, and the Senators who have objected to this provision. I agree with you completely that the Navy should not sit as a voting member of the CCU. I commend Chairman Tom Ada and the Guam Legislature for passing Resolution 48 which complements the Governor's message and my statements to the House Armed Services Committee that these two provisions are strongly opposed by our community and are counterproductive to a comprehensive agreement to transfer the Navy's water and wastewater system to Guam in a manner similar to how the electric utility was consolidated in the 1980s. In a hearing on March 15th, I asked Assistant Secretary Pfannenestiel whether there is any other utility in America where the Navy has voting representation and she was not aware of any. We are not going to be the first! I also urged her to look at Guam Power Authority model which was performance-based and she agreed that this serves as a useful model for the integration of the water and wastewater utilities. These statements, on the record, combined with statements from our island's leaders will help us to make our case to the House Committee as we revisit this issue in the future.
I also urge the CCU to negotiate the transfer of the water and wastewater systems without any requirement to give the Navy voting representation on this locally elected board. I am hopeful that the Governor will be able to use the legislative authority in this provision to bring the Navy to the table to discuss, in a very serious manner, the future consolidation of the Navy and GovGuam's water and wastewater systems—at no additional cost to the Guam ratepayers. I believe that a final agreement with the Navy on the transfer of its water and wastewater systems to GovGuam could be negotiated by the Governor and CCU without cost to the Guam ratepayer and without voting representation by the Navy on the CCU. Such an agreement, with the Navy's support, will be the basis for removing the voting representation provision.
I believe that it is important to put the water issue on the table now because we have the attention at the highest levels of the Department of Defense on the Guam build-up. Just as Senators have rightly asked to put other issues on the table like war claims and the earned income tax credit, the Department of Defense actually has control over the water assets. I fear that without addressing it now we may lose a moment in time where it could have been solved and where we had maximum leverage.
The integration of our water and wastewater systems will help us to achieve economies of scale for both the military and civilian rate payers resulting in better value and lower overall costs. It will also help us to realize the goal of "One Guam" and contribute to a sense of community for residents both inside and outside the fence. And, Governor, you stated that to make your point, you are willing to walk with Senator Ada - well so am I. I will walk with you and every member of this Legislature to Fena to show our unity and to help bring about the end to the final vestige of former Naval governance on Guam.
This is the summer of decisions on the build-up. We have come a long way in just one year regarding these matters. I urge us all to put aside politics and remain "One Guam" in our discussions with the military about the future of this realignment. We must take advantage of this moment in history to secure lasting benefits for our island, our children and our future. This year the Obama Administration demonstrated an important commitment to Guam by providing $33 million in the Department of Defense's budget for socio-economic projects. This is a good start that demonstrates a commitment to Guam. I will continue to work to provide the Department of Defense with authority to transfer these funds to the Government of Guam so we can realize the benefits of this investment. Fiscal conservatives in the House and Senate may target this funding for cuts. I will fight to protect Guam's funding. It is this type of funding that will help our island to win the future and make investments in critical infrastructure needs. Importantly, I will continue to urge the Department of Defense to provide financial assistance to the Guam Memorial Hospital as part of its funding for socio-economic impacts. It is important that this critical infrastructure is prepared to receive the increased workers and induced population.
As the build-up moves forward, it will be critical for us to focus on specific details surrounding its implementation. I commend the work of Dr. Robert Underwood and Dr. John Peterson for the establishment of the Center for Island Sustainability at the University of Guam. The Center for Island Sustainability will serve our people and the Department of Defense as a clearinghouse for analyses and studies of environmental issues surrounding the build-up. The expertise and knowledge built up at this center will serve as a catalyst for making sure that the build-up is a win-win for our military and civilian communities. Most specifically, as the DoD and other federal agencies continue their analysis of a potential aircraft carrier berthing in Apra Harbor, I believe the University can act as a trusted expert to evaluate the options that our Navy and the community have proposed. Creating expertise on these environmental issues will help to build the University of Guam into a world class institution.
While the military build-up can help improve our higher education system, recent federal legislation has helped to fund our local schools. Over the past year, the Guam Department of Education received significant federal assistance from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Recovery Act has provided Guam with $82 million in financial assistance through the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, and $25 million for improvement of school governance. These funds were intended for capital improvement projects, such as teacher training, school modernization, or projects at GCC and UOG. They have gone a long way toward improving our island's schools. Still, the funds are set to expire this fall and the majority has yet to be spent. I support the recent efforts of Governor Calvo and Superintendent Nerissa Underwood to reprogram remaining funds to cover immediate personnel costs, such as the salaries of our dedicated teachers, and ensure Guam does not lose the remaining funds. These efforts however, must be paired with local legislation to ensure local funds are used to improve the physical infrastructure of our schools. I encourage the Guam Legislature to pass such legislation and give our students and teachers the well equipped schools they deserve.
I will continue to fight for the needs of our students and educators. I recently reintroduced H.R. 888 a bill to require the federal government to reimburse any state or territory whose schools educate the children from the Freely Associated States (FAS). It would include FAS students at the maximum percentage allowable under the Impact Aid program and help to ease the financial obligations FAS students place on our schools. This year, Congress is expected to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, more commonly known as "No Child Left Behind," and I will work to incorporate my impact aid bill into that reauthorization package to help address the shortfall in Compact-Impact assistance. As Congress considers new legislation to replace No Child Left Behind, I look forward to hearing the input of our educators and policymakers, especially from educators who are in this legislature, Doctor Won Pat, Doctor Guthertz, Doctor Yamashita and Doctor Mabini. I know you have great ideas from your classroom experience and I want to work with you so we can evaluate how the national reforms will impact schools in the territories. As a start, I hope you will lead discussions on Guam that will focus on whether the past emphasis on student testing has brought the results our community needs or has it diverted focus and resources away from the true needs of students in our school system. We must also tackle high drop out rates in Guam and the rest of the territories and find solutions that will encourage our young men and women to earn their diplomas. Senator Duenas, I look forward to your valuable input because you have great expertise in the area of meeting the challenges of at-risk youth and finding alternative programs to meet their educational and emotional needs.
We all have a responsibility not just to promote education but to promote educational ideals. I have sponsored internships in my office to give new opportunities to our young men and women who are studying at our University of Guam and colleges and universities across our nation. I have also pursued nominations to the Congressional Page program at every opportunity available. And past Congressional Pages have been John Junior Calvo, Brianna Lai and Liesl Flores. It is my pleasure to introduce the newest graduate of the Congressional Page program Mr. Chris Borja and his proud parents Mike and Julie Borja. Can I have all the pages stand and be recognized? I'd also like to introduce graduates of our internship program who are in the audience. Three years ago we initiated a new program specifically for University of Guam students and we have Alexandra Kerr and Nicole Cruz who are in the audience. Another proud moment for me is when I have an opportunity to nominate our young men and women to the service academies. As many of you know, we have had dozens of young men and women go onto to serve from Guam in the military and other careers. We are very proud of one of these graduates who is Rear Admiral Pete Gumataotao who was recently promoted to a second star and will serve as Commander of Strike Group Eleven.
In his State of the Island message last week, Governor Calvo talked about harnessing the positive economic times ahead to lift many of our families out of poverty. Part of that economic improvement comes from investment in our education system as I noted earlier. However, more immediately this is the kind of forward thinking from the Governor that we need in order to ensure that the opportunities associated with the build-up contribute to a better and more prosperous Guam. This means ensuring the jobs created by the build-up go to our residents first. Recently the Guam Community College received an earmark of $390,000 for vocational training programs and partnered with Guam Trades Academy to prepare young men and women for future jobs.
We will win the future for Guam if we work to ensure new economic opportunities for our people. We have many small businesses that are eager to contribute their expertise and their resources to the build-up. But we also have to ensure that small businesses on island get their fair share. I am concerned that contracting processes favor off island companies and I have heard stories of local small businesses that are losing out of opportunities. We will urge the Department of Defense and the Navy in particular, to increase their efforts to promote small business contracting. Further collaboration between the Procurement Technical Assistance Center, the Small Business Development Center, the Guam Contractors Association and the Guam Chamber of Commerce will help to give our local businesses the tools that they need to be successful in the federal marketplace. However, recent news that our locally owned and operated businesses have lost contracts to off-island firms is disappointing. The Department of Defense can and must do more to make sure their procurement workforce follows currently existing regulations and makes extra effort to ensure local firms have a level playing field to compete for lucrative contracts. Taking the easy way out and getting mired in bureaucratic red tape is what led to contracting problems in Iraq and Afghanistan and I find that completely unacceptable. I created an interagency group of Inspectors General to oversee the implementation of the military build-up and I will call on them to ensure strict oversight of the entire build-up. And I will continue to monitor this.
These economic opportunities for our people will not be realized if we do not have aggressive tax enforcement and if we do not receive every tax dollar owed to the Government of Guam. I appreciate the focus on this issue by Senator Pangelinan and Vice Speaker Cruz, and I have asked the Department of Defense to do two things. First, I want compliance with local tax laws to be part of the contract stipulations. Second, I want the joint Inspectors General to have active investigations where there are reports of tax dodgers. I am also requesting Assistant Secretary Babauta provide technical assistance to the Guam Department of Revenue and Taxation to improve tax collecting technology and training. I am urging the Department of Defense to adopt Senator Pangelinan's idea to withhold part of the contract payments until local taxes are satisfied. These efforts, and others that the Calvo Administration are taking, will help to ensure that all taxes due to Guam are paid to Guam.
Another area of significant economic opportunity is with the expansion of our visitor industry. Passage of the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 saw the development of a joint Guam-CNMI visa waiver program that was intended by Congress to expand opportunities to Chinese and Russian markets. Unfortunately, flawed implementation by the Bush Administration led to an interim-final rule that did not include Chinese and Russian visitors for Guam. Further, Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano utilized parole authority to continue to allow Chinese and Russian visitors into the CNMI due to the very real possibility that their economy would have collapsed without this accommodation. I have made it clear on numerous occasions that not including Guam for China and Russia visa waiver is not consistent with Congressional intent. I have been successful in halting development of a final rule that might not have included Chinese and Russian visitors. As we move forward with the Fiscal Year 2012 budget process I will work with our industry stakeholders, the Governor and the Legislature to make sure that parole authority is extended to Guam to prove that visa waiver for China and Russia can work. This must be done before any final rule is implemented by the Department of Homeland Security.
Further, I share the concern raised by Senator Tina Muña Barnes that the recent disaster in Japan may depress Japanese tourism in the immediate future. We are fortunate that some of the revenue loss from Japanese visitor cancellations has been offset by the temporary relocation of military and civilian personnel from Japan to Guam, most of who are staying in our hotels. Senator Muña Barnes makes a good point. We must focus on our markets and do everything we can to entice visitors to Guam to make up for the shortfall of Japanese visitors. We hope that the Japanese economy will recover soon enough so that their citizens will feel comfortable in maintaining their travel plans. And, Counsel General Kimura, we hope that you will extend our message to your government that Guam continues to welcome Japanese visitors and that our famous Chamorro hospitality is ready to receive those who may seek a much needed break to recharge and rejuvenate their spirits.
Our visitor industry and our sense of our place in the world depends on our ability to promote and preserve the Chamorro culture on Guam. I have sponsored earmarks for Chamorro language curriculum and the Pa'a TaoTao Tano' organization has also received significant federal funding support. I commend Senator Cruz and Senator Tina Muña Barnes for their efforts in promoting Chamorro dance, music and language as the foundation for the visitor industry and for our own benefit and our future identity. But we must do more. Concerns that have been raised that the military build-up will further dilute the prominence of Chamorro culture on Guam is a valid concern. We Are Guahan and Fuetsan Famalao'an have effectively raised this issue and helped us all to focus on preserving our history and historical places. Socio-economic changes will also put pressure on Chamorro families as they strive to hand down the precious gift of Chamorro culture from one generation to another. We must find ways to address these concerns. I will support your efforts to direct federal funds to these programs. I also commend Lieutenant Governor Ray Tenorio for his efforts to promote our tourism product through his leadership in the Islandwide Beautification Task Force and his program "It Starts With Us".
It was a proud moment for many in the room who witnessed Governor Calvo receiving the conveyance of 450 acres of land which included Hila'an and which fulfilled the federal government's obligation under the Guam Excess Lands Act. Experts at the University of Guam have publicly commented that this land was host to the most significant ancient Chamorro village on Guam. We all recognize the work of former Congressmen Antonio B. Won Pat, Ben Blaz and Robert Underwood over the years that resulted in the transfer of the last parcel to Governor Calvo. I would also note that these 450 acres are not part of the Navy's commitment of a "net negative" footprint at the end of the build-up.
Winning the future for Guam means winning on multiple levels. The military build-up is a significant part of our future economy but so is tourism, so is our fishing industry and our agricultural industry. Our fishing and agricultural sectors are often forgotten and need special encouragement. I commend Senator Guthertz for trying to preserve indigenous fishing practices and I commend Manny Duenas and Vangie Lujan for preserving fishing and marine conservation around our island. I also commend the efforts of Senator Respicio for his work on developing a shark finning bill here on Guam modeled off H.R. 81, a bill I authored, to federally prohibit shark finning and that was signed by President Obama this past fall. Fishing and marine conservation are not mutually exclusive, and I respect the viewpoints of our fishermen and conservationists who have the same goal to ensure that future generations will be able to practice the indigenous fishing methods our Chamorro ancestors have used for centuries. Our efforts should also ensure that a viable commercial fishing industry, which has grown in transshipment from our port and airport, will continue to be viable because it provides good sustainable jobs for our people. And, to take our efforts one step further, I am proposing to form a Fishery Advisory Council similar to our Veterans' Advisory Council that I formed in 2004. The Fishery Advisory Council would help to promote dialogue and inform me and other policy leaders of issues and perspectives important to our fishing and conservation communities. I believe this is an area that will benefit from direct dialogue between different stakeholders and where common ground can be found. I think common ground can be found on many issues.
And to those of you who have recently championed the idea of a green revolution, I say si yu'os ma'ase on behalf of former Governor Ricky Bordallo; he may have been decades ahead in his vision that fruits and vegetables grown on Guam for our community should be a source of income and, more importantly, pride. I will continue in my efforts to pass a "Green Grocer" bill that will require military exchanges and commissaries across our nation to purchase local meats, fish, fruit and produce grown within 150-miles of the military facility. And I thank Roland Quitigua and Ernie Wusstig for there many discussions with me which literally planted this idea for opening up military markets. There are other products that our island can provide to the military exchanges and commissaries and I continue my commitment to the Guam Chamber of Commerce to urge the military to break down the barriers which have prevented the sale of products from local distributors like soft drinks, beer and distilled spirits. We were thwarted in this effort but will continue to press our case in the future.
Another key area of concern as the military build-up moves forward is the matter of our local health care infrastructure. During the last Congress, the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, made real, and lasting improvements to health care for all Americans. As a result, young adults can remain on their parent's health plans through their 26th birthday, and children can no longer be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions. Insurance companies cannot drop your coverage simply because you get sick and new insurance plans offer free coverage for preventive services such as immunizations, mammograms or other breast cancer screenings. These critical patient protections will ensure the people of Guam have access to the coverage and the care they need. In addition to these patients' rights, federal assistance in Medicaid on Guam will nearly double this year, and again in Fiscal Year 2012. Prior to health care reform's passage, Guam received $13.7 million per year in federal Medicaid assistance, by the end of 2012 that number will reach $42 million. This increased assistance will allow our physicians to continue providing the critical care we depend on. While reform was expansive and parts were controversial, the territories were able to secure some important exceptions in the legislation. For instance, the Affordable Care Act includes an individual mandate to buy health insurance for those who are financially capable. While the territories are not covered by this individual mandate, our local legislature could take action to ensure there is a local individual mandate for Guam. Similarly, the Act requires the creation of health insurance exchanges by 2014. The territories however, were given the option of operating an exchange, or to apply exchange funding to their Medicaid programs. Earlier this week our island received $1 million in planning grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help us evaluate whether to establish health exchanges on island. The health care reform bill provides our community with protections and options that will help us win the future for a healthy Guam.
While the Affordable Care Act was a step forward in improving health care on our island, more needs to be done. In the coming years we will need more physicians, providers and treatment facilities to match our population growth. I thank Peter Sgro and his private health care foundation for their efforts to support our health care infrastructure by building a private hospital. He has faced many hurdles along the way and I commend Peter and his team for their dedication in this endeavor.
Further, I will continue to press the Department of Defense to address a risk that is too great to take as the military build-up goes forward. The current acquisition strategy requires each individual company to develop their own solutions for providing medical care to guest workers. I fear that this strategy lacks a coherence and coordination that is needed to avoid overburdening our local health care system. I will continue to press the Department and seek legislative relief, if necessary, to make sure that a more comprehensive plan is developed to protect our people and the guest workers from becoming unnecessary burdens to the health care system. I would urge Vice Speaker Cruz and Senators Rodriguez, Respicio and Guthertz to develop tough local legislation. And I recognize the work of Senator Taijeron in addressing our emergency medical services that will become even more stressed in the years ahead. And I urge the Navy and all appropriate federal agencies to include local health care requirements in their contract stipulations to ensure that guest workers are not exploited and are provided with good health care. These local laws should also address circumstances where employers are responsible for workers who may require acute care and aggressive screening against communicable diseases.
Understanding that there are other burdens on our community, I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress and with Assistant Secretary Babauta to address funding concerns surrounding the Compact-Impact program. To help address the burden of FAS citizens living on Guam, I joined Congresswoman Mazie Hirono in support of her bill, H.R. 1035, that would extend Medicaid coverage to citizens of the Freely Associated States residing in the United States. And, I am working to ensure that this coverage is outside the Medicaid caps. This effort, along with my work to extend Impact Aid to FAS students, will help the Government of Guam fulfill its obligations and reduce the burden on our treasury. Finally, as the previous Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife, I requested that GAO conduct a study on the amount of unreimbursed Compact-Impact costs. The GAO team has come to Guam, the CNMI, Hawaii and Arkansas to better understand the impacts of FAS citizens on local services. I hope that this report will provide a better understanding of what steps can be taken to remedy to the total cost of providing these services as well past unreimbursed costs. To that end, we must continue to explore creative avenues to address this issue through other federal programs.
We must win the future for a safe and secure Guam. Today, as I speak, the 94th Civil Support Team of our Guam National Guard is performing a critical homeland defense mission at our airport by screening all incoming cargo for potential radiation resulting from the nuclear accident in Japan. They are helping to keep us safe and secure in this mission. Moreover, on a daily basis, our men and women who wear uniforms in the law enforcement community keep our villages and our homes safe and they deserve our thanks and support. I have worked to secure funding for police officer positions through the COPS program and federal support for the design of a new police forensics lab. I will continue to urge the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice to provide resources to address law enforcement issues during the build-up. Aggressive law enforcement also requires that our court system has the resources to cope with an increased population. Chief Justice Carbullido has raised the issue of preparing the Judicial Branch to enhance their information technology and creating efficiencies in the court. Senators Palacios and Duenas have taken a leadership role in addressing these law enforcement issues and I will work with them on their initiatives that will win the future for a safe and secure Guam.
It is also important that we win the future for our veterans on Guam. Our nation has been engaged in two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These conflicts have undoubtedly stressed our military and significantly increased the number of veterans. In fact, we now have approximately 12,000 veterans living on Guam today. These men and women have served our country faithfully in military operations from World War II, to Korea, to Vietnam, to Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere around the globe. They have worn our nation's uniform to support and defend the Constitution and to protect our national security interests and our very way of life. They were not involved in making the policy that sent them into harm's way but they carried out our nation's policy no matter what the cost was. 18 sons and 1 daughter have given the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.
We owe it to our Veterans to recognize the sacrifices they have made and to recognize their families who have also suffered alongside their loved ones. I am committed to supporting initiatives that improve the benefits our veterans have justly earned. The opening of the community based outpatient clinic in Agana Heights is a very positive step forward. In fact, the new clinic has an entrance outside the gate that I insisted on that at the urging of the Veterans' Advisory Council (VAC). I am well aware and I am working to address the physician shortage at the clinic. I have also recently been made aware of the need for additional land for the Guam Veterans' Cemetery. I pledge to work with Governor Calvo, John Unpingco the State Veterans Affairs Administrator and all the veterans' organizations to address this concern.
It has also been an on-going effort to decrease the amount of time to process claims in Hawaii. The VAC has recommended that we try to get a review officer stationed on Guam to make the initial judgment on a claim. I am working on this proposal and I appreciate the input and advice from our veterans on issues that impact their daily lives. When it comes to veterans they need all the help they can get so I commend Senator Blas for his interest in this matter and for enlisting support from Assistant Secretary Babauta to obtain all the federal help necessary for our island's veterans. I also commend Senator Tony Ada for his efforts to address the needs of our veterans.
Additionally, the Department of Defense in these tough budget times is looking toward increasing TRICARE co-payments as part of its effort to find cost efficiencies. I am a co-sponsor of a bill that would prohibit the increase on these TRICARE co-payments. We shouldn't balance the budget on the backs of our nation's veterans, retirees and servicemembers. In fact, I am working with the other Delegates to bring TRICARE Prime to the territories to enhance the health care of our veterans and retirees on Guam.
I have travelled through the area of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan on many occasions and I am always proud to see our young servicemen and women from Guam bringing our Chamorro culture to their units abroad. No matter what the conditions are in theater our men and women are always ready to share our island's hospitality with their fellow servicemembers. Earlier this month, I travelled to Iraq and Afghanistan and this was my fifteenth trip to the theater. I am happy to report that our own men and women have the highest morale and greatest sense of dedication. They are professionals doing a tough job and we join together in sending our support and prayers for a safe return. Here on Guam, we can make it easier for them by directly lending a hand to their families or to service organizations like the USO and the Red Cross. Whether your support is direct or indirect, it is always appreciated by those who serve in harms way and those who serve throughout the globe in defense of our freedoms.
One of the most significant changes for me in the 112th Congress is that I am the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Readiness. This leadership position comes with many responsibilities. Since the shooting in Tucson, one of my responsibilities is to speak for Representative Gabby Giffords in her absence on my subcommittee. As a courtesy, all the Ranking members who serve on Ms. Giffords' committees have taken it upon ourselves to give her the first word and read her statement and her questions as provided by her office. It is an almost daily reminder to my colleagues in Congress and me that the lessons of Tucson will not be soon forgotten.
I want to share my thoughts on how the Tucson incident has profoundly affected me and changed my view on public discourse. As you know, partisan politics nationally have taken an ugly turn prior to Tucson. And out of this horrible incident many leaders have shared important lessons with our citizens. These lessons demonstrate words can hurt, hateful words breed hate, and poisonous words create poisonous environments. Here on Guam, we can engage in very spirited debates on the issues of the day and the very difficult issues confronting our future. But we have an even bigger responsibility because of our island's roots in the Chamorro culture. The Chamorro culture emphasizes respect and dignity. I don't know when it began but our political culture has started to slip into an environment where it is becoming acceptable to call people names and to attack people on a personal level. I know that anyone who has run for governor has commented on this slide but it doesn't have to be this way. We must do better. I will be the first to promise that I will try my best to elevate our level of discussion by being respectful. Governor, Senators, in fact all public figures and any citizen: whenever you write to me or have a discussion with me, I pledge that my replies are respectful and courteous and my spoken words are respectful and courteous. We want to inspire our children and young adults to view political discourse, and more importantly, public service as good things that contribute to a better island. This is how we will win the future for Guam. We will win the future for Guam by making the right decisions and building a future worthy of our children's aspirations. I hope you will join me hand-in-hand with the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, the Speaker and Senators of the Legislature, the Mayors and Vice Mayors, our indigenous Chamorro community, our business community, our education community, our young people, our ethnic communities, veterans, public and private sector employees, and families all across our great island as we walk into the future with great expectations for our island and our people. God bless our beautiful island. God bless our great country the United States of America. Si Yu'os ma'ase; thank you.