I was working in Iraq in 2007 when I first decided to run for Congress. I was nearing the end of a nine-month assignment to Baghdad supervising a United States Agency for International Development program that was working to combat the insurgency by creating jobs for average Iraqis. I had spent nearly a year in 2003 and 2004 in Kabul, Afghanistan, helping to supervise the Afghan presidential election, and when an opportunity arose to work in Iraq, I took it.
When I was sworn in as the new Representative from Virginia’s 2nd district this January, much of my personal experience with defense issues had been from my perspective overseas, living and working alongside our troops in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and before that, Kosovo. I grew up as a fifth-generation native of Hampton Roads, Va., an area that is home to one of the largest concentrations of military personnel, veterans and military families anywhere in the country.
As a result, when I look at our military and defense situation today, my thinking is largely guided by two key principles. First, with the right tools and the right support, our men and women in uniform can accomplish any task we set before them. Often, as we learned in Iraq, their efforts must also be combined with our diplomatic and economic resources in order to achieve success. Second, there are many things you can’t learn from a hearing or a briefing; you usually have to see the situation on the ground for yourself.
Since taking office, I’ve returned to both Iraq and Afghanistan to speak with our troops and commanders. Back home in my district, I have made a point to spend time visiting with the men and women at many of our military installations, including Langley Air Force Base and Naval Station Norfolk. I also have the privilege to serve on the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Expeditionary Forces and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
One of the major challenges that we face today is returning to a long-term, strategically focused budgeting process for our military after years of surviving on supplementals.
We need to address the critical shortfall in funding for surface ship maintenance and repair. This year alone, the Navy will fall an estimated $417 million behind the resources needed to keep our surface ships operating in top condition. Not only does this negatively affect our readiness, but it has the potential to place our warfighters in greater personal danger.
Shortfalls in strike fighter capacity and the proposals to change the size of our carrier fleet further underscore the need for a comprehensive, long-term approach to procurement and budgeting.
The good news is that the Obama administration appears intent on addressing at least some of these problems. While I have not yet seen the full details of Secretary Robert Gates’ budget proposal for the Department of Defense, and I continue to have concerns about any potential reductions in the capacity of our naval forces, the preliminary indications show that he recognizes the need for reform.
The Department of Defense took another positive step recently when it reversed the Navy’s initial decision to relocate a nuclear aircraft carrier from Naval Station Norfolk to Naval Station Mayport in Florida at a cost of up to $1 billion. Instead, the proposal will now be re-evaluated alongside other, more pressing national defense priorities as part of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review.
Another area of concern, and one where I am pleased to see strong movement on the part of the administration, is reforming the broken contracting and procurement process. Despite limited progress in recent years, the government has consistently failed to meet its small-business contracting goals.
In January, I took over as the new chairman of the House Small Business Subcommittee on Contracting and Technology. At the first hearing of my subcommittee, I made it clear to the federal agencies that we would not accept the same tired excuses to justify why small businesses are denied their fair share of contracting work. The president has announced that he intends to overhaul the contracting and procurement process, and I look forward to working with the administration to develop a process that is fair, that makes responsible use of taxpayer dollars and that protects small employers across the country.
While it is impossible to entirely escape partisanship in Washington, D.C., I have found that responsible leaders in both parties are willing to get behind real, common-sense policies that will benefit our servicemembers. From enacting procurement reforms to ensuring that our men and women have the equipment and support they need, I look forward to continuing to work with Republicans, Democrats and the White House to protect and strengthen our national security.
Rep. Glenn Nye (D-Va.) is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and is a former foreign service officer.