GUAM – In case you’ve missed the signs lately, the Marines are now scheduled to move from Okinawa to Guam sometime closer to 2016 than the original 2014. Joe Ludovici wasn’t speaking in code when, on his first visit to Guam last November as the new executive director for the Joint Guam Program Office, he said: until this island can handle this boom, the boom won’t come.

His modest goals for 2011 look nothing like the original timetable. “We are going to have to keep the pace of construction within the capacities of Guam,” Ludovici stated while on Guam in November of 2011.

In the Pacific Daily News, he was quoted as saying: “(My goal) is that by this time next year, we’re breaking ground on waste water plants and water wells and things like that.” He’s still only talking about installing basic utilities and not even broaching projects like housing facilities, training ranges and the new deep-draft wharf.

If time is (more) money, and assuming Guam’s business community can stay nimble and adapt, while most business people would like the buildup to begin sooner rather than later, more time may allow businesses to prepare for the realities of the phased buildup approach. At this rate, the Department of Defense’s (DoD) official $10.27 billion price tag for the entire buildup may very well balloon over time to the more commonly cited $15 to $20 billion mark.

Whether we’re talking $10 billion or $15 billion or even more, the reality is that none of it is getting spent as fast as was the popular thinking anyway. Reports by every federal agency and council tracking the buildup money are replete with instances where, since 2008, funds have been appropriated and even obligated, but not fully spent.

Much of the reason is bound up in Ludovici’s sentiment: Guam just isn’t ready. Not NAVFAC Marianas who is in the midst of beefing up its systems and staff to manage the massive projects; not our struggling utilities agencies; and not all the business community where some have yet to form strategic partnerships and solve basic issues like massive recruiting.

In fact, of the total $609.7 million Congress authorized for the Guam buildup (for fiscal years 2008-2011), plus the $917.8 million already allocated by the Government of Japan, only a fraction has actually been awarded, contracted or otherwise obligated by DoD since 2008.

“We have over $1 billion in the bank to begin awarding contracts,” was the message to Guam Rotary Clubs last September from Ret. Maj. General David Bice, Ludovici’s predecessor. Four months later, in January, Under Secretary of the Navy Robert Work echoed that same sentiment to Guam Governor Eddie Calvo, saying “What we have been interested in doing is moving forward on about a billion dollars worth of construction projects that we cannot do until the Programmatic Agreement is signed.”

Aggressive as DoD may want to be, it simply can’t award contracts fast enough. The agency finds itself under-spending already available appropriations, and hardly reaching the originally expected spending pace of $1 to $3 billion per year.

Still, FY2008-2011 appropriations from the U.S. and Japan only amount to $1.5 billion — that’s only 14.6% — of the total $10.27 billion. With that much money pent up already, there simply is no hurry to appropriate faster.

Nonetheless, the money is there.

Think of it as money being poured into a wide-mouthed funnel that narrows to a skinny stream. Opening the flow without pacing the impacts is not necessarily in the best interest of a tiny, fragile island. Nor is a faster flow of money even likely given major hurdles in the island’s stressed utilities and infrastructure, its daunting shortage of skilled labor, and the Navy’s new adaptive program management directive that slows the pace of buildup projects. Not to mention the fact that Guam’s buildup is connected to a highly unpopular, politically thorny new Marine basing strategy for Futenma in Okinawa, which demands its own deft and gentle pacing.

Knowing that there are hurdles to overcome, it is critical that the Government of Guam and the business community discern which ones they can solve – deliberately and wisely. The island, facing its own significant deficit and ailing infrastructure and public services, could use a sense of careful urgency to open the spigot sooner rather than later, and begin to pump some money into its public coffers and economy.

The good news is, the mouth of the funnel is filling up. And if we’re smart, while we work to unclog the flow, we’ll appreciate the funnel’s narrow neck as precious time to better prepare for the buildup’s inevitable opportunities and impacts. Don’t misread this sign: Rather than bad news, the pace is good news. Rather than doubting that the money is coming, know that it is already there and filling up.

Understand this moment for what it is: gracious time to sharpen our pencils and tighten our business and community plans. Let’s be conscientious and use the time wisely to look for insights that help us pace our recruiting, training, growth and other major investments while also working towards the best possible outcome for Guam’s people, culture, environment and quality of life.

 

Image used in this article courtesy Renjith Krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net