GUAM – A more expensive military buildup over a longer stretch of time means the way forward for Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Marianas involves re-pacing buildup projects, reorganizing staff and reducing outsourcing, according to its former commander.
In 2009, it was “go, go, go; build, build, build; grow the force, grow the force, grow the force,” Capt. Peter S. Lynch, immediate past commander of NAVFAC Marianas, told GuamBuildupNews.com in an interview just before stepping down from that post last week. For the past two years, Capt. Lynch has presided over the execution of construction work associated with the planned transfer of 8,600 U.S. Marines and their dependants and support staff to Guam from Okinawa.
In the interim years, as the Environmental Impact Statement for the buildup progressed from draft to final, the Navy agreed in its Record of Decision to revise the construction tempo to avoid overwhelming the island’s environment and infrastructure.
“[Then it was] slow down a little bit; change the pace,” Capt. Lynch continued. “That’s challenging.”
Today, the command Capt. Lynch has relinquished to his successor Capt. John V. Heckmann, Jr. carries quite a different set of challenges.
Washington and Tokyo last month officially reset the deadline for completing the Marine realignment at a bilateral meeting of defense and foreign ministers. The updated timeline, now targeting “the earliest possible date after 2014,” is a game changer that will trigger a remolding of resources at the Navy command overseeing buildup construction.
While the total cost of the buildup program has been adjusted upward to $17.4 billion from $10.3 billion in 2006, the more relaxed deadline now softens the pace of construction even further to hundreds of millions of dollars a year for a longer term, rather than a billion dollars a year over the next two or three years.
“We have a pretty progressive project-planning horizon and had some really big projects planned in the 2010, 2011, 2012 timeline, so the work force that we built up was to manage that billion-dollars-a-year work,” Capt. Lynch said.
As part of an overall marshalling of resources for the buildup on the aggressive 2014 timeline, NAVFAC Marianas grew from about 250 personnel when Capt. Lynch assumed command to more than 600 presently, although part of the growth was due to the integration of former Air Force employees into NAVFAC upon the formation of Joint Region Marianas in October 2009.
The size of the NAVFAC work force is one of several potential challenges resulting from the new pace. “NAVFAC is staffed to workload,” Capt. Lynch said.
Now that workload can be distributed over a greater stretch of time, the command is using its staff for work it had planned to outsource. “Some construction management work, some scheduling work, some cost estimating work — we were going to contract those functions out,” he said. “Now, looking at the work force that we have on board, the technical skills that we have on board and then the reduced load, we’re not going to contract those functions out anymore. We’ll just do that all in-house.”
Other issues for which staff has been hired may simply not materialize. For example, the Environmental Impact Statement projected the need for off-island construction workers — more than 18,000 during 2014 — to meet the original deadline. That number will likely be greatly reduced in light of the extended deadline.
“We had hired some people to manage the work force housing issues — the logistics, the health care oversight and those kinds of things,” Capt. Lynch said. “There was a whole pod of people that were going to help manage that this year, [to ensure that] that the workers were safe and appropriately cared for.
“If that workload spreads out and there’s not that much need for H-2B workers then that whole group won’t be required, certainly [not] to the same scope. So great, competent professionals are on island — part of NAVFAC Marianas — to do this function which probably won’t happen.”
Determining the best use for workers who are on board will be a challenge for the incoming commander that will likely take at least a couple of years, Capt. Lynch said. “We’ll have a better read on that as we get a better sense of how the buildup is going to go over the next several years.”
Adjusting the timing of projects in the face of the shifting deadlines and contracting delays is another challenge for the NAVFAC command. “We have to synchronize all the projects so we don’t build something way in advance of the Marines arriving and [aren’t] maintaining and sustaining a building for several years before anybody occupies it,” Capt. Lynch said.
A current synchronization concern involves one ongoing project and one yet to be awarded.
The $86 million upgrade to Uniform and Tango Wharves at Apra Harbor on U.S. Naval Base Guam broke ground on May 6 and is well underway. It was awarded in September 2010 to Guam MACC Builders, a joint venture of Watts Constructors, Webcor Builders, Obayashi Corp. and Healy Tibbitts Builders Inc. The project was awarded as a task order under the Navy’s $4 billion multiple award construction contract and is funded by the U.S. in its fiscal year 2010 military construction budget.
The same wharf project is dependent to some extent on a project still yet to be awarded: the $500 million Phase I Utilities and Site Improvements contract. Funded by Japan in fiscal year 2009, it is the first-ever buildup project financed by the Japanese. It includes Marine-related ground preparation and utilities work at Andersen, Apra Harbor and the site of the future Marine base at Finegayan.
“We advertised that we’d have [Phase I] ready for award in June and now we’re waiting for approval to award,” Capt. Lynch said.
The delay in awarding Phase I has to do with a slow down of funding on the U.S. side. While Japan’s money has come through, the U.S. Department of Defense needs more time to secure money for its portion of the project in the nation’s 2012 budget that begins this October. DoD’s budget request includes $77 million for Phase I to improve the fresh water system at Finegayan.
At Apra Harbor, the electrical wiring for the wharf facilities must connect through a conduit to the utilities backbone that is part of Phase I. If the utilities backbone is not in place, “we have conduits ending; cables in a pig tail and nothing to connect to,” Capt. Lynch said. “And we’ve got to put concrete on there to make the rest of the wharf work. Then, if we do get the Japanese money awarded, we have to trench what we just put in place — 18-inch concrete.”
Adding to the uncertainty surrounding the buildup construction is the June 22 report from the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services striking buildup-related projects from the fiscal year 2012 military construction budget. The Senate wants a master plan and other information from the Defense Department before authorizing the funds.
“If Congress doesn’t fund the military construction program, that puts everything on the U.S. side on hold,” Capt. Lynch said. “Right now the Senate language is very concerning.”
The Senate cuts, which both President Obama and the House of Representatives oppose, must still survive debate in congressional joint conference committee.
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