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Joint Base Charleston, Parris Island projects are in peril if Congress can't pass a budget

Joint Base Charleston (copy)

Military projects at Joint Base Charleston could be hindered if Congress doesn't pass a budget. Charleston Airmen load equipment onto a C-17 Globemaster III at Joint Base Charleston in response to Hurricane Dorian. File/U.S. Air Force/Provided

Congress avoided a government shutdown by passing a resolution to keep spending the same through next month, but the move could slow two vital construction projects: at Joint Base Charleston and with the Marines at Parris Island.

By not having a fully funded budget for 2020, the future of a $33.3 million medical supply distribution center in Charleston and a $37 million overhaul of a Marine Corps firing range is uncertain.

As whispers about a potential six-month, or even a yearlong delay to fully fund the government circulate, the armed forces are publishing memos warning of the potential financial effects on military readiness.

The continuing resolution that was passed Tuesday temporarily funds all government agencies through Dec. 20. While the measure maintains current levels of spending and provides a 3 percent pay raise for all members of the military, it provides little to no flexibility for Pentagon budgets and won't fund future projects. 

"Denying a pay raise for troops is seen as bad business for politicians," said Mackenzie Eaglen, a research fellow at the nonprofit American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. "There's a lot of other ways to negatively harm the armed services. Like not getting necessary funding." 

Branches are now playing a waiting game to see what they can do in fiscal year 2020.

The SC projects

A yearlong funding delay could hinder 41 military contract projects for the Air Force alone, which includes  Joint Base Charleston's medical supply distribution center.

An initial funding request in March said the existing center had "reached its maximum logistical capacity" and that it's "impeded by space limitations and lack of environmental controls."

The request said failure to get funding "will negatively impact the Air Force’s ability to maintain and deliver medical resources in a timely manner." 

The site "is not secure, hinders transport of material during elevated force protection conditions, and is under the protective jurisdiction of local town police," the funding request for the project states.

The Air Force said the center is in disrepair and not climate controlled, which puts the medical contents at risk.

A new center would become the primary facility for the Air Force if another one in San Antonio is shut down. An Air Force memo said the fiscal year 2020 budget is "necessary to execute 88 investment new starts, 14 production increases and 41 military construction projects across 19 states."

Another project, to modernize a live-fire training range on Parris Island for the Marine Corps, is also caught in the financial crossfire. The project to update the range — new firing lines, access roads and storm water drainage — is crucial to military readiness, a funding request states. 

Without an update, the existing range "would have to be closed or require curtailment of operating hours," the request states.

The Navy acknowledged in a memo that funding delays present "numerous challenges" to the Marines. 

"It could affect anything from the chow hall, to on-base housing or a firing range," said Eaglen, the AEI researcher. "We talk about how you train is how you'll fight, and that's a key part to readiness." 

'Bad for contractors'

Congress' failure to OK a budget has a large impact on the private sector, particularly military contractors in the Palmetto State. 

A Post and Courier analysis of five years’ worth of the most recent spending data from the Pentagon’s Office of Economic Adjustment shows $13.1 billion worth of Department of Defense contracts were performed or awarded in South Carolina. One out of every 12 jobs in the state can be traced back to the military.

As it stands, no new programs or projects can be funded, meaning contractors that provide everything from military housing to maintenance on warships could be delayed indefinitely. 

Susanna Blume, the director of the Defense Program at the Center for New American Security, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington D.C., said it can possibly mean job losses for some private companies that depend on Department of Defense dollars. 

"Continuing resolutions are really bad for contractors," Blume said. "They need to know when they're going to get paid to avoid layoffs. There is a huge burden there." 

Defense spending accounted for 2.3 percent of the state’s gross domestic product in 2017 alone. Since 2010, the Defense Department has started each fiscal year without full appropriations.

Joint Base Charleston overlaps with U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn's district. The Columbia Democrat urged "the Senate to do its work so we can provide the budgetary certainty necessary to move forward on vital projects."  

U.S. Rep. William Timmons, a Greenvillle Republican, is an active member of the Air National Guard. In a statement, he recognized the harm budget delays cause the military. \

"There is no doubt that continuing resolutions have a negative impact on our military installations and our defense as a whole," Timmons said. "This is why it is imperative that Congress pass a budget deal so that important contracts with the Defense Department can be fulfilled and we can maintain our military readiness."

U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, a Charleston Democrat, voted for the continuing resolution this week. On Thursday, he introduced the Funding Deadline Enforcement Act. The bill would force Congress to approve a full budget instead of delaying.

"It's importance to recognize that continuing resolutions are bad governance," Cunningham told The Post and Courier. "It hamstrings our military."

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Reach Thomas Novelly at 843-937-5715. Follow him @TomNovelly on Twitter. 

Thomas Novelly reports on the military community across South Carolina. He also covers growth and development in Berkeley County. Previously, he wrote for the Courier Journal in Louisville, Kentucky. He is a fan of Southern rock, bourbon and horse racing.

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