By Craig Williams
As families in central Kentucky went about their holiday preparations last week, the only news coming out of Washington regarding the economy seemed to be about political gridlock ushering in a season of doom and gloom.
Far away from those headlines, however, there was some good news that will have a significant positive effect on central Kentucky’s economic situation and the safety of its citizens.
Because Congress has yet to pass the 2013 Military Construction spending bill, the Pentagon has been locked into 2012 spending levels. The effect of maintaining 2012’s funding levels for the disposal of chemical weapons at the Blue Grass Army Depot would have been devastating. Construction funding for the project in 2013 was scheduled to be the highest of any year past or future as construction is slated to peak this fiscal year. Had funding levels for 2013 not been increased by $36 million in the last few days, 410 workers would have been laid off in January, with another 90 laid off in March. That would have been a tremendous setback for central Kentucky’s working men and women and their families, particularly during the holiday season.
A failure to increase the funding levels also would have greatly slowed chemical weapons disposal efforts in Kentucky, further delaying work to rid us of lethal agents in our midst.
Behind-the-scenes a number of concerned citizens and federal officials worked to ensure that monies were reallocated to the demilitarization project and ensure that 500 jobs were not lost. This was carried out through a process called a “reprogramming.” A reallocation of existing funds to meet a pressing need does not add to the federal deficit.
The problem with trying to reprogram funds is that the undertaking often gets mired in the bureaucracy. In this case, a cooperative and concerted effort among Kentucky’s Citizen Advisory Board, the Army’s Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives program and its superiors inside the Pentagon, the State Department and our congressional delegation was able to ensure the reprogramming request got pushed through the system in the nick of time.
Local advisory board members played an important role in bringing this to the attention of the state’s congressional delegation and in coordinating information among the various parties involved.
Spearheading the behind-the-scenes effort at the congressional level once again was U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has championed disposal efforts for over two decades. McConnell helped push the Defense Department to process the request internally and then, working closely with House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers, shepherded the reprogramming paperwork through the complicated committee approval process in both houses of Congress.
On Tuesday, Dec. 11, with the signature of the Senate chairman of the relevant subcommittee the final hurdle was overcome and the necessary funds to continue the chemical demilitarization efforts will begin to flow in the coming days.
This demonstrates that when concerned citizens, dedicated public servants in the executive branch and key members of Congress work together on matters jobs can be saved, safety increased, and the public can be well served.
Craig Williams is co-chair of the Chemical Destruction Citizens Advisory Board.