Ky. Voices: Cooperation saves day for weapons disposal project

Ky. citizens, Congressmen work together to preserve funding, jobs

December 31, 2012 

  • At issue: Dec. 12 Herald-Leader article, "Plant to destroy weapons funded; still 'fiscal cliff' might threaten progress"

As families in Central Kentucky went about their holiday preparations, the only news coming out of Washington regarding the economy seemed to be gridlock and doom and gloom. However, earlier this month, far away from the headlines, the results of months of work were realized that would 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 impact of maintaining 2012's funding levels for the disposal of chemical weapons at the Blue Grass Army Depot would have been devastating. This is because 2013 construction funding for the project requirements are the highest of any year past or future as construction is slated to peak this fiscal year. Had the funding levels for 2013 not been increased by $36 million in recent days, 410 layoffs would have resulted in January and 90 more 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.

Also important, a failure to modify the funding levels would have had the effect of greatly slowing disposal efforts in Kentucky, further delaying work to rid us of lethal chemical agents in our midst.

Behind the scenes a number of concerned citizens and federal officials worked to ensure that money was reallocated to the demilitarization project to ensure that 500 jobs were not lost. This was carried out through a process called reprogramming, which is a reallocation of existing funds to meet a pressing need. A reprogramming does not add to the 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, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives program and their 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 Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has championed disposal efforts for more than two decades. McConnell helped push the Department of Defense to process the request internally and then, working closely with House Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, shepherded the reprogramming paperwork through the complicated committee approval process in both houses of Congress.

On 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, jobs can be saved, safety increased and the public well served.

Craig Williams of Berea is co-chair of the Chemical Destruction Citizens Advisory Board.

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