Friday, January 8, 2010

NOPE briefs GAO, Congressman Smith

Last night, NOPE had the opportunity to brief the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the merits of our community's objection to civilian housing at Naval Weapons Station Earle.

We thank Congressman Chris Smith and his staff not only for setting up the briefing, which ran about 2 1/2 hours and proved valuable to the auditors in their early-stage probe, but for having continued faith in the credibility of our leadership and sincerity of NOPE's mission, which is simply to protect our communities, our security, and the Navy from its own flawed logic about what to do with vacant Laurelwood military housing on the Earle base. Collectively, we hope that GAO findings will awaken the Department of Defense to reverse the Navy's egregiously poor judgment from on high.

For those unfamiliar, the GAO is the investigative arm of Congress and tasked with "improving the performance and accountability of the federal government" to U.S. taxpayers' benefit. The GAO was commissioned (for this particular study) by legislation put forth, first by Congressman Smith in the House of Representatives, and then in the U.S. Senate by Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg and subsequently signed into the F2010 Defense spending bill by President Obama, requesting an objective study of the security and financial ramifications of the Department of Navy's plan to house civilians at Earle - key factors the Navy omitted from the cursory 1,300-page Laurelwood Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

NOPE last night learned that GAO's early-stage audit will focus on:
  • a full cost-benefits analysis for all stakeholders (i.e. the Navy and local communities)
  • whether the cost of the proposal to house 300 families of civilians and the Department of Navy's additional security requirements will outweigh the purported benefits the DoN touched upon in the EIS (details of explicit benefits were vague, at best, in that study)
  • whether the Department of Defense plans to engage the community in setting the course for involvement of the local community
The investigators, we are told, will next conduct fact-finding at NWS Earle and get further up to speed on the Navy's posture, and keep the lines of communication open with NOPE in the event new questions arise. The GAO's window for releasing its findings is typically 180 days from the time the study is commissioned by Congress, which could put us somewhere in the April timeframe, depending on how smoothly the investigation goes.

In short, the meeting was extremely productive, and much like NOPE's briefings of the DoD Inspector General (IG) and then-Navy Under-Secretary BJ Penn (both in the summer of 2008), proved valuable in shedding light on the very unusual Laurelwood housing case and Weapons Station Earle itself, which is still sort of anonymous to many in Washington, D.C.

A lot of credit goes to Jim Sfayer and Fulton Wilcox, our primary presenters last night, who eloquently and so professionally briefed the GAO on the mission-critical nature of NWS Earle and why ripping a hole in the security fence to accommodate unimpeded civilian housing and access to an 11,000-acre weapons depot flies in the face of reason, largely from security and financial perspectives. Otherwise, NOPE's leadership team represented our grassroots organization extremely well and with tremendous professionalism, with some probing questions and insights for the GAO.

We'll keep you posted here on the next turn of events in this matter.

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