In the News

New focus on defense spending in Louisiana

Shreveport Times: Jeremy Alford

Last year’s annual defense bill authorized the U.S. Army and Air Force to spend more money in Louisiana than in any other state, and the strides are expected to continue as we march further into 2022. 

The massive investments represent an important win for the Bayou State, where defense spending played a notable role even before the current boon. According to a report issued last year by Louisiana Economic Development, military-related expenditures generated $9.6 billion in economic activity across the state in 2020, including 77,000 jobs and $348 million in state and local tax payments.

From the Pentagon Barracks and Bailey’s Dam to Fort Polk and Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana has a long and storied military history. Nearly every region of the state has a story to share. Louisiana State University, for example, started as a military school and the Kisatchie National Forest was once used for training during World War II. Today, the military accounts for 3.75 percent of all jobs in Louisiana, or one out of every 26.

In an effort to build on that history, the House Armed Services Committee passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act last month with more than $222 million in direct funding for various Louisiana projects — including nuclear weapons storage at Barksdale Air Force Base.

Congressman Mike Johnson of Shreveport, who sits on the committee, said the tally balloons when you dive deeper into the legislation. There’s at least another $1.6 billion in indirect funding for Louisiana through investments in aircraft and weapons that are key to the state’s military infrastructure.

"A lot of people rolled up their sleeves for Louisiana on this bill," said Johnson. "We’re working to increase the presence and importance of our major installations in the state — and we’re doing it with an eye to quality-of-life issues for our military service members. We want to put them in the best position possible to carry out their duties."

The big plum, or $125 million, goes to Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier Parish for the construction of a weapons generation facility. This builds on $40 million from last year’s bill and will enable Barksdale to once again become a nuclear weapons base. "Currently, B-52s stationed at Barksdale must fly to North Dakota to be armed with nuclear weapons," Johnson said. "This presents national security and efficiency issues."

The B-52 remains the backbone of the country’s bomber force and will remain so for years to come. This year’s NDAA includes almost $690 million to upgrade the nation’s fleet, of which half is at Barksdale. There’s likewise $929 million for the development of a new long-range standoff weapon for the planes.

At Fort Polk in Vernon Parish, the House bill has $61 million for a new joint operations center, to replace the present facility that was built in the early 1960s. There was $55 million secured last year for the project, and it will ensure soldiers have the "most realistic training experience possible so they are fully prepared for combat," the congressman said. 

Fort Polk is also in line to receive $32 million for a new child development center. Elsewhere in the House bill, there’s $1.65 million for a munitions administration facility in New Orleans, another $1.65 million for the planning and design of a National Guard readiness center in Abbeville and $765,000 for an energy resilience program at Camp Beauregard.

In a move that took some committee members by surprise, Johnson attempted to attach an amendment to the bill that would have required Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to repeal the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for service members. Should Austin have failed to delete the mandate, the amendment would have repealed his waiver to serve as secretary. 

The amendment failed in a close 27-32 vote, but Johnson generated the conversation he wanted. "There’s a rather lengthy list of things that have gone wrong under Secretary Austin’s tenure at the Department of Defense, starting with the Biden Administration’s catastrophic troop withdrawal from Afghanistan," Johnson said. "Perhaps nothing has been more damaging than the COVID vaccine requirement for service members which is forcing qualified people out of our armed forces and preventing qualified people from joining our armed forces."

The bill now moves to the House floor, where a vote could be scheduled sometime this month. From there, attention will turn to the Senate bill, which will hopefully provide Louisiana with the same opportunities to build on an important history.