U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Cheri Bustos (D-IL-17) said that the FY 2014 Omnibus Appropriations bill, which both houses of Congress passed this week on bipartisan votes and now heads to President Obama’s desk, contains funding to activate the Administrative Maximum Facility U.S. Penitentiary and secure a strong future for the Rock Island Arsenal. Durbin and Bustos also announced they have written federal Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels requesting the agency specifically prioritize Thomson’s timely opening. A copy of Durbin and Bustos’ letter is attached.
“The bipartisan appropriations bill Congress passed this week will provide a much-needed boost to the area’s economy by helping secure strong futures for Thomson prison and the Rock Island Arsenal,” Durbin said. “The people of Northern Illinois have waited too long for the jobs and economic boost that a fully operational Thomson prison will bring. Director Samuels has told us he plans to make opening Thomson a priority, and Congresswoman Bustos and I worked to make sure the spending bill which passed this week gives the federal Bureau of Prisons the resources to do so. Today, we are asking the agency to honor its promise and work to activate Thomson as soon as possible.”
“I’m encouraged that Democrats and Republicans came together to pass a bill this week that will create Illinois jobs, grow our economy, and protect the middle class,” Bustos said. “This critical bill will bolster the Rock Island Arsenal’s competitiveness while guaranteeing a steady workload, gives hardworking wage-grade employees the same increase as their salaried counterparts and moves Thomson prison one step closer to opening. I’ll continue to work with Senator Durbin and leaders in our bi-state region to ensure our economy continues to stay strong for years to come.”
In November, Director Samuels reiterated his previously-stated intention to fully activate the Thomson facility in a meeting with Durbin and Bustos. Citing the challenges due to overcrowding at high-security Bureau of Prisons facilities that ultimately put staff, inmates and communities at risk, Samuels said the agency desperately needs the beds at Thomson to alleviate the problem.
The appropriations bill contains funding for the activation of prisons in the federal system, though it does not detail which prisons should be prioritized. The full activation of Thomson is expected to take two years at a cost of $25 million for upgrades and renovations and approximately $170 million for equipment and staffing. The federal government’s operation of Thomson is expected to provide a major boost to the local economy and create more than 1,100 jobs.
Durbin and Bustos also discussed two provisions in the appropriations bill which will help solidify the future of the Rock Island Arsenal.
“As a result of the postwar drawdown and sequestration, Rock Island Arsenal, like many military installations, has seen a decline in workload,” Durbin said. “This legislation halts that decline by requiring a minimum workload level that maintains critical national security capabilities and authorizes targeted spending increases that will allow Rock Island Arsenal to be more competitive with the private sector. With this support, the Arsenal will continue to be a powerful economic engine in the Quad Cities region and a leader in supporting and promoting our nation’s defense.”
The bill requires the Secretary of the Army to maintain a minimum workload at Rock Island Arsenal that allows it to maintain critical capabilities and remain healthy. Those minimum levels will be consistent with the Army Organic Industrial Base Strategy Report which Durbin and U.S. Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) first proposed in 2012 and which was authorized in 2013. Previously the Army completed similar systematic planning for some of its components, but not for arsenals.
The appropriations bill will also help the Arsenal stay competitive as it bids on additional workload through its partnerships with the private sector by providing additional funding through the Arsenal Sustainment Initiative. Rock Island Arsenal will be eligible for a portion of the $150 million included in the bill for Industrial Mobilization Capacity, a fund which helps arsenals keep their work rates competitive. This will help Rock Island Arsenal and other arsenals compete more effectively for public-private partnerships and other business to help sustain capacity, cost efficiency and technical competence in peacetime, while preserving the ability to provide an effective and timely response to mobilizations, national defense contingency situations and other emergent requirements.
In addition, the bill contains a 1% pay raise for both military personnel and all civilian Department of Defense employees. A specific provision backed by Durbin and Bustos ensures that same raise covers all employees who work at the Arsenal. Civilian defense employees have gone four years without a wage increase.