Wednesday, November 25, 2009

History of earthquakes on Guam

The U.S. Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), prepared for the military buildup, has some great summaries about Guam's environment. Most of this information reported is in the public domain and can be pieced together, but the EIS does a nice job of creating a narrative that gives some sense of the historical flow.

One source of information about Guam's earthquake history is the
United States Geological Survey

Here's the EIS summary:

Guam experiences occasional earthquakes due to its location on the western edge of the Pacific Plate and near the Philippine Sea Plate. In recent years, earthquakes with epicenters near Guam have had magnitudes ranging from 5.0 to 8.7.

On October 30, 1936 (October 29, Universal Time), a magnitude 6.7 shock occurred about 80 mi (125 km) southwest of Guam. Walls were cracked and plaster and tile fell.T he seismic observer at Guam reported 25 tremors during the day of October 30. Another earthquake originated in the same area as the 1936 shock on September 16, 1970. The magnitude 6.2 tremor caused minor damage on Guam. A similar occurrence on November 1, 1975 (magnitude 6.2) produced damage on Guam that reached $1 million. The earthquake was felt strongly in many parts of the island.

On January 27, 1978, a magnitude 5.2 earthquake centered near the east coast of Guam caused considerable damage on the island. On August 8, 1993, the largest earthquake (magnitude 7.8) recorded on Guam occurred south of the Mariana Islands, injuring 48 people on Guam and causing extensive damage to hotels in the Tumon Bay area. Many landslides and rockslides were reported, mainly in the southern half of the island. The estimate of loss from damage to commercial buildings was placed at $112 million and loss from damage to private residences estimated at several million dollars.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The PDN's Liberation Day propaganda

I never much cared for Guam's Liberation Day celebration and in writing this I don't mean to marginalize the heroic sacrifice of U.S. troops in freeing the island from Japanese occupation. But the celebration always struck me as a bit much, considering Guam's history as a trophy possession by major powers. There are events of equal consequence to the people of this island, if not even more, that are given little attention. Most notably, is the turning over of Guam by Spain to the U.S. as part of the 1898 Spanish-American War settlement.

An interesting paper published in the
Journal of Communication Inquiry looks at the role of the of the Pacific Daily News for this historical blindness. The author, Francis Dailisay of Washington State University, traveled to Guam to examine the newspaper archives and conclude that the newspaper is essentially a vehicle for reinforcing the American occupation and expansion.

Dailisay's analysis is a worthwhile read. For instance, even in those cases were the newspaper reported opposition to America's occupation ...
...the PDN found it necessary to reaffirm the actors’ loyalty to the United States. This was a strategy used by the newspaper to legitimize local dissenting opinions that challenged dominant American ideologies. These findings reveal how a local, mainstream newspaper in a U.S. colonial context presents the resistances of colonized actors within a socially controlled manner.

One conclusion is that the PDN has downplayed this conflict to foster U.S. control of the island.

Because the PDN was part of an American corporation (Gannett) at the time of this study, it may have chosen to do this in order to secure the continued flow of U.S. capital to Guam, which the PDN needed to support its daily news operations.

It's important to note that this paper's analysis concerns coverage over many years. Newspapers are fluid, living things and the philosophies and approaches of the current staff may not necessarily reflect historical patterns. Newspaper reporters, in my experience, are often the last people around to blindly accept authority. But this research paper, nonetheless, offers a means to assess the PDN's coverage. The work isn't available online and has to be purchased.
Here's a link. It ought to be required reading in any newsroom considering anew: what does it mean to serve readers?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Guam as the modern day Bikini Atoll


Guam and the Bikini Atoll share an awful lot, with one exception. The U.S. used this Marshall Islands atoll for nuclear testing, vaporizing part of it and irradiating whatever was left and then leaving it uninhabitable. The U.S. committed a great wrong on Bikini and to its people but what happened to Bikini is very relevant to what the U.S. is doing to Guam today. It is far more relevant and timely than you may realize.

In October – this October, 2009 -- the “People of Bikini” asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its case for reparations. The U.S. is fighting them. If the Supreme Court agrees to hear this case, the travesty of U.S. colonial actions on Bikini and in the Pacific will get a national stage. And anyone who wants to see whether the U.S. has really changed how it treats Pacific islanders only has to look to Guam to find out that it hasn't changed at all.

The first similarity is this: There is nothing that Guam can do about the U.S. military build-up other than trying to mitigate the impact, which is exactly the position the Bikini islander’s faced. Its 167 inhabitants “believed themselves powerless to resist the United States decision,” according to the 2006 lawsuit by the Bikini people that is now the underpinning of the recent Supreme Court filing. [The case history is on BikiniAtoll.com]

Guam has no choice in the build-up. The interests of the people of Guam are secondary to U.S. strategic needs. The people of Bikini lost their entire island. Guam’s people have lost a third of their island to the military and stand to lose more. Disfranchised from voting and out of mind in Washington, Guam has no more voice in the build-up than the Bikini islanders did.

The second similarity is this: The Draft Environment Impact Statement (DEIS) wasn’t written to protect Guam. It was written to protect the U.S. government from criticism once things go wrong on Guam. Bikini’s history illustrates how this will happen.

Bikini’s islanders were relocated to Rongerik, an uninhabited and unlivable atoll. It was made up of a ring of  17 small islands totaling .65 square miles, with a lagoon that covered about 55 square miles. Bikini, in contrast, had 23 islands covering 3.4 square miles and a nearly 300 square mile lagoon.

The planning for Bikini had failed. Rongerik was inadequate to meet the needs of the Bikini people. “The islanders soon discovered that the coconut trees and other local food crops produced very few fruits when compared to the yield of the trees on Bikini,” wrote Jack Niedenthal, a historian and author about the island, and Trust Liaison for the People of Bikini Atoll. The islanders were soon starving.

Instead of acknowledging this mistake, the government shifted its responsibility. In a 1947 press statement, U.S. officials wrote:
“… the natives selected Rongerik themselves. We built them houses, schools and watersheds on that island and they were perfectly happy initially. Later it developed that the island was not as productive as originally expected and we had to augment their food supply by bringing in food for them. Last summer they had a disastrous fire on the island which destroyed about one third of their palm trees.” [New York Times, Oct. 26, 1947.]
The U.S. will respond in similar fashion to any problems caused by Guam’s build-up, just as they did in 1947 when they wrote that, “the natives selected Rongerik themselves.” That was not the truth. The natives never wanted to leave.

The U.S. will say that the 11,000 page DEIS is evidence of its great concern and care for Guam. It’s just the opposite. It’s a pile of data and observation dumped on the island far too late, and Guam has been given precious little time – just 90 days – to respond to it. The buildup, as the DEIS illustrates, impacts every aspect of the island; the environment, land use and development, schools, health care, crime, roads -- the sum of Guam’s quality of life. With the DEIS in hand, Guam’s government must now prioritize the buildup’s impact and then prepare mitigation strategies. It’s a Manhattan Project-sized task and one that’s impossible to complete in the amount of time available. Guam can rest assured that the U.S. will use the DEIS as its defense when things go wrong: We prepared you, Guam.

But the DEIS doesn’t begin to anticipate what may happen as a result of the build-up. And what happened on Rongerik provides an example. The fire that destroyed one third of the island’s palm trees was an unintended and unanticipated consequence of the relocation. Guam will see similar occurrences. There are always unintended consequences, and Rongerik also illustrates what will happen afterward.

After it became clear that Rongerik could not support Bikini’s population, the U.S. searched for a different island to again move the Bikini islanders. Here’s some more from the press statement to the New York Times: (Note: King Judah, referenced below, was the Bikini leader.)
“… we have been trying since April to find a place for them to live and we took [King] Judah and a number of the leading natives to various islands for them to look over. We could not get them, however, to make a decision as to where they wanted to go. They continued to make the statement that they wanted to go back to Bikini.”
From the U.S. perspective, the problem was that the “leading natives” of Bikini could not make a decision. That’s the story that the U.S. wanted to world to know. The perspective of the people on Bikini was certainly different. They had been uprooted from their homes, and evidently believed that returning – at some point – was possible. (Where did they get that idea?) The islanders could see the repeated flashes of nuclear explosions destroying their homes, and their new home, Rongerik, had proved disastrous. They wanted to return to Bikini and couldn’t. Did the Bikini people have any reason left to trust the U.S.? Did anyone hear their side of the story?

Here’s the third and last similarity I want to draw. A 1947 column by a newspaper reporter, Harold Ickes, carried a report on the starvation underway on Rongerik that was read in Washington. “We Fought the Navy and Won,” a book about Guam under U.S. Navy rule by Doloris Cogan, includes an account of what happened.

Ickes had detailed information about the lack of food and agonizing conditions on Rongerik. When the report came out, a U.S. Navy official responded in a Washington newspaper, where Ickes column evidently appeared, and said the charges were untrue. But, perhaps unknown to the letter writer, the Navy had just released a report by Dr. Howard MacMillan, an agricultural specialist working for a company that delivered food, “and it corroborated all of Ickes’ statements,” wrote Cogan.

Ickes' column helped to bring attention to the terrible conditions facing the Bikini islanders, as well as expose the military’s immediate denial as a falsehood.

Guam, of course, isn't facing starvation, but instead will have to deal with the impacts of a massive population increase in the limited environment.

Today, Guam’s population is 178,400 (CIA Factbook July 2009) and in the buildup’s peak year of 2014 it will be at 257,600 – a 44% increase, a figure that does not appear to include underlying population gains (15% since 2000). Also not included in this estimate are the occasional surges of several thousand people when aircraft carrier crews arrive. Once the build-up is completed and the military presence is stabilized, it will add 33,431 people, an 18% increase alone from 2009, to the island.

I tend to think these population estimates are conservative and don’t really account for the response to reports of Guam’s “boomtown” atmosphere, or decisions by foreign workers not to leave.

To ensure that the concerns on Guam get fair hearing, I suspect that Guam will have to develop strategy to counter the government’s official positions but they will have do this from Washington. There is no doubt many national nonprofit groups, environmental organizations for instance, that could help Guam, if this help is sought.

Guam residents have a compelling story to tell and a means to fight Washington, but they may be no better off than the people of Bikini if the world doesn't know just what is really happening.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

One-in-four jobs on Guam are government jobs

Unemployment on Guam* always seems to be around 8% and above even in good times, but the island's employment has been relatively stable in this downturn.

Private sector employment fell from 45,580 to 44,910 from June 2008 to June 2009 a net decline of 670 jobs or 1.5%, according the Guam Labor Dept.’s most recent employment report. 

Guam's total employment, which is the sum of the public and private sector labor force, is 59,340, a decline of 590 from a year ago or a 1% decrease. Not bad for a recession.

A major reason for this relative stability (no real job growth or decline) is the high percentage of people who work for Guam's government or as a federal civilian.

The government of Guam, which includes utilities, employed 10,640 in June, a reduction of 80 jobs over 12 months. The federal government employed 3,790 people in June, an increase of 160 jobs from a year ago. In total, about one in four people on Guam works for the government.

Regarding population:
2000: 155,000
2008: 171,000
Excepted population after
military build-up: 196,000

*Unemployment data for Guam, at least for me, seems difficult to come by. If anyone knows a source that reports quarter-by-quarter trends, please let me know.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Guam Weather, Typhoon Season, and 236 mph wind gust

The Pacific typhoon season runs from May to November. Guam is in a typhoon genesis area, an area near and around typhoon formation. When I was in the Navy I worked at the Fleet Weather Central/Joint Typhoon Center and our primary job was to track typhoons.

One of the strongest storms to ever hit Guam was Super Typhoon Paka on December, 1997. It struck with sustained winds that may have reached 185 mph with a gust recorded at Andersen Air Force Base (in the north near the storm eye) that reached an astonishing 236 miles per hour. It was as if the island had been hit by a giant tornado.

By contrast, Hurricane Camille, which hit the Gulf Coast in 1969, had sustained winds of 190 mph, with estimated gusts near 200 mph. Hurricane Allen in 1980, which struck Northern Mexico and Southern Texas also had sustained winds of 190 mph.

The threat from super typhoons is the reason most structures on the island are made of concrete; often low rising buildings with flat roofs. The damage caused by Paka was extensive, especially to wood structures. Guam residents know how to cope with these storms but Paka was a test.

It's been pretty quiet so far this year. Wikipedia does an outstanding job keeping record of the major tropical events this season. The latest weather event is Tropical Storm Morakot. which is nearly a 1,000 miles NW of Guam as a write this. The weather has been unstable and rainy on Guam, pictured above, the result of Morakot, which is outside this photo in the upper left.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Jobs on Guam

I was checking USAJobs.gov to see how many federal jobs are available on Guam and, surprisingly, there were over 3,000 results after typing in the word “Guam” as a location. But refining the search to “Guam” as the keyword, and "Agana" as the city with a search radius of 60 miles (covering the entire island), produced a different result: 36 Guam specific jobs.

Among the federal jobs: Mandarin teacher with U.S. DOD, office automation clerk, electronics engineer, and fire protection, among others.

Monster.com
turned up 13 results, but six were Army National Guard enlistment teasers.

Some other sources:
Pacific Daily News listed about 35 jobs, many in the travel related area.

Interesting find on PDN: The American Red Cross is looking for
an emergency services director.

University of Guam always
has a fair number of jobs.

Great link collection to various government sites here

Guam Department of Labor has resources and links.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Guam considered for Gitmo detainee trials?

There are hints emerging that Guam is about to become a dumping ground for the Guantanamo military detainees, possibly a location for trials. In a way I’m not surprised, but in another way I think I’m totally outraged by even the thought of it.


Guam has already lost one-third of its island to the military. It is getting a build-up of troops that will increase the island’s population by 15%. It has no vote in Congress. Guam does not get the respect it deserves from the U.S. political leadership. It has second class status but deserves being treated as a full equal.

The U.S. has to decide where it is going to hold the detainee trials. There are now about 229 detainees in Cuba. Some will be sent back to their country of origin, but others, and it is uncertain how many, will be held over for trial.

I am certain that there are some people on Guam who will welcome the detainee trials. It will likely bring hundreds, if not thousands, of people to the island, including international press. Restaurants and hotels will benefit. The press coverage may or may not help the island; it will all depend whether reporters try to understand the island or default to stereotypes.

But if the U.S. holds these trials on Guam it will be out of political expediency and to avoid stateside opposition. Guam, will, once again, be treated like a mere possession and its people of no importance.

What is the evidence that Guam may be picked? It’s really thin at this point.

-- A political writer in the Atlantic has Guam on his short list of guesses.

-- The decision by the Palau to take 13 detainees from Cuba. A Pacific Daily News opinion piece by William Clearly was spot-on with this observation: "Palau's eagerness to please Washington is best explained by the island government's lack of any real bargaining leverage, unlike 15 years ago when the U.S. needed to extricate itself from a U.N. trusteeship obligation to support Palau's social, economic and political development. That was why Washington agreed to subsidize Palau for a decade and a half." The U.S. decision to move some detainees to Palau says two things of importance for Guam: 1. The government is clearly considering the Pacific islands as a possible location. 2. Guam may have a little more bargaining leverage than Palau, but not too much more.

-- Guam was the original list of possible locations for holding the detainees before Cuba was selected.

-- In a recent interview on CBS, Sen. John McCain acknowledges the difficulty of finding a place in the U.S. that will accept the detainees. Here's a telling excerpt from that story: McCain "said an overall and comprehensive plan on finding a safe and secure place to house detainees is necessary to convince the public. "But to just say 'we're going to send them some place in the United States,' it arouses the obvious reaction: NIMBY, not in my back yard. And I fully understand that. I don't want them in Arizona, either!"

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Is Guam’s leadership fighting to keep workers underpaid?

Guam's most effective champion in Washington is in Hawaii, and that is U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie.

Abercrombie, as the chairman of the Air and Land Forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, added two important provisions to the spending bill that funds Guam’s massive military build-up.

First, employers working on federal contracts will have to set pay to Hawaii's prevailing wage levels, which are a lot higher than the prevailing wage on Guam.

Secondly, foreign workers won’t be allowed to do more than 30% of the federally funded work. Prior to the Abercrombie amendment, it was estimated that anywhere 15,000 to 20,000 foreign workers were needed for construction on Guam. Now, contractors will have to ensure that 70% of their workers are U.S. residents from Guam, Hawaii and mainland.

Abercrombie obviously wants to help Hawaiian contractors, but this will help Guam's residents as well. Despite this, there will be considerable opposition.

The Washington Post, in a recent editorial, said the Abercrombie's U.S. worker and wage requirements will add $10 billion to the build-up cost. The Post wrote in part:
If giving U.S. workers jobs on Guam is a priority, this could be accomplished without driving wages up artificially to such a high level. You could, for example, keep the 70 percent restriction on foreign workers and let the market determine their wages.
But what is the construction labor “market” on Guam? Has Guam's longstanding reliance on foreign workers for construction depressed wages to artificial levels? Abercrombie wrote a letter in response to the Post's editorial. Here is part of it:
The alternative is to bring in foreign workers, for which the Guam government collects a bounty of $1,000 per head. However, this invites profiteering and would be a slap in the face of every qualified, unemployed American worker. The wages are established at the level for similar military construction in Hawaii, because we believe that wages should be commensurate with the experience and skills the jobs demand.
The national implications of Abercrombie’s position are just beginning to emerge. The Congressional Quarterly, in a piece published Saturday by writer Matthew Johnson, looks at the dispute between Abercrombie, who is a Democratic candidate for governor, and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, a Republican candidate for governor in Tenn., who opposes the Guam provision, CQ reports. Wamp is worried that military construction in other states will be shortchanged if build-up construction cost on Guam are increased.

[An outstanding analysis on the wage issue was written by Jayne Flores for the Marianas Variety, What's behind the Abercrombie amendment?]

In some sense, Wamp’s parochial views are understandable, but what isn't is the business and political opposition on Guam to Abercrombie. The Guam Chamber of Commerce as well as the Guam Contractors Association appear to be arguing that Abercrombie’s changes will drive up the construction costs for non-military projects as well, reports Heather Hauswirth for Kuam.com. Guam Senator Frank Blas, Jr., is worried that Abercrombie wants to make Guam just as an expensive place to live as Hawaii. Kuam quotes Blas:
This would obviously raise our prices to those levels (Hawaiian), people are experiencing and suffering in Hawaii, and I don't want Guam to go down that road. It would behoove Mr. Abercrombie to seek discussion with people in Guam on what this may mean. I don't like it.
From this quote, I don't know whether Sen. Blas is just thinking out loud or expressing pointed opposition. But the Kuam story says Guam's business leaders plan to travel to Washington "to lobby Congress to remove Abercrombie's provisions," so it seems as if some minds have been made up.

In sum, Guam’s special interest will argue in Washington that if Guam is allowed to load up the island with lower paid foreign construction workers to keep wages down, Guam residents will be much better off. I guess it would be wrong for Guam residents to get high paying jobs to help pay for their children’s education, save for retirement, buy a new car and improve their standard of living.

Along that line, Kuam also reported that Madeleine Bordello, Guam’s congressional delegate, said: "It would be nice to pay the workers more, but it is just going to cost too much money."

Memo to Del. Bordello: The build-up should have cost more from the start. The original construction estimates were based on the hiring of a lot of foreign workers to help keep wages low. Is that what you are actually supporting?

Prices on Guam are going to rise because of the build-up no matter what. It increases the island’s population by 15% and by attacking Abercrombie's build-up requirements, Guam’s business opponents really stand to gain. They will be able to charge more for new, non-federal construction and yet keep salaries pegged to existing levels. It’s a great outcome for them.

And is the business community really united against Abercrombie on this? I doubt it. U.S. workers assigned to the island are likely to spend a lot of off-hours eating at local restaurants, shopping, and enjoying Guam’s recreational activities. A lot of Guam’s small businesses stand to do well by this.

If Guam’s leaders are really interested in the truth, then they should hire two separate, independent off-island economic consulting firms to assess the impact of the build-up and look at wage and cost of living issues.

What these economic studies may show is that the cost impact will be transient. Once the construction is complete and Guam returns to something akin to a steady-state, what will sustain high prices? Not much. The two largest and best paying employers on the island are the federal and Guam governments, and government wages aren't that high. The tourist industry, the island’s other large source of revenue, isn’t a high-wage industry. Guam does not have high-paying industries and that’s not likely to change. But there will be a real problem with housing availability and affordability -- a problem regardless of Abercrombie’s build-up provisions.

If Guam’s lawmakers are really concerned about Guam residents, then they should support Abercrombie and recognize that the build-up should have been undertaken by U.S. workers from the start. A true price tag has has now been affixed to the build-up.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Guam and the cost of housing

The military build-up will likely increase the cost of living on Guam, especially housing. Housing costs will be driven up by this simple fact: The build-up will increase the island's population by about 15%. For sure, rents will rise as the available rental market decreases. Many will, of course, live on the bases but not everyone. A certain percentage of people will relocate permanently to Guam and that may put added pressure on housing prices.

For now, Guam remains relatively affordable. Here are some historical statistics through 2008 on housing prices trends

Single family homes on Guam that cost less than $220,000 are available and there are numerous condos in the $140,000 to $200,000 range. There are a number of real estate firms that provide searchable listing. Here's a link to the Guam Board of Realtors searchable listing. (For specific real estate firms, see reference link list on right hand side toward bottom.) Here's the link to the main Guam Board of Realtors site.

Regarding cost of living, Guam lawmakers just approved the minimum wage increase from $6.55 to $7.25, reports the Pacific Daily News. Lawmakers had no choice thanks to the build-up.

The $7.25 wage is also the minimum in nearly half the states. Here’s a rundown from U.S. Department of Labor statistics.

Washington: $8.55
Oregon: $8.40
Illinois: $8 to $8.25 in 2010
Vermont: $8.06
California, Massachusetts: $8
Connecticut: $8 going to $8.25 on Jan. 1 2010
District of Columbia: $7.55
Maine: $7.50
New Mexico: $7.50
Michigan: $7.40
Rhode Island: $7.40
Ohio: $7.30
Colorado: $7.28
States at $7.25: Arizona, Montana, Idaho, Hawaii, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Nebraska, Pennsylvnia, Texas, Utah, South Dakota, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Indiana, Maryland, Iowa, Kentucky
Florida, $7.21
Alaska, Delaware,$7.15
Missouri: $7.05
Nevada: $6.85
Wisconsin:$6.50
Arkansas: $6.25
Georgia: $5.15
Wyoming: $5.15
Virgin Islands: $4.30
Puerto Rico: $4.10
Kansas: $2.65
The federal minimum wage is rising to $7.25 on Friday.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Guam quarter arrives

The new Guam quarter finally arrived. It looks really nice. I especially like how it presents the islands geography in relief, showing the mountains in the south. U.S. Mint has some images for download; scroll down until you see Guam. I am thinking of ordering this six coin proof that includes District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands. (This is a good quiz question: What does Guam have in common with the District of Columbia?) It cost $29.95.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Guam's build-up outrage

The Pacific Daily News is tracking the foreign labor issue closely. It should. With Guam due to bring up to 20,000 foreign laborers to build facilities for the military, the newspaper’s role as a watchdog will be paramount.

What’s really, really unfortunate, however, is this: These facilities are being built with U.S. tax dollars in support of America’s armed forces, and yet Guam has been duped into believing that this work has to be completed by foreign labor.

Why can’t U.S. labor be used from Guam, Hawaii and the mainland to build these facilities? Why can’t these jobs go to U.S. workers who will return this income back to their respective communities?

Technically, construction bidding will be open to any firm, but firms that use lower cost labor will have the advantage. To get some idea about the future of this build-up, read the PDN's story May 30 about foreign construction workers living in unfinished buildings and waiting to get paid.

Sen. Matt Rector attempted to limit use of foreign labor by imposing a $20,000 fee on each H-2B visa. His bill failed because Guam lawmakers lack the political will to come up with a method for ensuring that construction projects paid with federal tax dollars will pay the salaries of U.S. workers and not foreign labor. It really is an outrage, and, frankly, I think once more people realize outside of Guam just what is going on here, a storm will blow.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Guam military build-up increases population 15%

The U.S. Government Accountability Office provides a summary of the impact of the military build-up. In short, Guam will need a complete make-over to support it. The GAO is worried whether the leadership is in place to manage this daunting project.

Summary of what the build-up means:

As a result of the military buildup, Guam’s current population of 171,000 will increase by an estimated 25,000 active duty military personnel and dependents (or 14.6 percent), to 196,000. In addition, the realignment will require additional workers to move to the island, including non-defense personnel, DOD contractors, and transient military personnel. As such, the U.S. military realignment and buildup will substantially impact Guam’s community and infrastructure.

What is now lacking:

Construction demands will exceed local capacity and the availability of workers on Guam. In addition, Guam’s infrastructure is inadequate to meet the increased demand because of the military buildup.

The buildup requires double the existing port capacity, and Guam’s major highways may not have enough capacity to accommodate the increased traffic since the two major highways on Guam, which the military will use to transport supplies, need major improvements.

In addition, Guam’s electric grid may be inadequate to fully support the buildup. Further, Guam’s water and waste-water systems are near capacity, and demand may increase by 25 percent. Guam’s solid-waste facilities also face capacity and environmental challenges as they have reached the end of their projected useful life.

Friday, April 3, 2009

One of the points that Sen. Matt Rector's the Middle Class Job Creation Act of 2009 makes concerns the wage disparity between Guam and Hawaii.
When companies hire foreign workers they typically have to cite the prevailing wage as part of the visa application. Companies are required to pay prevailing wage to keep from undercutting the local workforce. The intent is to supplement the local workforce, not replace it.
But even at prevailing wage, foreign workers can still be paid less. They can be pegged at a lower experience level and may not receive the same benefits of a local worker. Moreover, the visa is tied to their continuing employment -- the ability of a foreign worker to change jobs is limited.
But on the prevailing wage issue, many employers use the Foreign Labor Certification Data Center to determine the prevailing wage for a given location.
I looked at one occupation, construction manager, to see how pay rates differ between Guam and Hawaii in this job category. Assuming my data is correct, it shows a remarkable difference. For instance, a Level 1 construction manager on Hawaii is paid 84% more than a Level 1 construction manager on Guam. The gap narrows as you move up the experience level, but it is still striking. If anything, Rector may have understated the wage disparity between Hawaii and Guam.

  Guam

OES/SOC Title: Construction Managers
Level 1 Wage: $14.59 hour - $30,347 year
Level 2 Wage: $19.97 hour - $41,538 year
Level 3 Wage: $25.36 hour - $52,749 year
Level 4 Wage: $30.74 hour - $63,939 year

Hawaii

OES/SOC Title: Construction Managers
Level 1 Wage: $26.85 hour - $55,848 year
Level 2 Wage: $35.45 hour - $73,736 year
Level 3 Wage: $44.06 hour - $91,645 year
Level 4 Wage: $52.66 hour - $109,533 year
Is there a similar cost of living disparity between Guam and Hawaii?I used the cost of living calculator at SalaryExpert to get a rough estimate.

According to it: If I earned $50,000 a year on Guam I would need to earn $59,560 on Hawaii to have a comparable standard of living as renter, a 19% difference. These percentages may change with salary level, so this example may not be true for all wage levels.



Thursday, April 2, 2009

A plan to raise Guam's standard of living

Islands Business brings attention in this report to a very interesting bill by Guam Sen. Matt Rector (D), the Middle Class Job Creation Act of 2009.

It reports:

For every foreign worker hired, a Guam employer will have to pay US$40,000 in annual fee—a sharp increase from only US$1000 they now pay to the Department of Labor—once a controversial bill that purports to raise government revenue eliminates the H2 programme and gives middle class jobs that pay at least US$30 an hour to local residents, becomes law.
On the face of it, Rector's bill looks like a legislative overshot, designed only to make a rhetorical point.

But then again, maybe not.

The truth is I have to admire Rector for this and I think there's strong merit to it. It is an audacious and challenging move that will force opponents to defend a lower standard of living for Guam.

Rector
makes a point that can't be danced around:
Currently Guam's workers earn a third of what their brothers and sisters in Hawaii make when working for the same company, on the same federal contract. This is not fair and it robs our families and our economy of billions of federal dollars a year.
If Guam wages are only a third of the wages paid on Hawaii, then it calls into question prevailing wage issues. Guam is an island, an expensive place to live with a standard of living largely set by government pay rates. The government, federal and island, is the employer of choice. That's where many of the best paying jobs are. Lowering the standard of living for Guam Gov and federal employees is as good as lowering the standard of living of the island.

Business groups are going to hate Rector's bill, but let's put aside the wage issue and just look at the foreign labor aspect of it. By raising the fee, the bill creates a strong disincentive for hiring foreign workers. What is wrong with that?

There are many U.S. workers, citizens and permanent residents, who would jump at the chance to work and live on Guam to help with the military build-up. Why would foreign workers hold any special advantage unless the intent is to pay them less?

Rector argues:

By implementing a $40,000 per year fee for each H2 temporary worker, it will make it more profitable to hire local workers at wages comparable to that of their brothers and sisters doing exactly the same work in Hawaii or elsewhere in the Nation.
He's right, of course. Employers will hire local and if they can't find the people with the right skills, it will still be more cost effective to recruit and tap mainland labor markets to avoid the fee. And an influx of mainland residents may bring other dividends: new permanent residents with the skills that Guam needs to create a stable economic future.

Rector's proposal can't be dismissed. Guam can flood the island with a foreign workforce and pay them miserable wages, or it can try to stake out a progressive approach that also helps to raise the standard of living on the island as well as build a stronger future for itself.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Outsourcing Gov Guam?

I am reading an opinion piece in the Pacific Daily News: Embrace: Outsourcing services is win-win scenario for Guam government

I am at a total loss to understand how PDN arrived at this conclusion that outsourcing will reduce costs. It writes.

Outsourcing provides a win-win scenario for the government. When private companies take over government services, new private-sector jobs are created. This allows GovGuam to reduce personnel costs without adding to the welfare rolls.
Outsourcing can make sense when you move a service, such an information technology department, to a vendor with deep expertise in that area. But it doesn't mean that you are reducing your costs; it's the difference between buying and leasing a car -- you are still making the payments. All that's changed are the ownership terms.

Whatever outsourcing is, it is not a win-win. It doesn't "create" private sector jobs. What it will do here is take well-paid government workers and replace them with workers who may earn lower pay with less benefits. In many cases, the government workers are "re-badged" -- turned into private sector employees; some thrive, some are laid off. The outsourcing firm will be paid its margins. The cost don't disappear and may increase.

An outsourcing firm is also private sector firm is not subject to civil service rules. Think about that one for a minute.

Does Gov Guam really know what is doing? What experience does it have managing outsourcing contracts? Where will get that experience? What are the metrics for measuring costs? How will it define success? What is the projected cost any contract over, let's say, a five year period? And how long should the contract be? What are the terms for getting out of it? What service levels will be set?

How many bidders for contract can Guam reasonably except to get? How will it know it is receiving a competitive deal? (Competitive doesn't mean cheaper).

I really don't mean to be harsh, but instead of acting like a cheerleader on a complex issue, the PDN's editors can best serve it readers -- and the government -- by asking prudent and necessary questions. If these questions aren't asked and answered now, they will be asked by your reporters, especially when the problems surface.