WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, questioned the following U.S. cabinet secretaries at a hearing today: Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Senator Fischer questioned Secretary Raimondo about the urgent need to rip out and replace risky Chinese network equipment. Senator Fischer recently introduced legislation to address a budget shortfall in the FCC’s program to secure U.S. communications infrastructure. Senator Fischer also questioned Secretary Austin about the benefits of multi-year procurement authority for certain munitions and the importance of boosting domestic munitions production.

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Following is an edited transcript of Senator Fischer’s questioning:

Senator Fischer: Thank you, Madam Chair. I have a number of issues I'd like to touch on today, so I'm going to try to not make a long statement. I hope all of you will answer with a short response as well. Secretary Austin, Section 1262 of last year's NDAA required that both the Departments of Defense and State submit a comprehensive report on the Bilateral Access Agreements to Congress. These are the agreements with overflight, basing agreements, agreements for logistics support or refueling support. And that report is due in a couple of weeks. Will it be on time?

Secretary Austin: It will. 

Senator Fischer: Great. How many planned cooperative security locations, forward operating locations, or fuel support points require access agreements that currently do not exist?

Secretary Austin: Well, there are, as you know, a number of agreements that we continue to pursue. And, of course, when the need arises, when an operation is being conducted, no matter what — even if we have agreements — we'll have to go back in to that country and request those rights. We've done some things recently to increase the locations that we're operating with our allies and partners in the region. For example, the Philippines is a good example of that. We continue to work with countries like Japan and Australia to make sure that we can rotate forces in and out in Australia, for example. So, we are making significant progress.

Senator Fischer: It would be really helpful to have those agreements in place before they're needed, correct?

Secretary Austin: Yes, that's correct. 

Senator Fischer: Yeah. Thank you for the work you're doing on that. Secretary Blinken, are you coordinating with the Department of Defense on these agreements? 

Secretary Blinken: Absolutely.

Senator Fischer: Thank you. Secretary Raimondo, when you were before the CJS Subcommittee, we had a discussion over Rip and Replace being an emergency that we have to be aware of with the Huawei equipment that's installed and being able to have that removal funded. Do you believe that Congress needs to consider all the legislative options on the table right now in order to address this emergency?

Secretary Raimondo:
 I certainly believe it poses national security risks. Huawei remains in American networks, including near military bases, and I think that Congress should fully fund the FCC's Rip and Replace program.

Senator Fischer: Thank you. I'm going to quote Senator Kennedy, 'I happen to have a bill for that.' And I hope my colleagues will consider that. Senator Hickenlooper and I have been working on a bill, and hopefully, we can use some of those unobligated COVID-19 funds to fill that gap that exists there. Secretary Austin, I appreciate the prior discussions we've had about the department's fiscal year 2024 budget request and how it addresses munitions production issues that we are facing in this country. And I agree that the current request is a step in the right direction, but I also think there's more that we can do. And I think there's more that we have to do. From your perspective, would it be useful to be able to add additional munitions, multi-year procurement authority and help us to remove some of the low value, I'd say, contracting, requirements that are out there when we're setting up these future contracts?

Secretary Austin: It very much would, Senator, and let me thank you for what Congress is doing, has done, and I hope will do in terms of granting us authorities for multi-procurement actions there. That's been very, very helpful. And, as you know, we're asking for some $30 billion to invest in munitions, which is just about the limit of what the industry can produce in this next year.

Senator Fischer: You know, I've been very concerned about our munitions requirements that we have for ourselves, the security of our nation, but we also obviously have contracts and supply to other nations as well. Secretary Blinken, you testified recently that the long pole in the tent in providing equipment to Taiwan to defend itself is the production capacity. Do we have the same issue with foreign military sales to other nations as well besides Taiwan?

Secretary Blinken: We do. I think, let me put it this way. In my capacity as Secretary of State, I have signed out more cases for Taiwan than any of my predecessors. And we're looking at ways to make our department even more efficient. And I know that our colleagues at DOD are doing the same thing. But, if you actually look at the calendar, the schedule of these things, where we have a challenge is on the production end. And there are a whole variety of reasons, as you know, for that. That's actually changing. It's changing as a result of intense engagement with industry. It's changing as a result of the fact that  — in part because of Ukraine and the Russian aggression — there is a growing demand around the world that is getting production lines that had been dormant, moving again. But, unfortunately, it's not flipping a light switch. But we're intensely focused on that. And the Secretary of Defense, obviously, is doing this every day.

Senator Fischer: Thank you. Thank you, Madam Chair.