Just before the Memorial Day weekend, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin issued a news release announcing he had pushed through an amendment to a defense spending bill to secure the jobs of “more than 600 of our hardworking Mainers in Aroostook County.”

The headline of the release read, “Just passed: Defense bill with Poliquin amendment protecting 600+ jobs in Aroostook County, support for BIW shipbuilders.”

The two-term 2nd District Republican said the measure will help ensure that workers for Defense Finance and Accounting Services at the former Loring Air Force Base “can continue to do their jobs on behalf of our nation and our military.”

But some politicians in New York and Ohio who are worried about jobs at other offices of the defense agency, argue the amendment by Poliquin, which also got the support of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, will not accomplish what Poliquin claims.

They argue that the overall bill, which allocates $717 billion for a wide range of initiatives and needs for the armed forces, calls for 25 percent cuts in the agencies that support the military, which collectively employ about 200,000 civilians and hire another 600,000 Americans as contractors, including the Maine workers. The DFAS office in Limestone is one of 10 nationally that together have about 13,000 workers.

New York Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, who is running for Congress as a Democrat in Utica, said recently, “The Poliquin amendment is a toothless amendment that still allows these cuts to go forward.”

He said the House used “smoke and mirrors” to approve both Poliquin’s amendment and a measure that seeks to make sharp cuts to agencies that include DFAS.

“It’s essentially like saying, ‘Don’t look behind my back what I’m doing with my hand, look at this shiny object to distract you,’ when there shouldn’t have been a 25 percent cut to begin with,” said Brindisi, whose area also includes a large DFAS office.

Poliquin could not be reached Thursday, but one of the co-sponsors of his amendment, U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., told WKTV that it is incorrect to say the Poliquin provision has no teeth.

“The amendment clearly lays out congressional intent, which is a directive agencies and the judiciary use to interpret the intent of a provision in law,” she said.

“Agencies, including the Department of Defense, are required to follow congressional intent when creating regulations based on laws passed by Congress. Any violation of congressional intent is unconstitutional and can be challenged in court.”

The bill itself requires the administration to cut spending on the support agencies used by the Pentagon by 25 percent to save about $25 billion annually. It excludes cuts to agencies that provide support to intelligence and combat units.

Poliquin’s amendment says simply that “nothing in this section shall be construed to encourage or require the termination of any personnel or positions within the Defense Finance and Accounting Service.”

But it does not specifically offer protection for the agency or its employees.

In calling for the provision last week, Poliquin told House members that DFAS provides “an incredibly important function: to (process) the payroll checks for our men and women in uniform” and the vendors that “keep our military operating.”

He pointed out that in the past three decades the Pentagon has consolidated the number of DFAS offices from 300 to 10, reducing its workforce from 27,000 to 13,000 in the process.

Poliquin said his amendment was intended “to clarify that there is no intention” by the House “to further consolidate any DFAS locations or jobs.”

“These 600 Maine jobs are so important to our families and also to our military personnel,” Poliquin said.

Poliquin’s amendment, approved unanimously, is included in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. The House backed the overall bill last week on a 351-66 vote, with some of the objections coming from lawmakers who opposed cuts to Pentagon support agencies.

Maine’s Pingree voted for the defense bill in the House, calling it “critical for Maine’s economy in a number of ways,” especially in providing funding that will help the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and Bath Iron Works. The bill heads next to the Senate, where Poliquin’s amendment might not matter.

A number of senators, including U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, have vowed to remove the proposed cuts from the final bill. Portman said the targeted agencies, many of which have offices in his state, “play very important roles supporting our men and women in uniform, including making sure they get paid.”

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