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AMENDMENT THAT GIVES STATES PRIORITY FOR SURPLUS WOULD BE A BOON TO UTAH

Congressional action Wednesday on an amendment that would prohibit surplus property from being given to foreign nations without first being made available locally is good news for Utah and other states, a state official says.

"This is wonderful news for the State of Utah and for the American taxpayer," said Bill Arseneau, who directs the Federal Surplus Program for Utah. The amendment would require that the equipment first be made available to state, county and municipal governments.The amendment to the 1992 Foreign Aid Authorization Bill will give state and local governments priority over foreign governments in obtaining surplus heavy construction equipment from the Department of Defense and other agencies.

Sponsored by Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Mississippi, the amendment passed the House of Representatives on a voice vote after an attempt to kill the amendment failed on a 267-150 vote.

The measure directs the Defense Department to continue to offer humanitarian assistance in the form of food, medical supplies and tents. Transfer of heavy equipment, however, will be considered a form of economic assistance that is first reserved for the United States.

Defense officials are releasing 25 road graders per month from the Tooele Army Depot alone, Arseneau said.

During debate on the House floor, members estimated that 90 percent to 95 percent of federal surplus property disappears before it is made available to local communities.

Defense officials now transfer equipment such as bulldozers, road graders and backhoes to more than 30 countries. The equipment is transferred in the form of humanitarian assistance or is sold at bargain prices to foreign governments, Arseneau said.

The official, who has been working for this type of legislation for three years, said the measure re-establishes state and local governments' priority.