Army To Forgo Needed Equipment Repairs If May Deadline For Supplemental Is Missed

Army To Forgo Needed Equipment Repairs If May Deadline For Supplemental Is Missed
March 22nd, 2007  
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Topic: Army To Forgo Needed Equipment Repairs If May Deadline For Supplemental Is Missed

Army To Forgo Needed Equipment Repairs If May Deadline For Supplemental Is Missed
National Journal's CongressDailyAM
March 22, 2007

Facing the possibility that a $124 billion supplemental spending bill might stall in Congress or be vetoed by President Bush, Pentagon number crunchers are drawing up contingency plans that force the armed services to make difficult sacrifices to cover the cost of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Army, which has borne the brunt of the operations and receives the largest share of the $95.5 billion military portion of the supplemental, would have to postpone repairs on equipment not scheduled for the war zones if the bill is not enacted by May, a knowledgeable Army official said Wednesday.
Delaying repairs would exacerbate the readiness problems facing non-deployed units, which already are reporting equipment shortfalls that have impinged on training exercises and raised questions about whether U.S. forces could respond to another contingency.
In addition, the service also would delay non-war-related travel for military officials and suspend the use of government charge cards should the supplemental not pass by May.
But those steps alone, the Army official said, might not be enough to pay for operations through May. Indeed, the service might have to raid operations and maintenance accounts, delay contract awards on weapon systems, and potentially disrupt assembly lines at maintenance depots.
If Congress cannot push the supplemental through by June, the Army would put a freeze on hiring new civilians. By the end of June, the Army would lay off temporary employees and halt many new contract awards.
Pentagon leaders have repeatedly told Capitol Hill they need the additional war funds by the end of April or they will be forced to deplete other accounts to pay for ongoing operations.
"If we don't have it by the end of April, we're going to have to start pulling levers," acting Army Secretary Preston (Pete) Geren told senators last week. "We're going to have to start making decisions that are going to impact our force up and down the force."
Several lawmakers, including House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member C.W. (Bill) Young, R-Fla., have said in recent weeks that Congress will pass the bill by next month.
House Armed Services ranking member Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said he hoped to appeal to Democrats to shepherd the supplemental through in the next several weeks. "Let's not predict we're not going to pass the supplemental," he said.
But as April nears and Democrats remain at an impasse with each other and the White House over Iraq war language they attached to the bill, the prospect for a delayed supplemental is becoming too much of a reality for Pentagon planners.
The military went through the same exercise last year when Congress pushed passage of the FY06 supplemental war bill into late June -- months after military leaders said they needed the funding.
"We cannot afford to repeat last year's late-to-need cash flow experience and meet the increased operational demands we now face," Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody told House lawmakers last week.
The situation is even stickier this year, sources said, largely because of the increase in ground forces ordered to Iraq earlier this year as part of Bush's "surge" plan. Compounding the problem is a mounting bill to repair and replace equipment lost or damaged in combat.
"The challenge this year is the Army's going to have to tighten its belt even to a greater degree than it did last year when the Congress delayed the supplemental," said retired Lt. Gen. Ted Stroup, a vice president at the Association of the U.S. Army.
Stroup said he expects restrictions on spending to increase by 25 percent to 30 percent this year should the supplemental be delayed.
But a House aide questioned the urgency, arguing that the troop surge in Iraq will not reach its peak until June. The aide estimated the Army would need to shift a few billion dollars to pay for operations in the event the supplemental is delayed.
On Wednesday, House Democrats still were trying to round up the 218 votes they need to pass the supplemental spending bill, which mandates a withdrawal of nearly all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of next year.
If the House is able to pass the bill this week, they still must negotiate the measure with the Senate, where competing Iraq language is expected to be added during a Senate Appropriations Committee markup today. Further clouding prospects for quick enactment is a veto threat from the White House if the bill limits U.S. military options in Iraq.
By Megan Scully

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