Money crunch forcing Army belt-tightening

A budget crunch is forcing the Army to impose hiring freezes, restrict overtime pay, and offer early retirements at bases across the country.

The service is even considering taking away BlackBerrys from workers it determines are “unnecessary” users, according to a service memo obtained by The Hill.

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The belt-tightening is necessary because base operating budgets are no longer supplemented through emergency appropriations Congress has passed in recent years to pay for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Office of Management and Budget guidance in March put the burdens of operating military installations back entirely on the regular budget. Without war supplemental money augmenting operations at bases in the United States, commanders are having to cut back.

The “flexibility” of using overseas contingency operations funds “has allowed the Army to grow accustomed to higher levels of installation services across the board,” Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, the head of the Army’s Installation Management Command (IMCOM), wrote in the Jan. 4 memo to Army base commanders.

“Clearly, [fiscal] 2010 is a very demanding year for IMCOM and it is a tough leadership challenge to balance expectations, stretched reduced funding levels, fully support the Army’s most critical missions and the leadership’s top priorities and take care of our people,” Lynch said.

Lynch also warned that the upcoming fiscal 2011 budget request (for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1) may contain even less money.

“We should plan for enduring solutions to these funding levels,” Lynch wrote.

Lynch is directing base commanders to ensure that a few critical programs and services have the money they need. These include security guard operations and other services that ensure the safety of the population on bases, as well as the Army Family Covenant program, which offers support for Army families.

Other programs will be “will be funded on an affordability basis,” according to Lynch’s memo.

“The Army strives to adapt itself from a budget culture to a cost culture,” Lynch wrote.

“We cannot afford to continue to resolve funding problems by asking for more money; we must first ask ourselves if we are doing the right things and doing them right.”

The penny-pinching will not only affect the employment of those who provide services for the bases. It will also restrict the travel of soldiers.

Travel to military conferences and other major events has to be approved at the highest command level on the garrison and commands are directed to limit travel to critical missions, legally required certification training programs or travel directed by Army headquarters.

The Army will be looking to save money down at the smallest level, Lynch indicated. Garrisons are directed to review the management of the purchase card program and centrally manage and reduce the number of authorized purchase card users on installations.

Garrisons also should determine who needs to have a BlackBerry and eliminate those deemed unnecessary users; shut down computers nightly; and limit the purchase of promotional items.

“While these measures may seem trivial, in the aggregate, their implementation may result in substantial savings,” Lynch said.