Panel questions equipment deployment

Sounding an alarm about the Army’s state of readiness, two top House Armed Services leaders are asking the Government Accountability Office to conduct a review of the service’s decision to draw heavily on equipment stocks intended for rapid deployment to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So-called prepositioned stocks are held around the world, mainly at land sites in Europe, Northwest Asia and Southwest Asia, and aboard “prepositioning ships” stationed near Guam and Diego Garcia.

Reps. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Solomon Ortiz (D-Texas) are particularly alarmed by the Army’s decision to offload its equipment and supplies from its afloat stocks without a clear reconstitution date.

“We are concerned about this action,” the two panel leaders said in a letter to Comptroller General David Walker. “The committee has been particularly attentive to the state of the Army’s prepositioned stocks which are a critical enabler should conflict erupt.”

About 40 percent of Army and Marine Corps equipment is now in Iraq or Afghanistan or undergoing repair or maintenance, officials have said recently. To outfit additional forces bound for Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army is taking gear from prepositioned stocks of armored Humvees, tanks and other major equipment that would not then be available for emergency use elsewhere.

In a report to Congress in February, the GAO described fundamental management challenges that the Pentagon and the Army must address to ensure the viability of the Army’s prepositioned stocks program.

Skelton and Ortiz proposed that the GAO analyze which factors the Department of Defense considered when it decided to offload the Army’s afloat stocks and what the plans are to mitigate risks should another conflict break out.

GAO also should consider the reconstitution plan for stocks worldwide and address how that plan fits in with the Army’s overall strategy, the lawmakers said.

They also are asking the GAO to estimate how much it would cost to fully restore prepositioned stocks to the levels necessary under Pentagon strategy.

“This is a matter of vital importance,” said Skelton, who joined an initial request to the GAO placed by Ortiz.

Skelton and Ortiz are asking the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to study the ability and readiness of the Army to sustain continued operations in Iraq and respond to other potential crises. Specifically, the lawmakers said, CBO’s analysis should consider the impact if troops and operational tempo remain at current levels, increase or decrease. CBO also should try to determine the timeframe necessary to fully address any identified readiness shortfalls under the current pace of the Army as well as any assumed alternatives.

“We have to move carefully, but with great speed and focus, to try to fix the damage to readiness caused by the Iraq war,” Ortiz said in a statement. “This crisis is evolving, and will not be solved by only throwing more money at the services. We have to fix it at all levels.”