By Roxana Tiron - 02/16/07 12:00 AM EST
The outgoing Army chief of staff is pressing Congress to pass the 2007 emergency war supplemental by April — or sooner — to avoid what he called the “near-disastrous” accounting problems faced by his service last year due to delays of the 2006 defense budget and supplemental.
“If we do not see the supplemental funding by April we will have to go to the same problems that will slow down the system,” Gen. Peter Schoomaker said in what well may be his last hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Schoomaker said that the Army was forced to take extraordinary measures to “slam the brakes” on expenditures when the supplemental funding did not come through when expected.
Schoomaker’s appeal comes as Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee, is looking to stop the new troop buildup in Iraq by placing several conditions on the $93.4 billion supplemental funding the war through Sept. 30, 2007.
Murtha’s plan could delay the approval of the supplemental. His proposal may attract controversy in the House, and, even if it passes there, could face strong resistance in the Senate.
In an interview with MoveOn.org, Murtha said he wants the Pentagon to certify that troops leaving for Iraq are “fully combat-ready,” with sufficient training and equipment.
Murtha’s proposal would require that troops spend at least one year at home between deployments. Murtha also seeks to end the stop-loss program, which forces military personnel to extend their enlistments. He said he believes the military cannot meet those standards, which means the “surge” in Iraq would be thwarted.
Schoomaker indicated that the Army likely will not tolerate any delays. The 2006 supplemental was meant to pay for war costs accrued between October 2005 and September 2006. The supplemental request was submitted to Congress in February 2006.
To manage the shortfall of cash last year, the Army slowed production at depots, laid people off and instituted a hiring freeze, tightly controlled travel expenses and delayed IT purchases, Schoomaker, who is passing the baton to Gen. George Casey reminded lawmakers.
Congress approved the 2006 defense budget and an increment of the supplemental at the end of December 2005, one quarter after the fiscal year had started, while the rest of the supplemental for 2006 was approved in June, 90 days shy of the fiscal year’s end.
The chairman of the Armed Services panel, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), countered that the Pentagon ran into problems with the supplemental because it did not submit it together with the regular budget, a sore issue with authorizers and appropriators alike. This year, the Bush administration for the first time submitted its supplemental requests with the 2008 budget.
Compounding the Army’s problems, Schoomaker last summer also sounded an alarm about the huge gap in funding the Army faced in repairing its battle-weary equipment, a move that prompted Congress to approve the $17.1 billion to replenish it in the 2007 Defense Appropriations bill.
“The 17.1 billion was to make up for 2006 and what we anticipated for 2007,” Schoomaker said. The 2006 budget request fell about $5 billion short of meeting the Army’s reset needs.
The Army has been playing catch-up this year and rapidly is spending the $17.1 billion Congress approved and then reset as part of the supplemental. In just four months, the Army committed $11.8 billion of the $17.1 billion appropriated, Schoomaker said.
As a result, depots now work 10-hour, two-shift days, six days a week, he said.
“It is absolutely paramount that we maintain the momentum and stay ahead,” Schoomaker told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It is a matter of timing and sufficiency.” He said Casey understands the importance of maintaining the momentum.
But the Army’s funding problems are deeper-seated than the delays of funds in 2006. “We started this flatfooted with a deficit of $56 billion in equipment shortages across the Army,” because the Pentagon’s procurement accounts were under-funded by $100 billion in the previous decade, Schoomaker said.
The Army now has aggressive plans to increase its combat organizations by 30 percent, he said. “We have that momentum today; we are on the right path,” he added, warning that delays could arrest that momentum.
“There are no frontlines in today’s battle space,” Schoomaker said. “We must equip all units with force protection, night-vision goggles, crew-served weapons, radios and other critical items needed to operate.” Increased and sustained congressional support would help fix “the holes in our force” and break the “historical cycle of unpreparedness,” Schoomaker said.
The retiring chief of staff has said on multiple occasions during the last six months that he is concerned about the readiness level of the force that is currently not deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan as it does not receive the right equipment or adequate training. The readiness levels of the non-deployed forces took a toll in order to sustain the higher readiness levels for those at war.
“Less-ready, non-deployed forces makes getting those units fully equipped and trained for the next deployment that much more difficult and risky,” Levin said.
The Army also is taking a blow — and will need Congress’s help to bounce back — because the joint continuing resolution under-funds its base realignment and closure (BRAC) needs by $2 billion. “[BRAC] is an essential and inextricable part of our plan to ensure growth and improve readiness, not just a statutory requirement that must be met by September 2011,” Schoomaker said.