Intercepts

Emergencies get out of hand; The border gambit; JNN: Big 2006 winner, but 2007 loser?; Doing the right thing; The health care bill; Lest we forget...

Emergencies get out of hand
That’s the perspective of Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.), who expressed his concern on the Senate floor last week about a growing tab for the 2006 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill, which provides extra funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Hurricane Katrina relief projects in Gulf Coast states.

Everyone experiences an emergency that requires unusual expenditures, he said. “We have to make up for that special spending so we can get back within our budget.”

Thomas said he struggles to understand the nearly $15 billion spike in the emergency bill, which began with a $92.4 billion request from the president in February and jumped to $106 billion as of last month.

Thomas said the emergency bill has “become an overall opportunity for projects that have little to do with hurricane recovery or the war on terror.”

Such as….

The border gambit
Illegal immigration and border protection are political footballs this year. Last week, the Senate larded $750 million onto the 2006 emergency bill for Customs and Border Protection agency air assets, including fleets of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The addition of that bit of border pork to the Senate version of the bill was probably aided by the crash of the only CBP UAV last week, which was lamented on the Senate floor but barely noticed elsewhere within the Capital Beltway.

The Interceptor lives in New Mexico and can tell you based on experience that a veritable armada of UAVs flying wing to wing will do little to close the illegal immigration gap.

JNN: Big 2006 winner, but 2007 loser?
The Army’s Joint Network Node, which has revolutionized battlefield communications by providing infantry battalion commanders with satellite-based gear that lets them make calls worldwide via a voice-over-IP phone, has the largest funding line of any command, control, communications, computers and intelligence program in the 2006 supplemental. It’s $853.7 million.

The Army has asked for an additional $340 million for JNN in 2007 under its Bridge to Future Networks budget line. But it may have a hard time getting that request past Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s Tactical Air and Land Subcommittee. Weldon said last week that he intends to limit funding for JNN until the Army provides a report that the committee requested.

Doing the right thing
One of my favorite Defense Department computer projects is the Computer/Electronics Accommodations Program, which provides assistive technology support to returning wounded service members.

CAP provides computers equipped with innovative input/output devices so that service members who have lost limbs or sight can use them. Check out the CAP Web site at www.tricare.osd.mil/cap.

The House version of the 2007 Defense Authorization bill states that wounded warriors who were given CAP gear can keep it when they leave the service, an idea long overdue.

The health care bill
It’s almost unseemly to put a price on the care of wounded warriors and their families, but DOD did. It asked for $1.2 billion in extra funding for health care costs associated with operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That amount includes the health care costs for mobilized Reservists and their family members, health care assessments, medevac costs for the Air Force’s life-saving flying ICUs, replenishment of frozen blood supplies, and telemedicine systems.

This bill has a moral obligation behind it and, unlike the tab for border-patrolling UAVs, must be paid.

Lest we forget...
Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s Military Personnel Subcommittee, said DOD has forgotten one moral commitment when it comes to funding the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) in Honolulu, which searches the world for the remains of missing service members.

McHugh said JPAC has a significant budget shortfall, which has led to an inexcusable reduction in operations to recover the remains of service members involved in the Vietnam War. He said he intends to fix that problem.

JPAC’s mission, aided by mind-boggling computer forensics, fits with what the Interceptor learned as a Marine: “Never leave anyone behind.” It’s a motto that should ring through all the halls of the Pentagon.

Men and women, not machines, are asked to fight in wars, and we have an obligation to patch them up if they are wounded and locate and bring home their remains if they are killed.

Intercept something? Send it to bbrewin@ fcw.com.

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