Congressional budget tactics soften Army IT cuts

Conference Report on 2007 DOD Appropriations Bill

Some technology programs suffered cuts in the final version of the Defense Department’s budget, released by a joint congressional conference committee Sept. 26. Other programs were moved from the base budget to the “bridge” fund section of the bill, which is intended to be used for ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The House passed the 2007 Defense Appropriations bill late Sept. 26. The legislation appropriates a total of $436 billion for the Defense Department, including $70 billion in the bridge fund, called Title IX, according to the conference report. The Senate is expected to pass the measure this week before leaving for recess.

But experts said Congress filled the bridge fund with items previously found in the base budget in order to fill the base budget with personal pork projects.

“They’re pretending that they’re cutting the basic bill, but they are just moving the money,” said Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information. The effect is that military activities go unfunded and warfighters suffer, he added.

The Single Army Logistics Enterprise, for example, had its budget request cut from $121.8 million to $101.8 million, a compromise from the House’s allotment of $81.8 million. But SALE received $36 million in the Title IX bridge fund.

Meanwhile, many domestic units received increases in the base budget for their communications infrastructure. Congress added funds for communications electronics equipment for the Pennsylvania, Florida and Montana Army National Guard units, totaling about $5 million.

The Office of Management and Budget assailed Congress’ use of Title IX in an Aug. 2 Statement of Administration Policy.

“The administration opposes the inclusion of funding in the bridge that does not directly support direct global war on terror-related requirements, and strongly opposes the inclusion of base funding needs in the bridge,” OMB wrote.

The White House also made clear its opposition to shifting base funding requirements to supplemental bills as a way to increase discretionary funding unrelated to security.

The Single-Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System also received an increase of funding through the bridge fund. The Bush administration had requested $116 million for SINCGARS, but the House version of the bill reduced that funding to $66 million. The final bill gives $64.6 million to the program in the base budget and an additional $124.5 million in the bridge fund, for a total of about $189 million.

“They have a big shortage of those radios, and the war has exposed that shortage,” Wheeler said. The radios are crucial for communication during convoy operations.

Lawmakers also cut $45.7 million from the base funding for Improved High Frequency Radios, only to restore the money in the war funding section of the bill.

Funding for procurement under the Joint Tactical Radio System was zeroed out in the conference report. The Army’s Information Systems Security Program received an increase of $2 million for a total of $91.8 million. Base Support Communications also benefited, receiving $39 million, $6 million more than it requested.

The conference committee reduced the Installation Information Infrastructure Modernization program’s budget by $32 million from its request of $279 million.

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