War accounts under attack as DOD scrambles

The Army and other services are shifting funds from critical missions to continue operations and maintenance efforts as severe account shortages across the Defense Department force officials to make difficult choices.

Among other cutbacks, DOD must delay funding new initiatives for the Joint Improvised Explosive Device task force, cancel a payment to Pakistan for its coalition support, and curtail ongoing training and equipping of Iraqi security forces because of a lack of sufficient funding, according to a DOD official who spoke on background.

DOD blames the funding shortages on Congress’ failure to pass the Emergency Supplemental bill. The bill is awaiting a meeting of a joint conference committee to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned that such measures might be forthcoming when he testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee May 17. Any delay in passing the supplemental bill would put the military services’ critical activities at risk, he said.

“Any slowdown in funding for training and equipping the Iraqi security forces has the added harmful effect of postponing the day when our men and women in uniform can continue to pass off more responsibilities to the Iraqis and come home,” he testified.

The Army sent a memo May 26 to senior officials that mandated severe spending restrictions to maintain Army account solvency while the supplemental bill lingers. Those measures include canceling all nonessential travel, halting orders of supplies, freezing civilian hiring and contract work, and eventually postponing recruitment, re-enlistment and promotions.

That memo, obtained by Federal Computer Week, stressed that critical missions involving the life, health and safety of deployed U.S. soldiers are the Army’s top priority and should not be affected.

However, it may not be possible to achieve all of those priorities at once, said DOD spokesman Lt. Col. Brian Maka.

“Accounts critical to financing the global war on terror are now at risk,” Maka said. “We’re definitely coming closer to a much greater impact as time goes on.”

Stopgap measures are under way to keep DOD functioning in the short term. Officials reassigned $1.4 billion into the operations and maintenance account for the Army, an amount that will last only until the end of June. The Marine Corps and Special Forces have been given $250 million and $36 million, respectively.

“We are having to borrow from future allocations to pay for current operations, which you don’t really want to do, because if that runs dry, then how are you going to operate?” Maka asked.

Congress will revisit the emergency supplemental bill June 6 after members return from their Memorial Day recess. The joint conference committee will try to reconcile the two versions of the bill, and a vote could come as early as June 9, a Senate Appropriations Committee spokesperson said.

The Senate version of the bill appropriates a total of $107 billion while the House version totals $92.2 billion.

The Bush administration played a big role in creating the current funding mess, analysts say.

“There’s plenty of blame to spread around,” said Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information. “In this case, both Congress and the administration stepped up to the cliff.”

The administration knows well that congressional behavior often causes delays in appropriations but still insists on keeping war funding separate from its annual budget requests, analysts note. In December 2005, $50 billion was added to the Defense Appropriations bill for fiscal 2006. That money has already run out, Wheeler said.

Congress, can you spare a dime?The Army plans to cut operations in phases until it gets additional funding. According to a memo obtained by Federal Computer Week, the timing of the planned cutbacks spans the month of June.
  • May 26: The service directed holders of Operations and Maintenance, Army (OMA) funds to cease ordering noncritical spare parts or supplies; postpone or cancel nonessential travel, training and conferences; and stop shipments of goods to all forces or units unless deployed or soon to be deployed.

  • June 6: All civilian hiring actions will be on hold, and all summer hires will be postponed until supplemental funding arrives.

  • June 15: All temporary civilian employees performing OMA-funded work will be released, including depot operations. All contract awards and new task orders on existing contracts will be frozen, and the use of government purchase cards will be suspended.

  • June 26: All service contract employees will be released, including recruiters. Army units can retain only a minimum number of mission-essential employees.

  • Beginning in July: The Army intends to cease recruiting, defer re-enlistments and freeze promotions.

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