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House Subcommittee: Pentagon `Neglecting Basics’

By | May 1, 2006


      The Bush administration’s proposed defense budget for fiscal 2007 has raised worries among House members concerning the routine day-to-day readying and equipping of the armed services.

      The administration has made a "troubling" emphasis on future-looking transformation issues at the expense of today’s more immediate needs, according to Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), chairman of the readiness subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC).

      The subcommittee approved the mark-up of its portion of H.R. 5122, the fiscal 2007 National Defense Authorization Act, by unanimous voice vote.

      In his opening statement, Hefley noted that the subcommittee had reviewed "a wide range of topics related to the budget request" for operational and maintenance (O&M) and military construction accounts.

      "Our work this year leads us to an undeniable conclusion," Hefley said in his formal opening statement. "The increased pressure on operations and maintenance funding is having a profound impact on the state of military readiness," he stated.

      "As I’ve noted repeatedly in the past, the [administration’s] fiscal year 2007 budget request seeks approximately $152 billion in operations and maintenance funds," Hefley continued. That request would constitute a $7.4 billion increase over fiscal 2006 funding, but that increase is almost totally eaten up by inflation and rising fuel costs, he said.

      "When you consider that inflation and increases in the cost of fuel account for $4 billion and $3 billion respectively, it is worrisome that the operations and maintenance account request is flat," Hefley said in his statement.

      If the administration’s O&M request should have gone beyond being "flat," Hefley was asked, how high should the figure have been?

      He said that he didn’t know, but that "what disturbed me" was that the administration’s request did not seem to place enough emphasis on O&M.

      Rather, the administration’s budget proposal contained "too much emphasis on reorganizing," while "neglecting the basics," Hefley told Defense Today. The subcommittee bill would contain language that would address this point, he said.

      Hefley elaborated on this theme in his opening statement.

      "What’s particularly troubling about this year’s budget request is the apparent decision by the Department of Defense to prioritize transformation efforts ahead of the services’ current readiness needs. The subcommittee has found underfunding in numerous operations, maintenance, and training accounts that fails to support even basic peacetime requirements," Hefley said.

      "Today’s mark aggressively addresses those challenge and shortfalls and takes appropriate action to ensure that the services are fully funding ship operations, depot maintenance, flying hours, prepositioned stocks and other training requirements," he said.

      The subcommittee did not disclose the dollar total of its recommended budget total, but that figure is lower than the $152 billion number of the Bush administration’s proposal, according to Hefley.

      Within the overall total budget figure it was recommending, the subcommittee did call for numerous increases for a number of basic items, Hefley said in remarks following the hearing.

      Those increases, he told Defense Today, included items such as $105 million to the Army for restoration of prepositioned stocks, and another $100 million for other unfunded Army requirements; $75 million to the Navy for unfunded aviation requirements; and $52 million to the Marines for other unfunded requirements.

      In short, the subcommittee went beyond the Bush administration request in some areas, while coming in at an overall lower number, according to Hefley.

      "The military is at a critical juncture as we enter the fifth year of the global war on terror," Hefley said in his formal statement. "This committee must ensure that it is carefully balancing the need of the services to transform to be an effective force for tomorrow without funding that transformation `on the back’ of today’s force."

      Regarding the Pentagon’s base-closing process, known as base realignment and closure (BRAC), Hefley noted that the subcommittee was approving in full the administration’s $5.6 billion request for the BRAC account. He made note of the BRAC funding in the context of observing that rising fuel and materials costs had made 2006 "a particularly difficult year" for military construction.

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