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Congress sets course at budget's 'dangerous crossroads'

May. 27, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno testify May 22 before the Senate Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on defense.
Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno testify May 22 before the Senate Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on defense. (Spc. John G. Martinez/Army)
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Lawmakers preparing the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act want to speed production of better body armor, slow development of the Ground Combat Vehicle and halt all efforts to close military bases.

Lawmakers preparing the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act want to speed production of better body armor, slow development of the Ground Combat Vehicle and halt all efforts to close military bases.

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Lawmakers preparing the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act want to speed production of better body armor, slow development of the Ground Combat Vehicle and halt all efforts to close military bases.

Service leaders want Congress to end sequestration, and warn that the failure to do so will result in delays to modernization, inability to reset equipment, deep reductions in training and the elimination of 100,000 more soldiers. They also want to cut spending by closing bases and use protected monies to cover unexpected war costs.

“I want to put it very frankly: We find ourselves at a very dangerous crossroads,” Army Secretary John McHugh told the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee on May 22. “And if we, as a nation, choose the wrong path, it may severely damage our force, further reduce our readiness, and hamper our national security, and do it for years to come. Unfortunately, today, we face an unparalleled threat to our readiness, capabilities and soldier and family programs.”

BRAC battle

A battle is brewing over base closures. The president’s 2014 budget requests base realignment and closure for the following year. McHugh told lawmakers, “it’s past time for another base closure round,” as the Army is an estimated 20 percent over structure. Current cuts will reduce end strength by 14 percent and cut almost 40 percent of brigade combat teams. If sequestration takes full effect, those cuts jump to 25 percent.

The Army is working to realign those forces and is scheduled to release its plans in June.

“Given the breadth of what we’re required to do because of the Budget Control Act, virtually every post, camp and station will feel some impact,” McHugh told senators May 22.

Two days later, the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee responded with language to be included in the 2014 NDAA that would prohibit the Pentagon from proposing, planning or initiating another round of BRAC.

But changes to force structure “will create excess capacity at several installations,”Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, told a Senate subcommittee on military construction.

“A future [BRAC] round … is essential to identify and reduce excess Army infrastructure, prudently align our civilian staffing with reduced uniform force structure,” she said. “If Army force structure declines, but facility overhead and civilian support staff remain constant, our ability to invest in equipment, training and maintenance will be reduced.”

The president’s 2014 budget includes $2.4 billion for military construction and family housing, which represents a 34 percent reduction from fiscal ’13. The request includes $1.6 billion for military construction — $1.12 billion for the active Army, $321 million for the National Guard and $174 million for the Army Reserve. It also includes roughly $500 million for Army family housing and $180 million for the base closure account.

More hot buttons

Base closure isn’t the only item emerging on Congress’ 2014 hit list. The House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee had key requirements in its portion of the fiscal 2014 defense authorization, called a “mark,” which was approved May 23. Among them:

* The defense secretary would be required to create a separate procurement budget line item within each service procurement account “for personal protection equipment investment and funding transparency.” He would also be required to find ways to improve personal protection equipment, with an emphasis on achieving “significant weight reductions” for hard and soft body armor.

* Prohibit funding for the next stage of Ground Combat Vehicle development until the Army secretary is able to convince Congress that the best strategy is to select one contractor at the beginning of the engineering, manufacturing and development phase.

Despite questions surrounding GCV and the lack of funding faced by the Army, the mark said the House Armed Services Committee “supports the Army’s need to modernize its ground forces equipment,” and said GCV “will eventually replace the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.”

* Require the Army to improve fuel efficiency of the M1 Abrams tank. The tank certainly is a gas guzzler, requiring roughly 300 gallons for eight hours of operation.

'A heavy price'

The president’s 2014 budget request includes $129 billion base funding for the Army and $38.6 billion for overseas contingency operations. This represents a 4 percent reduction from fiscal 2013’s budget base. This budget doesn’t address pending sequestration cuts. The Senate and House have their own versions of the defense budget, as well.

The Army on May 17 submitted a $5 billion omnibus reprogramming request in the hopes of reducing an $8.3 billion shortfall in OCO funds. The service also has a $5.5 billion shortfall due to sequestration. That has halted the planned purchase of double-V hulled Strykers and Apaches, McHugh said. It also has cut unit training, flying hours and family programs.

The Army submitted an $80 billion reprogramming request for fiscal ’14. The problem, service leaders have said, is the combination of sequestration, 15 continuing resolutions in three years and “significant shortfalls” in OCO accounts. These “extraordinary measures” came at a “heavy price” to training, maintenance, readiness and other programs, McHugh said.

“To continue sequestration into fiscal year ’14 and beyond would not only be irresponsible and devastating to the force, but ... also directly hamper our ability to provide sufficiently trained and ready forces to protect our national interests.”

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno was equally blunt.

“Our soldiers, their families and the American people are counting on us to ensure they are resourced and trained to the highest standard and have well-maintained and capable equipment so that, when needed, they will be successful while minimizing casualties,” he said. “We cannot place this burden on the shoulders of our soldiers, civilians and families. We owe them more than that.”

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