As Iraq war costs approach the $300 billion mark, the Defense Department's increasing reliance on emergency appropriations to pay for military equipment is stirring controversy on Capitol Hill.
Several lawmakers, in recent weeks, have accused the Pentagon of taking advantage of emergency funding requests to hide the costs of personnel, weapons and vehicles that typically would be included in the Defense Department's yearly budget proposal. A case in point is an estimated $69 billion effort to transform the traditional division-based structure of the U.S. Army into a brigade-centered force.
The Pentagon has given the Army the green light to move forward with its plan to create 77 "brigade combat teams," 43 of which will be active duty and 34 National Guard. Unlike current brigades, these units will be "modular," meaning that they will be independently capable of deploying and engaging in combat without relying on a division headquarters. The intent is to make the Army more agile, quicker to respond, and to create a more predictable deployment cycle that will ease the stress on soldiers. After the restructuring is complete in about six years, the active-duty force, which now has 33 brigades, would grow to 43. The Guard would downsize slightly, from 36 to 34 brigades. About 200,000 Army reservists also would be reorganized into "expeditionary" units. A significant amount of new equipment will be needed to supply the modular force, officials said.
Critics contend that much of that spending is predictable and should be part of the Pentagon's regular budget request sent to Congress each year, rather than be labeled an emergency expense.
Since 2003, the Pentagon has requested more than $270 billion in supplemental war funds: $78 billion in 2003, $88 billion in 2004, $25 billion so far approved for 2005, with another $80 billion expected in the coming months.
Adding to the Army's enormous war bills are the costs to repair and replace equipment damaged and destroyed in combat. In 2005 alone, the Army is about $7 billion short of what it needs to fix ground vehicles and helicopters, according to a Senate Armed Services Committee estimate.
As these bills accumulate and the Army continues on the path to restructure into a modular force, members of Congress charge that the Pentagon is not clearly communicating the Army's requirements in its budget requests.
Lawmakers generally abide by the doctrine of "no surprises," said Daniel J. Cox, professional staff member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In remarks to a defense industry conference in Monterey, Calif., Cox said Congress would support the Army's needs, but that it's important for the Pentagon to "keep us informed, and push information." Some lawmakers, he said, are "frustrated because they are not being told what's in the supplemental requests."
During recent SASC hearings, Senators John McCain, R-Ariz., and Carl Levin, D-Mich., both expressed unease about the Pentagon's budgeting practices. Cox suggested that his committee will ask the Defense Department to be more straightforward about the costs of equipping the modular Army. "There is an interest in seeing modularity requests go into the regular budget," he said.
At a Pentagon news conference coinciding with the release of the administration's proposed fiscal year 2006 budget, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld backed the decision to bundle Army equipment costs with emergency supplemental funding requests. …