Magazine article National Defense

The Stage Is Set for Intense Finger-Pointing on Shortage of Funds to Modernize Military

Magazine article National Defense

The Stage Is Set for Intense Finger-Pointing on Shortage of Funds to Modernize Military

Article excerpt

As the Pentagon puts the final touches on its Fiscal Year 1999 budget proposal due on Capitol Hill in February it is clear that defense officials are still grappling with some of the same financial dilemmas that have plagued spending plans since the early days of the Clinton administration.

Among them is the quandary that has nagged Pentagon leaders for several years and has consistently agitated members of congressional committees who oversee the military. It is the inability of the Defense Department to meet its spending goals for force modernization which covers purchases of new weapon systems and investments in advanced technologies.

Critics charge the Defense Department is not adequately managing its resources so it can ensure enough money is allocated for weapon procurement. Military chiefs assert about $60 billion a year is needed to adequately modernize the force. For this fiscal year, less than $43 billion was requested from Congress.

Promises by defense officials to boost procurement spending the last four fiscal cycles went unfulfilled because other priorities in the budget stood in the way, explained officials. Paying for overseas contingencies and overall force readiness, for example, has taken precedence over long-term investments.

The expectation in the early 1990s was that, by now, accounts for new weapon acquisitions would be hovering around the $50 billion mark. This fiscal year, the president's request was $42.6 billion. The current long-term plan calls for $50.7 billion, $57 billion, and $60.7 billion annually through 2001.

A recent analysis by the General Accounting Office, however, shows that while funding for military personnel; operations and maintenance; and research, development, testing, and evaluation will rise, procurement spending will be lower than predicted one year ago. GAO notes that, for the fourth straight year since 1995, the Defense Department has not met its previously established procurement goals.

The spending blueprint that was recently approved by Congress and the White House for Fiscal Years 1998 through 2003 "retains substantial risk" that it will not be executed as planned, says GAO.

The reality at the Pentagon, meanwhile, is that while officials voice their enthusiasm about modernizing the force with state-of-the-art weapon systems for 21 st century war fighting, the money they need to do that is now paying for other requirements that are deemed more urgent. These include funding growing military commitments overseas, supporting a cumbersome infrastructure, and retaining a fleet of aging weapon systems that is becoming increasingly expensive to maintain.

In its most recent strategic roadmap the Quadrennial Defense Reviewthe Pentagon outlined intended efforts to trim support costs so that modernization may be adequately funded. Those savings, however, were pegged to two rounds of base closings during the next four years, as well as work force downsizing on both the military and civilian sides.

Just six months ago, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen hailed the strategy outlined in the QDR as the only viable course of action in order to both maintain ready forces while ensuring investments for future modernization. But, to his dismay, a wall of congressional opposition mounted against any further base closings, largely as a result of a controversial decision by the White House to allow two Air Force depots in Texas and Califomia-which were scheduled to shut down to shift the work to contractors in order to protect local jobs. …

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