As seems to happen with maddening frequency, we are witnessing the game of "playing chicken” with supplemental funds for the troops begin to play out on Capitol Hill Called the Defense Supplemental by congressional players and overseas contingency operations (OCO) funds by the administration, it is money that is needed by our troops to continue combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan over and above what is in the defense budget.. Congress has promised to provide the money before the current session of Congress goes on its Memorial Day recess. The hard truth is that we have heard that in other years and the recess has come and gone without the money.
The resulting brinksmanship destroys the Army’s capability to operate smoothly as it prosecutes the ongoing war on terror. Further, the old saw of ‘just shift some money around’ is not the answer either in that reprogramming opportunities within the Army budget are extremely limited.
The impact of having to constantly plan for multiple financial contingencies to deal with potential shortages or lack of operational funds does not allow the Army to operate at maximum efficiency while involved in ongoing combat. Such contingency planning is a detractor from mission focus and has long term implications both for readiness and for the well being of the force, including the readiness of our non-deployed units and quality of life for Soldiers and their families.
While the impact of an interrupted funding stream on troops in combat is pretty obvious, there are many other ‘not so obvious’ areas where “stop and start” funding just does not work, for example:
- Military pay for the troops both base pay and bonuses.
- Civilian pay, which if not funded, triggers furlough procedures and/or the freezing of civilian hiring.
- Expenditure of operational funds are slowed down and threatened with stoppage on certain dates in each budget funding crisis.
- Parts production and repair contracts both at home and in theater can be slowed, deferred or even halted in the event of funding shortfalls.
- Ordering of “non-critical” supplies and spare parts grinds to a halt when the funding stream is not timely.
- Ongoing critical research and development programs can be slowed or stopped. Restart requires additional and unbudgeted funds.
- Funding slow downs or halts can seriously impact domestic base restructuring plans within the overall Base Realignment and Closure mandates related to building contracts and unit rebasing.
- If advertising dollars slow or are stopped there is a negative impact on recruiting and if recruiting operations support funds (travel, training, recruit and influencer activities) dry up, recruiters can't look for recruits and recruits that are ready for training can't get to their duty stations.
- Retention program funds including bonuses are slowed or stopped during a hiatus of budget support. Reenlistment may be deferred and promotions frozen.
- Family programs for deployed or deploying troops are no longer available to support Family Readiness Groups across the Army: Active, Army Guard, and Army Reserve.
- The transportation of family household goods is delayed along with payments for family travel on change of station.
- Youth activities funded by appropriated funds are shelved or cut.
- The start of new and mandated programs is stalled.
- Critical flight safety programs and procedures are jeopardized from training to execution.
- Facility and family housing repairs, emergency and routine, are suspended.
- Training at unit, individual, and training centers is slowed, postponed or just stopped.
- Procurement of new equipment or replacement equipment is stopped with contract suspensions.
All of this may not make headlines, but the accumulation of such funding dilemmas has enormous impact on all aspects of Army life - whether Active, Army Guard, Army Reserve, Army civilians, Army contractors or Army Family members and Army retirees. Actual funding halts or merely the threat of funding loss has wide ranging impact on Readiness, Recruiting, Retention, and Well Being of our Soldiers, Families and units.
While there is still time for the Congress to act, I wanted to bring to light the enormous consequences of inaction. The Army simply cannot be subjected to the lengthy process and delays that have occurred in the last several budget cycles. Let's use common sense and deliver the dollars in a timely series of budget actions from appropriation to presidential signature that will get the dollars to the troops when they need them or perhaps – and here is a concept – before they need them.
Our Army does not need to move into the summer of 2010 facing another iteration of crisis management. It has had more than enough practice! Congress should focus its considerable energies on completing legislation that will provide an uninterrupted stream of funds and will be ready for signature by the president before the end of May, 2010.