Budget Woes Hit Army Posts Nationwide

A combination of higher fuel prices, the cost of the Iraq War, and mismanagement has left the Army short of money to funding operations and maintenance.

A diversion of dollars to help fight the war in Iraq has helped create a $530 million shortfall for Army posts at home and abroad, leaving some unable to pay utility bills or even cut the grass. In San Antonio, Fort Sam Houston hasn’t been able to pay its $1.4 million monthly utility bill since March, prompting workers in many of the post’s administrative buildings to get automated disconnection notices. Fort Bragg in North Carolina can’t afford to buy pens, paper or other office supplies until the new fiscal year starts in October. And in Kentucky, Fort Knox had to close one of its eight dining halls for a month and lay off 133 contract workers.

[…]

Garrisons function as the city halls of Army installations, providing services such as garbage removal, mail delivery and firefighting. The Army’s Installation Management Agency is $530 million short of what it needs through Oct. 1 to fund garrisons at the 117 installations it oversees in the United States, Europe and Asia, agency spokesman Stephen Oertwig said. The skyrocketing cost of fuel is partly to blame, and it also is costing more to pay civilians in Asia and Europe, Oertwig said. Another major factor is the practice of funding the war through spending bills outside the annual budget. As Congress spent months debating the supplemental spending bill, the Army had to divert money from the Installation Management Agency’s budget to cover the cost of the war, Oertwig said.

[…]

But military analyst Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution said money management seems to be the larger problem. The Defense Department spends about as much on maintenance and operations as it does on weapons and personnel combined, he said, so there should be more than enough for the bills. “It makes me worry if the Pentagon can’t do its accounting well enough to find money for its electric bills,” he said. “It just boggles my mind a little bit.”

One would think a $410.8 defense budget would be adequate to meet these needs. Sadly, having worked the last couple of years in a large budget Defense IT agency, it just isn’t. Indeed, it seems that senior officials spend more of their time begging for money–and justifying moneys already allocated–than actually doing the mission for which they’re supposedly being paid. One presumes that’s not the case at the tip of the spear.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. DC Loser says:

    James, begging for money is a routine part of any gov bureaucrat’s job. I saw the Army memo on this a couple of weeks ago. All non-mission essential TDYs have been canceled. No new hires will be taken on and contracts were going to be terminated for lack of funds. A lot of contractors could expect to get pink slips because of this. As of yesterday, I heard the situation still hasn’t been rectified.

  2. Stevely says:

    We lost a DA civilian here, his LNO position had its funding yanked. Rumored RIF for DA civilians in the works, too.

    I think O’Hanlon is right though. Money management is broken throughout DOD, guess the Army has the biggest problem with it though.

  3. LJD says:

    No wonder their can’t pay their power bills with a

    $410.8 defense budget

  4. Having worked for fortune 500 companies, I have seen similar sorts of inanity. There seems to be an economic/social law that says when large organizations like governments/corporations have employees spending other people’s money that the money spent becomes unreal and other factors apply.

    I have seen a senior executive spend over a million dollars on moving people from one part of a building to another, then refurbishing the area for new offices for them and filling the office space with some very nice things, while at the same time laying off people because profits aren’t high enough. You could keep several of those people being laid off gainfully employed earning money for the company with the money spent on the office.

    We know the money is there to do the things needed. We know that money is being spent on things that aren’t needed. But the manager whose dignitas is reduced if he has fewer people even if he can’t be as productive as his less able bureaucratic in fighter rival or the project that is kept because stopping it would admit to poor judgement in starting it are just part of large organizations.

    I don’t think there is a simple solution to this.

  5. James Joyner says:

    DCL: Yep. I’m one of those contractors, unfortunately, although I didn’t work for DA. But DISA was in pretty much the same boat.

    Stevely: Agreed. And, unfortunately, I’m putting in for various DoD jobs that are being advertised without any clue as to which ones will actually get filled.

  6. DC Loser says:

    Sorry to hear about your situation, James. Frankly, when I heard this, I thought it was the usual scare tactic to get Congress to allocate more emergency funds to pay the bills. How it got this far baffles me. I have heard from someone at DA that they’ve actually obtained the funds, but that somehow it hasn’t gotten into the system or cleard by Congress or some other reason. But that only shows how the budget system at DoD is so screwed up. FWIW, my program just took a big hit in FY 07 funds. I have quite a few contractors I’m going to have to let go next year if I don’t get my unfunded requests fulfilled.

  7. James Joyner says:

    DCL: Yep, it’s bizarre. The new J4 was high on our program a mere 6 months ago and it looked like we were in for a massive infusion of funds. Suddenly, about 3 months ago, we went into panic mode on money. Meanwhile, very little real work is getting done–everything’s about fighting for/defending funding.