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.