Army seeks more help as war expenses outpace funding

By Amy Klamper, CongressDailyPM

As the Army continues to shoulder the brunt of operations and expenses in Iraq, service officials are counting on Congress to approve at least $45 billion in fiscal 2005 supplemental funds early next year, part of an anticipated emergency spending package estimated to be as high as $75 billion, Pentagon officials told CongressDaily.

Army officials do not expect to see any of that money until June, but in the interim, the service's "burn" rate in Iraq is rising -- from roughly $3.8 billion a month over the past year to as much as $4.7 billion a month today. And budget experts say that while Congress approved $25 billion in additional funds this summer to pay for war-related costs, the Army's share of that money will be gone by the end of January.

Last month, the Army submitted a fiscal 2005 supplemental funding request of $51 billion to top Pentagon leaders but expects Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to whittle the request to $45 billion before the wartime supplemental is submitted to lawmakers with the fiscal 2006 budget in early February.

Pentagon officials said $8 billion of the $51 billion is needed to cover equipment costs resulting from increased wear and tear on Army vehicles and weapons systems in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the service needs at least $2 billion of that money by February, and it recently asked Congress to shift funds out of fiscal 2005 military personnel appropriations to cover equipment costs. Since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the services have frequently dipped into certain accounts -- usually military operations and maintenance funds -- to pay for more immediate shortfalls in procurement and other areas during the early part of the fiscal year. This practice assumes the borrowed money will be reimbursed through wartime supplemental funding later in the fiscal year.

The Army's requested $2 billion transfer, if approved by lawmakers, would allow the service to swap worn out equipment accompanying troops returning from Iraq with new vehicles and other military hardware under the Army's long-term restructuring plan.

Army officials admit that their effort to develop new medium-weight brigades is part of a broader transformation initiative that will take several years to complete. But they insist that the new brigade structure, coupled with new equipment, including the Army's Stryker armored vehicle, will provide better fighting capability to soldiers in Iraq.

Army officials say they have had a hard time garnering supplemental funds to pay for the initiative despite the immediate benefit they say it offers soldiers overseas. Pentagon leaders, they say, view the brigade restructuring effort as something that should be paid for in the regular budget.

"The Army has sought supplemental funds to cover these costs, but [the Defense secretary's office] has always rejected it because they don't view this as an emergency need," one Pentagon source said.