Spending request for Defense falls short of expectations

The Bush administration Thursday revealed plans for the long-awaited cash infusion military leaders have sought for flagging Defense Department programs--and it's about half what the service chiefs previously said they needed. The $5.6 billion the White House will ask Congress to provide in supplemental Defense spending in 2001 will cover funding shortfalls in training, maintenance, housing and personnel accounts, but falls far short of most service leaders' expectations. The supplemental budget request does not include any funds for missile defense, space operations or other weapons. In fact, the Marine Corps' V-22 Osprey program will be restructured and some procurement funds will be shifted away from the aircraft program to cover losses in other accounts, according to Defense Comptroller Dov Zakheim. In theory, supplemental spending bills are supposed to be used only to cover unforeseen contingencies. But in practice, the Pentagon has relied on such legislation in recent years to cover day-to-day operating costs toward the end of each fiscal year. It's a practice the Bush administration intends to end with future budgets, said Zakheim at a Pentagon news conference. "We have to honestly fund our programs. We don't want gamesmanship where [the services] deliberately underfund their programs with the expectation they will make up those funds in a supplemental." Zakheim blamed the Clinton administration for the Pentagon's historic practice of lowballing costs in its annual budget submission. "There was a total collapse of trust. People were told one thing and then other things happened. If there is no trust, people will resort to stratagems," he said. Zakheim declined to provide specific figures for how the budget request would be divided, but said it will be used to cover food for the Army, higher-than-anticipated health care costs, congressionally-mandated pay raises for enlisted personnel, the cost of fuel and utilities and increased flying hours for military training. The 2001 supplemental budget request will be followed this summer by an amendment to the administration's 2002 Defense budget request, Zakheim said. The amended budget for 2002 will begin to reflect the administration's priorities for Defense, although those priorities won't fully be evident until the submission of the 2003 budget early next year, the first budget the Bush administration will fully control.
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