Army pursues risky bid for boost in funding

Top Army officers are clamoring for a larger share of the overall Defense budget in a move that could upset the delicate balance in annual spending allocations to the military services. They want to put their heavily deployed branch on par financially with the larger annual Air Force and Navy spending accounts for the first time since the creation of the Air Force almost 60 years ago.

Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker said Wednesday the service needs $138.8 billion in its base fiscal 2008 budget -- $25 billion more than Pentagon leaders outlined for the Army in budget guidance sent to the services and defense agencies earlier this year.

Army accounts typically comprise 24 percent of the Defense budget, with the technology-heavy Air Force and Navy, which includes the Marine Corps, each receiving about 30 percent. The Bush administration's last budget request bumped up the Army's share only slightly, seeking a 25.5 percent share of fiscal 2007 Defense funds for the service. For years, Army leaders have shied away from advocating sharp spending increases, fearing that they would spark a budget war among the services. But the hefty price tag on Army modernization and transformation -- coupled with the costs of base closures and relocating troops from Europe to the United States -- have swelled the Army's budget needs, Schoomaker said during a roundtable interview at the Pentagon.

Army spending needs have been further exacerbated by skyrocketing personnel costs and the so-called procurement holiday of the 1990s, which depleted the force and left its equipment stocks $56 billion short by the time war began in Iraq in 2003.

"We're trying to overcome a Cinderella story since the end of the Cold War," Schoomaker said.

Schoomaker cautioned, however, that he does not want to fund the Army at the expense of the other services. The Army is "not interested in getting into other pieces of the budget," he said, adding that the budget process is not like a "competition at a poker table."

But boosting Army accounts -- while keeping other defense spending at the same levels prescribed in the budget guidance -- would require the White House to increase the Defense Department's fiscal 2008 projected top-line figure. The administration already has projected slower rates of growth in annual defense budgets -- an average of 2 percent to 4 percent -- beginning in 2008 through 2011.

Defense sources told CongressDaily this week that the Army is talking directly with Office of Management and Budget officials instead of negotiating its fiscal 2008 budget request with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. But Schoomaker would not comment on any discussions with the White House, stating he remains in a "dialogue" with Rumsfeld's office.

Army Vice Chief of Staff Richard Cody likewise said at the Association of the United States Army convention Wednesday that Army officials have had "very, very professional meetings" with Rumsfeld's office and have "laid out what we think the Army costs."

Both Schoomaker and Cody cautioned that the Army cannot pay for current operations at the expense of its technology transformation efforts -- namely the $160 billion Future Combat Systems. But Schoomaker acknowledged that budget constraints might force the Army to slow development on some of the dozens of technologies that comprise the expansive FCS program, the most expensive and ambitious technological endeavor in the Army's history.

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