Obama administration to submit war funding request next week

The Pentagon's top numbers-cruncher said Wednesday that he hopes to send details of the Obama administration's $75.5 billion request for war funding for the remainder of fiscal 2009 to Capitol Hill next week.

During testimony before the House Budget Committee, Robert Hale, who recently was confirmed as Pentagon comptroller, told lawmakers that Defense officials are still working with the Office of Management and Budget on the supplemental spending request.

Once the request gets to Capitol Hill, Congress will have to work quickly to get a bill to the White House for signing.

Hale said in his written testimony that the department needs the money by Memorial Day "to avoid funding problems and to maintain continuity of operations for the troops." Congress has approved $66 billion for the wars this fiscal year, so the additional spending request, if approved, would bring the war total for fiscal 2009 to $141.5 billion -- more than $45 billion below last year's level.

During Wednesday's hearing, Hale punted any questions about details of the budget request for fiscal 2010, which the administration plans to send to Capitol Hill next month. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has required senior Pentagon officials to sign nondisclosure agreements to prevent leaks of budget decisions, including anticipated cuts in some weapons systems.

But several committee Republicans took Wendesday's hearing as an opportunity to warn against cuts in the massive missile defense program. "It's being looked at carefully with regard to whether we want to make some of those difficult choices in that area," Hale told the committee, adding that no final decisions have been made on the budget. The fiscal 2010 Pentagon request includes $533.7 billion for the base budget and another $130 billion to pay for the wars next year.

Meanwhile, Hale said the Defense Department has identified most of the shovel-ready projects on military bases slated for funding from the economic stimulus bill. The Defense Department received $7.4 billion in stimulus funds, including $4 billion to upgrade existing facilities. Hale said he expects those projects to be under way by April. "We are pushing as fast as we can consistent with doing a good job and making sure that we get benefit for the taxpayer out of these dollars," he said. The military also received $2.2 billion for more in-depth construction projects, such as hospitals and day care centers, but Hale acknowledged that work on those efforts will take longer to get started.

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