Subcommittee voices dismay over Defense supplemental spending

Predictable costs associated with operations in Iraq and Afghanistan should be in the baseline budget, GOP chairman tells military service chiefs.

House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee Chairman Joel Hefley, R-Colo., said Thursday he is concerned about the Pentagon's reliance on supplemental spending to cover predictable costs associated with operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hefley told the military's service vice chiefs that more of those costs should be contained in President Bush's $419.3 billion fiscal 2006 baseline budget, where they would face tougher scrutiny from lawmakers.

"My theory has always been that you put in the supplemental things that surprise you," he said during a hearing Wednesday. "It does trouble me that we've adopted this theory of budgeting."

Hefley noted that the Army included $5 billion for so-called "modularity" equipment in the president's $82 billion fiscal 2005 supplemental spending request, including $216 million in military construction money to support the Army's transformation initiative. The Marine Corps requested money in the supplemental for force structure including $250 million in new procurement and $75 million in military construction.

Other potentially non-emergency funding includes $450 million for recruiting and retention and $12 million for tuition assistance, Hefley said.

"Couldn't most of this be anticipated and shouldn't most of this be in the normal budget?" Hefley asked. "The only reason it makes a difference, I suppose, is we scrutinize the regular budget much more closely than we do the supplemental."

Readiness Subcommittee ranking member Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, told Gen. Richard Cody, the Army's vice chief, he was disappointed with the president's FY06 baseline budget request because it fails to address the Army's mounting problem with worn out equipment, particularly that returning from heavy use in Iraq.

He noted the Army's funding request fails to keep pace with inflation in this area, and is not "very forward looking." He added that the supplemental budget picks up some of this slack, but said the two budgets combined leave "a lot of maintenance unfunded into the future."

Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, said he is concerned about the Army's plan to return forces from overseas to staff its new modular units, and questioned whether the Army has adequate funding for the effort. Cody admitted that the planned global posture shift could prove challenging, but not for lack of resources.

"We know we have the capacity, but we will be challenged not so much in the dollars, but in time," Cody said. "We've got the money and the space, but when you include your global rebasing of your Army, that is where we feel the crunch."