July 21, 2006 in Nation/World

With wars abroad, Army tightens belt at home

Thomas E. Ricks Washington Post
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

Schoomaker
(Full-size photo)

WASHINGTON – The Army, feeling the strain of continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Thursday that it is tightening its spending at home.

Because of the costs of overseas combat operations, the Army is taking several steps, including canceling nonessential travel, limiting purchases to critical wartime needs, and freezing all new contract awards. It said it would stop hiring and release temporary employees, and limit the use of government credit cards.

The Army also said it would seek new ways to economize and streamline its business processes.

A statement issued by the Army did not say how it much it hopes to save through the belt-tightening, and an Army spokesman said no estimate was available yet.

Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army’s chief of staff, told the House Armed Services Committee last month that he will need $17.1 billion in fiscal 2007 to replace helicopters, tanks, trucks and other equipment worn out in Iraq and Afghanistan. After next year, he said, the bill for such replacement or refurbishment of gear will be at least $12 billion annually for several years.

The Army’s fiscal 2006 budget is $98.2 billion.

One reason the Army’s costs are so high, Schoomaker said in a luncheon speech on Capitol Hill last week, is that it not only engages in combat but also provides logistical support for the Marine Corps and other organizations in Iraq.

The Army has about 100,000 troops in Iraq, more than any other service.

In addition, Schoomaker said, the cost of supporting a typical Army soldier has gone up by about 60 percent since 2001, mainly because of increasing health care costs. The Army is hesitant to cut benefits because it needs to recruit new soldiers and retain current ones.

The core problem for the Army is fighting a sustained ground war overseas with an all-volunteer force, which is almost unprecedented in U.S. history. “The strategic question of the day is: How do we maintain this all-volunteer force?” Schoomaker said at the luncheon.

Some Pentagon insiders said the Army’s leadership fears that its budget will be slashed next year if and when major troop cuts occur in Iraq.

But a Pentagon official, speaking on background Thursday, said there is widespread concern that the Army will be carrying the bulk of the nation’s defense load for years as the government conducts a global counteroffensive against al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.


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