Budget cut hits USAFE travel, gear purchases
Leaders throughout U.S. Air Forces in Europe expect travel and equipment purchases to be hit hardest by a 15 percent, across-the-board cut to wing budgets this fiscal year.
The overall USAFE Operations and Maintenance budget has dropped significantly since 2005, before the Air Force absorbed the unexpected costs of the Hurricane Katrina mission and the rising price tag for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Air Force finance officers.
In fiscal 2005, the USAFE Operations and Maintenance budget totaled $1.7 billion. In fiscal 2007, the budget is $1.3 billion, although it no longer includes $189 million for aviation fuel and contract aircraft maintenance, which were transferred to Air Force Materiel Command.
The $1.3 billion also does not include money USAFE will receive later in the year to support its role in the “global war on terror.” And, it anticipates receiving some $200 million in additional funds for facility repairs, officials said. But even with that money, each wing is going to have less money than last year — likely measured in the millions, according to Col. Mary Ensminger, chief of financial analysis for USAFE.
The cuts are being made to what USAFE finance officials call the “base line” part of the Operations and Maintenance Budget, which does not affect mission priority tasks such as flying or funding civilian salaries, Ensminger said. Instead, cuts will come from what Air Force officials deem as not mission-essential.
The wings initially believed they would be splitting $180 million in base line funds that were requested for this fiscal year. Instead, they received $152 million — a $28 million drop from the fiscal ’06 figures. All told, this year’s base line funds are 12 percent of the command’s overall budget.
“As an Air Force, we’re really having to prioritize. We’re executing our dollars in line with our priorities,” said Maj. Norm Dozier, 48th Fighter Wing comptroller at RAF Lakenheath, England. “It’s not that we’re not able to do what we did in the past; it’s now we have to look deeper as to how we can save money.”
Dozier was reluctant to provide a dollar amount for the cuts or specify what areas or programs will be affected on RAF Lakenheath, but said some programs would face the chopping block.
“Some things will fall off the table,” Dozier said. “Leadership is making those decisions.”
He said the squadrons that exercise the best efficiency will be rewarded with fewer cuts in their squadron level budgets.
“The squadrons will see less of a cut where we see more efficiencies,” Dozier said, citing the Air Force Smart Operations 21 program which pursues ever-increasing efficiency.
Nevertheless, like everyone else, squadrons will feel the pinch.
Dozier and Ensminger said travel and new equipment would be the biggest targets.
“We have to look hard at travel opportunities and defer nonessential supplies,” Ensminger said.
Dozier cited one example already being implemented to save funds.
“Instead of sending 14 people somewhere for some training, we are sending one person and he comes back and trains the rest,” he said. “People are going to have to make decisions like that across the board.”
The budget squeeze comes as the Air Force works to fund its obligations in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond as well as “recapitalize” its force with newer aircraft. The financial difficulties also have led to early buyouts of airmen and “force shaping” to purge the service of supposed excess troops.
The Air Force has a total budget of around $104 billion for fiscal year 2007, down slightly from the previous two years. Outside of a one-time surge in 2005, the Air Force’s budget has slid steadily since its 2003 high at more than $115 billion.
Before 2003, the Air Force budget was climbing from a 1997 low of less than $80 billion.
As for the future, and the fiscal year 2008 budget, Ensminger is unsure.
“We’ve asked Washington for more than we got this year, but you never know what’s going to happen on that side,” she said.
By the numbers
Base line Operations and Maintenance budget in previous years
2005Requested — $146 millionReceived — $150 million
2006Requested — $179 millionReceived — $189 million
2007 Requested — $180 millionReceived — $152 million
Source: U.S. Air Forces in Europe