Facing $3 billion budget shortfall, Air Force trims entertainment, other costs
April 13, 2005
The people fighting the war on terrorism are being asked to tighten their belts to help pay for it.
Air Force bases are cutting back on utility bills. Commands are canceling travel or training that doesn’t somehow support the war. And at some fitness centers, people will have to bring their own towel to save on laundry costs.
Budget cuts are even hitting small, local businesses that rely on U.S. air bases.
Tony Molloy, who owns a news agency in Beck Row near RAF Mildenhall, England, said the base canceled its contract for 316 magazines with weekly TV listings because it has pulled the plug on cable television in billeting.
“They rang up from the contracting office and said they were cutting the cable, so they wouldn’t need the magazines,” said Molloy, who has provided the magazines for several years. Col. Richard Devereaux, RAF Mildenhall’s base commander, confirmed the loss of cable TV in billeting.
The global war on terror and the ongoing battle with insurgents in Iraq are eating up dollars, forcing all services to rein in spending on anything else. The Air Force is facing a $3 billion shortfall for the year, and Gen. John P. Jumper, Air Force chief of staff, ordered cutbacks to avoid a “budget crisis.”
Air Force bases in Europe are scrutinizing the money handed to them by the region’s headquarters to determine how to make it last through the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
“The budget is tight every year,” said Maj. Norm Dozier, commander of the 48th Comptroller Squadron at RAF Lakenheath. “This one is turning out to be extremely tight.”
Maj. Chris Crane, commander of the 100th Comptroller Squadron, said, “This year will be a challenging year. We knew it would be a challenging year.”
Mildenhall and Lakenheath, each of which is home to about 5,000 active-duty servicemembers and a couple of thousand civilian workers, have not been given a budget target, officials said. Instead, they’ve simply been told there will be no other money floating down from U.S. Air Forces in Europe headquarters in Germany during the year.
“This year, we’re told not to expect any supplemental funding,” Devereaux said. “This will have some impact on base services and quality-of-life programs.”
Which specific programs will get hit the hardest is difficult to tell. The Air Force has released few specifics or details on which services might get the ax.
Capt. Chris Watt, a spokesman for U.S. Air Forces in Europe, said he could not release how much of a shortfall air bases in Europe are facing because it would only be speculation.
However, wing commanders have been ordered to look at cutting travel to such things as conferences and extending the shelf life of office computers to save cash.
At Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany, commands are tracking spending closely, said Col. David Goldfein, commander of the 52nd Fighter Wing, the base’s host unit. He is taking the budget cuts in stride and said looking for ways to save money is a necessary part of doing business in today’s military.
“What you have is that each year, we’re constantly looking at where things can be more efficient,” Goldfein said.
Civilian hiring will be examined closely. Devereaux said a “rule of thumb” is that one job of every two that opens will be filled.
“Everything is on the table to be looked at,” Dozier said.
Small things would have a large impact, Devereaux added. For example, the chapel’s weekly bulletins will be in black and white instead of color, and cell phones will be shelved if they are not used enough to support the contract. The 435th Air Base Wing, the host unit at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, is reducing supplies and equipment purchases and limiting video teleconferencing use, according to Lt. Col. John Long, commander of the 435th Comptroller Squadron. Bases also are asking people to turn down the heat in the winter to save on utility bills.
“Small things add up,” Devereaux said. “Sometimes small savings send a signal that we really need to tighten our belt.”
Of course, officials said, war- fighting capabilities and readiness are untouchable. Other than that, they said, everything is fair game.
“It will be painful,” Devereaux said, “but we can get there.