IMA-Europe head, base commanders to discuss cash woes
July 24, 2006
HEIDELBERG, Germany — Dollars and bills will likely come up again and again this week when community commanders sit down with the civilian director of Army installations in Europe to discuss base affairs.
For Russell B. Hall, director of the Installation Management Agency-Europe Region, it’ll be a chance to view the organization’s current spending squeeze “from their foxhole.”
Commanders, he says, are in the best position to comment on the effects of a budget storm centered in the United States — but blowing ill winds this way all the same.
“There is some impact to IMA overseas,” Hall said in an interview Friday from his office in Heidelberg, Germany.
However, he adds, “we can get through it. It would almost have to be an act of nature for IMA-Europe not to make it.”
Hall and his staff sense that much of the impact so far has been largely transparent to anyone not directly affiliated with IMA-Europe. A hiring freeze, spending moratorium and travel ban hardly draws outside attention. And though the lawn may miss a trim or two in places, it’ll be one of the few overt signs of lean times, which should abate when the new fiscal year dawns.
“The grass will get longer for a short period of time,” Hall said.
Stateside, the budget picture is less pastoral.
In some commands, jobs are being lost and utility bills are going unpaid. Overall, IMA’s seven regions have a budget shortfall of $500 million. (It had been $1.2 billion before Congress passed the recent supplemental bill.)
Of that current shortfall amount, Europe is light by just over $40 million, Hall said. But just the deferment of purchases, he explained, should cut that figure in half.
Other moves, such as the suspension or scaling back of certain services, from janitorial work to shuttle bus routes, will likely be enough to forestall any drastic measures. Those steps could have involved layoffs, furloughs or substantial program cuts to organizations such as Army Community Service.
“I need people more than I need computers,” Hall said, referring to the 13,000 employees who work for IMA-Europe.
The Army got into this predicament due to a confluence of events keyed by the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Other contributing factors range from higher fuel and utility costs to budget risks the Army took with its base operating accounts, partly attributed to the reorganization of base support functions that led to the formation of IMA a couple of years ago.
That’s something the Army is in the process of straightening out, though it probably won’t get ironed out until next spring, Hall said.
Still, Army communities in Europe should be financially healthier once the calendar flips to October. Already, garrison commanders and their staffs are preparing for an influx of money earmarked for facility repairs and maintenance.
One of those expected to sit down this week with Hall and his staff is Col. Dean A. Nowowiejski, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Benelux.
Nowowiejski said his people are “desperately trying to avoid a disruption of services,” but readily acknowledges that “when you take a hard look at yourself, you can economize.”
“We are squeezing the turnip,” Nowowiejski said, “juice is coming out.”
But, he adds, there are limits, given current expectations. Nowowiejski wonders whether it’s time to re-evaluate the role of an Army installation in a soldier’s life as well as his family’s.
In the short term, he said, Army and civilian leaders back in Washington need to properly address funding for base operations sooner rather than later.
“We are just kicking that can down the road,” Nowowiejski said. “We’ve been kicking it for a couple of years now. Eventually, we may kick it into a corner.”