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Pacific Pathways ‘unsustainable’ with current funding sources, GAO says

Soldiers from the 325th Brigade Support Battalion, 25th Infantry Division load cargo and military vehicles aboard the CW3 Harold A. Clinger, Aug. 10, 2016, at Ford Island, Hawaii, in preparation for Pacific Pathways drills. Pathways has roughly doubled the Army's costs of individual exercises that constitute the initiative that deploys battalion-size task forces into the region for 90-day stints, said a Government Accountability Office report released Monday, Nov. 14, 2016.

JAIME RUIZ/U.S. ARMY PHOTO

By WYATT OLSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 14, 2016

U.S. Army Pacific is struggling to increase and maintain financing for its 3-year-old Pacific Pathways initiative, according to a federal report that called current funding sources “unsustainable.”

Pathways has roughly doubled the Army’s costs of individual exercises that constitute the initiative which deploys battalion-size task forces into the region for 90-day stints, said the Government Accountability Office report released Monday.

Pathways strings together existing bilateral exercises held in countries such as South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Philippines and Malaysia.

U.S. Army Pacific officials told the GAO that since beginning in 2014, Pathways has built readiness at multiple command echelons, increased complexity of exercises for partner nations, supported the rebalance to the Pacific and allowed the Army to experiment with its capabilities.

The original pitch for Pathways included an element of cost savings in that soldiers and equipment would not need to be returned stateside after completing individual exercises. Instead, most soldiers and materiel would move on to the next exercise.

But the effort to keep 400 to 900 soldiers forward deployed for three months at a time was primarily about increasing the Army’s presence in the Pacific — and that costs money.

“The additional cost of the exercises under Pacific Pathways is driven by the fact that the initiative, by design, provides a larger force package, which comes with associated transportation costs,” the report said.

The GAO found that in fiscal year 2015, the three Pacific Pathways operations cost $34.5 million, or about twice as much as the combined costs of those same exercises prior to Pathways.

Current funding for Pathways has fallen short, the report said.

“[U.S. Army Pacific] initially estimated that each Pathway operation would cost about $13.1 million on average, or about $39.3 million annually under its plan to conduct three Pathways a year,” the report said. But that average cost in 2015, for example, was $18.5 million.

U.S. Army Pacific officials told the GAO they had requested $13 million in additional funds for fiscal year 2017 but will receive only $7.9 million because of overall Army budget cuts.

The current sources of funding for Pacific Pathways “will become unsustainable,” the report said, and U.S. Army Pacific is requesting an additional $26 million annually for Pathways funding in future years.

The GAO concluded that U.S. Army Pacific would help make the case for sustaining Pathways if it objectively assessed the initiative’s value.

“[U.S. Army Pacific] and other units throughout the Pacific have identified many benefits of the Pacific Pathways initiative, but they have not conducted a comprehensive analysis of these benefits relative to costs, thereby limiting their effectiveness in communicating the value of the initiative to external stakeholders, such as those making budgetary decisions within DOD and Congress,” the report said.

“[U.S. Army Pacific] and its subordinate commands and units have experienced challenges in synchronizing their planning process because they have not more fully established an approach and issued clear guidance that integrates all Army planners and clearly identifies the objectives, assumptions, and level of authority appropriate for key decisions ahead of the exercise planning cycle for each Pathway operation.”

olson.wyatt@stripes.com
Twitter: @WyattWOlson

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