Pentagon unveils $533.7 billion budget

Plan calls for 2.9% pay raise, cuts money for recruiting and retention

By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 7, 2009

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WASHINGTON – Defense Department officials promised more money for troops and their families but will slash spending on recruiting and re-enlistment bonuses as part of the Pentagon’s fiscal 2010 budget plan unveiled Thursday.

The proposal – part of President Barack Obama’s $3.4 trillion budget for fiscal 2010 – includes cuts to major weapons systems detailed last month and was billed as a “reform budget” by defense officials.

But it also has new increases in troops Basic Allowance for Housing (6 percent) and Basic Allowance for Subsistence (5 percent) to go along with a 2.9 percent pay raise for all military personnel.House and Senate leaders have already promised to bump that to 3.4 percent.

The plan also promises more money for wounded warrior support and no cuts in military health care services.

“This is a long-term commitment by the department to take care of our people,” said Vice Admiral P. Stephen Stanley, director of force structure for the Joint Staff. “Those people who have gone forward and been affected, been injured, we’re going to take care of them. We’re going to take care of our families.

The budget also cuts more than $700 million from the Department’s recruitment and re-enlistment funds, noting that the cost of those programs and bonuses more than doubled from 2004 to 2008. Now, with all four active duty services at or over their planned end strength, the Pentagon wants to cut recruiters, reduce the advertising budget for recruiting and scale back on bonuses.

The defense budget proposal is $533.7 billion, not including $130 billion more for overseas combat operations. Together, that's a 1.4 percent increase in total military spending from fiscal 2009.

Obama on Thursday called the budget plan a much-needed clean up of wasteful government defense spending and “sweeping overhaul” of the defense contracting system.

As announced earlier, the budget plans include massive cuts to the missile defense program, elimination of the $11 billion VH-71 Presidential Helicopter program, ending production of the F-22 Raptor at 187 aircraft, and abandoning the $87 billion vehicle portion of the Army’s Future Combat Systems program.

“We took a long look at programs and the costs associated with them,” said Robert Hale, comptroller for the Defense Department. “The secretary was adamant; Enough with the studies, now we need action.”

More than 20,000 contracting posts will also be replaced by new federal jobs over the next five years in an effort to save additional funds.

Family housing funds drop by 38 percent in next year’s budget, but Hale dismissed that as a reflection of the increased use of private housing and the decreased need for new military construction.

The $130 billion for overseas contingency operations includes funds for 1,080 Mine-Resistant, Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicles, which Stanley called an urgent need in Afghanistan.

Unusual process

Typically the Pentagon releases the detailed budget to Congress in February, but the new administration and dramatic plans for program overhauls from the new president prompted a three-month delay in the process. Lawmakers are still optimistic they can pass the budget by the start of next fiscal year, Oct. 1.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates held an unusual, pre-release press conference last month to explain the shift from overbudget, massive systems to smaller scale projects more suited to counterinsurgency work.

When he unveiled those plans, Gates called new budget “an opportunity to truly reform the way we do business.” Even with a Democratic-controlled Congress, Obama’s plan is likely to see significant changes before the fall.

After Gates’ remarks, House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., praised the White House’s work and foresight but added “the buck stops with Congress, which has the critical Constitutional responsibility to decide whether to support these proposals.” Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, called the ideas “an important first step” and promised a careful review on Capitol Hill.

Lawmakers as a group have been generally supportive of reform and reprioritization of the Pentagon’s operations, but several have spoken out individually against individual projects or cuts which would impact constituent businesses.

Virginia Democratic Sen. Jim Webb publicly expressed concerns about reductions in Navy shipbuilding, which could hurt jobs in his home state. Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich rallied a group of senators against proposed cuts in missile defense spending, especially plans which would impact his sites.

And House and Senate Republican leaders openly questioned making any major funding changes in wartime, calling plans to abandon the supplemental budgeting process potentially dangerous for troops.

But Gates has insisted that the moves are not motivated by financial considerations but strategic ones, vowing that “I would have made virtually all of the decisions … regardless of the department’s top line budget number.”

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