Promised Army funds tied up in Congress
It will probably be several months before families in Europe start to see anything of substance come out of the Army Family Covenant, which Army leaders started to roll out at garrisons around the world more than two weeks ago.
The reasons for that are myriad.
First, the $1.4 billion the Army has pledged for the covenant — a pledge to boost the Army’s existing programs to improve the quality of life for families — is mostly tied up in the Iraq and Afghanistan supplemental war funding request, and partly in the Army’s annual budget request. Neither the budget, part of the annual Defense spending bill, nor the supplemental have passed Congress.
When they do, there’s no guarantee the money for the Army Family Covenant will be there. Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, said he is optimistic the money will be approved.
Of the covenant, Casey said last week that, “without the resources, it’s just a piece of paper.”
Second, the Army announced the covenant without telling its major commands that millions of dollars in additional funding were coming their way.
“This came up on us real quickly,” said Jack Gillund, a spokesman for Installation Management Command-Europe. The organization will get most, if not all, of the Army Family Covenant funds destined for Europe. “We weren’t expecting it,” he said.
That means there is no plan — yet — to spend all that extra money.
All of IMCOM-Europe’s leadership met for two days this week to figure out what they’d do with the money when it’s authorized. Even Russell Hall, director of IMCOM-Europe, doesn’t know what the plan will be, said Ken White, an IMCOM-Europe spokesman who attended some of the meetings.
The organization is planning now “so that when the money comes, we’re not asking the inward question, ‘well, what do we do now?’” White said.
Another problem: IMCOM-Europe hasn’t been told exactly what its portion will be, White said. The organization has been given an unofficial figure to help start its spending plan, he said.
Another IMCOM official, speaking on condition of anonymity, pegged that unofficial figure at $110 million.
When IMCOM gets its covenant cash, there’s still one more roadblock on the way to spending it: Will there be enough qualified staff for all those beefed-up programs? Hall noted that particular quandary during an earlier interview with Stars and Stripes about his organization’s 2008 budget.
Among the priorities coming down from IMCOM headquarters are increases in the number of paid assistants to deal with family issues at a battalion level, extension of child-care operating hours, expansion of hourly and respite care, increase in the number of Army Community Service personnel and expansion of youth programs.
All those priorities require more personnel.
“They can give us the money; that doesn’t help me if I can’t hire someone,” Hall said.
And there’s one more issue: Under the covenant, the traditional definition of “family programs,” which was limited to community service and child and youth service programs, is “now a much broader definition,” White said.
The covenant, which is really a statement of commitment to another initiative — the Army Soldier Family Action Plan — also includes plans to beef up health care, family housing, schools and family member education and employment opportunities.
Budgets for these various programs and offerings are handled differently, and it could take awhile before the Army’s resource managers figure out how to get the covenant funds where they need to go, White said.