Rising war costs shrink PACAF base budgets
July 11, 2004
As the cost to support operations in Iraq mounts, less money is flowing to Pacific Air Forces bases.
Though mission-essential programs and needs continue to be fully funded, some base leaders acknowledge they’ve had to tighten their belts and delay projects such as furniture upgrades and street repairs, and eliminate non-mission-essential temporary duty travel. Other commanders, however, hesitate to attribute the pinch to war costs and say base residents won’t see any cuts or reductions in services and programs or any added fees.
“From the mission support group perspective, money has been extremely tight this year,” said Col. Brent Baker, 18th Mission Support Group commander, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa. “But we have been able to go on and keep the mission going.”
At Yokota Air Base near Tokyo, renovation of a dormitory laundry facility has been delayed, and aging but operable heating, ventilation and air-conditioning units at Kadena probably won’t be replaced this year as scheduled, officials said.
“We are continuing to perform our mission here at home, as well as support the Global War on Terrorism with the funding we’ve received from higher headquarters,” Col. Mark Schissler, Yokota’s 374th Airlift Wing Commander, stated in a written reply. “The pocketbook does feel a little lighter this year, so we’ve carefully prioritized our spending and looked for every possible cost-saving measure.”
Just how light is the pocketbook this year?
Local commanders wouldn’t provide numbers, but at PACAF, the fiscal 2004 budget to date is $2.3 billion. That compares to $3 billion at the end of fiscal 2003 and $2.5 billion in fiscal 2002, according to Col. Rory Cahoon, PACAF financial management director and comptroller.
The difference in the fiscal 2004 and 2003 budgets is due primarily to fiscal 2003 supplemental funding in support of the “global war on terrorism,” Cahoon replied in a written statement. Congress appropriates that money above and beyond the Defense Appropriations Bill, he stated. Supplemental funding is provided to meet the costs of war or emergency and disaster response and pays the added costs of deployments, bed-down of deployed forces, supplies and equipment reconstitution, force protection, facility upgrades and other items, according to Cahoon.
Congress already has approved $126.1 billion for Iraq and an additional $25 billion is heading for congressional approval — for a total of $151.1 billion so far this year.
When asked if PACAF was taking a hit from war costs, spokeswoman 1st Lt. Christina Hoggatt replied, in a written statement: “While PACAF has unfunded Global War on Terrorism requirements and there are critical GWOT funding shortfalls elsewhere in [Department of Defense], PACAF is not being taxed to pay those costs at the expense of other base programs.”
Hoggatt added, however, that with money more limited this year, “we cannot fund all programs to levels in the past two years,” noting that some facility sustainment and restoration work will be deferred until fiscal 2005. She did not give examples, only saying: “Commanders at all levels are making hard decisions on which activities have funding priority; however, ensuring that PACAF forces are ready to fight remains the command’s top priority.”
At Kadena, the tight budget is forcing commanders to spend more efficiently, Baker said.
The services squadron, for example, deferred temporary duty to conferences and other non-mission-essential travel, and organizations are buying fewer computers. The base’s vehicle maintenance program fell short $1.2 million this year, Baker said. “We got to the point where we started to think about parking vehicles,” he said. But the wing came through with $600,000 to keep the fleet on the road through the rest of the year, he said.
Yokota is saving money by making only “mission-essential repairs” to some of its government vehicles, Schissler said. The base also is saving every travel dollar possible and delaying furniture upgrades, he added. “We’ve made some calculated reductions, but we’ve ensured those cuts are not at the expense of mission success or at the expense of keeping our people combat ready here at Yokota,” he said.
At Misawa Air Base in northern Japan, base improvements over the past two years occurred at a record pace. But former 35th Fighter Wing commander Brig. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, in an interview earlier this year with Stripes, said the current burst of renovations likely won’t continue because the military is “tightening our belts” due to world events.
Col. Don Weckhorst, 35th Fighter Wing vice commander, said, “The indications are there isn’t going to be that level of funding flowing down to us like there was last year. There’s a little bit of scrutiny, I would say in some of our mission-support areas, but it just means we have to look hard at some of those discretionary funds. I’m not going to get into specifics.”
Andersen Air Force Base on Guam doesn’t appear impacted by the same budget issues. Base spokeswoman 2nd Lt. Genieve David said in a written statement that the base has not had to delay or scale back any facilities or renovations due to lack of funding.
Cahoon, the PACAF comptroller, noted that most of this year’s supplemental funding is paying for Aerospace Expeditionary Force deployments and additional support costs of the rotational bombers at Andersen.
Weckhorst and Baker said they could not say whether the cost to fight the war on terrorism was drying up funds in PACAF.
“I think everyone is trying to force it toward the global war on terrorism and Iraq,” Baker said. “I’ve not seen that from my level.”
Schissler characterized the current effort to prioritize funding as “just being responsible in spending; America is at war and during war, people and organizations make sacrifices.”
— David Allen contributed to this story.