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WASHINGTON — Army leaders are concerned that Congress will order the service to add more troops without promising to pay for the additional personnel, jeopardizing long-standing modernization plans in the process, Army’s top officer said Tuesday.

“Congress can only fund us for a year at a time,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker told reporters at a breakfast meeting in Washington. “However, they can encumber us forever.”

Concerned about stresses on the Army that have prompted increased use of the National Guard and Reserves, and policies such as extended deployments and stop loss, some members of the House and Senate are continuing to push for increases to the Army’s Congressionally mandated limit of 482,000 active-duty soldiers.

But if Congress goes ahead and raises end strength, “but can only fund us a year at a time,” service leaders will “have to go to readiness, investment and other kinds of accounts to pay for the people,” Schoomaker said.

The Army did need the 30,000 troops Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld added on a temporary basis in January, Schoomaker said.

“The Army is too small,” Schoomaker said. “That’s why I asked for the 30,000” additional soldiers.

But the troops are only needed in order to “prime the pump” for the service’s ongoing reorganization into “units of action” — brigade-sized elements that are far more independent and capable than today’s brigades, Schoomaker said.

According to the plan, by 2007 the Army “will have somewhere between 43 and 48 brigade units of action in the active component,” versus today’s 33 brigades, Schoomaker said.

The National Guard, meanwhile, which now has “the shell” of 36 brigades, will be turned into a force with 34 “full, resourced brigades,” Schoomaker said.

“That level of Army,” Schoomaker said, “we can do … within the end-strength footprint we currently have … and [still] sustain the current level of [deployment] effort indefinitely.”

Army leadership would prefer not to keep the 30,000 troops on the payroll beyond 2007, because “almost 50 percent of our Army cost right now goes to paying people,” Schoomaker said.

However, “if we’re still at this level of stress [in 2007, and] we need a bigger Army, I’ve already talked to the president and secretary of defense. We will get more people,” Schoomaker said.

But some lawmakers don’t want the Army to wait until 2007 to see whether the service needs to boost its size permanently.

The House-approved version of the fiscal 2005 defense budget includes a provision, introduced by Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., which would add 40,000 troops to the Army.

The Senate version of the budget does not include the boost, however, and the matter will have to be settled in conference later this month.

Meanwhile, Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., John McCain, R-Ariz., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., have proposed draft legislation to increase the Army’s end strength permanently, although none of the bills have moved to the full Senate for a vote.

Schoomaker said Army leaders would continue to resist an end-strength increase.

“We are very reluctant to be encumbered [with troops] beyond what’s necessary,” Schoomaker said. “We know that we’ve got [so much] inefficiency that we can wring out of the system right now.”

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