WASHINGTON — House lawmakers on Thursday blasted a White House decision not to provide money next fiscal year for upgrades to combat-worn equipment, and promised a fight to put billions back into the defense budget.
The House version of the fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill already contains about $20 billion for the repair of equipment worn down by desert conditions and purchase of new gear to replace items destroyed in combat. About $11 billion of the total is for the Army alone.
But that’s down more than $2 billion from previous years’ requests, and doesn’t include any funds for things like vehicle armor improvements, new communications equipment or other upgrades. Officials from the Office of Management and Budget said money for those improvements will come from the Army’s base budget, and not from the extra overseas contingency funds meant to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli said Tuesday that the directive outlining the funding change effectively cuts any such recapitalization work next year.
"For the most part, adding on upgrades to equipment won’t be allowed in FY2010," he said. "I think it makes a lot of sense to upgrade when we can. But the new rules are that we can’t do that."
In a statement OMB officials said the move "is part of a long-overdue attempt to rationalize how the Administration requests funding for war, versus non-war programs, forces and activities."
But news of the policy upset lawmakers, who said they were unaware of any limits on equipment reset for next year and were concerned about shortchanging the services.
"If we’re going to do this on the basis of ... a budget number, as opposed to our obligation to provide what [the services] need, then I have a real dilemma here," said Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii. "I can’t say we’re giving a number that really provides for [the military’s] necessity."
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., said OMB may have overstepped its boundaries in the directive by limiting how the reset fund can be spent, and said he believes the Army and Marine Corps should receive the money they need for critical readiness upgrades next year.
OMB officials did not provide comment by deadline, but service officials confirmed the overseas contingency operations directive was provided to the Pentagon as part of the budget process earlier this year.
Congress has authorized nearly $70 billion for reset and upgrades of equipment since 2006, money that doesn’t include funds to fast-track production of combat necessities like Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles.
Army and Marine Corps officials have said throughout that shortfalls in equipment and repair funding would not endanger troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, since they’re constantly supplied with the best-conditioned vehicles and gear available.
But units training in the States, or those in noncombat units based overseas, have been stuck with older equipment and faced shortfalls in getting up-to-date training equipment.
Chiarelli said he’s confident the $11 billion the Army requested for fiscal 2010 — about $8 billion for logistics costs and depot maintenance, and $3 billion for procurement and repair — is enough to keep missions and training operating smoothly.
"We are able with the funds available to reset equipment," he said. "We understand the tremendous fiscal crisis our country has gone through. As long as we can reset our equipment, we understand that because of fiscal requirements it may be in the best interest of our country as a whole to cut back on recapitalization."
The Marine Corps is expected to receive about $2 billion in reset funds, and the National Guard and Reserve another $7 billion.