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RAF MILDENHALL, England — For the first time in the past several years, U.S. Air Forces in Europe entered the fiscal year without a smaller budget than the previous year.

The sustained level of funding means there will not be cuts similar to last year’s reductions in training and travel opportunities after a mandated 15 percent across-the-board drop in funding, according to Col. Mary Ensminger, USAFE chief of financial analysis division.

“They (airmen) shouldn’t feel a difference this year compared to last,” she said.

The Air Force’s European command has a budget of about $1.1 billion for fiscal 2008, which began Oct. 1.

That is $500 million less than last year’s $1.6 billion, Ensminger said.

The command, however, has access to that $500 million via a central funding program in the United States, Ensminger said.

“It will appear that we have less funding, but it is now centrally managed,” Ensminger said in a recent interview.

The $500 million represents the money spent on flying as well as depot maintenance, which includes regularly scheduled aircraft overhauls normally conducted by aircraft engineers and manufacturers in the United States.

The $1.1 billion represents what Air Force planners call the operations and maintenance budget, which covers the cost of operating the bases, paying civilian salaries and training.

The command’s financial standing has been bolstered by the so-called Air Force Smart Operations 21 program, which seeks improved efficiency in day-to-day operations.

Thus far, the program has introduced changes that have netted $4.5 million in annual savings over the next five years as well as $35 million in cost avoidance, according to Stephen Jewett, AFSO 21 master process officer.

Two separate measures in the United Kingdom and Germany have contributed to the majority of the savings, Jewett said.

In England, changes to electric billing procedures for onbase housing districts at RAFs Alconbury and Lakenheath led to approximately $2 million in savings, while a move to streamline the inventory process at the Kaiserslautern furnishings management office led to another $2 million in savings.

The overwhelming majority of the $35 million in savings is the result of manpower cuts facilitated by improvements in procedures, Jewett said.

“We’ve improved our processes without increasing overtime and without increasing the workload on our folks,” he said.

The command must still contend with the exchange rate in Europe and the U.K.

The exchange rate between the British pound and dollar reached a 20-year high this year, while the euro versus dollar rate reached an all-time high.

This led to USAFE receiving $20 million from the Defense Department to compensate, Ensminger said.

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