Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Air Force Seeks $50 Billion in Emergency Funds

By Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force is asking the Pentagon's leadership for a staggering $50 billion in emergency funding for fiscal 2007 -- an amount equal to nearly half its annual budget, defense analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute said on Tuesday.

The request is expected to draw criticism on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are increasingly worried about the huge sums being sought "off budget" to fund wars, escaping the more rigorous congressional oversight of regular budgets.

Another source familiar with the Air Force plans said the extra funds would help pay to transport growing numbers of U.S. soldiers being killed and wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thompson, who has close ties to U.S. military officials, said the big funding request was fueled by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England. England told the services in a October 25 memo to include the "longer war on terror," not just the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in their emergency requests.

"This amount of money is so much bigger than the Air Force would normally request ... it hints at a basic breakdown in the process for planning and funding war costs," said Thompson.

He said the Air Force had identified $30 billion just in past war-related costs that were not approved by the Pentagon.

The Air Force's proposed emergency budget is nearly half the $105.9 billion it requested as its total base budget for fiscal year 2007, which began on October 1.

The Air Force said it asked Pentagon officials for $17.4 billion in emergency war funds in August, but was now submitting "additional requirements to cover costs for the longer war against terror," based on England's memo.

Spokeswoman Maj. Morshe Araujo gave no details on the new request, saying it would be completed only next week.

She said the service had already mapped out an expected supplemental funding request of $50 billion for fiscal 2008.

The Army, which got the lion's share of an initial $70 billion supplemental budget passed by Congress last month, is asking for more than $80 billion in additional funds for the second half of fiscal 2007, according to published reports. The Navy is also expected to seek funds for the Marine Corps.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will decide on the supplemental funding requests on November 15, according to the England memo, reported by Inside Defense last week.

In the memo, England said the emergency funding requests should include reset costs for combat losses, accelerated wear and necessary repairs for equipment, or upgrades to newer models when repairs were not economically feasible.

But Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and some other lawmakers are alarmed about continued use of "emergency" funding requests when the war in Iraq has been under way for over three years. Such requests should be reserved for true emergency situations, they argue.

With the latest bill passed last month, Congress has approved about $507 billion in spending for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, under some 13 "emergency" spending requests, according to the Congressional Research Service.

That compares to two supplemental requests made during 11 years of fighting in Vietnam several decades ago, and just one request for the Korean War, according to a congressional aide.

Thompson said Rumsfeld was clearly challenging Congress.

"Rumsfeld is playing budgetary chicken with Capitol Hill. Congress is saying it's time to stop doing budgeting outside the regular process, and the secretary is saying, 'Well, give us the money we need to defend the nation'," Thompson said.

In recent months, top military brass have called for more defense dollars, arguing that current spending as a percentage of gross domestic product is lower than during other wars.

Army officials say they can accurately calculate war costs this far into the conflict, but the White House does not want those costs included in the base budget.

Defense consultant Jim McAleese said the White House took exception to a clause in the 2007 defense spending law, which required the Pentagon to include all foreseeable Iraq and Afghanistan war costs within its 2008 budget.

Given that, he predicted the Bush administration could try to ram through a 2007 emergency budget during the congressional "lame duck" session in November and December.

SOURCE: Reuters

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