By Ellen Mitchell
Army leaders are heading to Capitol Hill to discuss what portion of the Pentagon’s $58.6 billion overseas contingency operations request will end up in the service’s base budget, according to the Army’s new acquisition deputy.
Lt. Gen. Michael Williamson, the Army’s military deputy to the acquisition executive, said the service’s budget leaders will meet with lawmakers this week to answer questions on priorities laid out in earlier meetings.
“So [the lawmakers] have come back and said ‘here are the things that we agree on, here are the things that we have some questions about,'” Williamson told Inside the Army on July 24 following an Association of the United States Army breakfast in Arlington, VA.
“I know that this week they are going back with answers to the questions on those, but I couldn’t tell you when that gets resolved,” he added. “But I know that this week we’re going back with our requirements.”
The Defense Department’s fiscal year 2015 OCO request has been harshly criticized by members of Congress in recent weeks. Inside the Pentagon reported earlier this month that a $5 billion OCO request for a new Counterterrorism Partnership Fund (CTPF) has been called a “slush fund” by some lawmakers.
Army leaders, however, are worried about the service’s fiscal future should Congress not approve the supplemental war funding before the start of FY-15. DOD officials have asked Congress to quickly approve the request to prevent the services from dipping into their base budgets to pay war-related bills.
As of January, the Army had about $15 billion worth of equipment in Afghanistan and plans to bring $10 billion worth out, divesting the rest, according to Gen. Dennis Via, the chief of Army Materiel Command, who spoke to reporters July 23. All of that equipment will have to be reset; Army leaders have asserted it will require supplemental OCO dollars for two to three years after the drawdown.
“There is absolutely a requirement for OCO funding, so we can have a discussion about whether that’s two or three years, but I think the Army’s been very consistent in that — from whatever point the conflict’s in — that there’s still a requirement to go back and address some of those funding concerns,” Williamson said. “I think the Army’s done a very good job of being very up front about what those OCO requirements are.”
Williamson also stressed the importance of maintaining the industrial base in times of fiscal austerity. “Our ability to manufacture ground combat vehicles, our ability to manufacture and produce sophisticated electronics, [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] equipment, radios, it’s not something that stops and starts with fits,” the three-star said. “Your cell phones didn’t magically appear, there was a constant investment in both infrastructure and new technology that allows you to have what you have at the price point that you have today. I would offer to you that that same sustained investment has to occur . . . you have to make sure that you’ve made an investment in the facilities, in the talent and the experience that’s required, so that when you need to up production, those capabilities are there.”
Williamson said he remains concerned about the Army’s ability to provide soldiers what they need to address future conflict.
“We have designed and built a very effective system, but the enemy does have a vote,” he said. “There will be new threats . . . if you don’t have that sustained investment. . . then we put our nation at risk and we put our soldiers at risk.”