Growing by leaps and bounds, the Pentagon’s secretive Information Operations budget keeps tripping over some basic information — like how much it costs.

Just months ago, the Defense Department said it needed $988 million to help win hearts and minds in the new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. When the House cut this by half in July, top-level officials landed on Capitol Hill, pleading their case but also making a startling admission: Their budget needs for 2010 are actually $626.2 million — more than one-third less than first estimated.

Even at the Pentagon, an error of that size gets attention. “That $988 million number stuck, to our regret,” a defense official told POLITICO. And one man who hasn’t forgotten is Rep. John Murtha, who chairs the defense appropriations panel that funds the IO budget.

“The information war is off to a bad start with bad information,” the Pennsylvania Democrat laughed Wednesday in an interview. “They all said the same thing: ‘We made a mistake. We realize that we fumbled the ball.’ And they were very apologetic. Everybody is. But they go back and say, ‘This is very important.’”

Indeed, combat commanders, beginning with Army Gen. David Petraeus, have stressed IO programs as a key factor in winning popular support in Iraq — and now hopefully in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The level of concern about losing the money is real enough that the Pentagon and State Department have mounted a full-court press to stave off cuts.

Full Story at Politico.Com