Army tries frugality

The Army has imposed a series of increasingly tough belt-tightening measures as it waits for Congress to approve emergency funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While the cost controls are not expected to affect ongoing operations, purchase of non-critical supplies and spare parts has been frozen, all non-essential travel and training canceled or postponed and, within a week, all civilian hiring will be placed on hold.

If Congress doesn’t act by the end of the month, new contract awards would be halted and all temporary civilian employees performing maintenance and operations work released. If the impasse continued into July, the Army might cease recruiting, defer re-enlistments, halt transfers and delay promotions.

“These are painful actions but they are absolutely necessary in order to continue operations during the month of June,” Gen. Richard Cody, the Army’s vice chief of staff, said last week in a memo to senior commanders obtained by The News Tribune.

Congress failed to act on an emergency funding bill before leaving on its weeklong Memorial Day recess, and there are significant differences between the House and Senate versions. In addition, President Bush has threatened the first veto of his presidency if the measure costs more than $94.5 billion.

However, a senior member of the House defense appropriations subcommittee, Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., said Thursday he is confident House and Senate negotiators will reach a compromise and Congress will approve the emergency funding by the end of next week.

“This will get done,” Dicks said.

The Senate bill, approved several weeks ago, appropriates $109 billion in emergency spending, including $65.7 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan military operations and $28.9 billion to help rebuild the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It also contains billions of dollars in add-ons such as $4 billion for farmers and ranchers.

Earlier, the House had approved a $91.9 billion package, close to what the White House had originally proposed. In a move that further complicated the situation, the administration now wants to add almost $2 billion to the emergency bill to deploy National Guard troops to the border with Mexico as part of Bush’s border security initiative.

The Army is expected to receive roughly $36 billion in emergency funding. But until it does, Cody said, it needed to “take action” to control spending. Cody made clear in his memo the cost-saving measures were not to affect Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, including units and personnel about to be deployed.

“This measured response will provide appropriate controls on our spending of OMA (operation and maintenance, Army) resources and will minimize the impact on our mission,” Cody wrote.

Dicks said the steps Cody was taking were appropriate, and he declined to speculate on whether the Army was using the cost controls as a way to ratchet up pressure on Congress to pass the emergency spending bill.

“He is doing what a prudent person would do,” said Dicks. “He’s just being cautious on his part.”

The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., said in a statement before the recess that he expected Congress will “clear the measure quickly” after it returns.

“We are going to take the necessary time to develop the right product that is narrowly focused on the war on terrorism and hurricane recovery,” Lewis said.

Under Cody’s plan, the cost control measures will be phased in throughout June.

Already in place is the ban on ordering non-critical spare parts or supplies unless a unit is about to be deployed.

“All units should draw down on-hand inventories first,” the memo said.

Also in place is the postponement or cancellation of all non-essential travel, training and conferences and a stop on the shipment of goods unless “necessary to support deployed force or units with identified deployment dates.”

Starting Wednesday, all civilian hiring actions would be placed on hold, though recruiting efforts could continue, and all summer hires postponed.

Beginning June 15, all temporary employees performing operations and maintenance duties would be released, all contract awards and new task orders on existing contracts frozen and the use of all government purchase cards suspended.

Starting June 26, all service contract employees, including recruiters, would be released.

Staff writer Mike Gilbert contributed to this report.