Secretary Gates' Letter to Senate on Iraq War Supplemental

For weeks, the confrontation between the White House and the Democratic Congress on the war supplemental has been focused on the Dems’ insistence that the bill contain language setting a firm date for withdrawal from Iraq.  The president has been arguing that the bill needs to be passed quickly because it will affect not only the ability to fight in Iraq, but also soldiers’ welfare.  Training, budgets and even housing is included and — said the President — the lack of a bill may prevent rotation of troops home from Iraq and the ability to house and train them when they come home.  The President hadn’t provided much detail.  Below is Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ letter to Sen. Robert Byrd (D.-W.Va.) — sent earlier today — setting out some of the detail.

April 11, 2007

Honorable Robert C. Byrd
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
Room S-131 Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20510-6025

Dear Mr. Chairman:

At recent hearings before the Congress, the latest on March 29 before the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, General Pace and I have been asked about the impact that delaying enactment of the supplemental could have on the Department of Defense operations.  Considering the importance of this issue to your ongoing deliberations, I want to share our response with you as well as provide additional context.  

On September, 2006, the Congress approved the Fiscal Year 2007 Department of Defense base budget and an additional $70 billion for war-related costs.  At that time, Department of Defense officials stressed that the $70 billion would be depleted by mid-April or early May of this year and, therefore, a Fiscal Year 2007 Spring Supplemental would be necessary in that timeframe.  

As you will recall, last year the Fiscal Year 2006 Spring Supplemental was late and resulted in significant disruption to Army quality of life, training and maintenance accounts.  Faced with this delay, the Army began in May to curtail supply orders; cancel non-essential travel, training and conferences; suspend shipments of goods not associated with support to deployed forces; release temporary civilian employees; and freeze new civilian hiring and awarding of new contracts.

While some have suggested that the Army can operate this year until July with existing resources and authorities, in reality there are significant limits, costs and disruptions associated with the budgetary maneuvers necessary to continue Army operations, as we saw last year.  The technical and limited ability of the Department to transfer funds should not create a sense of complacency regarding the pressing need for the supplemental.  

The overall size of the Department of Defense budget is considerable in the aggregate.  However, the Department’s ability to move money between accounts to address emergent problems is limited by the Congress.  The Department operates under an annual cap limiting the amount of funds that can be transferred between appropriations accounts.  For fiscal year 2007, the Department’s transfer authority is capped at $7.5 billion, of which $1.7 billion has already been proposed, leaving the Department with $5.6 billion in transfer authority for the remainder of fiscal year 2007.  

Given the normal transfers required during any fiscal year, this limitation in transfer authority makes it extremely difficult for the Department to adjust to developing needs.  Further, under agreed upon reprogramming procedures, any one of the four congressional defense committees can effectively block a proposed reprogramming.

There is an added complication.  This year the Department has experienced increases war-related expenditures.  A greater number of forces are deployed and the operational tempo of those forces is higher than projected when the $70 billion war supplemental was approved last fall.  Spending rates are higher and, therefore, the impact of a delayed Spring Supplemental is occurring earlier and is greater in magnitude.

Consequently, actions similar to last year are already being initiated by the Army and will accelerate.  Specifically, the Army will soon begin to take the following actions:

  • Reducing Army quality of life initiatives including the routine upgrade of barracks and other facilities;
  • Reducing the repair and maintenance of equipment necessary for deployment training;
  • Curtailing the training of Army Guard and Reserve units within the United States, reducing their readiness levels.

The actions of the Department are in consonance with the findings of the March 28, 2007 Congressional Research Service report.  That report acknowledges the challenges facing the Army budget and states, "the Amy may very well decide that it must slow down its non-war related operations before money would run out by, for example, limiting the facility maintenance and repairs, delaying equipment overhauls, restricting travel and meetings, and perhaps, slowing down training."

In addition, the Department shortly will be presenting to the Congress a $1.6 billion reprogramming request that proposes to shift $0.8 billion from both the Navy and Air Force military personnel accounts to the Army Operation and Maintenance accounts.

If supplemental funding is not received by mid-May, the Army will have to consider further actions, to include:

  • Reducing the pace of equipment overhaul work at Army depots which will likely exacerbate the equipment availability problems facing stateside units;
  • Curtailing training rotations for Brigade Combat Teams currently scheduled for overseas deployment.  Such a step would likely require the further extension of currently deployed forces until their replacements were judged ready for deployment.
  • Delaying acceleration of additional modularized Army brigades necessary to expand the   Army unit rotational pool and reduce the stress on existing units.

We can — and I am certain, will — have a constructive dialogue about the funding options facing the Department in the weeks to come.  However, it is a simple fact of life that if the Fiscal Year 2007 supplemental legislation is not enacted soon, the Army faces a real and serious funding problem that will require increasingly disruptive and costly measures to be initiated — measures that will, inevitably, negatively impact readiness and Army personnel and their families.

As always, thank you for your steadfast support to our men and women in uniform, and we stand ready to provide you additional information to assist you in your deliberations.


Robert M. Gates


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