By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
May 20, 2008 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates asked Congress today to act quickly to approve the president's $102.5 billion fiscal 2008 supplemental war budget request. Gates told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee's defense subcommittee that the delay in passing the emergency legislation means the department is now using fourth-quarter funds from the department's base budget to cover current war costs.
If Congress doesn't act soon, Gates said, two critical accounts will run dry, starting with Army military personnel.
"After June 15, we will run out of funds in this account to pay soldiers, including those in Iraq and Afghanistan," Gates said.
The second fund affected is operations and maintenance. "Around July 5, O&M funds across the services will run out, starting with the Army," the secretary said. "This may result in civilian furloughs, limits on training, and curbing family support activities."
If war funds are not made available, DoD can transfer funds from Navy and Air Force military personnel accounts to pay soldiers. "But that would get us only to late July," Gates said. "Using the limited transfer authority granted by Congress would also help get us to late July. Doing so, however, is a shell game which will disrupt existing programs and push the services' [operations and maintenance] accounts to the edge of fiscal viability."
Other critical programs that will be delayed include the Commander's Emergency Response Program fund, which allows local commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan to earmark money for special projects that help communities and provide jobs. Gates called the CERP "the single most effective program to enable commanders to address local populations' needs and get potential insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan off the streets and into jobs."
Though Congress may pass the fiscal 2008 war-funding bill before its Memorial Day recess, Gates told the senators he is obligated "to plan for the possibility that this may not occur."
"I will keep Congress informed of these plans in an effort to ensure transparency and to minimize possible misunderstandings," he said.
Delaying the supplemental funding request makes it difficult to manage the department in a way that is fiscally sound and prudent, Gates told the Senate panel.
"To illustrate this point, I have compared the Department of Defense to the world's largest supertanker: It cannot turn on a dime, and it cannot be steered like a skiff. And, I would add, it cannot operate without paying its people," he said. "So I urge approval of the fiscal 2008 war funds as quickly as possible."