National Guard April 2011 : Page 38
Escaping the Knife By William Matthews The fiscal 2012 budget proposal left most Guard programs intact, but the usual shortages continue and major cuts may not be far off OMETIMES BEING THE little guy has its advantag-es. When Defense Secre-tary Robert M. Gates went hunting for defense spending to cut in 2012, he didn’t take much from the National Guard. “So far, we’ve escaped,” the comp-troller of the Army National Guard, Col. Jon Kraft, said last month. When the Pentagon needs to save billions of dollars, “it’s about JSFs and EFVs—we don’t play at that level.” In the budget the president sent to S 38 | Na tional Guard
Escaping the Knife
The fiscal 2012 budget proposal left most Guard programs intact, but the usual shortages continue and major cuts may not be far off
SOMETIMES BEING THE little guy has its advantages. When Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates went hunting for defense spending to cut in 2012, he didn't take much from the National Guard.
"So far, we've escaped," the comptroller of the Army National Guard, Col. Jon Kraft, said last month. When the Pentagon needs to save billions of dollars, "it's about JSFs and EFVs–we don't play at that level."
In the budget the president sent to Congress in February, Gates targeted the Marine Corps' problem-plagued expeditionary fighting vehicle–killing it would save $12 billion–and restructured the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program to cut another $6.9 billion.
No Guard programs exist that could begin to yield that sort of savings.
The Pentagon's fiscal 2012 budget proposal seeks $16.4 billion for the Army Guard's three main accounts– personnel, operations and maintenance, and military construction. That's about $200 million, or about 1 percent, more than the House and Senate have tentatively agreed to spend on the Army Guard in the still unfinished fiscal 2011 budget.
The 2012 proposal for the Air National Guard is $9.3 billion compared to its anticipated 2011 budget of $9.2 billion–again slightly more than a 1 percent increase.
Of course, the Pentagon budget request is merely a starting point. Congress gets the final say, and lawmakers normally add money– sometimes quite a bit–to buy Guard weapons and equipment not included in the Army or Air Force spending proposals.
In 2010, for example, the Army Guard received $575 million and the Air Guard got $135 million through the congressionally funded National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account. Both also received millions of dollars in earmarks.
The Air Guard is hoping for about $250 million for 2012 in NGREA. Kraft declined to say how much the Army Guard would like to see in the account, but budget documents indicate that funding for Army Guard equipment (Top 25 list, page 43) falls at least $850 million short.
Just how generous Congress will be with the Guard in the 2012 budget is uncertain. Lawmakers have spent most of this year so far battling over how to cut–not increase–federal spending. And earmarks have become a dirty word (story, page 40).
Frugality isn't confined to Congress. As he unveiled his new spending plan Feb. 14, Gates proclaimed 2012 the end of a "culture of endless money" and the dawn of a new "culture of savings and restraint."
The defense secretary proposed a $553 billion "base budget" and asked for an additional $118 billion to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, for a total of $671 billion.
He said the base budget is $13 billion less than he had planned to request. Even so, it's $23 billion more than the 2010 base budget and $4 billion more than the base budget he sought for 2011.
But as we begin the month of April–halfway through fiscal 2011– the military continues to operate at 2010 funding levels (chart, page 39), because the House and Senate remain far apart on an overall fiscal 2011 budget.
Both sides agreed last month to extend the continuing resolution that keeps the government running. They now have through April 8 to agree to a federal budget or punt again. Republican leaders, however, have said they will consent to the seventh extension since Oct. 1 only if the defense budget is separated and completed by the end of the current CR–something Gates has repeatedly requested.
Meanwhile, Congress is also working on the 2012 spending proposal. It includes a war budget about $44 billion less than in 2010 due to the winding down of operations in Iraq. Because of the decrease, overall proposed defense spending in the 2012 budget is $20 billion less than the fiscal 2010 budget.
To slow the rate of increase in the base budget, Gates required the services– the Guard included–to find $100 billion in lower-priority programs that could be cut in 2012. The Pentagon wants to spend $28 billion of the savings on higher than expected operating costs, including health care, pay and allowances, equipment repairs, base support and training, Gates says.
The remaining $72 billion is to be spent on needed weapons.
For the Guard, the budget scrub meant a program-by-program search for "efficiencies," Col. Michael Cheney, the Air Guard's director of financial management and comptroller, said last month.
It made the 2012 spending plan "a very difficult budget to put together," he said. It led to cuts in spending on weapons system sustainment, communications, facility maintenance and "a lot of other support stuff," he said.
Army Guard "efficiencies" range from cuts in recruiting accounts to reductions in base operating funds.
AIRCRAFT PROVED TO be key items in both Guard budgets. The Army Guard gains 62 helicopters; the Air Guard receives a combination of increases and cuts that leave its fleet three planes smaller.
The Army Guard's helicopter windfall is part of Gates' determination to focus on filling the requirements for current conflicts first. He budgets $10.6 billion for repairing and replacing helicopters that have been damaged or worn out in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For the Army Guard, that means $215 million for buying 35 UH-72 Lakota light-utility helicopters, $540 million for 18 CH-47 Chinooks, $175 million for nine UH-60 Black Hawks and $60 million for modifications.
The Air Force budget adds 34 planes to the Air Guard fleet, but it also takes 37 away.
The Air Guard is to receive one F-22 stealth fighter, eight C-27J Joint Cargo Aircraft, 16 C-130 cargo planes, three F-15 Eagle fighters and four Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles, according to Air Force budget documents. But the Guard also loses 36 F-16 fighters and one Predator UAV.
The additional F-15s are headed to the 144th Fighter Wing in Fresno, Calif., which is converting from F-16s to F-15s. In the process, the unit will lose 18 F-16s, the Air Force documents say.
Eighteen other F-16s are scheduled to be grounded at wings in Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, South Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin–three planes for each unit. They will become backup aircraft inventory as the wings go from 18 to 15 primary aircraft authorizations. Each unit will lose one full-time and 76 part-time maintainers as part of the process.
NOT SURPRISINGLY, THE loss of 36 F-16s isn't sitting well with many Guard leaders. They and NGAUS see this on top of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure rulings and last year's attempted C-130 "plane grab" as further evidence of a continuing Air Force effort to diminish the Air Guard's flying capacity.
"We know there will be fewer flying missions in the future. The cost and capabilities of new aircraft make that a reality," said Maj. Gen. Frank Vavala, the NGAUS chairman of the board. "We just want Air Force officials to fully consider the value of the Air National Guard's experience and cost-effectiveness as we move forward.
"Is that happening?" he said. "We don't know. We haven't seen the Air Force's plan for the future."
Six of the 16 C-130s mentioned in the budget aren't actually gains. They're aircraft staying in Puerto Rico longer than originally programmed. The other 10 are to be returned to units that were scheduled to lose them under the 2011 budget.
The F-22 goes to a combined active-component and Air Guard wing at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, according to the Air Force.
Annual Guard budgets don't include money for weapons. Instead, that's included in the budgets of the parent services.
The Air Force budget includes $292 million to buy equipment for the Air Guard, about half of it for modifications to in-service aircraft. Key items include: $78 million for C-130 upgrades;
$42.6 million for A-10 fighters;
$11.5 million for F-16s; and
$5.2 million for HH-60 helicopters.
The Army has budgeted $3.4 billion for Army Guard procurement, much of it for repairing and replacing war-worn weapons, including:
$213 million for 25 Stryker vehicles;
$387 million for 2,007 medium tactical vehicles;
$209 million for upgrades to Bradley fighting vehicles;
$203 million for heavy tactical vehicles; and
Dozens of other items ranging from Win-T communications systems to night vision gear to counter mortar radars.
The Army Guard's own budget also addresses the toll a decade of fighting has taken on Guard equipment. It includes "a really significant increase for depot maintenance," Kraft said. "It almost doubles," rising from $381 million this year to $647 million in 2012.
The money should enable the Army Guard to pick up the pace of repairs and upgrades to helicopters, M-1 tanks and wheeled vehicles used in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.
Even so, the Army Guard won't have all of the money it needs to replace and repair equipment, Kraft said.
"The budget funds us at about 84 percent, so it's not quite enough," he said. As a result, "lower-priority stuff just won't get done."
The Air Guard's budget includes $753.5 million for depot maintenance, up from $722 million this year. Almost all of it is for repairing aircraft and aircraft engines.
For the Army Guard, the new budget supports 108 training miles for tank crews, an increase from 105 this year, and 6.1 flying hours for aviators, down from 6.4 hours in the current budget, Kraft said. He described the changes as relatively minor. About $210 million for training comes from the war-funding part of the budget, which is shrinking.
FUNDING FOR AIR Guard flying hours increases from $202.5 million this year to $208 million in 2012. But Air Force budget documents show that despite the increase in funding, fighter crews will get 7.5 hours of training per month, an hour less than they receive under the 2010 budget.
Meanwhile, mission-capable rates for aircraft are expected to slip from the current 68.3 percent rate this year to 66 percent in 2012. The decrease is due to a shortage of spare parts and a lack of maintenance availabilities, according to the Air Force.
The Air Guard budget includes more than $10 million for a new type of joint force structure–the Guard homeland response force units.
The Defense Department is setting up 10 HRFs across the country, each manned by 570 Guard troops who are specially trained and equipped for rapid response to attacks in the United States involving chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons and high-yield explosives.
"The Air Guard takes care of the medical portion of the HRF," Cheney said. So there is $2 million in the budget for buying medical equipment and $8.5 million for training Air Guard personnel.
The Army Guard budget includes $34.6 million for HRFs.
There's a 1.6 percent pay raise for all troops, as well as a 4.2 percent increase in the basic housing allowance and a 3.4 percent increase in the subsistence allowance. Guard troops will get the pay raise, and are eligible for the rest if they are on active duty for more than 30 days, Cheney said.
Working-age retirees enrolled in TRICARE may see a modest fee increase under the 2012 budget. The annual $230 fee for individuals and $460 for families will increase to $260 and $520, respectively, if Gates prevails.
His explanation: "Health care costs are eating the Defense Department alive," so some retired troops will have to pay more.
"The current TRICARE enrollment fee was set in 1995 and has not been raised since," Gates said during the Feb. 14 presentation of his new budget. For $460, military retirees buy medical insurance that costs $5,000 a year in the civilian world, he said.
Fast-rising health care costs have pushed the Defense Department's annual health care bill from about $19 billion a decade ago to more than $50 billion a year now, Gates said.
But convincing Congress to approve even a small TRICARE increase may not be easy. A number of lawmakers have already balked. Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., for example, says, "It is widely understood when you enlist in the armed services that you're going to get lifetime health benefits." Raising TRICARE fees "I think is a breach of trust."
Guard personnel end-strength remains unchanged by the 2012 budget.
Army Guard end-strength will stay at 358,200 troops. The number of Active Guard-Reserve (AGR) personnel holds steady at 32,060 and the number of dual-status technicians remains unchanged at 27,210. The number of nondual-status technicians increases by 1,050, from 1,600 to 2,650.
The Air Guard holds steady at 106,700 airmen. But the Air Guard adds 249 AGRs, bringing the total to 14,833, and 99 dual-status technicians, for 22,470.
Cheney summed up the Air Guard's $9.2 billion budget this way: "Under the circumstances, it's fairly good."
But the circumstances are austere.
Kraft described the Army Guard's $16.4 billion budget for 2012 as "more than adequate," but he worries about 2013 and beyond.
"What happens with the next round of savings?" he asked. "The Guard will probably have to contribute to that."
To Cheney, there is promise in the long-term outlook.
"Looking forward at the shrinking budgets the services are having to deal with, the Guard may actually be positioned well to see some increases," he said.
If the active-component services are continually pushed to find more efficiencies, they may have to depend more on the National Guard. When not deployed, Guard personnel are paid 75 days a year, not 365, Cheney said. And Guard personnel don't collect retirement pay until age 60, not after 20 years as active-duty personnel do. And Guard bases are much cheaper to operate than active-duty bases, he said.
"It may not be next year or in three years, but in 10 years I think you will start to see increases" in Guard budgets, personnel and reliance on the National Guard, he said.
William Matthews is a freelance writer based in Springfield, Va., who specializes in military matters. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
"What happens with the next round of savings? The Guard will probably have to contribute to that."
–Col. Jon Kraft
Comptroller, Army National Guard
Earmark Ban Could Hurt Guard
Under intense pressure to cut government spending, the House and the Senate have agreed to ban so-called "earmarks" for the next two years.
That's bad news for the National Guard, which has relied on earmarks to cover items ranging from counterdrug operations to the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration program, from weapons to building repairs.
Earmarks are appropriations that members of Congress add to annual budgets to pay for special–sometimes essential–projects in their districts.
Parks, highway projects, research efforts and museums have traditionally been very popular with the voters back home.
But with the national debt topping $14 trillion and growing, earmarks now are disparaged by many as "pork" and have turned into political poison, even though they represent a small fraction of the federal budget.
Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced in February a two-year Senate moratorium on earmarks. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, banned them in the House even earlier.
Earmarks have meant nearly $1 billion in critical extra funding for the Guard over the last five years, according to NGAUS figures. This does not include the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account (NGREA), which is funded through congressional add-ons, but not actual earmarks.
Not having earmarks in fiscal 2011 and 2012 is likely to cause hardships for Guard units across the country.
The Hawaii Guard, which has counted on Inouye for earmarks in the past, warns that it might have to cut 30 of the 36 people it now has working in counterdrug programs.
And Minnesota won't get $900,000 it wants to outfit its UH-60 Black Hawk medevac helicopters with infrared sensors.
For New Hampshire, eliminating earmarks will mean a $2 million loss for the Full Cycle Deployment Program, which provides financial planning, employment, counseling, child care, and mental-health care assistance to deployed troops and their families.
And Guard budget officials say they see no obvious way around the earmark ban.
But never underestimate the creativity of lawmakers.
"If earmarks are banned, we'll have to find other ways to fund such investments," said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H, who delivered a $10 million earmark for facility upgrades at her state's Pease Air Guard Base in 2010 and was planning to ask for more in 2011.
Some observers believe those "other ways" may not be too difficult.
"Because the National Guard has such strong support in Congress, it should be easy enough for the appropriators to simply plus-up National Guard accounts," says Laura Peterson of Taxpayers for Common Sense.
But how to make sure any added money is spent in a particular district for a particular project is another matter, she says.
That might be accomplished by including language in the budget bill that directs how the money must be spent. Congressional staffers are already working on it.
"We're hoping that we'll be able to increase national accounts," says a congressional aide who was working on the Guard's still unpassed 2011 budget last month.
"National accounts" are parts of the budget that pay for national, as opposed to local, programs.
Those include the Yellow Ribbon program and counterdrug operations that have previously depended on earmarks, the aide says.
Budget managers at the Guard Bureau say they're hopeful that the same logic–that it's not an earmark–will apply to NGREA.
In recent years, Congress has added hundreds of millions of dollars to NGREA to ease Guard equipment shortages.
But it may be hard to find creative ways to fund military construction projects, the congressional aide says.
That's not good news for the Guard, which has a backlog of required MILCON projects totaling several billion dollars.
–By William Matthews
"If earmarks are banned, we'll have to find other ways to fund such investments."
–Sen. Jeanne Shaheen
"We just want Air Force officials to fully consider the Air National Guard's vast experience and cost-effectiveness as we move forward."
–Maj. Gen. Frank Vavala
NGAUS chairman of the board
Read the full article at http://www.nationalguardmagazine.com/article/Escaping+the+Knife/684624/65566/article.html.