- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2007

Sen. John McCain engaged in a revealing conversation two weeks ago with retiring Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker, who was testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the readiness of the Army.

Gen. Schoomaker reiterated that he was “not satisfied with the readiness of our nondeployed forces.” That confirmed the classified risk assessment submitted by Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Had we funded the Army to requested levels in recent years,” Gen. Schoomaker told the House Armed Services Committee in January, “we would be in a better strategic posture today.” Sen. McCain wanted to know “why we didn’t act to prevent this situation.”

Declaring that “there was no appetite for any procurement funds and supplemental funding” in 2003 when the Army “knew” about “the depreciation of equipment” in the war zone, Gen. Schoomaker said the Army “received only $300 million in procurement in our supplemental funding” in 2004 to address equipment “attrition” and “combat losses.” In 2005 and 2006, the Army received “about $8 billion worth of procurement in the supplemental funding” in each year, but “never received this money in time nor to the full request.” For the current fiscal year, “we received, for the first time for the fiscal year to start, the money we asked for.” The figure was $17 billion.

Mr. McCain followed up: “So for several years the Congress failed to meet the requests of the Defense Department?” The general replied, “I’m not saying the Congress failed. You know the system,” which he then described. The Army submits its requirements to the Pentagon, which revises them before sending them to the White House Office of Management and Budget. The final decisions make their way “into the president’s budget and across to the Congress.”

Mr. McCain said he was “under the impression that Congress had fully funded the requests that came to the Congress from the executive branch.” The general acknowledged that “in some cases the Congress added money” to the president’s budget. Zeroing in on the source of the multiyear funding problem, which has evolved into today’s equipment and readiness crisis, Mr. McCain asked, “So the breakdown was someplace between your budget requests and what arrived at the doorstep of Congress?” Gen. Schoomaker replied, “Sir, the system is clearly understood. We all know what the system is.”

This is a serious indictment. Consider: (1) The Army suffers from an equipment and readiness crisis that has been affecting the full spectrum of its nondeployed forces, from active-duty soldiers to the National Guard and Reserve; (2) The Army chief of staff tells Congress that the “level of operations that we are now committed to” — the simultaneous surges in Iraq and Afghanistan — will “further aggravate” this readiness crisis. (3) The chief of staff charges that for years the White House has been underfunding the equipment needs of the Army. Moreover, this alleged shortchanging is ongoing: “We requested $99 billion in the [2007] supplemental,” Gen. Schoomaker told the committee, and the president’s “submission is now $93 billion.”

Clearly, Mr. McCain and other members of Congress must thoroughly investigate these trends and correct them at once.

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