- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 6, 2010

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Army is curtailing plans to cut what it spends on running its bases worldwide after concerns from soldiers and Congress that services for military families might suffer.

Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey Jr. announced the step Friday in a statement. McHugh said the Army will add $500 million to its budget for base operations and will not “shortchange our soldiers and their families.”

The Associated Press reported in January that the Army was planning cuts as deep as 40 percent at some bases as it sought to hold down non-war spending while escalating the fight in Afghanistan.

That report and soldier complaints prompted members of Congress to tell Army officials they were concerned the cuts would weaken programs for spouses and children dealing with soldiers’ repeated combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We were working to get more efficient with using our base support funds, but as we looked at it, we went too far,” Casey said during a visit with troops Friday at Fort Campbell, Ky. “So what we are doing is restoring about a third of what we took out.”

Army posts provide many services that soldiers and their families have come to rely on, including child and youth programs, continuing education, dining and recreational facilities.

Casey said he heard concerns about the cuts during recent visits to Army posts. “That’s what caused me to go back and look at it and when I did, I found out we went too far.”

Details about what sorts of programs would be spared couldn’t immediately be provided by the office of Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, who as head of the Army’s Installation Management Command is in charge of the budget for bases.

It was also not immediately clear if the $500 million would erase or just reduce the cuts planned for bases.

The Army figures obtained by the AP showed the overall budget for base operations was set to be reduced 20 percent this year. Cuts for individual bases ranged as high as 40 percent.

Officials at Fort Campbell on the Kentucky-Tennessee border had said they expected a cut of 40 percent, from $177.5 million to $106.5 million, this year as about 20,000 soldiers are deploying to Afghanistan.

The reductions did not affect direct funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but the Obama administration has tightened the bookkeeping for other military spending. A study by the Government Accountability Office found that there had been few restrictions in the past, so the White House Office of Management and Budget issued new rules designed to move indirect war costs into the base budget.

“We still need to find the right balance between ensuring that we give our soldiers and families the services they need on the installations, but we have to get more efficient,” Casey said.

U.S. Reps. Marsha Blackburn and Zach Wamp of Tennessee met with Lynch and Lt. Gen. Edgar Stanton, head of the Army’s budget office, on Thursday to urge them to increase funding to cover the cost of base expenditures previously categorized as part of the war spending.

“We pressed the very real need to increase funding for base operations to meet the unique needs of deploying divisions,” Blackburn said in a statement. “Today’s action sends a clear signal that they took our request seriously.”

The Army said officials will review all of the installation accounts to ensure that essential needs are met.

“The secretary and I remain committed to ensuring our soldiers and families get the support they need and we will continue to provide the resources to do that,” Casey said in a statement.

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