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Lawmakers Snub DOD Budget Plans
By Sandra Jontz
Stars and Stripes
European Edition

March 15, 2004

WASHINGTON What a difference a year makes.

Though the Defense Department is seeking modest gains for military construction and housing improvements, some in Congress believe the DOD is shortchanging servicemembers on quality of life issues.

Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, balked at the Pentagon's $9.5 billion military construction budget request for fiscal 2005 and outlying years, saying the department shouldn't cheat servicemembers in areas such as improved housing especially at a time when much of the force is at war.

He rebuffed budget officials Wednesday during a congressional hearing for decreasing the funding they planned to request in the coming years.

During last year's budget cycle, officials submitted plans for fiscal 2005 seeking $10.9 billion for military construction. Now, the budget request totals $9.5 billion.

But with competing needs for Pentagon dollars, the department is doing the best it can, Comptroller Dov Zakheim said during the hearing before the House Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on military construction.

The DOD manages nearly 600,000 buildings and structures and more than 46,000 square miles of real estate, said Raymond DuBois, deputy undersecretary for Installations and Environment.

Edwards also accused the Defense Department budgeters of misleading servicemembers and their families when Zakheim said the "FY2005 request enables the Department to eliminate nearly all of its inadequate family housing by 2007."

There were exceptions, Zakheim said, including the Army's plans to get to that goal for overseas bases by 2007 and Air Force for four stateside bases by 2008.

Edwards' point was that budgeted amounts are for contract-awarding projections, possibly not for actual improvements.

"It could still take four to six years after the contracts are signed to [improve housing]. That's not what you said and that's simply not right to do."

Zakheim agreed in part.

"It might take four years, it might take less, it might take more," he responded. But the projections aren't misleading, he said. They're projections.

On the contrary, DuBois said, it's good news.

"We accelerated our goal to eliminate nearly all inadequate housing from fiscal year 2010 to 2007," he said.

"By the end of FY2005, we will have reduced the number of inadequate housing units to roughly 61,000, or 64 percent, from our FY2002 level of 168,000 inadequates."

Of the total budget, which pays for construction, repairs and maintenance, family housing and needs associated with old accounts from the Base Realignment and Closure process, the Pentagon wants to spend $5.1 billion on military construction and maintenance projects, $4.2 billion in family housing projects and $200 million for BRAC.

That translates to $427.3 million for projects at U.S. bases in Europe and $244.5 million in the Pacific, including much-anticipated dorms in South Korea.

The BRAC dollars pay for the closings or realignments done in the past. Between 1988 and 1995, four BRAC commissions proposed changes to 152 major installations and 235 smaller ones.

The budgeted amounts pay for projects such as clean up and environmental restorations.

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This article is provided courtesy of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the Middle East.

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Copyright 2004 Stars and Stripes. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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