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Army draws line in budgetary sand

Hillary Wicai Sep 25, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: The Army’s got its hands full in Iraq. But it’s opened another front in Washington. We caught the Los Angeles Times story this morning about the Army’s top officer drawing a budgetary line in the sand. Marketplace’s Hillary Wicai has more.

HILLARY WICAI: The Army’s chief of staff reportedly believes his 2008 budget limit proposed by the administration is about $25 billion too little with a war on. So General Peter Schoomaker made the unprecedented decision not to hand in a spending plan he felt he couldn’t implement.

DOV ZACKHEIM:“It’s a cry for help.”

Dov Zackheim is the former undersecretary of Defense. He calls Schoomaker’s move “gutsy.”

ZACKHEIM:“He’s making a statement that something drastic needs to be done. And clearly their intent is to have the overall defense budget increased.”

Former Pentagon official Michelle Flournoy agrees there’s a mismatch between the war strategy and resources committed. She says training and equipment issues are already hurting the Army.

MICHELLE FLOURNOY:“Right now you can look across the Army and see unprecedented low levels of readiness for the forces that aren’t deployed.”

But some point out the Army is already spending billions on pricey weapons systems rather than troop readiness. Winslow Wheeler at the Center for Defense Information says the Army doesn’t want to give up its so-called Future Combat System, for example, even though its prototype got low marks.

WINSLOW WHEELER:“It’s a question of Congress and the executive branch exercising oversight of the Army to determine if the Future Combat System makes the slightest bit of sense and whether the $2 billion or $3 billion per year, just for that system, is in the Army’s best interest.”

A study group formed by the Secretary of Defense is working with White House Budget officials on Schoomaker’s concerns.

In Washington, I’m Hillary Wicai for Marketplace.

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