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Budget woes force Army posts nationwide to cut services
The Associated Press
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas — A diversion of dollars to help fight the war in Iraq has helped create a $530 million shortfall for Army posts at home and abroad, leaving some unable to pay utility bills or even cut the grass.
In San Antonio, Fort Sam Houston hasn't been able to pay its $1.4 million monthly utility bill since March, causing many of the post's administrative buildings to get automated disconnection notices.
Fort Bragg in North Carolina can't afford to buy pens, paper or other office supplies until the new fiscal year starts in October.
And in Kentucky, Fort Knox had to close one of its eight dining halls for a month and lay off 133 contract workers.
"Every time something goes away it impacts a person ... a soldier or their family or one of our civilians," said Col. Wendy Martinson, garrison commander at Fort Sam Houston, which has 27,300 military and civilian workers. "I'm charged with taking care of them, not taking things away from them."
Garrisons function as the city halls of Army installations, providing services such as garbage removal, mail delivery and firefighting. The Army's Installation Management Agency is $530 million short of what it needs through Oct. 1 to fund garrisons at the 117 installations it oversees in the United States, Europe and Asia, agency spokesman Stephen Oertwig said.
The skyrocketing cost of fuel is partly to blame, and it also is costing more to pay civilians in Asia and Europe, Oertwig said. Another major factor is the practice of funding the war through spending bills outside the annual budget.
As Congress spent months debating the supplemental spending bill, the Army had to divert money from the Installation Management Agency's budget to cover the cost of the war, Oertwig said.
The Army often diverts operations money for other programs, in times of war and peace, said Jeremiah Gertler, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The supplemental spending bill usually replenishes that money. This year, though, most of the defense money in the $94.5 billion bill was earmarked for the war, leaving little to pay back operations accounts, Gertler said.
The legislation Congress approved June 15 included $722 million for the Installation Management Agency, to be split among its installations.
However, it won't save the jobs of about 100 contract workers she had to let go.
The new money also won't change the orders the Installation Management Agency issued in early June to freeze civilian hiring and fire temporary employees, and to reduce cellphone and vehicle use.
Oertwig expects the austerity to last for at least another year and a half.
"Every day we're looking at what are those services that are required to keep the Army going and where can we get efficiencies," Oertwig said. "We're looking to get a dollar's worth of service out of 90 cents or less in some cases."
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