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Service chiefs ask congress for fiscal help

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III testifies before the House Appropriations Committee's Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, March 5, 2013, in Washington, D.C.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III testifies before the House Appropriations Committee's Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, March 5, 2013, in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III testifies before the House Appropriations Committee's Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, March 5, 2013, in Washington, D.C.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III testifies before the House Appropriations Committee's Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, March 5, 2013, in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III testifies before the House Appropriations Committee's Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, March 5, 2013, in Washington, D.C.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III testifies before the House Appropriations Committee's Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, March 5, 2013, in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III listens to Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. John Amos' testimony before the House Appropriations Committee's Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, March 5, 2013, in Washington, D.C.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III listens to Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. John Amos' testimony before the House Appropriations Committee's Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, March 5, 2013, in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

WASHINGTON (AFPS) -- The senior officers from the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps asked Congress March 5 for more spending flexibility so they can maintain military readiness as the sequester's across-the-board budget cuts take effect.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos testified about 2013 military construction today before the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Military Construction and Veteran Affairs.

Welsh said the Air Force faces similar budget-based problems as its sister services. Without congressional approval for military construction starts, he said, Airmen and their families "will experience delays to improvements for substandard dormitories and housing. Flight simulators and maintenance facility construction delays will magnify readiness degradations that are already unacceptable."

The services need the flexibility to put dollars where they're most needed, Welsh said.

"We find ourselves stuck in the unenviable trade-space between modernization and readiness, with infrastructure improvement delays and deferments amplifying the impacts to each, and we need your help to get out," he added.

Odierno told committee members that sequester and the continuing resolution, combined, threaten "grave and immediate impacts" to Army readiness that could extend well beyond this year.

The continuing resolution prohibits new starts to military construction projects. "Until the Army receives an appropriations measure with new start authority, we cannot initiate 102 military construction projects that are scheduled for award in 35 states," Odierno said.

He said sequester cuts will translate into about 100,000 facility work orders per month that will not be done, "Which places the Army on a slippery slope where our buildings will fail faster than we can fix them."

All restoration and modernization projects for fiscal 2013 will be deferred, Odierno said, and 251,000 civilian employees will be furloughed.

"Sequestration will force us to reduce resources for our schools, our day care centers and every one of our family assistance and community service programs that rely upon the installation's infrastructure to provide services," he said.

"I'd ask that you provide us with an appropriations bill that would provide flexibility to reprogram funds to at least reduce some of the (operations and maintenance) shortfalls and allow for new starts," Odierno said.

Greenert said the continuing resolution poses challenges for the Navy because it holds spending at 2012 levels.

"But this fiscal year, we are implementing a new defense strategy and that emphasizes readiness over capacity," he noted. "So as a result, we currently have about $3.7 billion more in our investment accounts than we requested, and we currently have $4.6 billion less in our operations accounts than we requested."

That means the Navy is "out of balance," he said, "and this unbalance is made worse in our operations account because of sequestration."

The Navy is now reducing its presence in every theater and halting training for next year's deployments, Greenert said. If Congress passes an authorizations bill or new continuing resolution that allows the services to move money between accounts, he said, the Navy "would first be able to restore the training and maintenance and (also) keep a carrier strike group and an amphibious ready group in the Middle East and the Pacific through next fiscal year."

If Congress awards the department enough funding, Greenert added, the Navy will "restore the rest of this year's planned deployments, training and maintenance."

He told members Navy funding constraints have during the last two months caused $600 million in lost ship, aircraft and facility maintenance and training, "and we also missed some program management."

In March, Greenert said, the Navy "will miss more than $1.2 billion of maintenance and operations because we're deferring planned activity. These are lost opportunities, many of them, and these will increase each month as we go on a continuing resolution."

Under sequester and the continuing resolution, the Navy was "compelled to stop almost all of our facility renovation and modernization," he said. "Our ability to continue operating forward is constrained because of that."

Amos said all the Marine Corps' 37 military construction projects planned for fiscal 2013 and totaling $716 million are halted.

"Additionally, we have been forced to halt construction plans on hangars for the F-35 (Joint Strike Fighter) in Beaufort, South Carolina, as well as road improvements aboard our major installations designed to correct safety deficiencies," Amos said.

"These projects are ready to begin today. Without ... appropriations or the authorities for new starts, we are forced to defer to future years' budget, causing a ripple effect which will no doubt significantly impact our modernization and our sustainment efforts."

Amos noted that in three rounds of recent congressional testimony, he'd "spoken about the combined effects of the existing continuing resolution and sequestration. These indiscriminate measures create unacceptable levels of risk -- risk to our national security, risk to our forces, risk to the American people, and risk to the United States of America.

"I urge the committee to consider the full range of these risks created by the Budget Control Act and the year-long continuing resolution," he continued. "I ask for your assistance in mitigating them to the extent possible."

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