Fanning takes jab at Congress over Army force size

Army Secretary Eric Fanning is sticking to the Obama administration’s recommendations for the defense authorization bill as Congress comes down to the wire on its passage.

Fanning took a jab at lawmakers’ plans to increase the service’s force strength in the 2017 defense authorization bill.

“A raw number doesn’t necessarily tell you what an army is and what capabilities an army brings to a fight. It’s very important that we think in terms of a balanced program. It’s not just people. It’s people that are trained and equipped. If we are asked to keep more force structure without an increase in the  budget in some way then we have more people with less training and less equipment,’ Fanning said during a speech at the Library of Congress in Washington. “That could easily, quickly become a larger Army that’s less effective than the one we are trying to build now.”

Fanning was referring to the House Armed Services Committee’s version of the NDAA, which diverts funds from contingency accounts to bump the Army’s active duty numbers up 20,000.

That would bring the total active duty Army force to 480,000. Many are skeptical about how Congress can pay for that increase with the $610 billion budget it is sticking to.

Justin Johnson, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said adding those troops will be a costly endeavor. He estimates the price tag at $1.5 billion to $2 billion just for 2017. That doesn’t include enduring costs.

That’s not a small amount when the Defense Department claims it pinched every penny of the nearly $600 billion budget it proposed for 2017.

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) tried to add an amendment to the Senate version of the bill that would add extra funds for a force structure increase. McCain’s amendment failed, forcing the House and Senate to reconcile an $18 billion difference in their bills during conference.

Some news outlets reported the conference reached a $9 billion deal that would increase force strength, but some Democrats said that number is not set in stone.

The increased forces counter DoD’s plan to drop the Army’s active duty size to 450,000 by 2018.

While Fanning panned Congress’ plan for an increased force structure due to the funding behind it, he still wants the Army to grow.

“The demand on the force, the size that it is makes it difficult to keep it trained,” Fanning said, during his January confirmation hearing. “I do worry about the size of the Army today … two years ago [when we reduced the Army] to 450 [thousand troops] we didn’t have ISIL, we didn’t have as Russia’s provocative as it is, so I am concerned.”

Fanning also took the opportunity to criticize Congress on its inability to pass appropriations bills on time.

Fanning said this is the first time a new administration will take power with a continuing resolution in effect.

“We’ve started every year with a continuing resolution, which is a very disrupting and expensive way to manage. … You can’t manage the Department of Defense on a series of 12 month cycles,” he said. “It’s certainly difficult to manage it on a series of three month and nine month cycles and now we are going to get a continuing resolution that takes us probably into six months. That costs a lot of money.”

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