By PATRICIA M.MURRET, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - Military construction funding, particularly that slated for closing bases and moving personnel, faces a $3.1 billion shortfall—with Maryland's share at about $300 million—after last week's passage of a temporary spending measure.
The funding could be restored in a catchall emergency supplemental bill to be introduced Tuesday in the House and debated next month in the Senate.
"We are in this position because the last Congress failed to do its job," said Sen. Barbara M. Mikulski, D-Md., in a written statement last week. "We had no choice."
Last year, Congress failed to pass all but two government spending bills—a Defense bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a Homeland Security bill.
To keep the lights on at Congress and 13 federal agencies making do since October on last year's funding, the Senate passed a continuing resolution last week, so that President Bush could sign it before midnight the following day, when a previous continuing resolution expired.
The new spending measure cut 55 percent from last year's $5.8 billion presidential request for funds to support military construction and implementation of 2005 Base Realignment and Closure decisions nationwide, a shortfall that affects 178 BRAC sites, the Defense Department said.
The DoD BRAC office is reviewing all projects and should file a report detailing readjustments by Mar. 20.
"The DoD has carefully crafted intricate BRAC implementation plans to time construction with planned personnel and equipment movements," said Lt. Col. Brian Maka, a Defense Department spokesman. "Over 82 percent of the FY 2007 BRAC request is for construction that is required before these moves can occur."
Underfunding the BRAC program will jeopardize the Defense Department's ability to complete BRAC actions within statutory deadlines and stymie its efforts to construct facilities, as well as move equipment and people, Maka said.
Imperiled are all Maryland BRAC-related projects, which, according to a recent study by the Maryland Department of Planning, should bring 45,000 new jobs and 71,000 students to the area by 2011, and 28,000 households over time.
At issue are plans to close the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda and create a new modernized joint-forces central medical facility.
Also at odds are new facilities at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County and Fort Meade in Baltimore, relocation of US Army Reserve and US Marine Corps Reserve units to a new consolidated Armed Forces Reserve Center on Fort Detrick, a new maintenance support facility at Fort Detrick anticipated to supply weapons and equipment to troops, and other plans.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates recently said that the shortfall "hit hard" and means a halt in construction for units or organizations being moved, and a $300 million reduction in troop housing allowances nationwide.
Despite the funding uncertainty, Gates later said, "I'm actually fairly confident based on the tone of what I heard (on Capitol Hill), that we'll find a way to resolve the situation satisfactorily."
Mikulski, chairwoman of the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee, led the Maryland congressional delegation in sending a Feb. 2 letter to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, urging them to fully fund BRAC military construction.
Failure of the last Congress to complete its work on the FY 2007 Military Construction/Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill has created a crisis for states like Maryland that have been strongly affected by BRAC, the letter said.
"Unless these funds are made available in 2007, it will be very difficult to complete implementation of the BRAC recommendations by 2011, as required by law."