No money in defense bill for 11,550 airmen

But Congress never forgets Acorn funding..

By Sam LaGrone – Staff writerPosted : Sunday Sep 28, 2008 9:38:16 EDT

In June, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the end of the Air Force drawdown.

But, apparently, no one told Congress.

A Sept. 24 joint congressional report on the 2009 defense bill says lawmakers have not authorized funds for more than 317,050 airmen.

That is considerably fewer than the 328,600 airmen Gates said he intended to keep in uniform through the end of fiscal 2009 — the approximate size of the force right now. Even so, there are no plans to cut 11,550 airmen.

The reason for the disconnect: Neither Gates’ office nor the Air Force ever went to Congress to formally ask for more airmen, according to congressional staffers.

“They have not changed that request since the budget was submitted in February,” according to a spokesman on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

By law, Congress sets the size of the military and the individual services can’t exceed their authorized end strength by more than 3 percent — that’s 326,551 airmen if the current authorization stands, which means the current end strength is about 2,000 airmen over that.

No problem says Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Les’ A. Melnyk, who says the Air Force, or any service, can exceed even the 3 percent overage because the president declared a state of national emergency following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. That means, he said, “in effect, there is currently no end-strength cap.”

But even though the Air Force may exceed its authorized personnel level, that doesn’t mean money has been set aside to pay the extra airmen. Those funds will have to come from a supplemental budget request or be scavenged from other Air Force programs, said a Senate Armed Services Committee spokesman.

“We do not oppose the Air Force’s efforts to maintain a higher end strength, and expect the department and the Air Force to work with the Congress in finding appropriate funding sources in 2009,” read the congressional report.

Source of funding unclearA Senate staffer familiar with the situation said the Air Force would likely get its desired troop strength, but so far the source of the cash is unclear.