By Emily Baker
Killeen Daily Herald
One of Fort Hood's voices in Washington threw straight to the Army on Monday the responsibility of Fort Hood's garrison budget crunch.
U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, said Congress generally approves money requests from the Pentagon. If money runs out, he wonders why the military did not ask for more, he said at a Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce Defense Contractor's Council meeting.
This year, the Army's garrison budget alone is $530 million in the hole.
"We need to question shortfalls," Carter said. "I ask all the time, Why didn't you tell us?'" when more money is needed.
Despite the budget problems, Carter said he will make upgrading Fort Hood's barracks a priority. Fort Hood's A-frame temporary housing units to which soldiers return from deployments are unacceptable, Carter said.
"It's a shame to have these kids come back and say they'd rather still be in Afghanistan or Iraq than at Fort Hood," Carter said.
The Navy has been building barracks with private contracts with success, and Carter said he has been told if the Army follows suit, the first of its new barracks will be built at Fort Hood.
"I think it's coming, but it depends on how the coins shake out," Carter said.
Along with whether new barracks will be built at Fort Hood, Carter said he plans to find out when relief will come to budget problems at the Army's largest post.
Carter is confident the $530 million the Army needs to pull garrisons out of the hole will be taken from an expected $10 billion emergency supplemental bill. Fort Hood's garrison, which has a $241 million annual budget, is $12.9 million in the red, Carter said.
When money is up for Congressional approval, cuts rarely are handed down to the Defense Department or to Homeland Security because Congress has a duty to protect the nation, Carter said. The problem arises when the military asks for the wrong amount of money, he said.
The budget problems have created tangible constraints since at least early May, when $4 million had to be found just to keep the lights on at III Corps. Contracts for cleaning, lawn and information services and government vehicles were suspended in June to save money. Soldiers were manning the Marvin Leath Visitor Center last week until money could be found to return civilian contractors to the job.
Cutting back on some jobs has area defense contractors a little nervous, said Ron Munden, the council's chairman.
"Any time there is a reduction or reallocation of funding, we are always concerned," Munden said. "But, (contracts) won't go away. The council represents all kinds (of companies) from maintenance to training to staff support. As money is realigned and it affects your side of the fence, sure, you're nervous."
Carter said raising taxes would be a poor solution to the budget crunches because the increase in revenue likely would be spent on other programs outside the military. The extra money also would dry up in about three years before investing decreases because of the higher tax burden, Carter said.
The congressman also argued against raising taxes because a strong economy will be needed to avoid cutting Social Security and Medicare when Baby Boomers begin further stressing the system.
Answers to the budget problems might not come until late September, but Carter said he would like to have answers before Congress goes back into session after Labor Day.
"I'm bound and determined to be the squeaky wheel," Carter said.
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