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Congress Sends $368 Billion Appropriations Bill to President

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 26, 2003 – Congress has sent the fiscal 2004 Defense Appropriations Bill to President Bush for his signature.

The $368.2 billion bill funds the basic necessities for the department through Sept. 30, 2004. The administration already has submitted separate, supplemental bills to cover the cost of the global war on terrorism.

The average military pay raise is set at 4.1 percent. However, the pay raises are targeted, with raises ranging from 2 percent to 6.25 percent. The lowest-ranking service members would receive the 2 percent raise. Noncommissioned and commissioned officers at middle levels of their respective pay scales will receive the higher numbers.

The bill also increases the basic allowance for housing to reduce current 7.5- percent out-of-pocket expenses to 3.5 percent. The change puts the housing allowance on the slope to eliminate out-of-pocket expenses in fiscal 2005. When then-Defense Secretary William Cohen announced this housing initiative on Jan. 6, 2000, out-of-pocket expenses averaged 19 percent.

Overall personnel accounts are pegged at $98.5 billion. The bill supports an end- strength of 1.388 million active duty military personnel and 863,300 selected reserve personnel.

The bill provides $128 million for the continuation of increased rates for imminent danger pay and family separation allowances, and provides $88.2 million for 12 additional weapons of mass destruction civil support teams. The bill also provides $15.7 billion for the Defense Health Program.

The bill also fully funds the president's $115.9 billion operations and maintenance request. That level funds land forces training, tank training miles, helicopter flying hours, ship steaming days and Air Force and Navy flying hour programs. It also supports the Defense Department's goal to fund facilities sustainment at not less than 93 percent in all branches of the armed forces.

Procurement is set at $74.7 billion in fiscal 2004. Among other items, this provides $3.6 billion for 22 F-22 Air Force fighter aircraft, $2.1 billion for 11 Air Force C-17 airlift aircraft, $228 million for 19 Army Black Hawk helicopters, $2.9 billion for 42 Navy F/A-18E/F fighter aircraft, $1.5 billion for 11 V-22 aircraft and $355 million for 350 Navy Tactical Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The bill also includes $724 million to buy Navy and Air Force Joint Direct Attack Munitions, as well as $11.5 billion for shipbuilding, including one Virginia-class submarine, two Trident SSGN conversions and three DDG-51 destroyers. Future starts, including $1.5 billion for the next-generation CVN-21 carrier, $168 million for the littoral combat ship and $1 billion for the DD(X) program to produce a family of advanced technology surface combatants also are included.

The research and development portion of the budget is pegged at $65.2 billion. Major programs in that include $1.1 billion for the Army's Comanche helicopter, and $4.3 billion for the Joint Strike Fighter.

Procurement and research and development, defense officials have said, are the heart of the administration effort to transform the U.S. military to face the challenges of the 21st century. "What we've laid out in our plan is a balanced approach to the various accounts," said a senior defense official. "We have been deliberate in ensuring that the operations and maintenance accounts and procurement accounts will not rob each other."

But the future could hold problems once the Defense Authorization Bill passes. "We don't know what Congress is going to do," said the official. "The Congress has some legislation pending up there, or being debated, that clearly could drive costs up. That's something we're concerned about."

Two proposals that could affect the defense budget are an expanded concurrent receipt program and putting in place a Tricare for Reserves program. Both would be extremely expensive, and would create difficulties in preserving the transformation portion of the budget, defense officials said.

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