General Dennis J. Reimer, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, Washington, D.C., January 5, 1999
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee.
Thank you for this opportunity to update you on the United States Army's readiness to provide for our nation's security today and in the future,
In my remarks, I will focus on what has changed since I last testified before you. I also want to review what has not changed -- the enduring challenges we face in taking care of people, while keeping the force trained and ready and simultaneously continuing the most fundamental transformation of our land forces since the World War II era.
Before I address where we are today, and where we need to go in the future, I would like to first thank the Congress for the supplemental funding to the Army's fiscal year 1999 budget. Even more importantly, I would like to thank you for bringing the issue of defense readiness to the attention of the American people. Today, America's challenges and opportunities are unprecedented. Getting our investment in defense right will make a tremendous contribution to helping our nation secure its place in the free and prosperous world we all want. We need a serious discussion on the issues of national security that will help the American people and our nation's leaders make the right choices -- the best choices -- for our future. These hearings contribute to that process. So, I thank you again for your concern, for your willingness to take on the tough issues and, above all, for your unswerving commitment to do the right thing for America and the wonderful men and women in uniform who serve this nation so proudly.
What has changed?
When I testified before you on September 29, 1998, I indicated that the readiness concerns you have heard from soldiers and commanders in the field are a fair and honest reflection of the conditions that prevail throughout the Army. Army leaders at all levels have been fighting to meet expanding requirements with diminishing resources. Our commanders are struggling to balance operational readiness (supporting training and maintaining equipment) with base operations expenses and maintaining soldiers' quality of life.
I also stated that the concerns about current readiness were not unexpected. They resulted from our deliberate effort to shift resources from current readiness into modernizing the force. During the drawdown years, we assumed the greatest risk in our modernization account. We must now balance our investments and risks in current and future readiness. This is not an easy equation to balance when you have experienced 14 straight years of declining buying power. We do not have the resources to do everything that must be done, so we have to assume risks. When I testified before you in September, I quantified that risk as about $5 billion, not including requirements for increasing compensation, fixing the retirement system, and funding contingency operations.
In the September hearing, I expressed my concerns about the anecdotal evidence that suggests we will see increasing difficulty in recruiting and retaining a quality force. We know from the Army's experience with the "hollow Army" of the 1970's that anecdotal evidence always precedes the hard quantifiable data that validates a serious decline in readiness. The danger, however, is that by the time you have firm evidence in hand, the quality of the force will have already been compromised -- and by then, turning things around is much more costly in dollars and time.
I specifically shared with you my concerns on retirement benefits. We do not have to wait for people to leave the force to recognize that we cannot keep the world's best soldiers unless we compensate them adequately for their service and sacrifice. Since 1992, satisfaction with retirement benefits fell from 61.8 percent to 39 percent for officers and 44.8 percent to 28.1 percent for enlisted soldiers. The value of the retirements benefit package we have offered soldiers entering the Army since 1986 has declined by 25 percent compared with the previous system. In spite of this, we have met our first-term and mid-career enlisted retention missions. Nonetheless, our soldiers are concerned, which is why it is important to support the administration's proposal to return to a system of 20-year retirement at 50 percent of base pay.
Nothing could serve more to bolster the confidence of our people than to demonstrate that their military and civilian leadership is concerned about and diligently working to enhance both the readiness and the welfare of the soldiers and families of America's Army. As I argued in September, the right, targeted investments now (providing adequate compensation and maintaining quality of life) would make a powerful, unmistakable statement to our soldiers of our commitment to them. I visited our troops in Germany, Bosnia, and Macedonia over Christmas, and they all expressed their appreciation for the Administration's proposed compensation package announced by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). Ensuring adequate pay and compensation will contribute immeasurably to ensuring we maintain a quality force in the future. In the simplest terms, it is the equivalent of paying $19.95 for an oil change now or waiting until there is a catastrophic failure and replacing the whole engine.
After the September hearing, Congress included $375 million for the Army in the fiscal year 1999 supplemental funding which directly addressed our readiness issues -- and the Army put these resources to good use.
In base operations (BASOPS), $284.5 million was added. These additional resources will address a serious shortcoming. As in past years, we have resourced training to the level necessary to ensure our soldiers will never be put in harm's way without being adequately trained and ready. In order to do that, however, and still maintain the absolute minimum modernization program, we were only able to fund the operation of our installations (BASOPS) at 84 percent of requirements. This level of funding, however, has proven insufficient to run our bases in a way that provides our soldiers and families with an adequate quality of life. As a result, our commanders had been forced to migrate funds from training accounts to base support, thus placing unacceptable risk on near-term readiness for some units. The fiscal year 1999 supplemental allowed us to increase BASOPS to 91 percent of requirements. These additional resources will reduce the risk of the migration of funds from training to BASOPS, which will help protect both training and quality of life -- and that will enhance readiness.
The past few months have also demonstrated that, while the Army continues to face significant challenges, the requirements for land forces remain greater than ever. This past fall in the passage of a few weeks, the front pages and evening broadcasts across America illustrated well why we continue to need trained and ready ground forces. They showed a military simultaneously coping with a wide variety of strategic challenges:
Recent events are not only a powerful reminder of why we need land forces, but they again remind us of the importance of prompt funding for unprogrammed contingency operations. As I pointed out when I testified before you in September, in the short-term, until supplemental funding is provided, we drain funds appropriated for training, maintenance, and readiness in order to fund contingency operations. When supplemental funding is delayed until late in the year of execution, we simply run out of time to conduct all the deferred activities, and that has a direct impact on readiness.
In summary, I would say the last few months have been busy ones for America's Army. Behind all this activity, you find outstanding young men and women serving the nation with distinction. I recently returned from Bosnia where I spent Christmas with the soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division. They are dedicated and talented, superbly led, and well-prepared for the missions they have been assigned. Their morale is high. They are doing a tremendous job. They are proof positive that we still have the best Army in the world. But as I reported to you in September, because of the readiness challenges we face today, the fabric of this magnificent Army is currently stretched very thin. However, I am hopeful with respect to the future based on the fiscal year 2000 budget and outyear defense spending plan.
What has not changed?
What has not changed is that we still face the same challenges I described to you both in testimony last year during preparations for the fiscal year 1999 budget and in my September appearance before this committee. These challenges cannot be solved in one budget or one year. They require long-term investments to match our nation's long-term strategic needs. We must ensure that the linkage between our strategy and how we resource our forces remains strong and clear.
Today, we have a good strategy, a strategy that has made a difference, a strategy that has made this a better and safer world. The contributions of our soldiers are seen on the faces of the people in Bosnia. Much remains to be done, but fear and anger are starting to give way to joy and laughter. I believe our strategy is the right strategy for the uncertain future we face. This strategy, however, does not come without significant costs. We raise, train, and field forces to meet the requirements of our strategy. That is a demanding task because our strategy places a premium on readiness to conduct a broad range of missions. And, we must provide the trained and ready forces our nation needs everyday while, at the same time, changing to prepare for future challenges. In the real world there are no "time-outs" so that we can prepare for the future. We must be able to evolve the force and be ever ready to place our soldiers in harm's way with the absolute confidence that we have done everything required to prepare them for the job. This strategy requires a total Army -- active, Guard, and Reserve -- approach. We must be ready to:
As we turn our focus to the year ahead, I want to continue to emphasize that if we do not get our investments right, we put the strategy at risk and with it our capability to be a global leader.
I look forward to discussing these issues with you in these hearings
and in the upcoming hearings on the Army's fiscal year 2000 budget.