Congressional Wrangling May Lead to Construction Delays

Thu March 22, 2007 - West Edition
CEG



OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) More than $600 million in planned construction to prepare Fort Sill for its new missions and to build new reserve training centers in several Oklahoma cities may be pushed back because the money has yet to be provided by Congress.

Most of the construction is planned to begin this year and next, which means a large portion of the money must be approved for the federal fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, The Oklahoman reported Mar. 4 from its Washington bureau.

Democrats, who inherited an incomplete budget when they took over Congress in January, stripped more than $3 billion from military construction before approving a bill to fund most government agencies through Sept. 30.

The money was supposed to go to projects made necessary by the 2005 base closure process, in which dozens of military operations were ordered relocated. Included in the realignment was a decision to move the Air Defense Artillery school and a brigade to Fort Sill.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, and other lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to get the money back into the bill, warning that delays would have a ripple effect throughout military communities, particularly those like Fort Sill, which must absorb missions being moved from other bases.

The White House budget office also protested the cuts, as did top Pentagon officials. Democratic leaders have promised to restore the $3 billion in 2007 construction funding in emergency spending now under consideration for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That congressional measure is expected to be taken up by the House and Senate later this month.

But Cole said recently that prospects for the emergency funding bill are uncertain because of possible troop deployment requirements being mulled by Democrats and because it’s possible billions in additional spending on items unrelated to the wars could be added.

“It’s not a sure thing that the [emergency spending] bill will pass,” said Cole, a member of the Armed Services Committee whose district includes Fort Sill.

Work on the Air Defense Artillery school is scheduled to begin late this spring, and Cole said preparations are proceeding. But he said the schedule could get pushed back if the money hasn’t been approved by early April.