Procurement: August 23, 2004


The U.S. Army sets its priorities on equipment purchases on a "1-N' list with the top item being number one on the list, all the way down to the last item needed to fully equip the Army. This list is used by the army to match purchases against money obtained from Congress. It starts to get complicated from here. The guys in the army who make the decisions are senior Army leaders, mostly generals who gained their experience in the combat arms. They will naturally carry a combat arm prejudice in making the list. Now, to further complicate the issue, a large proportion of the support forces (engineer, MP, logistics, etc.) are in the National Guard and Reserve. In most cases more than 70 percent of the support forces are in the reserves. This adds a second prejudice to the make up of the "1-N" list, the prejudice of the active force against the reserve components.

During the 80s and 90s Congress had a program to work around this called the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Appropriation (NGREA.) This program was also called "dedicated buys." Congress provided both the National Guard and Army Reserves with funds explicitly for the purchase of equipment they needed to do their job once their were activated and sent off to war. In real terms this meant that equipment, which support forces, needed was being purchased at about the same rate as the active force was equipping the combat arms.

During the 1990s, for example, engineer construction equipment was so far down the list on the active army's "1-N" list that the engineers were told, we'll try and get this stuff added to the budget three or four years in the future using NGREA money. The engineers were using equipment well past its expected useful life. With 70 percent of the engineer force is in the National Guard and reserve, and  NGREA insured that there was eventually going to be money to replace ancient equipment. But in 1997 the previous administration and Congress agreed to scale NGREA back and let the army decide how much money should go to who for what. Naturally, the active duty combat arms troops got the most, and the reserve combat support troops for the least. Today NGREA is a shadow of its former self and all of the Reserve components are desperately trying to get enough money to replace rapidly aging equipment. This has been made worse by the large number of reserve units activated in the last three years. Their elderly equipment could be coaxed to keep going for two week Summer training sessions. But during months of hard service in the deserts of Iraq, or mountains of Afghanistan, the stuff is rapidly falling apart. The need to get the job done often brings in civilian replacement gear, to replace completely worn out gear from the 1970s. But there isn't much in the regular budget to buy military grade engineer and other specialized gear for the reserve support troops.

Whenever the active duty generals have control over reserve budgets, the reserves get starved. This causes problems that only get noticed when there is a war, and then its too late. Congress is being pressed to give the watered down NGREA program a new look. William Gross


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