Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren unloaded Thursday on Army Secretary Christine Wormuth and Gen. James McConville, the service’s chief of staff, accusing the Army of using family housing to game the budget system.
“At the end of the day, budgets are a statement of our values,” Warren said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Army’s $177.5 billion fiscal 2023 budget request. “I don’t like the statement being made.”
The Army requested $1.9 billion for military construction and family housing in its budget, about 40 percent lower than the fiscal 2022 enacted level, Warren noted. But then the service included $330 million for improving family housing on a separate list of “unfunded priorities.”
Warren said that was disingenuous.
“Typically, the Pentagon takes some of the most popular items that it wants funded, excludes them from the base budget, puts them on the unfunded priorities list, and then dares Congress not to jack up its budget above the Pentagon’s initial submission,” she said.
Housing should be a top priority for the Army, Warren said, given recent news about military families dealing with black mold, collapsed ceilings, and electrical and fire hazards.
Last month, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a report that alleged that a military housing contractor that pleaded guilty last year to defrauding the government was continuing to provide unsafe and unhealthy housing.
Noting that Wormuth described substandard housing as a readiness and retention problem and said it is a top priority for the Army, Warren wondered why the Army hadn’t included $300 million more in its budget request.
Wormuth said addressing the housing issue is a priority, but so are funding readiness and updating key weapons.
“We are trying to balance a number of competing demands,” she said.
Warren said she felt that the Army was using military families as pawns in an attempt to get more money out of Congress.
“Military families need this funding, and they should get it,” Warren said. “Either have the courage to ask for money upfront or, better yet, cut something else from your budget so that you’ve got enough room to be able to keep the promises you made to military families. If taking care of military families is truly a priority, then you should be including their needs in the base budget request.”
At the hearing, Missouri Republican Josh Hawley raised the issue of replacing aging housing at Fort Leonard Wood, an Army garrison located between Springfield and St. Louis, noting the Army had allocated no funds for that purpose in the fiscal 2023 budget request or the service’s unfunded priorities list.
Wormuth said the Army has a 10-year infrastructure plan and it would surprise her if updating Fort Leonard Wood’s housing didn’t appear somewhere within that plan.
“We have a huge footprint with housing at installations all across the country,” said Wormuth. “We can’t in a single year take care of all the housing issues that we have.”
Hawley said he had expected $341 million to be available for Army housing in Missouri in fiscal 2023, with $50 million for Fort Leonard Wood, only to be surprised to find nothing in the budget request.
“I realize that you have issues you need to address in bases all over the nation, but in Missouri it’s a pressing issue,” he said. “And when I’m told that there are going to be funds available for housing in Missouri, and then there aren’t, I’m not happy about it. And I’m not happy getting the run-around about what it’s going to be and what it’s not going to be.”