WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is allowing the Army to approach White House budget officials by itself to argue for substantial increases in resources, a significant divergence from initial plans by Rumsfeld and his inner circle to cut the Army to pay for new technology and a new way of war.
With its troops and equipment worn down by years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army appears certain to receive a huge spike in its share of the Pentagon's budget request when it goes to Congress early next year. Significantly, increases to the size of the Army made by Congress since 2001, amounting to 30,000 troops, have become a permanent fixture of the force, military and congressional officials say. Beyond that, the Army is discussing whether it should expand by tens of thousands more, as some in Congress have long advocated.
This time, Rumsfeld is not standing in the way. His original vision for a transformed military called for leaner, more agile forces capitalizing on the latest technological innovations. Rumsfeld's current acquiescence is viewed within the Pentagon as reflecting both the reality of the Army's needs to increase its size and repair or replace current equipment and a decision not to cross swords with the service - or with the Army's staunchest supporters in Congress, some of whom are sharply critical of the defense secretary's management of the war effort and have called for him to step aside. But Rumsfeld is requiring the Army to make its own case.
The defense secretary has broken Pentagon precedent by allowing the Army to make its financial case directly to the president's Office of Management and Budget, a task normally managed by the defense secretary and his staff rather than by the individual military services.
The federal government is at the point in the budget process where individual departments are building their budget requests, with the Office of Management and Budget overseeing the effort.
Pentagon officials said the Army was seeking about $138 billion for the next fiscal year, compared with its $112 billion budget request last year. Army officials told Congress that the service was already $50 billion short in equipment when terrorists struck Sept. 11, 2001, and that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would require $17.1 billion in extra spending for 2007 just to repair and replace tanks, Humvees and other gear sent to the desert. Money to repair and replace equipment is expected to be $13 billion in 2008 and remain at a similar level for five more years.
As negotiations within the Defense Department and with the Office of Management and Budget got under way to build the 2008 budget proposal, which the White House is due to submit to Congress in February, the Army took the unusual step of ignoring a deadline for submitting its central budget document, which the armed services use to explain their missions and resource requests.
"This is unusual, but we are in unusual times," a senior Defense Department official said. The official described the conundrum Rumsfeld and the Army face.
"Do we lower our strategy, or do we raise our resources?" said the official, who was granted anonymity to discuss budget deliberations. "That's where we're at."
Even with additional money and more troops, it is far from clear that the Army will be able in the near term to fulfill all of its commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, prepare for other contingencies and keep its pledge to active-duty soldiers to give them two years at home between yearlong deployments to the war zone. Some senior Army officials are said to be advocating a growth not just of 30,000 soldiers, but of 60,000 to 80,000, and it is likely that sustained troop levels in Iraq might require a sizable recall of the National Guard to fill out future deployments there.
Unlike the Air Force and the Navy, which have been cutting their personnel substantially to save money that can be applied to operations and new weapons systems, the Army is being forced to increase its total numbers, drawing from money for overhauling equipment and for new weapons systems.
Some midlevel Air Force and Navy officials grumble at the Army's bid for a larger share of the Pentagon budget.
But senior Pentagon and military leaders take a more strategic view and agree that the other military branches must support the ground forces for the good of the nation.
Rumsfeld has long opposed proposals in Congress to increase the overall size of the military, citing the need to contain health insurance benefits and other personnel costs that have been eating a growing share of the defense budget.