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Governors: Guard excluded from budget talks

Nov. 16, 2012 - 05:32PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 16, 2012 - 05:32PM  |  
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Proponents of the Air National Guard have renewed accusations that Air Force leaders are cutting them out of the budget process.

In a letter to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, the co-chairs of the Council of Governors complained that the service called state adjutants general to Washington for a budget meeting on short notice and refused to provide solid proposals on paper.

The adjutants general were notified one week before the Nov. 2 meeting, which wasn't enough time for some of them to make travel plans, wrote Govs. Chris Gregoire, D-Wash., and Terry Brandstad, R-Iowa, co-chairs of the bipartisan Council of Governors.

The council is advocating for a full review by representatives from all states before the Air Force puts forward a new budget proposal.

"No specifics or written proposals have been shared with the Council so we currently do not have any review action before us," the governors wrote in the Nov. 2 letter. "Until we are able to see a proposal and discuss it with all governors, there can be no representation that this proposal meets the needs of the states."

Welsh, Donley and Air National Guard Chief Lt. Gen. Harry "Bud" Wyatt have vowed to work more closely on the 2013 budget to break an impasse that began shortly after the Air Force proposed to cut a larger share of personnel and aircraft from the Guard than from active duty. Lawmakers have directed the Air Force to halt any action toward that budget request during negotiations.

But in a second letter, sent to Donley and Welsh Nov. 15, the governors wrote that the Air Force has presented the states with a "take it or leave it" proposal with no discussion or disclosure of fiscal and operational data, and without time to consider its merits.

"In the absence of answers to our questions and agreement on a process to address them, however, we will have no choice but to continue to take our concerns directly to Congress," the governors wrote.

The Nov. 2 meeting was an attempt by Wyatt to meet with the adjutants general of each state to discuss force-structure proposals, a spokeswoman said. Additional details on the proposal were not available.

"The Nov. 2 meeting was part of a deliberative process to ensure transparency of Air Force force structure moves with the adjutants generals and obtain their military advice and feedback," said Air National Guard spokeswoman Lt. Col. Nohaku McFadden, in an e-mail. Wyatt declined comment.

Air Force officials are reviewing the letters and will provide a response to the council, said Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman.

Welsh and Donley had no additional comment, Stefanek said.

Those who attended the meeting were provided information via a PowerPoint presentation. No documents were handed out, said Mark Rupp, the director of Gregoire's Washington office.

The meeting was closed. No attendance was taken, but all states, territories and the District of Columbia were invited.

The Council of Governors also was scheduled to meet with Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Nov. 13 to discuss the budget process, but that meeting was postponed and is expected to be scheduled before the end of the calendar year, Rupp said.

The House and Senate Armed Services committeesblocked all cuts in the Air Force's fiscal 2013 budget proposal, saying that they unfairly targeted the Air National Guard. The service originally proposed cutting 9,900 airmen in the budget, 5,100 of which were guardsmen.

Welsh, who became chief of staff in August, immediately promised to work more closely with the Guard and the governors in future budget talks. During his confirmation in July, Welsh said the Air Force had put forward a budget that was "not executable."

"I think what matters the most today is how we move forward from here because we are in a place that we cannot stay," Welsh said at the confirmation hearing. "However we move forward, it has to be together."

The Nov. 2 meeting was a last-ditch effort to put forward a 2013 budget that would convince lawmakers to remove the freeze on funding. But that's unlikely to happen because Congress will not have enough time to revisit the Air Force budget, a defense policy aide to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said.

Welsh, the aide said, has done an "outstanding job" so far in his tenure in working with state leaders and Congress on the budget issue, and Donley has tried to make changes.

Wyatt, who retires as director of the Air National Guard in January, said last month that the Air Force is moving closer to an executable budget, pending approval from Donley and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

"But whether that will satisfy members of Congress is yet another question to be answered," he said during an Oct. 31 interview on "This Week in Defense News," an Air Force Times partner.

Unlike the original fiscal 2013 proposal, the next proposal is expected to have more active-duty cuts, Wyatt said.

Proposals for some changes are already circulating on Capitol Hill. On Nov. 9, Air Force officials briefed members of the New York congressional delegation on the possibility of replacing C-130s at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station with remotely piloted aircraft. MQ-9s already fly out of Hancock Field Air National Guard Base near Syracuse as part of the 174th Fighter Wing.

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