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Army orders commanders to prepare cuts

Washington_Army commanders have been ordered to begin calculating budget and personnel cuts as a result of the congressional gridlock over the war spending bill, according to a new memo.

The four-page directive, issued by Gen. Richard Cody, the Army Vice Chief of Staff, tells top officers at all Army bases to develop plans to use troops to replace civilians and contractors who may have to be laid off around Feb. 23. The detailed plans are due next Tuesday, according to the memo obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.

Because the war funding bill has not been approved, the military is using operations and maintenance money from its 2008 budget for war-related costs. For the Army, those funds will run out in mid-February unless Congress acts.

Cody said all military personnel other than those preparing to go to the war zone should be considered available as the civilian substitutes.

The memo, issued late Monday night, tells commanders to calculate the weekly costs of the minimum essential operations that could continue under emergency procedures if all money for operations is exhausted.

Those essential costs could include activities:

- to protect national security,

- to protect the lives and health of Army soldiers and their families at all installations,

- to prepare and train forces for deployment.

Cody also told commanders they should plan to suspend all maintenance that is not necessary to support warfighting. And he said they should expect the Pentagon to send layoff notices that would be effective on Feb. 23.

Cody's memo comes as Defense Secretary Robert Gates renewed his call for Congress to approve the war funding bill. During a speech Monday night to the Killeen, Texas, Chamber of Commerce, Gates said that the department has to start planning now to be ready in case the money is not approved by early next year.

"The Defense Department is like the world's biggest supertanker. It cannot turn on a dime, and I cannot steer it like a skiff," said Gates. "I do not want to create anxiety among our employees, but we must plan and prepare."

Gates has said that many of the union contracts require that employees be notified of an impending layoff 60 days in advance. Thus notices would have to start going out in mid-December. He warned that layoffs could affect 100,000 civilian employees and an equal number of civilian contractors.

The Democratic-led House has passed a $50 billion war spending bill that would keep operations going for several more months, but it sets a goal of bringing most troops home by December 2008. President Bush threatened to veto it, and the measure was blocked in the Senate.

___

On the Net:

Defense Department: http://www.defenselink.mil

Lolita C. Baldor, AP Writer © 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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