Governors Vow Vigilance on Air National Guard Funding
By Maggie Clark, Staff Writer
After both a House and Senate committee froze impending cuts to the Air National Guard, the nation’s governors vowed to work on forestalling any similar budget proposals in the future, while thanking the congressional committees for standing with them and the Guard.
“This pause,” wrote the National Governors Association in a statement late last month, “gives governors and the Department of Defense the opportunity to put a process in place for 2014 that recognizes the cost-effectiveness and value of the Guard.”
The Air National Guard employs more than 100,000 citizen soldiers in all 50 states, and serves international as well as domestic interests. But when President Obama issued his proposed budget for 2013 in early February, the Air Force had taken an outsized hit on the Guard — 5,100 jobs eliminated and 59 percent of the total aircraft budget cut, even though the Guard makes up only 6 percent of the Air Force budget. The cuts infuriated governors and the state adjutants general, who oversee the Guard in each state, who all wrote letters to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and appealed to Congress for help.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In 2010, President Obama established the Council of Governors to specifically meet with Panetta and advocate for state interests in the National Guard, homeland defense and defense support to civil authorities. But Washington’s Governor Christine Gregoire, who is also the co-chair of the Council of Governors, says that the Air Force didn’t take the states’ needs into account and never even tried to justify the cuts on the Air Guard.
“I really don’t know why (the cuts were made), and we were never given an explanation,” Gregoire told Stateline. “We were very clear that they hadn’t stopped to think about the domestic responsibilities of the Guard. There was no consultation with the governors…we learned of these budget cuts by reading the newspaper.”
In a Senate appropriations committee hearing on the cuts, Lieutenant General Harry Wyatt, Air National Guard director, echoed the same concerns about the way the cuts were handed down. Wyatt accused the Air Force of not correctly analyzing the impact of the cuts, most importantly on morale.
“I’m hearing concern (among Guard personnel) about an indefinite future… our retention numbers are starting to drop and I attribute that to the Air Force’s 2013 proposed budget,” Wyatt said. “It has had a more detrimental effect on our retention numbers than 20 years of high operational combat has had. That uncertainty is beginning to take its toll.”
After committee hearings, the governors and Guard leaders lobbied House and Senate committees to freeze the current funding levels for the Guard and work on a more collaborative budgeting process for next year. And it worked.
“Never underestimate the influence of the National Guard,” U.S. Senator John McCain said with a laugh during a May 24 press conference held to announce the committee’s unanimous passage of a 2013 defense authorization bill, according to Defense News.
There are still some differences between the House and Senate committee defense authorization bills. The House is asking for an additional $4 billion in defense spending while the Senate would stay within Obama’s initial funding amount but take the cuts from other areas. The bills will likely be debated in both chambers this month.