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$30-Billion Cut Sought in Pentagon's Request : Carlucci Orders Services to Make Reductions to Avoid Having Congress Set Spending Goals

December 06, 1987|JOHN M. BRODER | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Pentagon planners are scrambling to cut more than $30 billion from next year's budget request to meet spending limits agreed to by the Administration and Congress as part of a deficit reduction plan.

Frank C. Carlucci, the new defense secretary, has ordered the military services to submit plans for reducing their expected spending for the 1989 fiscal year, which begins next Oct. 1, by roughly 10% from the $323.3 billion requested earlier this year by the Pentagon.

Sources in Congress welcomed Carlucci's decision, saying it signaled a more cooperative attitude in dealing with congressional budget committees and a more realistic approach to defense spending planning. They said that Carlucci's predecessor, Caspar W. Weinberger, sent unrealistic budgets to Congress and forced lawmakers to make the cuts to meet the government's spending goals.

Prefer Setting Own Priorities

The move also was cheered by Pentagon officials, who said they prefer to set their own budget priorities rather than have their budgets written on Capitol Hill.

The services were informed of the decision on Nov. 23, the day Carlucci was sworn in as defense secretary, and were given only until Monday to present revisions reflecting the new numbers to Pentagon Comptroller Robert W. Helm. That has touched off criticism by military budget officers that the time they have to make the changes is too brief.

The Navy is being asked to absorb the largest reduction, $11.6 billion; the Air Force must cut $10.5 billion and the Army $9 billion, according to Pentagon memos obtained by the news weekly Aviation Week & Space Technology.

The overall military budget target, $291 billion, is less than the $296-billion Pentagon spending plan for the current fiscal year, which was signed into law by President Reagan last week. If the target is achieved, it will mark the fourth consecutive year of real reductions in the military budget.

A Pentagon spokesman, reading a prepared statement, said Saturday: "The department is currently assessing the adjustments that need to be made to the 1989 budget submitted last January to conform to the defense levels recently agreed to at the budget summit. The results of that assessment will not be available for some time."

The Defense Department would not confirm the reported numbers or comment further.

The individual services will be allowed to set priorities within the target numbers, but some programs are likely to be eliminated entirely, Aviation Week reports in its Dec. 7 issue. Among the weapons programs in jeopardy are two Navy aircraft carriers, the Air Force's Midgetman missile and the Army's LHX helicopter.

Services Can Divert Funds

These programs were already in trouble in Congress, sources said, and canceling them will enable the services to divert funds to critical manpower, training and maintenance accounts.

The services were instructed in memoranda by Undersecretary of Defense William H. Taft IV to avoid "stretchouts" of weapons programs, which result in inefficient and more costly production, and instead to concentrate on eliminating programs entirely, according to the memos.

Taft also asked that "serious consideration" be given to reducing troop strength, the magazine said.

At a press conference Nov. 24, the day after he became defense secretary, Carlucci said: "It will take a lot of effort to cope with the budget situation. On the other hand, there are advantages, because for the first time, we've got a firm number for 1989 against which we can plan. But coping with numbers that are less than the President's budget is obviously going to take some work, going to take some planning and going to require some hard choices."

Delays Submitting Budget

Carlucci said that the 1989 budget would not be submitted to Congress until February or March, rather than in January, the traditional date, to accommodate the difficult planning fights expected within the Pentagon.

The reduction targets in the Pentagon memos reflect about a 10% reduction in what the President had sought for the military in a two-year budget submitted last January.

For the Navy budget, which includes the Marine Corps, the requested level of $108.7 billion would be reduced to $97.1 billion; for the Air Force, the budget would go from $107.2 billion to $96.7 billion, and for the Army, spending would fall from $84.7 billion to $75.7 billion.

Return to 'Standard Policy'

A congressional staff member familiar with Pentagon budgets said that Carlucci's approach of submitting a budget in line with the expected overall spending limit "basically signals a return to what has been standard policy throughout the Pentagon's existence, with the exception of the Weinberger years."

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