The Army has at least temporarily pulled back on reductions in funding that would have required many installations to cut morale, welfare and recreation programs.
The decision was made following concerns raised by Todd Weiler, assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs, according to an Army source.
On Sept. 9, a few days after the commanding general of the Army Installation Management Command released a video message to the force about the impending cuts, Weiler sent a memorandum to the assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs. That video message has since been removed from YouTube.
"Given the level of Administration interest in programs impacting military family quality of life, I strongly suggest that the Army delay any reductions until you brief me on their necessity and on your actions to mitigate the adverse impact on the military community," Weiler wrote.
Army installation command officials confirmed they've paused the process. "The Army has decided to not reduce appropriated fund support to morale, welfare and recreation activities until it has completed a thorough and comprehensive analysis," said Scott Malcom, spokesman for the command.
Initially, the Army planned to cut $105 million in taxpayer funding for fiscal 2017, which started Oct. 1. In his video message released in late August, Lt. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl said the cuts were necessary in order to divert some of the Army's limited MWR funds for critical post operating services, such as contracts for security, firefighting and airfields. He said the Army planned to maintain the current level of MWR programs at remote and isolated installations. In addition, officials had planned to continue "100 percent support" to child development centers and child and youth services at all installations.
Weiler's intervention put the cuts on hold.
Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning and Weiler "are both committed to ensuring the welfare of service members remains a top priority for the Department of Defense and the Army," said DoD spokesman Eric Pahon. "They have been in close contact since Mr. Weiler issued his memo to the Army, and have worked in lock-step to ensure any impact to military families is being mitigated.
"The DoD is pleased with the fast and thorough review Secretary Fanning has initiated and intends to support the Army however possible to bring this situation to a fast resolution."
Some installations had already announced cutbacks and closures. For example, at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, officials had announced the closing of a fitness center and reduction in operating hours at the installation's three remaining gyms. The library's operating hours were cut from seven days a week to five days a week, and one of two pools was to be closed.
Weiler wrote that he was troubled by the Army's decision to announce the reductions before the final DoD and congressional decisions on funding for fiscal years 2017 and 2018.
Weiler noted that even before the Army's announcement, officials weren't meeting Defense Department requirements for funding Category B MWR activities on Army posts. Category B includes activities such as child development programs, youth activities, outdoor recreation, arts and crafts skill development and automotive crafts skill development. The services are required to provide a minimum of 65 percent of funding for these Category B programs using taxpayer dollars.
"I do not understand how these additional reductions could bring the Army back into compliance with DoD policy," Weiler wrote.
An Army source said there has also been concern about an operational order sent by Dahl to the field noting that commanders no longer have to meet those minimum DoD funding requirements.
"The DoD minimum [taxpayer] funding standards were established in close coordination with Congress to ensure that the Military Services provide at least a minimum level of MWR programs, and to prevent Service members and their families from bearing costs that should be borne with [taxpayer funding]," Weiler wrote.