WASHINGTON (AP) – The Army is backpedaling on plans to cut contracts and environmental programs and spend the savings on the war effort after Pentagon officials said it could make cuts in other budget areas.

However, Army officials said Thursday they would proceed with other planned, budget adjustments to help cover expenses for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those cost-saving measures include a hiring freeze and a reduction in spending on travel and conferences.

The Army’s about-face came after The Associated Press reported earlier Thursday details of a memorandum that instructed base commanders to shift money out of environmental programs.

“We will be able to continue all the environmental programs, the summer hires and particularly the force protection … that we previously thought we would have to defer,” Phil Sakowitz, deputy director for the Army’s new Installation Management Activity command, told the AP in an interview.

Maj. Gen. Anders Aadland, in a May 11 e-mail obtained by the AP, had ordered garrison commanders worldwide to “take additional risk in environmental programs.” He told them to “terminate environmental contracts and delay all non-statutory enforcement actions” until the beginning of the government’s next fiscal year in October.

Aadland’s four-page message also said the money saved from the cuts could be shifted from “force protection, environmental and other accounts” toward other needs. Force protection involves keeping personnel safe from terrorist and other unconventional attacks.

After being contacted by the AP, Army spokespersons reached Sakowitz. He said he had just learned Thursday from Pentagon budget officials that the installations command, with a budget of $7 billion to $8 billion, could retain the environmental programs.

He said he did not have figures for how much more money the Defense Department had promised, or how much the environmental programs are costing.

“We had hit a point in time where we had to send out this memo, to try to defer some things to make it through the year,” he said. “It’s a day-to-day kind of action.”

Affected environmental programs would have included reducing aircraft collisions with birds, controlling nonnative species and handling hazardous waste. Other programs originally designated for cuts included protecting endangered species, disposing of munitions and monitoring groundwater.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an environmental whistle-blower group, had accused the Pentagon of irresponsibly ordering severe cuts in pollution reduction and wildlife protections.

Jeff Ruch, the group’s executive director, said the Army is “retracting the memo only because it was revealed.”

Still, the Army is proceeding with plans to trim other non-environmental areas and divert the savings to other efforts. Targeted areas include personnel management, civilian training, conferences, supplies, service contracts, information technology and equipment maintenance.

Pentagon officials estimate the department spends $4 billion a year on environmental programs.


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