Air Force Expects $3.3 Billion Disaster-Relief Funding Hole

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson talks to 55th Wing leadership as Rep. Don Bacon looks on during her visit to Offutt AFB, Neb., March 22, 2019. Air Force photo by Charles Haymond.

The Air Force expects it will fall $900 million short on disaster-relief funding in fiscal 2019 and still needs to find ways to fill a $3.3 billion gap in recovery spending, according to a Defense Department comptroller document obtained by Air Force Magazine.

The document paints a broader picture of the $5 billion the service says it needs to recover from last year’s hurricanes Florence and Michael, as well as recent storms that flooded Nebraska and Iowa.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has previously said reviving Tyndall AFB, Fla., and Offutt AFB, Neb., will require $1.2 billion in fiscal 2019 and $3.7 billion across 2020 and 2021. The DOD document breaks down the funding needs differently, saying the service needs $1.4 billion to fix facilities at six bases: Tyndall and Eglin AFB, Fla., Robins AFB, Ga., Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C., Shaw AFB, S.C., and JB Langley-Eustis, Va. About $550 million of that is expected to be addressed in 2019.

The document doesn’t break out how much money would go to the five bases other than Tyndall and Offutt, instead appearing to lump them in with Tyndall.

Service spokeswoman Ann Stefanek declined to comment on what the money would pay for at those five installations, which have flown under the radar as most disaster-relief conversations focus on Tyndall and Offutt.

“We will put together a plan for the reprogramming,” she said. “We still need supplemental funding for the rest of the shortfall.”

Congress in early April approved a request to move $200 million around for Air Force operations and maintenance, congressional sources confirmed. That leaves the service to find another $349 million for facilities repair at six bases by the end of September, which would be covered by a supplemental spending bill that offers $400 million for Air Force operations and maintenance in 2019 but has stalled due to partisan disagreements on Capitol Hill.

After 2019, those six bases require $827 million for repair projects, including $467 million that was built into the recently submitted 2020 budget request.

Another $600 million would pay costs unrelated to facilities, spread across a $200 million shortfall that needs a funding source in 2019 and a $400 million shortfall later.

“The remaining $400 million requirement can be pushed to FY 2020 and would also require supplemental appropriations to cover the replacement of aircraft common support equipment, depot-level maintenance for aircraft, and replacement of IT equipment,” the document states.

Fixing facilities at Offutt is initially expected to cost $350 million in 2019, although DOD warns that figure is a “very rough estimate.”

“We do not have enough information to provide specific details, but the Air Force will definitely incur clean-up and initial recovery costs during FY 2019 as a result of significant flooding to one-third of the base and approximately 80 buildings,” according to the document.

Overall, military construction projects have an anticipated price tag of $2.7 billion, only $163 million of which were addressed in the 2020 budget request. The remaining $2.5 billion needs to find a funding source, either through future budgets, reprogrammings, or supplemental spending bills.

Of the Air Force’s $5 billion price tag for storm recovery, there is still nearly $3.3 billion that is currently unaccounted for in 2019 and 2020. To help, lawmakers recently considered giving the Air Force $700 million for military construction that could be used for recovery efforts until Sept. 30, 2023.