The Defense Department has already committed $1.7 billion of the $2.2 billion in "savings" found in its fiscal 1986 budget and is seeking congressional approval to redistribute the remaining amount among weapons, research and other accounts, Pentagon Comptroller Robert W. Helm said yesterday.
Helm met with reporters after Pentagon spokesman Robert B. Sims took issue with a Washington Post report that disclosed the $2.2 billion find and quoted Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) as saying "the squirrels in the Department of Defense are socking away billions to cushion against budget cuts."
Sims said "nothing was squirreled away or socked away nor do we intend to pour $2.2 billion anywhere. There is no $2.2 billion slush fund hidden by the department." He said the $2.2 billion "savings" lowered the Pentagon's fiscal 1987 money request by a corresponding amount.
Helms said that $1.3 billion in industrial and spare parts accounts for 1986 was poured directly into the fiscal 1987 budget as an "offset" to lower the total request. The Pentagon will redistribute another $507 million within the $2.2 billion into existing fiscal 1986 accounts if Congress does not object.
The remaining $400 million of the "savings" will finance special pay this year to men with such hazardous jobs as disarming bombs and working on the flight decks of aircraft carriers, Helms said.
Several members of Congress have contended that since the Pentagon found an extra $2.2 billion in its fiscal 1986 budget after absorbing cuts of $36 billion, including $11 billion imposed under the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law, it shows that military programs are not hurting. As a result, they said, Congress would not work a hardship on the military if it followed the Senate Budget Committee's recommendation to set a ceiling of $295 billion for national defense for fiscal 1987.
The $295 billion is calculated to keep the Pentagon at the fiscal 1986 level of funding after allowing for inflation. The Senate was scheduled to begin debating yesterday whether this zero-growth total would be enough but the issue was postponed until next week.