October 17, 2003
Army seeks waiver from "50-50" law on contracting repair work
By George Cahlink
The unrelenting pace of operations in Iraq is forcing the Army to request an exemption from a federal law limiting the amount of equipment repair work that can be contracted out.
Gary Motsek, deputy director of support operations for Army Materiel Command, said the Army is poised to ask Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for a waiver from a federal law requiring that no more than 50 percent of repair work on military equipment be done by contractors.
The so-called "50-50 law" is designed to preserve federal civilian jobs at the military's in-house repair and maintenance facilities, known as depots, and has strong support in Congress.
Motsek says the Army has never had to seek such a waiver before. (The Air Force is the only service that has.) But Army depot repair work in fiscal 2004 is expected to increase by $2.5 billion, to $4.5 billion, because of the strains on Army equipment deployed to the Middle East.
For example, the pace of operations is forcing Bradley Fighting Vehicles to run through their rubber treads in about a month. Ordinarily, Bradley treads are replaced annually. Some vehicles have been sidelined from combat operations because the Army has run short of the rubber used in making the treads.
"Depots have had to surge dramatically" to meet the demand for repairs, said Motsek.
The Army has about 7,000 civilian workers at its five depots, but Motsek said they have been unable to keep up with the unprecedented demands of the Army's largest deployment since Operation Desert Storm. He said hundreds of temporary employees have already been hired at depots and some retirees have returned to help handle the increased workload.
For example, employees at Red River Army Depot in Texarkana, Texas, have worked 210,000 hours of overtime in support of the war. The Anniston Army Depot in Alabama has added a second shift of workers to meet demands for repairs to combat vehicles. Motsek expects to increase the overall depot workforce as much as 15 percent in 2004.
Still, Motsek said, it's simply impossible for the depots to handle all the work required, so the Army will have to hire more contractors. Contractors already perform about 48 percent of Army depot work.
The Army has requested increased depot spending in the $87 billion fiscal 2004 emergency spending bill for Iraq now being debated in Congress. If the service does not get the entire increase, than it might not have to seek a waiver of the 50-50 law, Motsek said.

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