March 11, 2014
By Col. Mike Hayden, USAF (Ret)
As the FY 2015 defense budget rolled out and I
reviewed all of the Pentagon’s proposals to curb personnel costs, I had a
feeling of déjà vu. Many of these same cost-cutting measures were used before
in other drawdowns.
Will we ever learn?
As was done in the 1970s and again in the ’80s and ’90s,
Pentagon planners of the day proposed significant end-strength reductions,
capping or freezing military pay, or even modifying the retirement system to curb
Years of budget cuts — ones that depressed pay,
reduced retirement value by 25 percent for post-1986 entrants, and moved
beneficiaries over age 65 out of the military health system — resulted in
significant retention and readiness problems in the late 1990s.
Between 2000 and 2010, Congress worked diligently to
restore pay comparability, repeal the retirement change, zero out housing
costs, and restore promised health care coverage for older retirees (TRICARE For
Now the administration and Pentagon leaders are
reverting to some of the previous bad habits: significantly cutting end
strength, capping pay for what could be six years, killing 66 percent of
commissary savings current patrons see, forcing military families to absorb 5
percent of their housing costs, and shifting more health care costs onto
beneficiaries (not just retirees but also currently serving family members).
The quick money, easy fix is to revert to these bad
habits. As an old service planner, I know you can get nearly instant savings
from end-strength cuts and the earlier you get the troops off the rolls, the
more you can save.
But even though these bad habits can bring instant
savings, repeating these for several years can cause huge retention problems.
A one-year pay cap is a data point, two is a line,
but three is a trend. And this proposal caps pay for up to six straight years,
unraveling the compensation improvements Congress provided since the turn of
The most important element of national security is
sustainment of dedicated, top-quality mid-level NCOs and officers.
The bottom line: Will we ever learn? Sustaining the
all-volunteer force cannot be done “on the cheap,” and in fact, the only times
it has been jeopardized were when budget concerns imposed significant cutbacks
in the military compensation package.
Get Involved in the Budget Battle
The Pentagon’s 2015 Budget proposes cuts to military benefits that will
significantly reduce the purchasing power of military families, and lead
to retention & readiness problems.
Visit www.moaa.org/budgetbattle for resources and ways to take action!
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