July 10, 2014
By Col. Mike Hayden USAF (Ret)
In the recent Army Times article “Curbs on pay and benefits finally taking hold,” retiring DoD Comptroller Robert Hale (who left the Pentagon at
the end of June) acknowledged military personnel costs are coming down and
claimed, “We are making some progress.”
Now hold on a minute.
For years — and as recently as this spring — DoD
and service leaders have insisted military personnel pay and benefits costs are
“exploding out of control,” that “by 2025 … 98 cents of every dollar will be
going to pay and benefits,” and the time will soon come when “all we’ll be
doing is paying our people.”
A few short months later, DoD leaders (whose
proposals to whack pay and benefits have been mostly rejected by Congress) are
saying costs are falling — and it’s due to their plan?
Here’s the truth. MOAA’s analysis of the Pentagon’s own budget data
- personnel costs have held steady
at about 30 percent of the defense budget for more than 30 years, and
- despite Congress’ rejection of
draconian pay and benefits cuts year after year, personnel cost growth was
already in decline.
The July 3 release of the Military
Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission’s (MCRMC’s) interim report
removed any doubt about who’s been stating the facts and who’s been blowing
- The MCRMC validated MOAA's analysis that military personnel costs have remained steady
at about 30 percent of the defense budget — not 40, 50, or 70 percent as various
DoD and service officials have stated to the media, the public, and Congress.
- The MCRMC agreed with MOAA that DoD leaders' claims of "significant cost
growth since 2000" ignores that compensation levels in 2000 are a dubious
standard because both DoD leaders and Congress at the time deemed those levels too
low to sustain the career force.
Cost growth from 2000 through 2010 was
necessary to fix the retention problems of the late 1990s caused by years of
cuts to pay and benefits.
Congress initiated pay raises that exceeded
private sector pay, eliminated out-of-pocket housing costs, and provided health
care to retirees forced out of the military health care system.
Cost growth since 2011 hasn’t just leveled
off; it has actually declined.
Now that a presidential commission
independently has validated MOAA’s analysis, DoD claims military pay and
benefits are unsustainable and “eating us alive” are no longer credible.
DoD’s repeated draconian proposals to cut
pay, health care, and other benefits have been shown to be inappropriate and
Congress’ adoption of far more modest alternative
savings options MOAA suggested is what has worked — and costs are declining
just as MOAA predicted.
So what now?
Even as they acknowledge the reality of personnel cost decline, DoD
leaders continue to press Congress for massive benefits cuts — including huge
TRICARE fee hikes, the elimination of TRICARE Prime, years of capped pay raises
and housing allowance cuts, and cuts to the commissary benefit.
The House has again rejected these
disproportional cuts, but the Senate Armed Services Committee reluctantly
agreed to some of them after drinking the Pentagon’s “exploding personnel costs”
The bottom line: The MCRMC’s interim report, which
validates MOAA’s analysis, should dispel the myth that military people and families
are the problem and put Congress’ cost-saving focus where it belongs — back on the
Pentagon’s well-documented procurement and mismanagement fiascos.