Red Flags Raised by President’s Budget Request

Red Flags Raised by President’s Budget Request

The president’s FY 2023 budget, submitted to Congress on March 28, seeks $773 billion for DoD – $30 billion more than last year. It also includes a 4.6% pay raise for servicemembers and federal workers … but it does not keep up with inflation, prompting cuts to troop strength to fund modernization.


The raise likely will not match up against having to do more with less both at home or deployed — and no one ever provides servicemembers with a list of things to stop doing.


[TAKE ACTION: Ask Your Lawmaker to Support the Military Pay Raise]


Cutting Personnel to Pay for Modernization

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told an April 7 budget oversight hearing he was “encouraged by the largest-ever request” for research, development, testing, and evaluation (RDT&E) – $130 billion, or 9.5% more than last year’s levels.


In contrast, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the committee’s ranking member, said “inflation is the new sequestration, and we’ve got to confront it.” While supporting the RDT&E increase, Inhofe said DoD’s strategy “cuts end strength across the services, even though all our troops are overworked already.”


[VIDEO: Watch the Senate Hearing]


The budget request, planned prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, included the following active duty personnel authorizations for FY 2023 – all reductions from the previous year:

  • Army: 473,000, down from 485,000.
  • Navy: 346,300, down from 346,920.
  • Air Force: 323,400, down from 329,220.
  • Marine Corps: 177,000, down from 178,500.


A senior defense official cited recruiting challenges and a reduced propensity to serve as contributing factors to reinvest personnel savings in other areas.


The reductions are even more of an issue given the increased threats in Eastern Europe and the straits of Taiwan. The moves directly conflict with DoD’s own budget briefing materials, which described the department’s people as “key to U.S. deterrence across domains, theaters and the spectrum of conflict.”


[RELATED: MOAA Interview: Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Talks Ukraine and Deterrence]


What Cuts Can Do

What are the consequences of an understaffed force? The Pentagon doesn’t have to look far for an example: An April 5 DoD Inspector General report found officials at 26 of the 30 military treatment facilities (MTFs) interviewed said burnout “caused some staff to quit, further exacerbating staff shortages,” DoD Deputy Inspector General for Evaluations Michael Roark told Senate Armed Services Committee members at an April 6 hearing. Burnout “also adversely affected staff members’ psychological health and caused them to use emergency mental health services for their own challenges,” Roark said.


A DoD IG report from August 2020 noted the Defense Health Agency lacked a model to identify appropriate staffing levels in both direct and purchased care. As a result, thousands of servicemembers and families likely were unable to receive timely access to care.


Silver Linings for Health Care, Families

The FY 2023 budget does address some health care concerns, including funds for increased access to telehealth and an independent review committee (IRC) on suicide. The committee is intended to achieve results similar to the recent IRC on sexual harassment and assault, which revealed extensive investigator manning shortages and legal resource problems across DoD and resulted in Congressional intervention in the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act.


[TAKE ACTION: Help Support Military Family Access to Mental Health Care]


The budget also funds the construction of child care facilities, improvements to child care fee assistance programs, and a Basic Needs Allowance (BNA) for military families who fall within a band of the poverty. MOAA’s advocacy efforts, including a push for the BNA as part of Advocacy in Action 2021, led to some of these important successes; military families are sure to feel the impact of increasing deployments to deter growing threats while the ranks dwindle and tempo increases.


Pay Raise Update

MOAA’s ongoing Advocacy in Action 2022 includes a message to Congress on the need to keep the pay raise in line with the Employment Cost Index (ECI) – a benchmark ensuring military compensation keeps pace with the civilian sector. But while ECI should serve as a floor for the pay raise, Congress can set the ceiling – and its members should act now to move beyond the 4.6% figure included in the budget.


It’s not just about inflation: From 2014 to 2016, the military pay raise fell below ECI by a cumulative 2.6%. Adding 2.6% to the president’s proposal would result in a pay raise of 7.2%, closing the gap created six years ago while also better equipping our servicemembers to deal with the inflation threat.


Ask your lawmakers to support this change by sending them a message from MOAA’s Legislative Action Center. And visit MOAA’s Advocacy News page for frequent updates on this and other topics.


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About the Author

Lt. Col. Mark Belinsky, USA (Ret)
Lt. Col. Mark Belinsky, USA (Ret)

Belinsky retired in 2019 after serving 22 years, with overseas tours to Afghanistan, Iraq, the Republic of Korea, and Germany. He joined the MOAA team in 2019 as Director, Currently Serving and Retired Affairs.