Congress can’t keep ignoring the pressing issue of compensation reform
By Ryan Alexander
There is a multi-billion dollar elephant in the room where Pentagon budget deals are made and broken. The name of that elephant is “compensation reform.” Congress wants to pretend the problem doesn’t exist, but it does. And ignoring the problem only allows it to grow, unchecked.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has studied the issue of military compensation extensively and writes persuasively of the need for reforms to basic pay, retirement benefits and the health care payment system. If these three CBO recommendations were accepted the estimated cost savings over 10 years would be as much as $204 billion.
Even the Pentagon leadership knows this problem threatens to swallow funds they would prefer to spend on modernization of weapon systems. At the beginning of the year, Defense Secretary Hagel and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Martin Dempsey, outlined a list of modest reforms to compensation for future military personnel. These were proposed reforms for people who are not yet in the military – not the folks who have been fighting the nation’s wars for more than a decade. In addition to these requested reforms, the Pentagon also asked Congress for some good money management practices like another round of base closure and a small reduction in the subsidy for the commissary system.
At my organization, Taxpayers for Common Sense, we support the Pentagon’s recommended changes and have written and spoken about them every chance we get. In fact, we would go further on the issue of the commissary benefit and recommend closing all domestic commissaries.
Unfortunately, the Congress has thwarted each of the Pentagon’s requested reforms. The press release from the House Armed Services Committee, when the committee was dealing with the Pentagon budget request said, “In the FY15 budget request, the President proposed his most sweeping compensation cuts to date, including TRICARE, Housing Allowances, and Commissary benefits. When combined with a reduction in the annual troop pay increase, these cuts result in thousands of dollars of additional out-of-pocket expenses for military families. Chairman McKeon categorically rejects these cuts.” (Emphasis in the original.)
While I don’t agree with everything Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work said recently, I think it is obvious Congress lacks the political will to deal with compensation reform. Congress withers in the face of various special interest groups who make a living by screaming “general quarters!” whenever modest efforts to reform compensation (even for future service members) are proposed. These groups scramble the retired community to contact their federal representative using their favorite tagline: that Congress is “ breaking faith” with the troops.
Let’s stop for a second and consider the sheer audacity of such a statement. Chuck Hagel, Army Sergeant and infantry squad leader in Vietnam, and Marty Dempsey, with an Army career spanning 40 years, are “breaking faith” with our troops?
For Fiscal Year 2015, the Pentagon has a base budget request of $495.6 billion, and an amended OCO request of $58.6 billion for a total request of $554.2 billion. Rather than throwing more money into the Pentagon’s maw, let’s start thinking seriously about compensation reform. Let’s start by looking at the work already done by the Congressional Budget Office and the Pentagon leadership.
Ryan Alexander is president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.
via A Sensible Way to Save Money in the Pentagon Budget | US News.