By Tom Vanden Brook
WASHINGTON — Pensions for generals and admirals will be trimmed to ensure that they make no more in retirement than they earned while in uniform under an agreement on Pentagon spending for 2015 reached by Senate and House negotiators.
The agreement on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) reverses a decision made in 2007 to modify pensions for three- and four-star generals and admirals in an effort to retain them as the wars raged in Iraq and Afghanistan. It boosted the pensions of some senior officers by 63%. USA TODAY first reported on the modification in 2012 when the Pentagon’s highest pension payment of $272,892 per year went to a retired four-star officer with 43 years’ experience.
A January 2014 report by USA TODAY showed the Pentagon had no plans to reduce senior officers’ pensions although a December 2013 budget agreement called for lower pension rates for other military retirees.
There was no indication that beefing up pensions had increased top-officer retention, nor any sign that the Pentagon had been losing brass over retirement pay, the Senate Armed Services Committee determined. Pensions were reduced to ensure that top brass share the burden of Pentagon cost cutting.
“Three- and four-star generals and admirals should not earn more in retirement than they did on active duty,” said Ethan Rosenkranz, national security policy analyst at the Project on Government Oversight, a non-partisan government watchdog group. “The House and Senate made the right move to revoke this special pension bonus for senior flag officers.”
The change, also agreed to by the House Armed Services Committee, is part of an effort to rein in military personnel costs. In all, the committees agreed to authorize $134.7 billion for military personnel, including costs of pay, allowances, bonuses and death benefits. Troops, at the rank of colonel and Navy captain and below, will receive a 1% pay raise, while salaries for generals and admirals will be frozen. It also reduces housing allowances for troops and increases co-pays for some drugs.
“Our military families are being asked to share the pain of deficit reduction through a constrained pay increase, a reduction in housing benefits, and an increase in pharmaceutical co-pays,” Rosenkranz said. “It’s only fair that the NDAA makes senior flag officers forgo a special bonus.”
New pensions for three- and four-star officers will be capped at top active-duty pay of $181,501 at the end of the month, although pensions for currently serving officers will be grandfathered. Housing and other allowances can increase the compensation paid to officers by about one-third. The change is estimated to save about $23 million over nine years.