Pay, Retirement Ride High in Authorization Act
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 6, 1999 People are at the heart of the first sustained increase in defense spending since the end of the Cold War. [Visit the Top 10 Authorization Act Items web site.]
While force readiness and modernization get big boosts, military pay and retirement reform are the real stars of the fiscal 2000 Defense Authorization Act. Surrounded by nation's top military leaders in an Oct. 5 Pentagon ceremony, President Clinton signed the bill that authorizes a national security budget of $288.8 billion, the lion's share going to DoD, but also portions to the Energy Department, the Department of Veterans Affairs and others.
The act authorizes the administration's proposed personnel compensation measures. The 4.8 percent across-the-board Jan. 1, 2000, pay increase is the largest in 18 years. Pay table reform -- effective on July 1, 2000 -- rewards performance.
The act authorizes a major overhaul of the retirement program. Service members who came on active duty after Aug. 1, 1986, under the Redux retirement system face a choice once they reach 15 years of service. They can opt for the previous "High-3" system that starts at 50 percent of basic pay for those retiring after 20 years. Or, they can choose to receive a $30,000 bonus at 15 years and stay in the Redux retirement system, which starts retired pay at 40 percent of basic pay after 20 years.
In addition, the act opens the federal civilian employees' Thrift Savings Plan to service members. Enabling legislation is still needed, however, and officials said they don't see this happening until fiscal 2001.
The act increases the amounts of a number of special pays and bonuses and creates three new ones. The biggest change is the establishment of career enlisted flier incentive pay and increasing the maximum selective re-enlistment bonus to $60,000.
The authorization act gives the department permission to go ahead with a program, but it doesn't obligate funds. The money actually will come from the fiscal 2000 Defense Appropriations Bill, still under consideration by Congress.
Senior DoD officials said the act supports the president's budget proposal from February, which called for a total defense spending increase of $112 billion over six years. Most of that money would be plowed into military readiness.
"The operations and maintenance accounts are fully funded," one official said. "Nearly half of the $112 billion increase we proposed was devoted to operations and maintenance to ensure our forces will continue to operate as they did during the recent operation in Kosovo."
Another emphasis in the act is on modernization. The act authorizes a total of $56 billion for procurement. "We're progressing on a program to $60 billion per year and beyond for procurement," said the official.
The authorization act is not just about money. It contains quality of life initiatives that include the establishment of a military-civilian task force on domestic violence in the military. It calls on the defense secretary to establish a central database and report annually to Congress on the problem.
The act also directs DoD to provide two uniformed service members for the funerals of honorably discharged veterans. It expands the Junior ROTC program. It includes a provision to award the Medal of Honor for heroism to Army Vietnam War veteran Alfred Rascon.
In the medical arena, the act contains a provision authorizing DoD and the Department of Veterans Affairs to carry out joint medical care demonstrations at five locations for three years.