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People are Highest Budget Priority

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 2000 – Personnel issues have the highest priority in President Clinton's fiscal 2001 Defense Budget Request.

"All this great equipment we have will be unimportant if we don't have the best people to work it," said Defense Secretary William S. Cohen during a Pentagon press conference Feb. 7. "We've got to attract the best and the brightest to the military, then we've got to keep them. Quality of life issues are critically important."

The DoD budget request builds on fiscal 2000 successes, Cohen said. The fiscal 2001 military and civilian pay raise is set for 3.7 percent. The raise is figured by taking the employment cost index and adding .5 percent. "This keeps military pay a half-a-percent above inflation," he said.

But more important, DoD is adding $3 billion to the budget to fund the basic allowance for housing. "The BAH [increase] will eliminate out-of-pocket costs by [fiscal] 2005, and that is a significant change," Cohen said. "It will put money in the pockets of service members who currently have to come up with as much as 19 percent out- of-pocket costs in order to live in off-base housing."

Officials estimate out-of-pocket expenses will drop to an average of 15 percent in fiscal 2001.

DoD will also dedicate money and resources to fixing military health care. "TRICARE has not been managed in a way that's most desirable and most effective," Cohen said. "We will try to establish a more seamless system where we can eliminate some of the confusion and effort that goes into filing the enrollments when service members are transferred from one jurisdiction to another. This is a goal we hope to achieve this year.

"And we certainly hope to have more access to the system by having better management practices on the part of those who are practicing medicine in our military facilities."

He said the budget would eliminate co-pays for service members enrolled in TRICARE Prime who receive treatment in the civilian community. For families enrolled in TRICARE Prime Remote, the budget eliminates co-pay for all.

Cohen said he and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton are working on proposals to provide medical care to the retired military community. "We are still in the process of trying to come to grips with how we deal with retirees 65 and above and those on Medicare," Cohen said.

"All of the options we've looked at are quite expensive but nonetheless we feel we have an obligation to address that. The chairman and I will continue our discussions to see what we can recommend to the Congress in the coming year."

Defense officials said the plans DoD is looking at could add between $2 billion and $8 billion per year to the defense budget depending on the option chosen.

Cohen said that overall, the $291 billion defense budget proposal protects the President's commitment to maintain the high quality of the U.S. armed forces. He said the budget continues the president's $112 billion increase through fiscal 2005.

The budget adds money for contingencies in Kosovo and East Timor and for higher then expected fuel prices.

Cohen said the budget follows Quadrennial Defense Review recommendations and maintains the department's progress toward transformation. "I think it's clear also that it's going to require my successor and perhaps my successor's successor to complete this transformation," Cohen said.

"We have a very large organization with serious commitments globally. We have laid the foundation, we have agreed upon the blueprints and the key building blocks are in place. We still have many tough challenges ahead."

The budget request hits the $60 billion mark for procurement proposed in 1995. "There is nothing sacrosanct or magical about the $60 billion," Cohen said. "That figure is calculated to go at least to $70 billion through fiscal 2005. This represents 46 percent real growth."

The request also supports the services' efforts to reshape the force. "The Army is dedicated to shaping a force that is more deployable, lethal and agile," Cohen said. "They have underway a program to acquire a new, medium-armored vehicle for the combat units at Fort Lewis."

Cohen mentioned the Navy's proposed DD-21 multi-mission ship. The ship will sail with fewer sailors. Currently a comparable ship has a crew of 300. The DD-21 will sail with a crew of 100.

The budget request supports the Air Force change to air expeditionary forces. "This has produced a highly versatile Air Force which will help to reduce the personnel tempo, so airmen will have more regularity and predictability," Cohen said.

Cohen said the Marine Corps' V-22 aircrafts will enhance the Corps' mobility. He also mentioned Urban Warrior experiments and the importance of these on shaping the Marine Corps of the future.

Cohen has proposed two new rounds of base realignment and closure in 2003 and 2005. He said Congress cannot afford to continue to put this off. DoD projects saving roughly $3 billion per year if it is allowed to reduce excess infrastructure.

Planners also say that around the end of the decade DoD will have to increase the procurement budget by about $15 billion to $18 billion. "That projection for procurement is going to get large and if you keep pushing [base realignment and closure] out, there's going to come a due date," Cohen said. "We're going to have to say we need a major increase in the topline or we will take it from one account and put the money elsewhere.

"I can only impress upon [Congress] what is coming and they will have to determine whether or not it should wait another year," he continued. "What I've tried to do is say I think it is important enough for you to address it now."

Cohen said the budget request sustains U.S. military excellence. "We have the finest military in the world," he said. "We intend to keep it that way.

"We have a number of challenges that remain. One is bolstering recruiting and retention and quality of life reforms are key to that." He said operations tempo and personnel tempo remains a challenge and the department must address these issues. "These will be a constant challenge for future years," he said.

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Related Sites:
DoD News Briefing, Feb.7, 2000, Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

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