New Budget Boosts Pay, Readiness, Modernization
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 21, 1999 The fiscal 2000 DoD budget "reflects the effort we have made to listen to the men and women who are serving us," said Defense Secretary William S. Cohen. "We hear them, we understand what's on their minds and we want to help."
During an interview with the American Forces Information Service, Cohen and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Henry Shelton said feedback they have received from service members on the proposed budget package has been positive and they expect the package will receive strong support in Congress.
The proposed budget is the first increase in defense spending since fiscal 1985. It calls for an additional $12 billion in fiscal 2000.
Budget highlights include a compensation package consisting of a 4.4 percent pay hike effective Jan. 1, 2000, a targeted pay raise to mid-level NCOs and officers effective July 1, 2000, and changing the 1986 Redux retirement system so service members retiring after 20 years of service will receive 50 percent of base pay rather than the current 40 percent.
Cohen said the across-the-board pay raise will start to close the pay gap between the private sector and the military. The targeted pay raise, aimed at those making a career decision, runs from .5 percent to 5.5 percent and is designed to encourage service members with the leadership skills the military needs to stay in. The raises are aimed at rewarding performance and promotion, not simply longevity, he said.
Shelton said a change in the retirement system is necessary because Redux is a "disincentive" to service members making career decisions. About two-thirds of the today's force came into the military after Redux took effect in August 1986. Members who entered the military before then are covered by a system that provides retired pay of 50 percent of base pay after 20 years of service.
"Retirement no longer serves as the incentive it once did," Shelton said. "We want a retirement system that serves as an incentive for service not as a disincentive."
Cohen and Shelton said the budget does more than address compensation. "Soldier, sailors, airmen and Marines ... have told us pay and retirement is a concern, but [they are also concerned about] the operational side," Shelton said.
The fiscal 2000 budget proposal covers a "triad" of concerns, Shelton said. The triad is increasing pay and retirement, increasing the operations and maintenance accounts and modernization. "We want to take care of the core quality of life issues ... but [we need to] also increase the readiness accounts and this budget is designed to do exactly that," he said.
He said increasing operations and maintenance accounts would enable the services to buy more spare parts. Increases will also fund more flying hours, ship steaming days and tank driving miles.
Shelton said the fiscal 2000 budget request also puts DoD on the path to funding future readiness and is line with the $60 billion goal of the Quadrennial Defense Review. He pointed out that not only will modernization provide the latest in technology, but it will allow service members to get back to training instead of spending their time repairing old equipment.
Cohen said the budget also funds two other quality of life factors that concern service members and their families: medical care and housing. While acknowledging that TRICARE, DoD's health care program, has had some problems due to its newness, he said, "funding will be increased, and we are going to cut down the waiting lines, and cut down the time for reimbursements for doctors who are serving our families."
The budget will also encourage public sector-private sector partnerships to solve DoD's housing problems. For every dollar DoD invests in housing, Cohen said, he expects private industry to invest four or five dollars. He said the department needs to involve private industry "because we have quite a backlog of building new housing and renovating old housing."
Shelton acknowledged that while this budget will fix the most critical needs of the department, it does not cover everything. He said the need that is not being completely met is funding for real property maintenance accounts -- such as fixing buidings and repairing utilities.
Shelton said pay and other quality of life initiatives are important but not the only reasons people join and stay in the services. "I think each of us in uniform today understands that we did not come into the service to get rich," he said. "Ours is a calling of service to the nation. We are in the most respected institution in America. I think we have a warrior ethic we need to keep and a calling for greater good."