We record the monthly teleconferences and post on www.fra.org under Member News (follow the link to the right when you login to the site) for those who are unable to attend at the designated time.
We’re pleased that staff members from the Great Lakes Naval Museum will be our featured guest for this month’s “Your Voice” teleconference. The call begins at noon (EDT) on Wednesday, July 13th, and will highlight the 100th anniversary of Naval Station Great Lakes. To take part, dial 1-800-391-1709 and use bridge number 444143.
Eileen Murphy is the Director of Marketing and Communications and serves as the Managing Editor of FRA Today. Please contact her at email@example.com.
Return to Table of Contents NED update: Dismal Pay and Benefits Outlook Prior to stepping down from his position at the end of June, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates spoke at several high-profile events, highlighting a variety of issues that relate to FRA’s work on behalf of our members. Perhaps the most important message he delivered related to the difficult budget environment and the outlook for the future. He summarized efforts to curb current and future defense spending implemented during his tenure in office, and reiterated the importance of maintaining a strong and capable force to defend this nation.
During his final major policy speech at the American Enterprise Institute on May 24, 2011, Gates said, “The defense budget, however large it may be, is not the cause of this country’s fiscal woes. However, as a matter of simple arithmetic and political reality, the Department of Defense must be at least part of the solution.” He also stated that “Defense expenditures are currently a lower share of GDP than most of the last half century and a much lower percentage than during previous major wars” — something consistently referenced in FRA’s Congressional testimony. He also cautioned that “we are not likely to return to Cold War levels of defense expenditures, at least as a share of national wealth, anytime soon.” In his view, this is because the world and our country is much different than during that era.
Regarding modernization, Gates believes “those weapons and other programs considered most questionable have not only been plucked, they have been stomped on and crushed.” He also cited the need among other priorities to build more ships and, at some point, replace our ballistic missile submarines, adding that “sustaining the ‘tooth’ part of the budget — the weapons and the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who use them — is increasingly difficult given the massive growth of other components of the defense budget, the ‘tail,’ if-you-will — operations, maintenance, pay and benefit and other forms of overhead.” In conjunction with a recently launched comprehensive review focused on department priorities, strategy and risks, he announced that part of the associated analysis for this study will entail “going places that have been avoided” in the past, including:
Re-examining military compensation levels — since all the services have consistently exceeded recruiting and retention goals;
Taking a look at the rigid, one-size-fits-all approach to retirement, pay and pensions left over from the last century — noting that a more tiered and targeted system weighted toward high-demand and dangerous specialties could bring down costs while attracting and retaining high-quality personnel;
Doing something about spiraling health care costs — particularly for working-age retirees whose premiums and fees are one-tenth those paid by federal civilians.
These are not new issues, however the outlook for major changes to these and other benefit programs has shifted in light of the increasingly complex budget environment in 2012 and beyond. It’s unclear what incoming Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s views on these issues will be; however, it’s apparent that pressure to cut spending on all defense programs will grow more intense in the future.
As a final note on the budget outlook, negotiations on spending cuts in connection with an increase in the federal debt limit involve possible changes to federal civilian retirement program contributions, extending the multi-year average of highest annual pay from three years to five years in calculating retired pay, and significantly reducing the federal work force by 10 percent by 2015. Although these initiatives, if adopted, would not directly impact military pay and benefits, there is a long-standing link between civilian and military benefits. It’s easy to envision some of these proposals eventually being targeted at benefits for members of the uniformed services.
Stay tuned and don’t forget the importance and strength of grassroots communications with elected officials — especially your U.S. Representatives and Senators.
Joe Barnes is FRA’s National Executive Director and Chairman of the National Committee on Legislative Service and a member of the Special Committee on Future Strategic Planning. A member of Navy Department Branch 181, he is also an advisor to the National Committees on Budget and Finance and Membership and Retention.
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