18 March 2013 Legislative News Update 

3/18/2013 

Legislative News is AUSA Government Affairs Directorate's
weekly electronic newsletter, and is published
every Monday when Congress is in session.




In this issue:

  • AUSA On The Hill
  • Tuition Assistance Cancelled
  • Budget Cuts & the Impact on the Army

★★★
 

AUSA ON THE HILL

As part of AUSA’s support for its Guard and Reserve membership, last week, Government Affairs Director Bill Loper attended a House Guard and Reserve Caucus breakfast meeting and a military manpower and force structure briefing sponsored by the same caucus.  

The briefing touched on a Reserve Forces Policy Board report that focused on eliminating gaps in the Defense Department data bank on the fully burdened and life cycle cost of military personnel.  At the breakfast, reserve component leaders from the services also briefed the attending members of Congress on issues impacting the reserve components.  Member of Congress in attendance included Caucus co-chairs Reps. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and Tim Walz, D-Minn., as well as Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, Madeleine Bordallo,D-Guam, Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, Joe Wilson, R-S.C., Steve Palazzo, R-Miss., and Paul Cook, R-Calif.  

Later in the week as part of AUSA’s outreach to new members on the Hill, AUSA Vice President Lt. Gen. Guy Swan, USA, Ret., and Loper met with Reps. Gabbard and Tom Cotton, R-Ark.  Both are Army veterans.  

Rep. Gabbard is a currently serving captain in the Hawaii Army National Guard who voluntarily deployed to Iraq and later to Kuwait.  She was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal during Operation Iraqi Freedom, was the first female distinguished honor graduate at Fort McClellan’s officer candidate school, and was the first woman to receive an award of appreciation from the Kuwaiti military.  

Rep. Cotton, after completing Harvard Law School, declined a JAG commission and instead went to officer candidate school to become an Infantry platoon leader who served combat tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  He holds the Bronze Star Medal, the Combat infantryman Badge and the Ranger Tab.  He also served in the Old Guard.

AUSA welcomes these Army veterans and looks forward to working closely with them on issues that affect our members and the Army.

TUITION ASSISTANCE CANCELLED

New enrollment in tuition assistance (TA) for service members was abruptly cancelled  by the Army as part of its efforts to manage severe budget cuts mandated by Congress in the Budget Control Act of 2011.

In response to the announcement, AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., said, "This loss in financial support that is necessary for our soldiers to pursue educational courses to improve themselves – personally and professionally --during their off-duty time while in the service or as they transition to the civilian sector during troop cutbacks is a blow to the morale of our all-volunteer force."   

While not directly affecting those now enrolled in approved TA courses, depriving many soldiers who wish to begin charting a self-improvement, educational goal to grow and improve themselves, especially our men and women who are or have been downrange and our wounded warriors is, said a brigade commander, a “significant morale killer.” 

Command Sgt.Maj. Jimmie Spencer, USA, Ret., AUSA’s Director of Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier Programs issued a statement that said, in part, “I understand that we are at war and that is our number one priority, but putting TA (tuition assistance) on hold is painful.  

“We at AUSA are in the process of gathering information to develop a way to soften the blow.  The budget shortfall is the problem and this situation is not likely to improve anytime soon.  So we must start thinking ‘outside the box.’”

It was Congress’ actions that dealt the budget-cutting hand to the Army.  Now they are seeking ways to soften the blow the tuition assistance cancellation will have on the force.

As the Senate resumes consideration of the continuing resolution to fund the government through the rest of fiscal 2013, Sens. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., will offer an AUSA-supported amendment that would simply bar reductions to the funding for tuition assistance.  

It remains to be seen whether or not the amendment will be adopted.  Even if it is, the House version of the bill did not include similar language so the matter would have to be decided in a conference committee that will reconcile the two versions of the bill.  

BUDGET CUTS AND THE IMPACT ON THE ARMY

The impact of budget cuts on military personnel and family support programs was the focus of a hearing held last week by the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee.

In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson acknowledged the difficulty the military services are having managing their programs while operating under a continuing resolution instead of a regular budget.  He and Rep. Susan Davis, the Subcommittee’s ranking member are particularly concerned about the impact possible civilian furloughs will have on critical programs and functions.

Jessica Wright, DoD’s Acting Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness confirmed that civilian workers are facing 22 days of furloughs beginning in late April through September.  She said that the unpaid days off amount to a 20 percent reduction in pay and would also impact economically on the communities in which they live.  

While military pay is protected, “our military personnel will receive reduced training leading to diminishing readiness and ultimately diminishing morale,” Wright said.

The Army’s personnel chief, Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg touched on several programs that could be impacted such as “child abuse prevention, intervention programs and other family advocacy programs, support to families with children with special needs, resiliency training that assists soldiers and families in building stronger relationships, post recreation centers -- bowling alleys, libraries.” 

Bromberg also said that because of civilian furloughs, the Army estimates that it will have to close military entrance processing stations down one day a week.  Since the Army is the executive agent for this function, it affects all services and could mean that ten to fourteen thousand less recruits would be processed across the services.  

Dr. Jonathan Woodson, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs also discussed how the furloughs could impact health care.  “Forty percent of our military medical centers are staffed by civilians, and as a result of the furlough program, access may be impacted.”  He also said that military medical facility maintenance and needed restoration and modernization projects would take a hit.

When asked about the Army’s cancellation of tuition assistance, Bromberg said “It is just a sheer matter of prioritization.  It's been a very good program for many, many years.  But for us, $383 million, is that the right amount?  We're going to go back and relook at the program. Should we -- how do we prioritize it?  He continued, “I think we can probably take at least $115 million in savings in this program and still turn some back on, but probably not to the same extent that we have it today.”

It is expected that this hearing will be the first of many on the impact of the budget cuts.