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DoD gets fiscal breathing room; sequester remains; furloughs shortened

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Spending bill clears Congress. Government shutdown averted. Congress cleared a spending package that not only averted a government shutdown, it also gave the Defense Department some fiscal breathing room.

What was not averted was the sequester.

It will remove an equal amount from every non-exempt program.

The bill funds most of the government through a continuation of the current continuing resolution, but also included full defense and military construction-VA bills that have adjusted spending levels for programs in order to protect high-priority programs and better manage the sequester.

Among the provisions in the bill are those that:

Prohibit the Pentagon from collecting new enrollment fees for TRICARE beneficiaries;

Prohibit DoD from spending funds on a new commission to identify the next round of potential base closures;

Appropriate $1.5 billion in unrequested funds for National Guard and reserve component equipment;

Provide funding for an across-the-board 1.7 percent pay increase for military personnel;

Set a ceiling on the number of active duty military personnel at 552,100 for the Army (9,900 less than the current level);

Propose that the size of the active duty Army be reduced by 72,000 between FY 2012 and FY 2017;

Provide $2.9 billion for Defense Department dependent schools; and,

Provide $40 million for impact aid and $5 million for impact aid for children with disabilities.

President Obama signed the legislation on March 26.

Civilian furloughs shortened. After analyzing the impact of the continuing resolution legislation on the department’s resources, it was decided that most of DoD’s civilian workforce would be furloughed for one day a week beginning in mid-to-late June for 14 days.

The number of furlough days was shortened from 22.

AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., is not happy about the way federal civilians are being yanked around.

He feels they are being demonized as a too highly paid, unnecessarily large work force, and is seen by many as a convenient cost containment target whose pay has been frozen by Congress for the last several years and who now face furloughs.

"Our federal civilian work force soldiers on – without pay raises and with the enormous uncertainty that the potential furlough action brings to their already frozen pay checks. In addition to the immediate financial impact on the civilian work force, the possible furlough action has impact on military readiness, on medical care (many physicians in military hospitals are civilians), on lost spending when exchanges and commissaries are closed which then impacts the vendors who sell less to military customers and cut their work forces because of reduced demand," Sullivan said.

AUSA urges the Department of Defense to carefully consider the myriad effects of civilian furloughs on a talented and dedicated group of people as well as the nation writ large before it moves forward.

New legislation spotlight. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., has introduced AUSA-supported legislation that would permit retired members of the uniformed services who have a service-connected disability rated less than 50 percent to receive full concurrent receipt of both retired pay and veterans’ disability compensation, including Chapter 61 disability retirees with less than 20 years of service.

Concurrent receipt refers to disabled service members who, in order to receive veterans compensation for injury or disease incurred while protecting our nation, must give up part of their retirement pay.

Getting Congress to allow the concurrent receipt of these two very different compensation elements, earned by disabled veterans who might well have died during their service, would seem to be a no-brainer.

However, year after year, despite strong support from some in Congress, we are stymied in our efforts.

Although we have made some progress, we have not achieved full concurrent receipt.

We are hoping that this is the year and we thank Reid for introducing this important legislation.