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House committee cites ‘unrealistic’ DoD efficiencies

Monday, August 01, 2011

House Appropriations Committee: Some DoD efficiencies ‘unrealistic.’ As AUSA NEWS goes to press, the House Appropriations Committee is marking-up their version of the defense spending bill.

The report that accompanies the spending bill contends that the Pentagon’s proposal to save billions of dollars in the next several years on what it terms efficiencies is "unrealistic."

"While the committee applauds the department’s attempt to reduce costs through efficiencies, the committee finds that the majority of these savings have been taken in the broad categories of better business practices and reorganizations and believes that such savings often times never materialize," the report said.

What the committee also found "troubling" were instances in which underfunding valid requirements were claimed as efficiencies. 

The report said, "For example, the services were directed to underfund base facility sustainment requirements and claim this reduction as infrastructure savings.  In total, the committee has identified $884,700,000 in unrealistic efficiencies. 

"In this instance, the Committee specifically identified the error and restored funding.  The committee urges the secretary of defense to reassess the efficiency savings estimates, restore funding when required, and develop contingency plans to mitigate the effect on operations and readiness if the savings do not materialize."

We are hoping Congress’ attention to DoD’s budget-cutting proposals continue to garner the same attention in the future. 

We were reminded again last week how dangerous it is these days with respect to military benefits. 

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at a recent round table meeting that service members will likely see a cut in their pay and benefits in the next few years. 

He warned against taking the "relatively easy" choice of cutting hardware while maintaining the increasing costs of paying and providing ongoing health care to troops and retirees.  Huh?

Mullen continued by saying savings should be found in pay and benefits costs before cuts to programs and personnel and that these cuts will likely need to be made in the next few years in order "start to generate cash in the out years."

Congress has provided military retiree benefits that exceed civilian ones as an essential offset for the unique demands, harsh conditions, and sacrifices inherent in military service, which far surpass the demands made on civilian workers. 

This offset is necessary because of the harsh conditions of military service that few Americans are willing to accept for even a short time, let alone for 20 to 30 years.

Retirees through service and sacrifice have already paid enormous premiums. 

Additionally, at a time when our military resources are engaged in fighting two wars, our service members are dying on battlefields around the world, and the pay gap is not yet closed, attempts to trim budget shortfalls at the expense of military pay and benefits would appear to be tremendously misguided. 

Imagine the impact on morale that almost flat paychecks would have on soldiers driving on explosives-lined roads in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Budget corrections should not come from military personnel accounts and benefits.  Soldiers count – and to maintain high recruiting and retention rates, we must not cut quality of life benefits.  We owe it to our brave service members who are in harm’s way, not to use their pay and benefits for budget-cutting target practice.

We are tired of hearing the leadership talk about how much the sacrifice the troops make is appreciated and then turn around and try to practice budget-cutting measures on those same troops. 

We recognize this country is confronting real fiscal woes, but using pay and benefits of military personnel to balance the books is a bit too much. 

AUSA will continue to monitor and fight all attempts to cut active and retired military pay and benefits. 

As AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan said, "We will fight to the last man."

Defense authorization bill passes House. The House has passed its version of the Fiscal Year 2012 Defense Authorization Bill by a vote of 322-96. 

The legislation (H.R. 1540) would authorize $690.1 billion for defense programs, including $533 billion for the Defense Department, $119 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and $18 billion for national security programs at the Department of Energy. 

In total, the measure would provide $1 billion more than proposed by the Obama Administration and $35 billion less than currently authorized.

The bill authorizes a 1.6 percent pay raise for military personnel and would restrict the Pentagon from implementing a repeal of the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy that bars gays from serving openly in the military until the chiefs of the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines certify that the change "will not degrade the readiness, effectiveness, cohesion and morale of combat arms units."

Other items included in the final House legislation would:

Designate the chief of the National Guard Bureau as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Allow a service member with a minor dependent (child under the age of 19) to request a deferment of a deployment to a combat zone if their spouse is currently deployed to a combat zone.

Deem members of the armed forces, and DoD civilian employees who were killed or wounded in the Nov. 5, 2009, Fort Hood attack to have been killed or wounded in a combat zone as the result of an action of an enemy of the United States. 

This makes such victims eligible for combat-related benefits, compensation, and awards with the exception of any member of the Armed Forces whose death or injury was the result of willful misconduct.

Expand the Department of Defense state licensure exception to qualified and credentialed DoD health-care professionals, including contractors and civilians, and removes the location requirement to better allow our guard and reserve access to immediate and efficient care.

Transfer the Troops to Teachers Program from the Department of Education to the Department of Defense.

It would also make several changes to the program that would expand eligibility for service members who have served on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001, expand the number of schools eligible to participate in the program, and create an advisory board charged with improving awareness of the program, increasing participation, and ensuring that the program meets the needs of our schools and our veterans.

Allow members of the Individual Ready Reserve who have been called to active duty for at least one year since 9/11/01 to purchase premium-based TRICARE coverage on the same basis as members of the retired reserve. 

Expand retroactive eligibility of the Army Combat Action Badge to include members of the Army who participated in combat during which they personally engaged, or were personally engaged by, the enemy at any time on or after Dec. 7, 1941.

Next Action: As AUSA NEWS goes to press, the Senate Armed Services Committee is marking-up its version of the authorization bill. 

Defense panel questions Army end strength reduction. The Defense Department’s plan to cut 22,000 active duty soldiers by the end of 2013 and a combined 27,000 in 2015 and 2106 was questioned by members of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee at a recent hearing.

Senators expressed their concern that decreasing the number of soldiers could further burden those who continue to serve and could threaten the ability to allow sufficient time at home between deployments. 

A report released last year by a congressionally-mandated task force on military suicides cited the "heightened operational tempo, repeated deployments and insufficient quantity and quality of dwell time" as contributing factors to high suicide rates in the military.

Soldiers now have on average 18 months at home for every year deployed.  While this is a marked improvement from a few years ago, the Army is trying to increase the ratio to nine months fighting with 27 months of so-called dwell time.

Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, chairman of both the Appropriations Committee and its Defense Subcommittee asked hearing witnesses Army Secretary John McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey if they thought the Defense Department plan to reduce the Army’s end strength was sound.

McHugh said he thought the plan was reasonable. 

"The temporary end strength – the 22,000 – was something that we always assumed would be coming down in the near term rather than the far term," he said.

Dempsey agreed that the plan was reasonable. 

However, both said the plan to further cut the troops by 27,000 in 2015 and 2106 was "condition-based." 

"Like any plan it’s based on some assumptions, and if those assumptions play out then the plan will be prudent.  If the assumptions are changed in any way then we would have to come back and readdress them," Dempsey said.

He added, "We also want to look not just at this immediate challenge but we want to look beyond and determine what does the nation need of its Army notionally in 2020 and make sure that these changes are building toward that Army so that we don’t end up making these adjustments on an annual basis."

Maryland Democrat Sen. Barbara Mikulski also questioned McHugh and Dempsey about the planned reduction, but her focus was the effect it would have on soldiers. 

"I’m apprehensive that maybe we’re going to need a larger standing army to not only meet unintended things in the world, but that we have no elasticity anymore.  So, one, what are you doing for the unexpected?   Would you caution Congress to think twice before we shoot off our mouth while they’re asking you to shoot off the guns?"  

McHugh replied, ‘I think you point out very accurately the challenge we all have as we make very important decisions in this ‘12 budget and then the years that follow on.  I think the issues of stress on the force and suicides are more complex than a silver bullet. 

"It – the answers aren’t going to be like turning on a light in a dark room; it’s going to be more like lifting the shade slowly.  We know without any doubt that one of the key drivers of these challenges is the very short time that troops have had over the last decade at home. 

"And depending what kind of job you had, most of these troops were coming home for a year, then going back out for a year.  Some of them in certain high-demand, low-density MOSs were getting less than a year at home for a year of deployment.  And one of the things we’ve done and concentrated on is to stretch that out. 

"And because in large measure of the drawdown in Iraq, we’re now at about, on average, about one year deployed and about 1.6 years back home.  We think, at a minimum, we need to have two years.