29 January 2014 Legislative News Update
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
- Chief of Staff: Army is Not Standing Still
AUSA ON THE HILL
AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., testified this week before the full Senate Armed Services Committee on the under-62 military retiree Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) cut and on military retirement compensation in general.
In his statement to the committee, Sullivan expressed his appreciation that Congress removed much of the burden of sequestration from the Department of Defense with the passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. However, he stated his displeasure with the late addition of the COLA cap in the budget agreement, especially since he and this Association had been repeatedly assured by the Administration, Congress and the Department of Defense that any changes to the military pay and compensation system would be carefully considered and would not include the current force or current retirees.
Sullivan said that the COLA cut “breaks faith with those who have served their nation for 20 years and with those who will retire in the future, who until now had the expectation that their retirement would keep pace with current economic conditions.”
He also urged that the congressionally-created Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC), tasked with reviewing potential changes to the military retirement system, be allowed to do its job and not be preempted by legislation that affects the current force and current retirees.
We were encouraged by remarks made by members of the committee and the witnesses testifying on behalf of the Defense Department. Christine Fox, Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense and Admiral James Winnefeld, Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff told the committee members that the Department was not consulted before the provision was added to the budget bill and that they would like to see it fixed as soon as possible. The committee agreed.
Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., kicked off the hearing by saying that he was against the cut. However, he also said that the differences over finding an offset to pay for the repeal “highlight the challenges and opportunities” in repealing the provision.
Nonetheless, Levin said he believes “we must find a way to repeal it, and I predict that we will.” He stressed that he believes Congress must repeal the provision sooner rather than later to “clear the air” on the issue.
Gen. Sullivan’s bottom line to the Committee regarding the COLA cut and ALL other proposals being thrown out: “I am troubled when I hear arguments that "we are paying the troops too much" and that this is the reason we have to cut back on the training, readiness, and modernization of the force. At the end of the day "the force" IS people - high quality, dedicated, and smart people. They are not the problem, but the message they hear is that they are somehow contributing to unreadiness just by their mere presence. We must change this narrative.
“America can afford the defense it needs; it is simply a question of priorities. Shifting the burden of the nation’s fiscal troubles onto the backs those sworn to defend all of us - and their families - is unnecessary and, in my opinion, wrong.”
CHIEF OF STAFF: ARMY IS NOT STANDING STILL
Along with top Army leaders and members of the defense industry, key congressional staff members heard “A State of the Army” message from the Chief of Staff at AUSA’s Institute of Land Warfare Breakfast last week.
Gen. Raymond Odierno’s message was clear - The Army "is not standing still ... the Army is doing many, many, many things in order to shape the future environment and prevent conflicts around the world. He said that contrary to what many people may think, the Army has been doing anything but slowing down and becoming stagnant, despite cash flow and end-strength issues.
"We have forces that are tailored and scaled, that are conducting operations, training, building partner capacity in many parts of the world and that's what we'll continue to do ... and, oh, by the way, we still have about 30,000 Soldiers in Afghanistan; we still have another 20,000 in other places in the Middle East; and, we have Soldiers in Turkey," Odierno said. "And, we've deployed our air defense capability to Guam in response to North Korea, and what a lot of people don't know is I have a battalion commander and about 50 Soldiers at the embassy in South Sudan, and they've been there now for several weeks."
Odierno said his number-one priority and something the Army had to stay out in front of was leader development because information travels so quickly that it gets pushed down to lower and lower levels.
The chief also said a globally responsive Army of the future must be leaner, smaller, tailorable, scalable and gets back to the expeditionary mindset -- "our command and control systems are too heavy today."
"We have to be able to deploy very quickly, get there in small packages and then potentially build on them, and we have to get there with the least amount of support necessary," he said. "We have to be able to go to remote areas anywhere in the world while building on our advantage of tactical operations strategic ability."
With regards to the Army’s modernization strategy, Odierno said, “Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, "our modernization strategy is going to be a bit delayed. "We're not going to be able to do everything we wanted to do, but what we do must be affordable, versatile and tailorable."