Dempsey mentioned reform of military pay and benefits at the end of a list he described as “unpopular but unavoidable institutional reforms that will be necessary.”
Other items: “Excess equipment . . . excess facilities . . . how we buy weapons and services . . . redundancy [among the services].”
Without some basic change in U.S. politics, I don’t believe Congress and the White House will agree on solutions that would reform anything on Dempsey’s list.
The country can’t afford to continue kicking tough decisions down the road, but Congress always seems to find a way.
Take the compensation issue as an example. Fourteen months ago, discussing the rising cost for personnel during a briefing on the fiscal 2013 budget, Pentagon comptroller Robert Hale said, “It’s up 90 percent since 2001 — that’s the pay and benefits — and makes up about a third of our budget.”
What did Congress do? It prohibited almost all of the White House’s budget requests to modestly raise health-care fees for working retirees as a way to reduce the growth of military health care. Instead, lawmakers agreed that a review of military compensation was needed.
Setting up a commission to study a problem for a year or two has become standard procedure in Washington, a way to avoid taking tough steps that might cost legislators some votes.
Enter the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, set up in the fiscal 2013 Defense Authorization Act signed by President Obama on Jan. 2.
The law specified there are to be nine members. The Senate majority and minority leaders each appoint two, as do the speaker and House minority leader. All are to do so in consultation with chairmen and ranking minority members of the Armed Services committees.
Obama is to pick one member and appoint as chairman a commissioner who “has expertise in the military compensation and retirement systems.”
To head off conflicts, the law forbids membership to anyone “who, within the preceding year, has been employed by a veterans service organization or military-related advocacy group or association.”
The law even specified the expertise and experience to be considered, including familiarity with civilian and military compensation and retirement programs; active and reserve service, both enlisted and officer; and “experience as a spouse of a member of the uniformed services.”
Since many such panels drag on for years, Congress set a firm schedule.
●The commission was to be established on “the first day of the first month beginning on or after the date of the enactment of this Act,” the law says. Members have to be appointed “not later than four months after the commission establishment date.”
●“Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act,” the General Services Administration is to provide the panel with office space. The defense bill authorized that up to $10 million from fiscal 2013 appropriations “shall be made available to the Commission to carry out its duties.”