White House Proposes Cuts in Military Recruiting Budget

By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 11, 2009

Citing the Pentagon's recent success in meeting its manpower needs, the Obama administration is proposing to cut the Defense Department's budget for recruiting by nearly $800 million, or 11 percent, for 2010.

The proposed budget would reverse years of increased spending aimed at bolstering military forces strained by six years of combat in Iraq and nearly eight in Afghanistan. From 2004 to 2008, annual funding for recruiting and retention programs more than doubled, from $3.4 billion to $7.7 billion.

Amid a deep recession that has made the military a more appealing option for job seekers, all the armed services have consistently met or exceeded their recruiting and retention goals in recent months, according to the Pentagon.

"As a result of the services' recent success in maintaining this quality force, such a high level of funding for recruiting and retention is no longer required," the White House said in its budget, released Thursday.

To meet the cuts, the White House said, the military services would have to cap recruiting and retention programs at 2009 levels, lower enlistment and reenlistment bonuses, reduce the advertising budget, and cut the number of recruiters.

Pentagon officials, while acknowledging that weak economic conditions and the dire job market have made it easier to meet recruiting quotas, have cautioned against cutting recruiting and retention programs too severely.

"The challenge for the services will be to avoid budget cuts that will be too large, in the wrong places and taken too quickly," Curtis Gilroy, the Pentagon's accessions policy director, said in a statement before the budget's release.

The Army's budget for bonuses in 2010 would be cut significantly from what the service is tentatively slated to receive in 2009. Funding for reenlistment bonuses for the active-duty force would be reduced to $444 million from $626 million; for enlistment bonuses, to $450 million from $549 million; and for officer bonuses, to $77 million from $134 million.

Lt. Gen. Edgar E. Stanton III, the Army's military deputy for the budget, described the cuts as consistent with the recruiting environment.

"We have this year already reduced the bonuses for retention and recruiting based on the fact that we have a more propitious recruiting environment," Stanton told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday.

The increased pool of recruits has enabled the Army to reverse a decline in standards in recent years and again become more selective, turning away those with criminal records, for example.

But officials caution that the pendulum may swing again in the opposite direction.

In testimony to the House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel in March, Gilroy warned that cuts to recruiting made during previous recessions ended up being costly to the military.

"Historically, when the economy weakens and recruiting and retention became less challenging, these programs have been ripe for cuts," Gilroy said, adding that the reductions caused a "crisis" for the services in the late 1970s as well as problems in the mid-1980s and the late 1990s.

"These lessons from the past showed us that it is easy and quick to cut budgets during times when recruiting and retention are successful," Gilroy warned. "But we also learn from those lessons of the past how difficult and how time-consuming and how expensive it is when we need to ramp up -- when recruiting and retention failed as a result of those budget cuts."

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