Skip Navigation

Close and don't show again.

Your browser is out of date.

You may not get the full experience here on National Journal.

Please upgrade your browser to any of the following supported browsers:

Security Insiders: Congress Will Refuse Pentagon's Calls for Personnel-Cost Reforms Security Insiders: Congress Will Refuse Pentagon's Calls for Personnel...

This ad will end in seconds
 
Close X

Not a member? Learn More »

Forget Your Password?

Don't have an account? Register »

Reveal Navigation
 

 

National Security Insiders Poll

Security Insiders: Congress Will Refuse Pentagon's Calls for Personnel-Cost Reforms

Congress's scramble to undo the $6 billion in military pension cuts is a sign.

Cadets at the United States Military Academy assemble for a graduation and commissioning ceremony May 26, 2012 in West Point, N.Y.(Lee Celano/Getty Images)

photo of Sara Sorcher
February 5, 2014

A strong majority of National Journal's National Security Insiders say the scramble in Congress to undo the $6 billion in military pension cuts is a sign lawmakers will refuse to heed the Pentagon's calls for broader reforms to rising personnel costs.

Congress's December budget deal included more than $6 billion in cuts to military benefits, but they've been scrambling to reverse the cuts ever since. But there's a broader war on the horizon between the Pentagon and Congress over personnel costs.

 

The Pentagon is calling for an overhaul in military pay and benefits in the coming years—after significant increases during more than a decade of war—since they threaten to usurp other key priorities in the defense budget during austere times, including weapons systems and training for combat troops.

Congress, however, is already signaling it may refuse to listen, 80 percent of National Journal's pool of defense experts said.

"The fact that Congress broached this topic at all during the Murray-Ryan budget negotiations is reason for optimism," one Insider said. "But the speed and vigor with which interest groups opposed the package—and coaxed lawmakers to push to stop cuts—is a sign that real reform is still unlikely."

"It is a third rail," another Insider agreed.

Many Insiders voiced their frustration with Congress's reluctance to make changes to the system. "Congress is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. After passing the budget bill with the COLA reduction, they are now caving to pressure from a veterans groups who represent a minority of all troops," one Insider said. Another added: "When will Congress wake up to the reality of their refusal to choose readiness and modernization over compensation?"

Personnel-cost reform is a complicated issue, and a special commission is due to recommend changes by February 2015—and some Insiders said Congress would be reluctant to make changes until then.

"It depends on the individual member of Congress, but most won't take the time to study the DOD personnel-cost issue with the thoroughness needed to come up with reforms that would ensure some balance between personnel and operational costs in the DOD budget," one Insider said. "[Some] members see the $6 billion cuts passed in December as a breach of faith with our veterans. Meaningful military-pension reform would require a change to the military retirement system, as well as the personnel (promotion and retention) system. Congress probably does not have the appetite to properly address the issue in an election year."

Inaction could have tough consequences for the military, Insiders said.

"Congress has absolutely zero interest in taking on any military-entitlement reforms or to close any excess bases/facilities. Combined with their refusal to pare back old weapons systems such as A-10, M-1 tank production, or outdated Global Hawks as well as their insistence on making radical sequestration reductions to the defense budget topline, the Congress is now the biggest obstacle to a leaner, more modern, more efficient military," one Insider said.

"This will ultimately encourage and embolden bad actors around the world as they see a hollow, outdated force emerge post-sequestration. Congress should either pay for the bloat and inefficiencies they mandate, or allow the military to accept risk in their professional judgment."

A 20 percent minority said lawmakers might make broader reforms later. "Reforming personnel costs for service members and future retirees is far different than breaking ranks with current retirees," one Insider said. "The budget deal was a cheap shot at a group that lacks enough political clout to fight back."

The backlash now, another Insider said, "shows they're going to do a lot of posturing on the issue, but the numbers don't give them much wiggle room."

Personnel-cost reductions present "too lucrative a target for politicians to ignore," an Insider explained. The commission charged with overhauling military compensation, the Insider added, "will likely give them the political top cover required to make broader changes."

1. Lawmakers want to undo the $6 billion in cuts to military pensions sealed in the budget deal passed in December. Is this a sign members of Congress will refuse to heed the Pentagon's calls for broader reforms to personnel costs?

(61 votes)

  • Yes 80%
  • No 20%

Yes

"It's an election year. Enough said."

"Political expediency is always in tension with good government to some degree. Veterans benefits are just one example, along with farm subsidies and other entitlement programs."

"Congress is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. After passing the budget bill with the COLA reduction, they are now caving to pressure from a veterans groups who represent a minority of all troops.

"When will Congress wake up to the reality of their refusal to choose readiness and modernization over compensation?"

"Congress has absolutely zero interest in taking on any military entitlement reforms or to close any excess bases/facilities. Combined with their refusal to pare back old weapons systems such as A-10, M-1 tank production, or outdated Global Hawks as well as their insistence on making radical sequestration reductions to the defense budget topline, the Congress is now the biggest obstacle to a leaner, more modern, more efficient military. This will ultimately encourage and embolden bad actors around the world as they see a hollow, outdated force emerge post-sequestration. Congress should either pay for the bloat and inefficiencies they mandate, or allow the military to accept risk in their professional judgment."

"It depends on the individual member of Congress, but most won't take the time to study the DOD personnel-cost issue with the thoroughness needed to come up with reforms that would ensure some balance between personnel and operational costs in the DOD budget. Other members see the $6 billion cuts passed in December as a breach of faith with our veterans. Meaningful military pension reform would require a change to the military retirement system, as well as the personnel (promotion and retention) system. Congress probably does not have the appetite to properly address the issue in an election year."

"Congress will be reluctant to make major changes in military-compensation policy until the report of a congressionally chartered independent commission makes its recommendations, due in February 2015."

"The fact that Congress broached this topic at all during the Murray-Ryan budget negotiations is reason for optimism. But the speed and vigor with which interest groups opposed package—and coaxed lawmakers to push to stop cuts—is a sign that real reform is still unlikely."

No

"They can't avoid it. They need to have a better story and less insensitive rollout. This has to be done. Means-test senior officers on health care payments."

"Not necessarily. The Military Compensation and Retirement Commission reports a year from now. That, and the ongoing squeeze on modernization, might have an impact on congressional thinking."

"The pension cut involves the specific issue of the government reneging on its side of a deal after service members have fulfilled all of their side. Many other changes to personnel costs could be made without raising that issue."

"Not necessarily. The backpedaling on the modest military-pension reforms demonstrates the difficulties of any significant budget cuts or reform—there is always going to be a vocal constituency that makes the politics tough."

"Personnel-cost reductions present too lucrative a target for politicians to ignore. The current presidential commission on military compensation will likely give them the political top cover required to make broader changes. The national defense lobby is now too weak to resist much and will save their powder for industrial base constituencies."

"This was a last-minute addition, and was not given enough thought—poor staff work more than trying to send a message."

"Not all lawmakers want to undo it. We're only really hearing from those with a significant number of military constituents right now."

"This is a sign that Congress wants think through the unintended consequences of knee-jerk legislation such as that found in the Bipartisan Budget Act regarding military retirees. Also, this means Congress wants to take a comprehensive approach rather than the piecemeal nature of the BBA."

National Journal's National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of more than 100 defense and foreign policy experts. They include: Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, Graham Allison, James Bamford, David Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Marion Blakey, Kit Bond, Stuart Bowen, Paula Broadwell, Mike Breen, Mark Brunner, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Wendy Chamberlin, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Lorne Craner, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Robert Danin, Richard Danzig, Daniel Drezner, Mackenzie Eaglen, Paul Eaton, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Stephen Ganyard, Daniel Goure, Mark Green, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Todd Harrison, John Hamre, Jim Harper, Marty Hauser, Michael Hayden, Michael Herson, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Linda Hudson, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Donald Kerrick, Rachel Kleinfeld, Lawrence Korb, David Kramer, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, James Lindsay, Justin Logan, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Ronald Marks, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Michael Morell, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kevin Nealer, Michael Oates, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Larry Prior, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Frank Ruggiero, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Matthew Sherman, Jennifer Sims, Suzanne Spaulding, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Ted Stroup, Guy Swan, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Richard Wilhelm, Tamara Wittes, Dov Zakheim, and Juan Zarate.

Job Board
Search Jobs
Biomedical Service Internship Position
American Society of Civil Engineers | Flint, MI
Fire Sprinkler Inspector
American Society of Civil Engineers | Charlotte, NC
Professional Development Program Engineer
American Society of Civil Engineers | Farmington Hills, MI
Deputy Director of Transit Operations
American Society of Civil Engineers | San Jose, CA
Transportation Planner
American Society of Civil Engineers | Salinas, CA
Assistant Professor - Water Resources/Ecological Engineering
American Society of Civil Engineers | Auburn, AL
Product Manager - Chemical Development and Supply - Tulsa, OK
American Society of Civil Engineers | Tulsa, OK
Commissioning Intern
American Society of Civil Engineers | Chicago, IL
Assessment and Remediation Team Lead
American Society of Civil Engineers | Regina, SK
Business Development Manager
American Society of Civil Engineers
Sr. Controls Systems Engineer
American Society of Civil Engineers | Grand Island, NE
Senior Project Manager- Transportation
American Society of Civil Engineers | San Antonio, TX
Materials Engineer 2
American Society of Civil Engineers | IL
Land Surveyor
American Society of Civil Engineers
Quality Engineer
American Society of Civil Engineers | Attica, IN
 
Comments
comments powered by Disqus