House OKs 1.8 Percent Pay Raise for Troops, Officer Pay Freeze

The legislation rejects the Pentagon’s request for a round base closures starting in 2017.

US soldier, Specialist Joshua Schonert from 1st Platoon, Charlie Company, 2-87 Infantry, 3d Brigade Combat Team under Afghanistan's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) lights a cigarette as he prepares for the day following earlier attacks by Taliban insurgents on their checkpoint in Kandalay village, Kandahar province southern Afghanistan on August 5, 2011. US troops together with forces from Afghan National Army repelled Taliban insurgents attacks on the checkpoint protecting the western area of Kandalay village. Since the checkpoint was set up in August 3, 2011, Taliban have staged attacks on the outpost for two consecutive days. AFP PHOTO / ROMEO GACAD (Photo credit should read ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
Kellie Lunney, Government Executive
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Kellie Lunney, Government Executive
May 22, 2014, 12:23 p.m.

The House passed le­gis­la­tion Thursday that ta­citly ap­proves a 1.8 per­cent pay raise for mil­it­ary ser­vice mem­bers next year, and in­cludes a num­ber of oth­er pay, be­ne­fits and work­force pro­vi­sions.

The cham­ber ap­proved the fisc­al 2015 Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act by a vote of 325-98 be­fore the start of the Me­mori­al Day hol­i­day week­end. The 1.8 per­cent pay bump for troops is in line with the auto­mat­ic fisc­al 2015 cost-of-liv­ing ad­just­ment sched­uled for the mil­it­ary; there is not an ex­pli­cit pro­vi­sion re­gard­ing a pay raise in the le­gis­la­tion, but by stay­ing si­lent, law­makers are sup­port­ing the amount that would auto­mat­ic­ally take place un­der the law.

The fig­ure is more than Pres­id­ent Obama’s pro­posed 1 per­cent pay raise for next year — the same amount that he has re­com­men­ded for fed­er­al ci­vil­ians.

The for­mula for de­term­in­ing ser­vice mem­bers’ an­nu­al pay in­crease is based on the Bur­eau of Labor Stat­ist­ics’ Em­ploy­ment Cost In­dex and the growth in private-sec­tor wages. But un­der the law ( Title 37, Chapter 19, Sec­tion 1009) the pres­id­ent has the au­thor­ity to set an al­tern­ate pay raise for mil­it­ary per­son­nel, cit­ing a na­tion­al emer­gency or fisc­al con­cerns, if Con­gress doesn’t pass le­gis­la­tion ad­just­ing the amount or can­celing it. The 1990 Fed­er­al Em­ploy­ees Pay Com­par­ab­il­ity Act al­lows the pres­id­ent through ex­ec­ut­ive or­der to set a pay raise for fed­er­al ci­vil­ian em­ploy­ees un­der the same cir­cum­stances.

The De­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion bill also calls for a pay freeze for gen­er­al and flag of­ficers in fisc­al 2015, as re­com­men­ded by Obama. That’s pretty much where agree­ment ends between Obama and the Re­pub­lic­an-led House, however. In ad­di­tion to the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sug­ges­ted 1 per­cent pay raise — the same amount troops re­ceived in fisc­al 2014 — Obama has pro­posed a smal­ler in­crease for troops’ ba­sic hous­ing al­low­ance and sig­ni­fic­ant cuts to mil­it­ary com­mis­sar­ies, the heav­ily-sub­sid­ized stores on base where ser­vice mem­bers and their fam­il­ies buy food and oth­er goods. In his fisc­al 2014 budget, Obama pitched a 4.2 per­cent hous­ing sub­sidy in­crease — and ser­vice mem­bers ul­ti­mately re­ceived an av­er­age bump of 5 per­cent from Con­gress. Law­makers on Thursday ap­proved an amend­ment that pro­hib­its De­fense from us­ing funds to close com­mis­sary stores.

House mem­bers on Wed­nes­day and Thursday con­sidered 162 amend­ments to the massive bill, most of which were ad­op­ted by voice vote, in­clud­ing one that ex­tends for an­oth­er five years agen­cies’ au­thor­ity to re-hire fed­er­al re­tir­ees without a salary off­set. That au­thor­ity, ap­proved in the fisc­al 2010 De­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion law, was set to ex­pire in Oc­to­ber. It al­lows agen­cies to by­pass a bur­den­some ad­min­is­trat­ive pro­cess to re-em­ploy re­tir­ees for a lim­ited time, on a part-time basis, to ful­fill crit­ic­al job needs. Without the waiver, the salary of the re-em­ployed re­tir­ees typ­ic­ally is off­set by the amount of their an­nu­ity.

“Bring­ing back ex­per­i­enced former em­ploy­ees means there are few­er gaps in the know­ledge and skills ne­ces­sary for agen­cies to per­form well,” said Joseph Beau­doin, pres­id­ent of the Na­tion­al Act­ive and Re­tired Fed­er­al Em­ploy­ees As­so­ci­ation, in a let­ter to mem­bers of the House Rules Com­mit­tee. “Ex­per­i­ence with its use over the last five years has shown that the au­thor­ity has not been ab­used, and has, in fact, provided agen­cies with ad­di­tion­al, valu­able flex­ib­il­ity.”

An­oth­er amend­ment in­cluded in the bill would pro­hib­it non-dis­cip­lin­ary fur­loughs of De­fense De­part­ment ci­vil­ians em­ployed by a work­ing cap­it­al fund un­less there isn’t enough money to sup­port the work­force, or the sec­ret­ary “cer­ti­fies that none of the work that would have been per­formed by those fur­loughed would be shif­ted to oth­er DoD ci­vil­ian em­ploy­ees, con­tract­ors, or mem­bers of the Armed Ser­vices.” This be­came an is­sue last sum­mer when the de­part­ment fur­loughed em­ploy­ees be­cause of se­quest­ra­tion. At the time, law­makers ques­tioned wheth­er the de­part­ment could leg­ally fur­lough work­ing cap­it­al fund em­ploy­ees since their units do not op­er­ate on dir­ect fund­ing from Con­gress; the Pentagon as­ser­ted at the time that it has the au­thor­ity to fur­lough those em­ploy­ees.

De­fense has five work­ing cap­it­al funds, which are re­volving funds fin­an­cing op­er­a­tions that the de­part­ment runs like a busi­ness, such as weapons pro­duc­tion and de­pot main­ten­ance. Sales rev­en­ue from cus­tom­ers sus­tains the re­volving funds rather than dir­ect con­gres­sion­al ap­pro­pri­ations. The de­part­ment’s WCFs are de­signed to break even over time, not make a profit. About 180,000 ci­vil­ians work in WCF units na­tion­wide.

The De­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion bill re­jec­ted the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­posed re­duc­tions to TRI­CARE, the De­fense De­part­ment’s health care pro­gram. Obama’s fisc­al 2015 budget would im­ple­ment an­nu­al en­roll­ment fees for the Medi­care-eli­gible re­tir­ees in the TRI­CARE for Life pro­gram, phased in over a four-year peri­od. Cur­rent par­ti­cipants would be grand­fathered in, and not sub­ject to the fees. The White House also wants to in­crease phar­macy pre­scrip­tion co-pay­ments for all act­ive-duty and mil­it­ary re­tir­ees to “in­centiv­ize” the use of mail or­der and gen­er­ic drugs, which cost less.

The bill also jet­tisoned the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­pos­al to ex­ecute an­oth­er round of base clos­ures. “The com­mit­tee is con­cerned that ef­fi­cien­cies as­so­ci­ated with the BRAC pro­cess are off­set with the in­ab­il­ity to quickly dis­pose of ex­cess prop­erty and the po­ten­tial lack of over­all sav­ings to the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment,” the com­mit­tee re­port said. “For ex­ample, there are nu­mer­ous in­stances where the De­part­ment of De­fense con­veyed ex­cess prop­er­ties to oth­er fed­er­al agen­cies and the over­all gov­ern­ment may not have saved money.” The le­gis­la­tion dir­ects the De­fense sec­ret­ary to sub­mit a re­port by March 1, 2015, on BRAC’s ef­fect­ive­ness.

Over­all, the fisc­al 2015 De­fense bill in its cur­rent form would au­thor­ize $521.3 bil­lion in spend­ing for na­tion­al de­fense in fisc­al 2015, and an ad­di­tion­al $79.4 bil­lion for over­seas con­tin­gency op­er­a­tions, which is $30.8 bil­lion less and $1.3 bil­lion less re­spect­ively than en­acted for fisc­al 2014. Still, the House bill in­cludes $45 bil­lion more in fisc­al 2015 than Pres­id­ent Obama’s pro­pos­al.

The Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee began mark­ing up its fisc­al 2015 De­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion bill on Wed­nes­day and ex­pec­ted to fin­ish on Thursday.

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