House panel wants 2.4 percent military pay bump and bigger Army

A House panel is one-upping the Trump administration on military pay and end strength for 2018.

The House Armed Services’ Personnel Subcommittee is recommending a 2.4 percent pay raise for those in the military, and it wants to add 17,000 troops to the Army.

The 2.4 percent increase is three-tenths of a percent higher than the 2.1 percent pay raise the Trump administration recommended in its 2018 defense authorization bill proposal.

The 2.4 percent is tied to the Employment Cost Index (ECI), a measurement of private-sector wage increases. By law, the military is required to receive a pay raise comparable to the ECI. However, Congress does have the authority to change the yearly raise to what the president suggests.

The increase would be the biggest in the past five years, beating out last year’s 2.1 percent increase. President Barack Obama suggested a 1.6 percent increase for 2017, but Congress bumped it higher.

The personnel subcommittee wants to authorize 17,000 more troops for the Army. Of those, 10,000 would be on active duty. That surpasses the Trump administration’s request to keep the Army’s end strength steady at 476,000 troops.

A House Armed Services Committee aide said the subcommittee was assured by the Army it could handle recruiting and accommodating the extra troops.

The panel’s recommendations also fulfill the president’s request to build up personnel in the military. The panel recommends increasing the Air Force by 5,800 airmen. A total of 4,100 of those would be active duty. The panel also provides for building up the Navy by 5,000 sailors, with 4,000 on active duty.

The subcommittee was unable to provide cost numbers for the expansions and an aide said during a June 20 background meeting that they would be provided next week.

BRAC

The House Armed Services’ Readiness Subcommittee was purposely ambiguous on the issue of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC). The recommendations did not provide remarks on BRAC.

That means at least the subcommittee is not explicitly barring the Defense Department from conducting another round of BRAC.

It also means the committee isn’t condoning one either. Aides said the full House version of the 2018 defense authorization bill will address BRAC.

DoD has been asking for another round of BRAC for years, and this year isn’t any different. DoD’s 2018 budget request asks Congress to give the department the authority to begin looking at BRAC for 2021.

A 2016 report from the Pentagon stated DoD is paying to maintain 22 percent more military base infrastructure than it can put to practical use. DoD thinks it can save $2 billion a year by closing and consolidating bases.

Yesterday, a letter signed by a bipartisan coalition of dozens of think-tankers called on Congress to approve another round of BRAC.

“BRAC has proven to be a fair and efficient process for making the difficult but necessary decisions related to the configuration of our military’s infrastructure. In the absence of a BRAC, defense communities are hurting. Although members of Congress have blocked base closures with the intent of helping these communities, they are actually making the problem worse. The time to act is now. Congress should grant our military the authority to eliminate waste, and ensure that vital defense resources flow to where they are most needed,” the June 19 letter stated.

A few members of Congress already stepped forward with their support for another BRAC round. House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) introduced a BRAC bill earlier this year for a 2019 round.

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“We should not be wasting hard-earned taxpayer money to maintain excess infrastructure that DoD has determined it does not need,” Smith said in a statement.

Smith’s bill strengthens the role of Congress in the next BRAC round. Unlike in previous rounds, in which a list of proposed base closures was prepared by an independent commission, based on DoD recommendations, and then presented to lawmakers as a single take-it-or-leave-it package, the Smith-proposed 2019 round would give lawmakers an additional opportunity to stop the BRAC process if they disagreed with DoD’s going-in assessments of how much infrastructure it needs to support future force levels.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) is also in favor of BRAC. McCain said Congress showed “cowardice” for its inability to work on BRAC, and the committee’s ranking member Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said he is considering BRAC as well.

Civilian workers

The Readiness Subcommittee extended programs spurring civilian workers to retire early. The recommendations lengthen the Voluntary Separation Incentive Program (VSIP) to 2021. The program was going to end in 2018.

The 2017 defense authorization act increased the maximum VSIP pay to $40,000.

DoD used VSIPs in the past to mold the defense workforce. The department offers early retirement to positions that are not needed anymore, or are in less demand, so DoD can then hire the employees it needs for more needed jobs.

DoD is also in the midst of headquarters staff cuts. The Pentagon is cutting 25 percent from its headquarters staff by 2020. Despite objections by DoD, the 2017 defense authorization bill makes future cuts to headquarters staff and puts ceilings on the number of people the department can have on its headquarters payroll.