HAGEL: IT WAS FURLOUGH 680,000 OR DEEPEN READINESS CRISIS
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the furlough of 680,000 civilian employees for one day a week, from early July through September, to avoid taking deeper cuts in training and maintenance, which could have degraded readiness to the point of threatening “core missions,” he said.
The Department of Defense furlough plan will cut work hours and pay of most civilian employees by 20 percent for up to 11 weeks to save $1.8 billion. And Hagel doesn’t rule out needing another furlough plan in 2014.
This furlough will help DoD absorb $37 billion in arbitrary budget cuts from sequestration, a mechanism the White House and Congress agreed to in 2011 to try to scare Republicans and Democrats into compromising on a hefty debt-reduction deal. The strategy has misfired.
Members of Congress, it turns out, prefer capricious spending cuts to putting their names on a more considered compromise that might put their reelection at risk. Republicans have chosen sequestration over closing tax loopholes and Democrats prefer it to curbing entitlements, despite warnings from military leaders that automatic defense cuts are devastating readiness.
The silver lining in this leave-no-fingerprints approach to debt reduction is that the annual budget deficit is shrinking. The Congressional Budget Office reports this month that the federal spending this year will exceed tax revenues by only $642 billion, the smallest shortfall since 2008.
If sequestration stays in effect, defense spending will be cut another $52 billion in fiscal 2014 and by $500 billion over the next decade. And in 2014 and beyond military personnel accounts won’t be protected from sharing the burden of sequestration like they are in this first year.
Hagel told a group of DoD employees in Alexandria, Va., Tuesday, that he settled on ordering a 11-day furloughs because “I could not responsibly go any deeper into cutting or jeopardizing our core missions on readiness and training.”
Roughly 120,000 workers will be exempted including 50,000 foreign nationals who work on U.S. bases overseas under host-nation agreements. The other 70,000 exempted employees either hold critical readiness jobs; are needed to ensure safety of life and property; are essential for delivery of military health care including to wounded warriors, or are deployed or temporarily assigned to war zones. Among those in critical readiness jobs are almost 30,000 shipyard workers building or overhauling nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers, platforms critical to force readiness.
DoD childcare center employees will be exempted to protect families. Non-appropriated fund (NAF) employees who run base exchanges and morale, welfare and recreational activities also won’t be furloughed because doing so for these employees wouldn’t save appropriated defense dollars.
Teachers and faculty in DoD-run dependent schools overseas and in rural areas stateside will face furlough for only five days after classes begin in the fall. Fewer furlough days protects against a lapse in accreditation.
Hagel noted that 11 days is half the length of furlough projected in March, before Congress finally passed a 2013 defense appropriations bill and before budget officials scrambled to find ways to soften sequestration’s effect on civilian workers. The number will not exceed 11 this year, senior defense officials explained in a background briefing at the Pentagon to discuss how the decision was reached and how it will be implemented. And the number could from fall from 11 by September if spend rates are lower than expected.
“The overall goal is to minimize adverse effects on missions…because we are devastating the readiness of this military right now,” one senior official explained. A secondary goal is that furloughs be fair, consistent and shared across military departments.
Hagel rejected Navy’s plan not to furlough anyone. Instead, dollars saved through Navy Department furloughs can be redistributed to the Army, which has had to suspend unit rotations through its combat training centers, or the Air Force, which has suspended flying in 12 combat aircraft squadrons.
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CONGRESS RIGHT TO PUSH FOR UNIFORM E-HEALTH RECORDS
Readers of Tom Philpott’s Military Update Column Sound Off
Your recent column on electronic health records dealt with a topic of great interest to me and to my fellow Directors of Veterans Affairs.
Lack of a uniform electronic health record is a major problem. The Department of Defense must do this. Creating a compatible platform between VA and DOD is crucial and would greatly assist processing of VA claims.
Criticism of VA on the backlog is overblown as no one has done more on this issue than VA Secretary [Eric] Shinseki and Under Secretary of Benefits [Allison A.] Hickey. The move to electronic claims processing is the way to go, and the sooner DoD and VA have electronic health record compatibility the better.
Utah Department of Veterans Affairs
Salt Lake City, Utah
Both the VA and DoD could adapt health records to the EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) standards used by health insurance providers to transfer data between participating entities, and integrate this into existing software on both ends. Some changes would be required but the core systems at both VA and DoD could remain the same.
The problem here is that one or both departments would need to change horses, and that constitutes a big training issue for one or both. I can see why they would resist the urge to do this.
This is a “simple” fix. It could have been done for a $1 billion if done originally as a target.
ABSENCE OF HONOR
I'm writing this with sadness and loathing for lack of integrity of some of our service members. Lately we can't open a newspaper or listen to the news without facing the topic of military sex scandals. Topping it off were reports of an officer in charge of preventing and investigating these crimes being arrested for assaulting a woman outside a strip club!
I understand this is a different military than the one I retired from in 1989. However, we had women serving with us too and the atmosphere could often be very much the same.
One aspect drummed into us then, however, was “honor.” We were expected to be a representative for our unit, on duty or off. I switched to the medical field in 1980 and found myself in a field where men were in the minority. I was a 30-year-old married E-6 going through training with kids straight out of boot camp, with freedom after months of rigid training.
I hadn't paid much attention to sexual mores of the time but we soon had an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases running rampant on base. It was noted that some were having more than one partner a night.
I frequently found myself with opportunities with various females even though they knew I was married. Some of my fellow married classmates saw nothing wrong with playing around, ignoring the damage they were doing to the whole rank structure, and responsibilities that went along with this.
I'm not in anyway blame on females who have been forced to have sex by someone of greater rank. I'm ashamed that military leaders, down to the boot, haven't been instilled with the honor of military service for the greatest country on earth. They defile those with whom they serve, and should be locked up for the lives they've ruined.
A while back, you wrote an article about veteran status for retired Reserve and National Guard members. What is happening with this legislation?
The Honor America's Guard-Reserve Retirees Act (HR 679), introduced by Rep. Timothy Walz (D-Minn.) would grant to veteran status to any person entitled to retired pay for Reserve or Guard service or to any person in that “gray area” who has earned reserve retired pay as soon as they reach the required age threshold, usually 60.
The bill cleared the House Veterans Affairs subcommittee last month and is expected to clear the full committee soon, to be approved by the full House by summer.
Key to final passage, however, is in the Senate where Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), ranking Republican on the Veterans Affairs Committee, has opposed the bill in past years, fearing that it would lead to expansion of reserve benefits.
Both the House and companion Senate bill -- S 629 introduced by Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) -- specifically would prohibit honorary veteran’s status from conferring new benefits on Guard and Reserve retirees. So advocates for the bill are continuing to press Senator Burr to change his mind. – Tom Philpott
THOSE PAID MORE SHOULD PAY MORE
I remember my recruiter saying, “The only promise is you will get what you put into it.” I raised hell as a young guy. My body paid a price for all that “training” we did with the Marine Corps. As a Navy Corpsman, I saw a lot of retirees get the care they earned; then came TRICARE in 1993. We were part of the TRICARE pilot in Hawaii. Talk about gates of hell opening.
“You can’t tell me where I go for care!”
Unfortunately, they can! “You want to pick your own care go pay for it yourself.”
But an E-6 retiree pays the same as an O-6 retiree. That’s wrong! Basing level of fees on pay grade is the right answer and would make a great fix to the system. Somewhere along the way somebody looked the other way. So quit campaigning on how the service member “deserves the respect of this nation” and let’s turn around and by sticking it to them in their wallets. Raise fees but responsibly by tiering them, which was the original intent of TRICARE. Get paid more? You should pay more.
That’s the bottom line
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