DoD launches compensation study

By Tom Philpott: PNT columnist

Military compensation is far different today than it was on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists attacked America.

As U.S. troops surged into Afghanistan and, 17 months later, invaded Iraq, Congress began pumping a stream of piecemeal improvements into pay and benefits. That continues, though the flow of new initiatives has slowed. This month the Department of Defense launched a year-long study to review key elements of military compensation, almost all of which have been altered, or perhaps should be, as a result of ongoing wars.

According to Thomas, L. Bush, newly announced director of the Eleventh Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation, areas to be reviewed are:

n Compensation for service in a combat zone, during combat operations, in hostile fire area or while exposed to a hostile fire event;

• Pay and benefits for members of the National Guard and Reserve

• Compensation for wounded warriors, caregivers and survivors.

• Pay incentives for the critical career fields including special operations personnel, mental health professionals, linguists and translators, and new mission skills such as unmanned aerial vehicles operators.

To keep recruiting and retention strong, compensation changes since 9/11 have ranged from bigger annual pay raises and hefty gains in housing allowance to increases in death benefits, danger pays and separation allowances.

Changes like TRICARE Reserve Select were aimed at the Reserve and National Guard as they became full partners in the fight. Obvious pay inequities ended but others have surfaced. Congress, for example, lowered reserve retirement age, based on time deployed, but made the change applicable only for time deployed after the law was signed.

The QRMC now sets out to examine how a lot of the pay changes fit together, and whether some need to be streamlined and others enhanced. By law, the executive branch must conduct a study of military compensation every four years. President Obama announced his goals for this QRMC last December. Those goals haven’t changed, Bush said.

This QRMC, for instance, won’t be examining the competitiveness of basic pay and allowances, despite fresh complaints from defense officials that Congress is unwise to continue to add a half percentage point to every proposed annual pay raise. Those are dollars, they argue, that could be more effectively spent on targeted increases to critical skills.

Years ago QRMCs were elaborate exercises involving large staffs of analysts reassigned from the services and think tanks to produce multi-volume reports and sweeping recommendations, many of which were ignored by the Defense Department and Congress.

This, however, will be the third consecutive QRMC run on a much smaller scale. Bush, a former naval flight officer who flew combat missions in Vietnam, has a staff of one, a deputy, Army Reserve Lt. Col. Ronald Hunter. They will get help from a working group of representatives from every uniformed service and reserve component. A separate senior advisory panel will provide perspective on specific service needs, from the viewpoint of senior officers and enlisted, active duty as well as reserve forces.