The Gravy Train is Slowing

As it does each year, Congress determines the pay raises for military personnel. Over the past 12 years, most have been substantial, meant to keep pace with the civilian sector compensation.

It seems lawmakers are scrounging for dollars and the Defense Department is a rich target. What Congress giveth in billions for personnel and equipment, Congress can taketh away. Need quick cash? Just call D-O-D.

Lawmakers are a little late, and it seems they will not go far enough.

It has been reported that the U.S. accounts for nearly half the world’s defense spending. Defense personnel costs (and this figure varies with who’s reporting and how it’s calculated) run 20 percent to around half the defense budget. For 2010 of roughly $533 billion, personnel costs are tagged at $136 billion.

Not bad, but factor in healthcare and other support and the cost skyrockets. Lawmakers can cut as many Army weapons programs as it wants (and it is) and cough up a hairball at the mention of modernizing the Navy and the CNO’s fuzzy math, everyone seems to have lost control of defense personnel costs.

The effectiveness of the “pay-them-and-they-will-stay” model has been as costly as it is questionable. Even with an economic downturn, poor civilian job prospects and recruiting and retention numbers off the charts, lawmakers have approved fat raises across the board. These pay hikes probably have been unnecessary. Hindsight? Hardly. People are paid to study this stuff, and decades of data probably point to similar trends. Does a 3 percent pay increase tip the scales in the “Do I stay or do I go?” rumba? The answer is probably “No.”

Below are pay raises over the past decade:

Military Private Sector

4.1 3.2
2002 6.9 4.1
2003 4.7 3.6
2004 4.2 3.1
2005 3.5 3.0
2006 3.1 2.6
2007 2.7 2.2
2008 3.5 3.0
2009 3.9 3.4
2010 3.4 2.9

Virginia Sen. Jim “Women Can’t Fight” Webb, chairman of the Senate armed services personnel subcommittee, has been looking closely at this vexing issue. He sees the pay raises as having been inefficient and a major culprit in driving up personnel costs. Webb and his committee are looking at vectoring the money into incentive pay.

Webb is going for pennies when “C” notes are needed. Sure pay hikes need to go, but so do those plus-ups of thousands in uniform. The legions of reservists serving on the public dole cost a lot of money and many need to go. DoD personnel costs are out of control thanks in large part to complex mismanagement of personnel on many levels. Fat pay raises are but a symptom.

Our enemies (and our friends) like nothing more than to see the U.S. bleed green. It may be a significant threat to national security, and someone has to apply the tourniquet.

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