Pentagon plan will affect personnel; details to come in budget request

By Amanda Palleschi

January 5, 2012

A strategy to downsize the Pentagon's budget over the next decade unveiled by Obama administration officials Thursday deferred details about possible reductions in military salaries and benefits, but the Defense Department made clear the new approach would include reductions affecting personnel.

The review, released weeks before the Pentagon unveils its fiscal 2013 budget proposal, emphasizes smaller conventional ground forces as troops return home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Many details were deferred until the release of that budget proposal.

"I want to make clear we are going to protect the quality of the benefits that are provided to our troops and to their families," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said. "At the same time, as I said, we have some responsibility to try to control costs in this area. I think the troops understand that we've got to control those costs."

But, he pledged that "when it comes to their basic benefits, we are going to continue to provide that and not break faith."

Panetta was joined at the press briefing Thursday by President Obama, an appearance Panetta called "unprecedented."

"This strategy answers the question of what kind of military we will need long after the wars of the last decade are over," Obama said. "This reflects the guidance that I, personally, gave throughout this process."

According to a report in The New York Times, Defense spends nearly one-third of its base budget on personnel costs: $107 billion for salaries and allowances, $50 billion for health care, and $24 billion in retirement benefits.

The 2012 Defense Authorization Act contains a pay raise for service members and a premium hike for some enrollees in the military's health care program.

The review was meant to outline the Pentagon's overall strategy over the next 10 years, as the department tries to find $487 billion in cuts to its budget over the next 10 years. The department faces an additional $500 billion in cuts, a prospect Panetta had harsh words for on Thursday.

"Arbitrary cuts across-the-board currently scheduled to take effect in January 2013 through sequester . . . force us to shed missions and capabilities we believe are necessary to protect core U.S. national security interests," he said. "It would result in what we think would be a demoralized and hollow force."

By Amanda Palleschi

January 5, 2012