The Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability were talking civilian v. military pay up on Capitol Hill today, and both organizations have some interesting points to make about compensation. On the question of the effectiveness of recruiting bonuses, CBO sagely points out:
The relationship between specific changes in pay rates and benefits and the amount of recruiting and retention is not clear. In particular, a variety of factors--including economic conditions--may have significant effects on DoD's ability to recruit and retain personnel during a given period.
And GAO takes a good look at the methodology of federal pay studies:
While many studies of active duty military compensation have attempted to assess the value of the compensation package, most did not consider all of the components of compensation offered to servicemembers. CBO, RAND, and CNA have assessed military compensation using varying approaches. All of their studies include some components of compensation--for example, cash compensation beyond basic pay, which includes housing and subsistence allowances, the federal income tax advantage, and, when possible, special and incentive pay. However, these studies did not assess all components of compensation offered to servicemembers.
It's always seemed to me that it's not useful to compare military and civilian pay. The motivations and means of compensation are just too different. Someone who wants to do stem cell research isn't going to be the same person who wants to fly jets. The comparison assumes they're competing for the same pool of people. And I think with some exceptions, of course, they're just not.