The Buzz

Gold-Plated Troops

The Army fell between 6,000 and 7,000 short of its recruiting goal of 80,000 new soldiers in 2005. In response, in January, the Army raised its maximum enlistment age from 35 to 39 years, 11 months and 29 days, and doubled the maximum enlistment cash bonus to $40,000. That combined total of incentives is available only to those entering critical fields, such as Special Forces and bomb disposal satellite communications. Enlistees can get up to $10,000 after basic training; the rest comes in installments over the remaining years of enlistment.

Nevertheless, it's not clear that the rising cost of military compensation is paying off. The Government Accountability Office found in July 2005 (GAO-05-798) that in fiscal 2004, the cost of annual compensation for enlisted troops and officers across the military services averaged $112,000. From 2000 to 2004, the total cost rose 29 percent-from $123 billion to $158 billion.

The jump in compensation costs isn't helping the military attract candidates, GAO reported, because it's weighted more toward benefits than cash. Fewer than one in five service members will serve 20 years on active duty to become eligible for retirement benefits, and a majority are dissatisfied with and don't understand their pay and benefits. About 80 percent of those GAO surveyed believed they would earn more as civilians.

Cash is more effective in recruiting and retaining people, especially young ones, but cash is just 49 percent of the compensation cost per service member, GAO found. What's more, neither the Pentagon nor Congress truly has a handle on the current or future costs of compensating troops. "This lack of transparency is becoming a more urgent matter. . . . For [Defense], these trade-offs could become as fundamental as investing in people versus investing in hardware," GAO concluded.

Sweeten the Deal

In fiscal 2004, the total cost of military compensation was about $112,000 per active-duty member-benefits made up 51% of this cost.

Non-Cash
(Health care, family housing, education, etc.)
20% $22,765
Deferred Benefits
(Retired pay, veterans benefits, etc.)
31% $34,629
Cash
(Incentives and allowances)
49% $54,389

Source: GAO

Don't Ask, Don't Train

Employees governmentwide want more training, but they are not telling their bosses.

In January, the Merit Systems Protection Board released preliminary findings from its 2005 federal workforce survey. Of 37,000 employees canvassed across 24 agencies, the board found that 46 percent "would like additional training to improve their job performance." But only 33 percent had communicated expectations for training to their supervisors as part of career development plans, and just 48 percent viewed their supervisors as a resource for improving workplace skills.

"These results suggest that better communication between employees and their agencies may be necessary if federal employees are to receive the training they need," the board said in the January issue of the MSPB newsletter Issues of Merit.

Employees surveyed also said they expect the training to be funded by agencies. Eighty-one percent said instruction should come through agency-sponsored formal training and 77 percent said it should be from "on-the-job developmental experiences."

Chew It If You've Got It

If the U.S. military never sleeps, there's a reason-gum. Newly available to members of all branches is Stay Alert, gum containing 100 milligrams of caffeine, as much as a 6-ounce cup of coffee. The Army developed Stay Alert to combat soldiers' fatigue.

"Because it's chewed, it delivers caffeine to the body four to five times faster than a liquid or pill because it's absorbed through tissues in the mouth-not the gut," Dr. Gary Kamimori told the Army News Service. He works out of the Department of Behavioral Biology at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. The gum was tested at the institute's Silver Spring, Md., facility.

Yet soldiers who chew the gum regularly don't turn into wired, sleepless zombies. Kamimori's research showed that those who were kept awake for 36 to 77 hours straight on the gum were able to sleep just as well as those who received noncaffeinated gum.

Nevertheless, military ranks soon could be filled by hundreds of thousands of edgy, caffeine-chewing people with guns. Let's just hope that everyone chews responsibly.

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