The Case for Cutting Defense Civilians, Improving Care for Female Vets and More

A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news.

Thirty-eight defense experts from across the political spectrum sent Congressional leaders and Defense Secretary Ash Carter a letter Wednesday urging reductions in civilian personnel, changes to military health benefits and more base closures.

Citing “growing imbalances with the defense budget that threaten the health and viability of America’s military power,” the authors said without closing excess bases, “rightsizing” the civilian workforce and modernizing pay and benefits, the nation will see an erosion of combat power relative to its adversaries.

Defense civilians consumed $76 billion of the Pentagon’s budget in 2014. While the department has made selective reductions to the civilian workforce, it’s not at all clear that those reductions correlated to the needs of a downsized military and revised national security strategy.

From 2001 to 2014, the active duty military shrank by nearly 3 percent. Yet over the same timeframe, the number of civilian defense employees grew by 10 percent to 756,000. This workforce rose another 3 percent in just the past year. While these professionals support essential missions of the Defense Department, their growth since 2001 has created a workforce that is now out of proportion to need. At the same time, the Department of Defense has grown a civilian contractor workforce of nearly the same size, an estimated 700,000.

The experts aren’t just worried about civilians either. They noted that from 1998 to 2014, the cost per active duty service member grew 76 percent, adjusting for inflation. Congress should examine reform proposals by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission and enact the best ones, they said.

Pentagon officials have their own ideas about saving money. According to a report in Stars and Stripes, Defense leaders are considering a plan to convert the Defense Commissary Agency to a non-appropriated fund activity. Such a move would allow the department to shift agency employees, who are federal workers, into lower-salaried positions outside the general schedule. It would also make it easier for managers to streamline operations and cut hours of operations at the military grocery stores.

“The move would align pay, benefits and job protection for the DeCA workforce with employees of base exchanges, where profits are key to sustaining operations as opposed to the higher goal of customer savings at taxpayer-subsidized grocery stores on base,” according to Stars and Stripes.

The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission recommended earlier this year that commissaries and military exchanges be merged into a single organization, something both Congress and the Pentagon have so far rejected, the paper noted.  

Converting the commissary agency into a non-appropriated fund activity would give the department much more flexibility in operating the grocery stores, but savings would come “on the backs of workers, particularly military families if you look at who takes these jobs” Candace Archer, labor management relations specialist with the American Federation of Government Employees, told Stars and Stripes.  

Archer said the move could create pay cuts of 30 percent or more at commissaries in some areas of the country.

Much has been written about the disparity of care female veterans receive at some VA facilities compared to their more numerous male counterparts. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee ranking member Corrine Brown wants to change that.

Brown introduced legislation this week requiring that gender-specific services be continuously available at every VA medical center and community based outpatient clinic in the country. The Florida Democrat noted that since 9/11, women have stepped up to join the military and are currently the fastest growing group of veterans, with 2.2 million currently eligible to seek benefits:  

Sadly though, according to the Women Veterans Task Force at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA), many of the growing number of women military veterans do not even identify themselves as veterans. This is particularly true for those who come to the agency for health care services, whose facilities have served a population dominated by men for generations.

For these reasons, I introduced legislation to assist women veterans and provide them with increased access to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ medical centers.  If signed into law, this bill would prevent common procedures such as preventive screening, breast care, gynecology specialty care, prenatal and obstetrical care, neonatal care and infertility services from being farmed out to private providers at excessively high rates.  It would also bring newly trained staff, as well as make appropriate supplies and required equipment available for our nation’s two million women veterans in the same way it currently is for our male veterans.” 

Mark your calendars: Public Service Recognition week is coming up May 3-9. The theme for this year’s commemoration—the 30th anniversary—is “Government Works.”  

“In the past few years, we’ve seen federal employees tackle the Ebola crisis, take down Osama Bin Laden and transform NASA’s space travel program. But away from the headlines, millions of federal employees work hard every day, without fanfare, to keep our government functioning efficiently and effectively,” said Richard G. Thissen, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association.  

“One week of celebration is not enough,” Thissen added. But it’s something.  

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