Military May Get Pay Cut, Fewer Benefits

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The Pentagon is proposing cuts to pay and benefits for service members to cope with ongoing federal budget cuts. Unfortunately, the Pentagon is not very good at tracking its expenses.

“Selfie” may be word of the year, but if the decision were based on impact, “sequester” might have been a better choice.

After all, it’s the ongoing sequester that will cut another $52 billion from the Pentagon’s budget come January, The Wall Street Journal says. That’s on top of the $41 billion already cut this year. Because of the cuts, top military commanders are considering a plan that would mean slower growth of pay or possibly a reduction, along with reduced benefits.

Specific details aren’t available, because the Pentagon is waiting for approval from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, President Obama, and eventually Congress. It plans to release details in February. Here’s what is clear now, per the WSJ:

  • Without cuts, military personnel costs would rise from half of the budget to 60 percent in the new year.
  • The new plan would not immediately cut benefits for service members.
  • The plan includes no changes to the retirement system.
  • Everything else — including pay, housing allowances, health and other benefits — is on the table.

Some lawmakers are already arguing cuts should hit the institution a lot harder than service members, the WSJ says. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, argued an emphasis on institutional spending would cut too deeply into efforts to build new weapons systems and train forces.

According to a recent Reuters investigation, however, the Pentagon is terrible at accounting, and it’s virtually impossible to properly audit. A single office of the Pentagon’s Defense Finance and Accounting Service made at least $1.59 trillion in errors in 2009 financial reports for the Air Force, it says. That includes $548 billion in made-up numbers — blanks that were filled in with the numbers needed to reconcile the military’s books with the Treasury’s.

“Because of its persistent inability to tally its accounts, the Pentagon is the only federal agency that has not complied with a law that requires annual audits of all government departments,” Reuters says. “That means that the $8.5 trillion in taxpayer money doled out by Congress to the Pentagon since 1996, the first year it was supposed to be audited, has never been accounted for.”

It’s a little difficult to say what the Pentagon can and can’t afford to do when the Pentagon can’t account for what it’s spending now.

Stacy Johnson

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