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Authorization Act Impasse Poses Challenge to Recruiters

Donna Miles - American Forces Press Service

Recruiters, particularly in the Army, have a new challenge to deal with because the enlistment bonuses they count on to attract new recruits won’t apply until the legislation that authorizes them passes into law.

Bill Carr, deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel policy, said the fiscal 2008 National Defense Authorization Act includes authorities for a variety of special and incentive pays, including enlistment and re-enlistment bonuses. President Bush announced Dec. 28 that he won’t sign the bill in its present form; he wants Congress to revise some of its provisions regarding Iraq.

As a result, recruiters find themselves having to tell prospective recruits they may be able to offer enlistment bonuses, but can’t make any promises. So recruits end up signing contingency contracts that acknowledge they could feasibly get no bonus. “If we signed a contract today for a bonus, we have to be clear that, while we mention the bonus and while we plan on the bonus, we can’t guarantee it,” Carr said.

“That can have a chilling impact on the propensity of a person to sign one of those contracts,” he said. “That might affect their willingness to enter into a contract that conditionally promises a bonus.”

While the situation affects re-enlistments, too, Carr said the impact isn’t expected to be as big, or as immediate, as with recruiting bonuses. He said that’s because many people already in the military have seen similar situations before -- in 1993, 1996 and most recently in 2006 -- and understand that it’s probably just a temporary hiccup.

“It has happened before, and Congress in the past has always gone back and made whole any circumstances that occurred during the lapse in authority,” Carr said.

Carr said he’s “guardedly optimistic” that Congress will do the same this year and make bonus payments in the authorization act retroactive to Jan. 1, and he’s hopeful the situation will be resolved soon.

“The department is concerned whenever we throw a curve at those serving or at those who might choose to serve,” he said. “When we upset the plans and the momentum you have in force, that is not good.”

Another downside of the authorization act impasse is its impact on servicemembers’ paychecks. The 2008 Defense Authorization Act had called for a 3.5 percent pay raise for military members.

Bush authorized a 3 percent raise -- an amount based on an economic index -- effective Jan. 1 until the authorization act passes into law and the 3.5 percent figure takes effect.

Carr said he hopes Congress will approve making the 3.5 percent hike retroactive to Jan. 1, as it has in the past.

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