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Rising Personnel Costs Could Affect Readiness, Official Says

Lisa Daniel - American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 10, 2010 - Maintaining good compensation and benefits helped to give the military a record recruiting year in fiscal 2009, but rising personnel costs could affect readiness in the future, the department's new undersecretary for personnel and readiness told a Senate panel today.

The military in fiscal 2009 had its most successful recruiting year in the four decades of the all-volunteer force, Clifford L. Stanley told the Senate Armed Services Committee's personnel subcommittee. To continue that trend, "the department must provide a compensation package comparable and competitive to the private sector," he said. "At the same time, we must balance the demands of the all-volunteer force in the context of growing equipment and operations costs."

The department continues its commitment to troops by including a 1.4 percent military pay increase an amount that equals earnings increases in the private sector as measured by the Employment Cost Index -- in its fiscal 2010 budget request, Stanley said. Since 2002, military pay has risen 42 percent, and the housing allowance has grown 83 percent, while private-sector wages and salaries rose only 32 percent, he said.

"While there is little question that those increases were necessary in the past, rising personnel costs could dramatically affect the readiness of the department," Stanley told the senators. He added that discretionary spending such as special pay and bonuses offers the best ability to attract and keep the right quantity and quality of people with specific skill sets the military needs.

Though the services maintain an "exceptionally high level" of readiness, Stanley said, multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have increased the stress on servicemembers and their families.

The Defense Department has a number of initiatives to address the stress on the force, including increasing time at home between deployments, Stanley said. The department capped deployment time to one year with a year at home with a goal for two years -- for active duty servicemembers and strives to give reserve component members three years at home between deployments, he said.

Also, the department holds the care of wounded warriors as its highest priority behind winning the wars, Stanley said, echoing remarks by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. Initiatives under way to allow a smoother transition into veteran status and to increase cooperation and record-sharing between the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs will help, he said.

Stanley noted, however, that the department's popular new program to help military spouses with employment, the "My Career Advancement Account," was halted Feb. 16, the day he was sworn into office. "Due to an unforeseen, unprecedented -- but welcome demand in enrollments that overwhelmed the infrastructure, we nearly reached the budget threshold," he explained, adding that the pause of the program is considered temporary.

"While it was necessary to pause the program immediately, we failed to communicate properly the reasons for the pause," Stanley said. "Over the past few weeks, [the Defense Department] has worked tirelessly on mapping out solutions for both the short and long term that honors our commitment to our military spouses while accounting for fiscal realities.

"Our proposals are in the final stage of approval and we hope to restart the program very soon," he added. "We know we must make a concerted effort to restore our credibility and confidence with our military spouses, servicemembers and the American public."

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