The release of the Defense Department’s $495.6 billion budget submission for the next fiscal year shows the military is looking to trim its spending even at the expense of service member benefits.
Pending a congressional vote, the benefits impacted include a drop from 100 percent to 95 percent coverage of out-of-pocket housing allowances over a three-year period, limits to pay raises and a reduction in commissary savings.
While retired Lt. Gen. Paul Funk said he can see the benefit of reducing the amount of subsidies to the commissaries, he’s not on board with trimming the budget at the cost of service members. Instead of saving 30 percent on average, commissary shoppers would only save about 10 percent, compared with civilian grocery stores.
“I’m not sure the service provided in commissaries and the cost savings to families is worth it anymore,” said Funk, a former Fort Hood commander and Central Texas resident. “I believe they can contract that out and get a lot better service, better produce and get an organization more concerned with our families than the commissary system does. I don’t think the commissary system is much help to our families.”
What has Funk concerned is the potential to reduce the size of the overall Army from the agreed 490,000 by 2015 to something lower.
“What we have here is a period of time where we ought to be redoing, rebuilding and retraining the force and for God’s sakes we can’t make it smaller,” Funk said. “We ought to figure out a way to keep a quality Army with all the training and the people it needs.”
Retired Col. Bill Parry, executive director of the Heart of Texas Defense Alliance, said he wasn’t too surprised to see the proposed cuts, but he emphasized none of them are final.
The Defense Department is faced with $487 billion in cuts over a decade from the Budget Control Act of 2011 compounded by sequestration.
During recent congressional hearings, leaders from all branches of the armed services stated the growth of the past 10 years in military pay and allowances was not sustainable over the next 10 years, Parry said.
“First and foremost, Congress will make the final determination on whether they accept DOD’s budget proposal — or reject some or all of DOD’s recommendations; many of DOD’s proposals are not new this year — and in the past, Congress has rejected them,” Parry said. “Before becoming alarmed at the possible impacts, we will need to see what Congress does.”
The additional troop cuts were introduced as a means to an end, should full sequestration return in 2016, he said.
With a recent Gallup poll showing 37 percent of Americans think too much money is spent on defense, Parry said people in areas near military installations need to speak up.
“Communities in Central Texas need to ensure their elected representatives understand their concerns and assist in conveying the message to those who would favor additional cuts to the military.”
Funk said he would like to see cuts to the budget come from somewhere else, such as overstaffing in civilian jobs or at the Pentagon. “I’m for looking hard internally. Everyone has to get their house in order. There’s no doubt in my mind we could save money in defense, but don’t give up your good people above all. Any top companies in this country know it starts with your own good people.”