• July 25, 2014

Officials: Defense budget must balance readiness, benefits

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Posted: Sunday, March 30, 2014 4:30 am

The military’s future budget must allow for readiness, while balancing compensation and benefits for troops and their families, top military leadership said during congressional testimony last week.

In the president’s fiscal year 2015 budget, service members’ benefits are reduced, but some benefits are necessary to keep forces ready for mission, said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno and Secretary of the Army John McHugh in a statement to the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

“After 13 years of war, the manner in which we treat our soldiers and families will set the conditions for our ability to recruit in the future,” according to the statement. “That said, if we do not slow the rate of growth of soldier compensation, it will consume a higher, disproportionate percentage of the Army’s budget and without compensation reform we will be forced to reduce investments in readiness and modernization.”

The most visible way the Army has cut costs recently is through reducing the active-duty force. Fort Hood’s troop levels have fallen accordingly to meet that demand.

The entire Army will downsize by 80,000 troops by the end of fiscal year 2015. About 2,900 of those soldiers will be cut from Fort Hood.

In June, Fort Hood’s strength was about 42,384. By September, that number had fallen to 42,091 and now sits around 41,140.

Odierno and McHugh also commented on the impact of four years of budget cuts from the Budget Control Act of 2011 and sequestration, while conducting operations overseas and rebalancing the force to the wider array of missions required by 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance.

In fiscal year 2013, a combination of sequestration and overseas contingency operations funding shortfalls degraded Army readiness levels. It caused the Army to carry over a readiness shortfall of $3.2 billion to this year.

“The Army continues to face an uncertain fiscal environment in the years ahead,” according to the military leaders’ testimony. “The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 provides the Army modest, temporary relief from (Budget Control Act) defense spending caps in 2014. The predictability afforded by known budget levels is appreciated.”

The bipartisan act supports a 2015 Army funding level of $120.5 billion. However, the Army still faces budget cuts of $7.7 billion this year and an additional $12.7 billion in the next, when compared to the president’s 2014 budget request.

“The Army isn’t pulling punches. ... They are defining the risk associated with sequestration ... and articulating to Congress the decisions they will make if things don’t change,” said retired Col. Bill Parry, executive director of the Heart of Texas Defense Alliance.

“To get 435 representatives and 100 senators — only 20 percent with prior military experience and many who do not represent a military installation — to agree and fix the problem is a daunting task, and that is the process that is playing out.”

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