Lt. Gen. Samuel Cox, deputy chief of staff, manpower, personnel and services, says the 'strategic pause' in force reduction programs won't delay decisions on airmens' applications to retire or separate. (Mike Morones/Staff)
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Air Force officials announced a decision Saturday to resume processing applications for voluntary separations and early retirement for airmen with 15 or more years of service, with the exception of some categories that require waivers such as for service commitments, time in grade or years of commissioned service.
The Air Force Personnel Center on March 4 told major commands that Temporary Early Retirement Authority and voluntary separation pay application processing had been delayed pending a review, according to a memo obtained by Air Force Times. A public announcement on March 12 called the delay a “strategic pause.”
The Air Force’s personnel chief explained the pause and its impacts in an interview Friday with Air Force Times [published in the March 27 edition].
The bottom line is that the pause won’t push back any of the deadlines for making decisions on whose voluntary retirement or separation applications will be accepted, notification of those airmen, or retirement or separation dates, said Lt. Gen. Sam Cox, deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services
“There’s no changes to the timeline,” Cox said. “We’re not slowing down. The boards that we have in place, they’re staying the way they are. The dates of the notification of eligibility stay, the boards stay, the anticipated separation four months after the board, all that stays.”
Cox said that the pause shouldn’t last more than a few days or a week. “Certainly not months,” Cox said. “We don’t have that time.”
The next day, the Air Force announced a decision to “resume immediate processing of voluntary applications in most categories and begin notifying airmen of their status.”
“We expect to receive final approval authorities early next week for a select few categories, like rated and health professions, at which point we will be actively processing all voluntary applications,” Cox said in the release.
The snow in Washington on Monday closed the federal government, and questions about whether the application processing had resumed over the weekend — or when it would resume — were not immediately answered.
Cox told Air Force Times the pause provided time to decide whether to ask for authority to let lower-ranking officials approve waivers of requirements such as active-duty service commitments, time in grade or years of commissioned service — which normally must be approved by the Secretary of the Air Force Personnel Council. Cox said that approval of, for example, one medical officer’s ADSC wouldn’t require delegation, but a larger batch of many separating or retiring airmen probably would. Cox said it is too soon to tell how many airmen might require waivers.
The Air Force could not make these waiver delegation determinations earlier because the service needed to have a better idea of who was going to apply, he said.
“You don’t know who’s applying,” Cox said. “Before you can go get a delegation of authority, you need to understand what it is that you need to waive, if it’s required.”
Cox said the Air Force has so far received a little more than 10,000 applications for early retirement, voluntary separation or other voluntary programs. Roughly half of those applications are ineligible, he said. Some may not have enough years of service to qualify for TERA, for example, or may be in career fields that are already undermanned and would be further weakened if their separation or retirement was approved, Cox said. Those airmen also will not be involuntarily separated, he said.
The Air Force says it must cut up to 25,000 airmen over five years to deal with across-the-board budget cuts. Internal documents from January show that the Air Force identified 23,263 airmen who are in overmanned career fields and must be cut, although the Air Force has since dropped the number of planned cuts for enlisted security forces airmen by roughly 1,500.
In Saturday’s announcement, Cox said the Air Force has determined it cannot make all the necessary personnel cuts in 2014, and will announce soon a new round of force-management programs for 2015.