With the Defense Department staring down a continuing budget resolution that could keep it from shifting around its spending this year, the heads of the military services told lawmakers on Wednesday that the effects won’t just be felt in large procurement projects and research efforts: It could also prevent troops from moving to their next duty stations, or from receiving retention bonuses that would keep them in uniform.
Like in years past, Democrats and Republicans are at odds over the federal budget, having already passed a 2021 budget extension to fund the government from October through mid-February. But now, a year-long extension is on the table, which would freeze DoD’s budget ― and all of the spending buckets therein ― at 2021 levels.
“Our military personnel accounts would be funded $5 billion below our requested level, yet inside those flat funding levels we would have to absorb the cost of a well-deserved pay raise and statutory housing and subsistence increases for the troops,” Pentagon comptroller Mike McCord told a House Appropriations Committee panel. “This means that our services would be forced to take actions such as delaying and suspending permanent change-of-station moves for our people, and delaying accessions, which will disrupt our training pipelines.”
Manning issues would be systemic, service chiefs said, starting with the recruiting process and commissioning of new officers out of college, moving through permanent changes-of-station that backfill units and up to retention bonuses, which incentivize troops in undermanned specialties and ranks to stay in uniform.
For example, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Joe Martin offered, about 25% of this year’s West Point and ROTC graduates who finish school in May or June would have to wait to attend basic officer training until October’s start of a new fiscal year.
“Disruptions in PCS moves would affect our ability to meet staffing goals for unit readiness worldwide, creating billet gaps and misalignment across the Marine Corps,” Commandant Gen. David Berger said. “Bonuses and reenlistment incentive pays would also be curtailed, at a time when competition in the job market makes retention hard enough in a ‘normal’ year.”
For the Navy, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said, flat funding would prevent the service from growing. The service is planning to bring 31,500 more sailors in this year, but a continuing resolution would force them to drop that recruiting goal to 8,500 in order to pay and train them.
And in addition to hamstringing acquisitions programs, a flat budget would keep the services from getting programs off the ground intended to improve troops’ quality of life.
That would include “$5.2 million dollars intended for sexual assault and sexual harassment programs, and $900,000 to enhance suicide prevention programs,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown said, as well as $6 million set aside for diversity and inclusion training, $7.7 million for “violence and self-harm prevention programs.”
The current funding bill runs out Feb. 18, giving Congress just weeks to pass a full budget or to settle on another continuing resolution.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.