Will revised DoD strategy put military pay, benefits on table?

Thursday - 1/5/2012, 8:42pm EST

Rudy deLeon, former deputy defense secretary

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By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio
@jmooreWFED

Notably absent from the Defense Department briefing today, where President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta laid out a new strategic vision for the Pentagon, was a discussion of funding levels.

The administration says those budget numbers will come later. However, the broad strategic vision outlined spells a smaller force, reduced priorities and a purported "everything's-on-the-table" approach to budget trimming.

Rudy deLeon, the former deputy defense secretary, told In Depth with Francis Rose the new strategy and the key ideas behind did not come out of the blue.

"This has been coming for a while," deLeon said, since even before former Defense Secretary Robert Gates stepped down last summer and CIA Director Leon Panetta took over. This first review of the budget stems from an administration plan earlier this year to cut $400 billion in national security spending over 10 years.

The ensuing August debt ceiling crisis and the failure of the deficit-cutting supercommittee have only quickened defense leaders' need to find budget savings.

"I think it reflects the fact that after a decade that has been marked by Iraq and Afghanistan and basically unconstrained budgets that, given the deficit and other challenges facing the country, it was time to pivot to a different military strategy," deLeon said.

Military pay and benefits

The defense secretary didn't specify funding levels for military pay and benefits in the new strategy. Hard numbers won't be released until later this month or next.

However, in his prepared remarks, Panetta said the department would put everything on the table, "including politically sensitive areas that will likely provoke opposition from parts of Congress, industry and advocacy groups."

DeLeon reiterated this point.

"I think it's important to point out that what we got today was the strategy," deLeon said. "In about another month, we're going to get the budget piece."

Panetta said DoD policymakers would seek to "maintain the benefits that flow to our troops and to their families," as they prepare a budget plan. "That's a key red line for us. We're going to maintain those, but at the same time, we have a responsibility to control costs in those areas as well."

DeLeon said Pentagon leaders should consider two things in potentially making changes to the military's pay and benefits structure: A longterm approach — "we're not going to balance the budget on the back of our military men and women," deLeon put it — and looking at compensation levels over the length of a military career.

While DoD officials have expressed their desire for a first-class defense workforce and state-of-the-art technologies to support them, the Pentagon must also look at what's affordable, deLeon said.

"We've got to be able to recruit and retain the people we need but we've got to be able to pay the bills as well," he said.