Pentagon Pushes To Rein in Rising Pay and Benefits Costs

The Pentagon stuck to its long-standing position Friday that rising military personnel costs have to be curbed to make the all-volunteer force affordable.

Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said the Defense Department would take a "smart look" at the recommendations of an independent commission on pay and benefits but added that the rate of growth in the current system was "unsustainable."

At a Pentagon briefing, Kirby said that personnel costs were eating up more than 50 percent of the Defense Department's budget and had to be reined in to maintain readiness and the technological edge over other militaries.

"If we don't get our hands around this now, we could find ourselves in a precarious position," Kirby said. "If we don't do something to stem those costs it will be unsustainable."

Kirby said that DoD was taking no immediate position on the 15 recommendations the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission released Thursday but said "obviously, we have to take a smart look" at the report. "Let's not speculate on what we will or will not" advocate in response, Kirby said.

One of the major recommendations was for the overhaul of the military retirement system. The commission called for ending the current 20 years-and-out at half pay system for future troops and starting 401(k)-style investment funds with government contributions for lower-ranking troops.

The Pentagon has set up working groups to review the commission's report and to make the Defense Department's recommendations to President Obama within 60 days on pay and benefits.

In his first reaction to the report, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the commission's work deserved "thorough review and thoughtful consideration."

McCain said he would be relying on Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, head of the SASC personnel subcommittee, for detailed analysis of the report. Graham recently said he was considering running for the presidential nomination in the Republican primaries.

In a statement, McCain lined up with Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, in saying that "our top priority through this process will be to maintain and enhance our nation's ability to recruit and retain the best" for the all-volunteer force."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com

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