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2.1% Pay Raise, More Troops, Commissary Changes in Draft Defense Bill

handing over pay

Troops would receive a 2.1 percent pay raise in 2017 under a plan released by House lawmakers this week.

The draft legislation from the House Armed Services Committee's Personnel Subcommittee was among the first to be released as part of the process to amend, or mark-up, the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which sets policy goals and spending targets for the year beginning Oct. 1.

The White House had requested a 1.6 percent pay raise for 2017, which is higher than 1.3 percent increase received by troops this year, but lower than the 2.1 percent raise called for by law to match private-sector wage growth.

The legislation also calls for adding 27,000 more active-duty troops than the Defense Department has requested for 2017, resulting in personnel levels closer to what has been authorized for this year.

The Pentagon in February requested funding for 1.3 million active-duty troops in the next fiscal year, a decrease of 19,400 troops from the current period. It also asked for money to support 811,000 reservists in the same period, a decrease of almost 10,000 reservists from this year.

While the subcommittee is responsible for drafting military health care legislation, it didn't include any changes to the Tricare program in the language released this week.  

The bill would allow the Defense Department to increases prices at commissary stores almost immediately, while shortcutting a pilot program ordered by Congress for this year designed to test raising some prices while lowering others at some stores.

Currently, commissaries are required to sell items at cost, plus a 5-percent surcharge.

Under the pilot, test stores will base their new price schemes on a still undetermined "cost savings" baseline established by comparing prices to nearby civilian markets. For example, the savings point could be set at 20 percent, meaning goods at the commissary would be required to be that much less than the average prices found at grocers outside the gate. Specific details on where and when it will be conducted are not yet available.

But the proposal included in the newly released draft would allow officials to instead roll out the pricing structure "in response to market conditions and customer demand," system-wide without finishing the test. To do that, officials would be required to establish a savings baseline as well as specific, measurable benchmarks, the bill states. The system would also be converted from appropriated, taxpayer funding to a non-appropriated, self-sustaining status while providing lawmakers with quarterly status updates.

Also as part of the change, new commissary employees would be hired under a non-appropriated funding status, which carries a different pay structure and benefits than current commissary employees receive. Those positions would convert when current employees leave or retiree, and no current employees would be forced to take a pay cut as a result of the change, the bill says.

But the plan also contains safeguards in case changing to the new structure results in losses and the system cannot pay for itself after all. If that happens, the bill says, officials would be permitted to grant the Defense Commissary Agency appropriated funds to keep it running in the black.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @amybushatz.

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