Pentagon: Troops to See 2.4% Raise in Jan. 15 Paychecks

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The 2.4 percent military pay raise for 2018 went into effect Jan. 1, and the first paychecks will go out Jan. 15, according to the Defense Department.

"Service members should see the [2.4 percent] raise in the first payday in January," typically Jan. 15 for active-duty service members, and the payday following their first "drill weekend" for Guard and reservists, Pentagon spokeswoman Laura Ochoa said Tuesday.

The White House initially proposed a 2.1 percent pay raise for the military while the House and Senate included a 2.4 percent raise in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2018, which is bottled up in yet another impasse over Congress' failure to reach a budget deal.

The government is now operating at 2017 spending levels under a second temporary spending measure called a continuing resolution, or CR, to avoid a government shutdown. The latest stopgap funding measure is set to expire Jan. 19.

To get around the impasse that was affecting the pay raise, President Donald Trump issued an executive order Dec. 22 notifying Congress that the military would get a 2.4 percent pay raise in 2018 and federal workers would get a 1.9 percent pay raise, even as the debate on the budget continues.

Former President Barack Obama issued similar notifications to Congress on military pay raises to get around previous CRs.

The 2.4 percent would be the largest increase for uniformed service members since the 3.4 percent approved by Obama in 2010. For 2017, the Obama administration approved a 2.1 percent increase.

According to rough estimates, the 2.4 percent pay raise would amount to an annual raise of about $680 in 2018 for younger enlisted ranks, and about $1,080 a year for more senior enlisted and junior officers. A mid-career officer would likely see a raise of nearly $2,000.

The 2.4 percent raise equaled the amount nominally mandated under federal law in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Employment Cost Index.

In the past, the White House and Congress have often ignored the Employment Cost Index to meet other budget priorities.

Veterans groups have argued that the practice amounts to a military pay cut by failing to keep up with the cost of living.

In a Dec. 7 press briefing, Dana White, the chief spokesperson of the Pentagon, noted that the Defense Department had operated under various CRs for a total of 1,081 days over the past nine years in a perennial process that has impacted planning and readiness.

"Nothing's had a greater impact on combat readiness than CRs," she said, "and at a time where security threats are high, we really do need the predictability in the budget -- certainly that we don't have with CRs."

At a later informal session with Pentagon reporters on Dec. 29, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said it is crucial to readiness and ongoing programs that Congress reach a budget deal before the current CR expires Jan. 19.

"So far, the CR probably has not extended the problem, thanks to the additional monies we got last year. Those monies have been spent, and so productions are still going, but we've got to get a budget by January, or there would be an impact," Mattis said.

At the same briefing with White on Dec. 7, Pentagon Comptroller David Norquist spoke to the Pentagon's contingency plans in the event that a CR expires without a deal and a government shutdown ensues.

He was speaking to the potential for a shutdown in December, but the same procedures will apply in the event of a shutdown if the current CR expires Jan. 19.

To sum up, Norquist said that in a shutdown, the paychecks stop coming -- for everybody at the Pentagon, including those in war zones.

"No one gets paid. The civilians who report to duty do not get paid. The military who are in theater do not get paid. They earn the rights to the payment, but the payment cannot be made until the shutdown is over," Norquist said.

In the 16-day government shutdown in October 2013, Congress quickly passed an emergency bill to pay the military to sidestep the political fallout, but there were other embarrassments.

Death gratuity payments for 30 Gold Star families were cut off during the shutdown, forcing then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to rely on charitable contributions.

Norquist said, "The basic effect of a shutdown -- first item is military personnel report to work, but we are not able to pay them until the shutdown ends."

"Civilians, it depends on what we call 'excepted activities.' If they're performing an excepted activity -- safety of property, protection of life -- they report to work. If not, they will -- they will either [be] given time to come in and shut down their work, or they will -- they'll stay at home, we'll send them instructions on that," he said.

"The challenge is there's no way to make a shutdown easier," Norquist said. "It's not designed to be easy; it's designed to be destructive."

"I cannot emphasize too much how destructive a shutdown is," he said. "We've talked before about the importance of maintenance on weapons systems and others, but if it's not an excepted activity -- there'll be work stoppage on many of those maintenance functions.

"Simple things like death benefits to families and military members killed in the line of duty -- we're not allowed to make those payments until the shutdown ends," Norquist said.

"Contractors -- even if the contract is funded, if the government oversight is not considered an excepted service, those contractors will not be able to report and work," he said.

As for contingency plans, "We've got the policies and procedures in place so we actually have a relatively -- unfortunately -- routine habit of updating them and coordinating with everyone on what are the exceptions and who is on the list to come in. So, those things tend to go more smoothly, but the consequences of the shutdown don't," Norquist said.

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