Troops Slated for Largest Pay Raise in 20 Years Under Pentagon Budget but Inflation Looms

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A soldier deposits funds into a safe in a finance office, Nov. 4, 2013, at Bagram Air Field, Parwan province, Afghanistan. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Sinthia Rosario)
A soldier deposits funds into a safe in a finance office, Nov. 4, 2013, at Bagram Air Field, Parwan province, Afghanistan. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Sinthia Rosario)

Troops and civilian workers would get a 4.6% pay raise under a Pentagon annual budget request unveiled Monday, a sharp boost from the 2.7% increase in 2022 but still well below the surging rate of inflation.

The proposed $773 billion budget request from President Joe Biden's Pentagon also pushes ahead with sexual assault reforms and climate change initiatives in the administration's second year -- and plans to plow $97.3 billion into air and sea platforms like the B-21 Raider bomber and Columbia-class submarines.

"That's our largest pay raise in 20 years on the military and civilian side," Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said in a briefing to reporters on Monday.

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The department wants to spend $479 million on sexual assault reforms recommended last year by a review panel ordered by Biden. Military families could also see a $200 per month increase in child-care subsidy, and non-appropriated fund employees -- federal employees who work at money-generating department businesses such as restaurants, golf courses and bowling allies -- would see a $15 per hour minimum wage.

The Pentagon request, which represents just over 1% in real growth in spending from the current year, was released in concert with Biden's proposed fiscal 2023 budget for the entire federal government. It will now go to Congress, which will spend months crafting its own version of the annual spending plan, including pay increases, top-line spending and weapons systems.

The final amount of any military pay increase remains uncertain, because lawmakers could opt for a higher or lower figure. But the Pentagon is shooting for a much higher raise than past years.

Biden signed the annual 2022 defense authorization bill in December, and it provides a 2.7% pay raise for troops. That amount dipped from the 3% increase in the previous year.

But Americans, including members of the military, are also grappling with the highest rate of inflation in decades -- over 7% this year -- that is increasing the cost of living, which could mean pay increases don't go as far.

"We will at the same time be looking over the summer at where exactly inflation lands and how inflation ends up affecting our service members," Hicks said. "That said, we built into this '23 budget the best information that we have at the time we built the budget."

The rank and file will also be affected by new efforts to curb sexual assault and harassment in the military. Last year was a watershed period after Biden mandated an independent commission review of the sexual assault problem in the military that recommended prosecutions be taken out of the chain of command -- and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin backed that finding, meaning the department was behind the idea for the first time after years of debate.

Congress also mandated the overhaul of military justice to handle sexual assault prosecutions as part of the annual defense authorization bill in December.

The budget's planned $479 million in sexual assault funding will go to hiring new personnel for counseling and military justice, DoD Comptroller Mike McCord said, in a separate briefing to reporters. In September, Hicks unveiled plans to create a full-time and specialized workforce inside the military focused on preventing sexual assault, and to add response coordinators and victim advocates.

But the plans were delayed when Congress failed to pass an annual budget, McCord said, relying on stop gap spending measures called continuing resolutions.

"We were unable to move out as quickly as we would have liked to in FY22 [Fiscal Year 2022], because we were under a continuing resolution for months and months and months, unable to undertake new activities," McCord said. "But we're going to move out strongly in the FY23 budget now that we have funding and authority in place from Congress."

The Pentagon reported 6,290 sexual assaults in 2020, which was a 1% increase from the prior year.

About $3.1 billion would be spent on countering climate change, which Austin has called an existential threat and Biden has made a major priority of his administration.

Bases and military facilities would get $2 billion to adapt and prepare for changing climate and weather, such as more intense storms and more flooding. Over $1 billion would go to science and technology, and operational energy climate change programs, after Hicks announced last year that the department would pursue electric vehicles.

The budget also pledges to invest in child care across "all sectors" of the DoD and includes an increase in the fee assistance monthly subsidy cap for child care.

The subsidy is meant to bridge the gap between what a service member would pay for child care on base -- fees calculated based on total family income -- and community based child care services.

DoD proposes to increase the maximum provider rate cap from $1,500 a month to $1,700 in designated high-cost areas.

Meanwhile, the $773 billion defense budget proposal would top what was given to the Defense Department in December for the current year. Congress gave $742 billion to the department in its annual 2022 budget, plus $6.5 billion for Ukraine assistance, $4.3 billion for bringing Afghan refugees to the U.S. following the military withdrawal, and $350 million to deal with water pollution from the Red Hill fuel facility in Hawaii.

The new budget plan names China "as our key strategic competitor and pacing challenge," while Russia is seen as an "acute threat" to U.S. interests. Russian President Vladimir Putin shocked the U.S., NATO and the world in February when he ordered a full military invasion of Ukraine, which has since devolved into bloody fighting between his forces and Ukrainians armed with western weapons, including shoulder-fired anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.

The Pentagon called its requested $276 billion in funds for researching, developing and buying weapons systems the largest in its history.

The spending would be spread across military domains. The largest chunk, $57 billion, would be spent on air power such as buying 61 F-35 and 21 F-15EX fighter jets; funding the B-21 as it moves through development; and 15 KC-46A Pegasus aircraft that will replace the Air Force's aging fleet of aerial tankers.

The Navy would get $41 billion for nine new battle force ships, as well as construction of Ford-class aircraft carriers and two Columbia-class subs. The Army and Marine Corps would split $12.6 billion for land combat equipment, including the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle, Amphibious Combat Vehicle and Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle.

At the same time, the services plan to cull older hardware. The Air Force plans to retire its fleet of A-10 Thunderbolt IIs over the next six years, and the Navy plans to decommission 24 ships.

End strength of the service branches is slated to remain virtually flat over the coming fiscal year. The active-duty Army gave up on plans to grow the number of soldiers to 485,000 and is instead shooting for 473,000 due to slow recruiting. Overall, the entire military, both active duty and reserve, is planned to decrease by 4,647 troops from current numbers.

Patricia Kime contributed reporting to this story.

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-- Travis Tritten can be reached at travis.tritten@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Tritten.

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