Air Force Is Cutting Pay for Tough Jobs But Won't Say Which Roles Are Losing Out

U.S. Air Force pararescueman jumps out of a MC-130J
A U.S. Air Force 31st Rescue Squadron pararescueman jumps out of a Special Operations Squadron MC-130J Commando II, over the Pacific Ocean, Feb. 22, 2023. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tylir Meyer)

Starting in October, hundreds of airmen and Guardians will no longer qualify for a monetary bonus meant to encourage service members to take on the toughest and most difficult jobs, but the service is declining to make public which jobs will see the cuts.

Last month, the Department of the Air Force announced that a newly formed board reviewed Special Duty Assignment Pay and reduced the number of jobs that qualify for the bonus from 103 to 70 for the upcoming fiscal 2024. But after repeated queries from, the department has refused to publicly identify which career fields are no longer eligible for the money.

The only way to view the revised list of jobs that qualify is to have a login for the Air Force's myForce Support Squadron, or myFSS, a web portal accessible only to service members. That means everyone else, including military families, press outlets and government watchdogs, can't see where the cuts will be.

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Special Duty Assignment Pay, which can range anywhere from $75 to $450 a month, is meant for those "who serve in duties which are extremely difficult," according to Air Force budget documents. Many service members chose to take on those jobs because of that extra money while formulating family budgets around the higher pay.

The Department of the Air Force's choice not to publicly disclose what jobs are being cut from Special Duty Assignment Pay is concerning to government watchdogs like Jason Paladino, a researcher at the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight.

"The Air Force public affairs office is once again showing a reflexive secrecy, withholding unclassified information from the public without justification," Paladino said. "U.S. taxpayers have a right to know how much they are paying members of the military."

The Department of the Air Force did not respond when asked why the list was not being released publicly, telling only that it "released the FY24 Special Duty Assignment Pay through command channels, reaching those who are directly impacted, and can be found on myFSS."

The June 23 press release from the Department of the Air Force said the new board "focused on identifying personnel in extremely demanding positions with unusually challenging responsibilities based on a defendable scoring methodology, and decisions were made agnostic of budgetary funding."

The press release does disclose that 70 jobs were approved to receive Special Duty Assignment Pay and that, of those, "four were initial requests that were certified for the first time, 48 were recertified at their current rate, 11 increased rate and seven decreased rate to maintain parity with specialties of similar duties, responsibilities and training."

But there's no mention of what specific jobs are seeing increases, decreases or losing the bonus altogether.

Last year, hundreds of airmen were scheduled to see cuts to their fiscal 2023 Special Duty Assignment Pay, according to budget documents.

Just weeks before the cuts were scheduled to take place, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall made a speech in September 2022 at the Air & Space Forces Association's annual conference, where he announced the cuts would be reversed.

The Space Force also completed its own service-specific Special Duty Assignment Pay board, utilizing the same criteria as the Air Force. The service determined that 14 jobs were reapproved for the bonus, two were newly approved and three were cut, according to the news release.

Those serving in a field that will be removed from the bonus list won't lose all the pay at once; they will still receive Special Duty Assignment Pay at "a rate of one-half their original SDAP through Sept. 30, 2024," according to the release.

Jobs where the Special Duty Assignment Pay is being reduced will be "given 90 days before the reduced rate will become effective," the release added. Those in jobs receiving an increase in Special Duty Assignment Pay will see it in place starting Oct. 1.

In fiscal 2024 budget documents released this year, the Air Force detailed a $92.2 million ask for Special Duty Assignment Pay. In the prior year's budget, it asked for an estimated $96.2 million for the financial incentive.

Under last year's budget request, the Air Force said the bonus would be for an estimated 33,500 airmen. Under the fiscal 2024 ask, it would be for around 29,800 airmen, according to the service's documents.

The June 23 press release announcing the Special Duty Assignment board's findings said "the board was unaware of the budgeted SDAP funds until after each request was considered if SDAP was warranted."

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

Related: Air Force Budgets Less for Bonus Pay for its Toughest Jobs in 2024

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