Canceled Bonuses, Delayed Moves: Air Force Cash Problems Trigger Cuts

A U.S. Air Force deputy disbursing officer shows a stack of U.S. currency
A U.S. Air Force deputy disbursing officer shows a stack of U.S. currency from within the cash cage during an immersion tour at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, Oct. 27, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Malissa Lott)

Facing the prospect of running out of money in its personnel budget, the Air Force is pausing some duty assignments and reenlistment and retention bonuses, as well as extending some deployments.

"The Air Force is experiencing a shortfall in the FY23 Military Personnel Appropriation driven by higher than projected personnel costs," Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in an emailed statement Monday. "Headquarters Air Force is directing actions to be taken now to avoid exhausting funds."

Starting July 11, the Air Force is suspending the 2023 Selective Reenlistment Bonus program, the Aviation Bonus Program and new Assignment Incentive Pay. In addition, permanent change of station (PCS) orders for August that mean finding new homes for families, some of whom are looking to get kids settled before the school year, are being reviewed and may be delayed.

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Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles "C.Q." Brown, who has been nominated to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers during his confirmation hearing Tuesday that the service is working to make sure it doesn't overrun its budget.

"We're working through the process of reprogramming so we don't go through an Antideficiency Act [violation] and not spend money we don't have," Brown told lawmakers. "So, part of this is for us to be able to work with Congress to get the reprogramming in place so all the programs and impacts that were outlined in that article that we communicated to the force here recently, we can reverse and minimize the impact to airmen and their families through the rest of this fiscal year."

The Antideficiency Act is long-standing legislation, most recently updated in the 1980s, aimed at curbing overspending by government agencies. The Government Accountability Office and inspectors general investigate violations of the act, and punishments can range from administrative discipline to fines or even imprisonment, according to the GAO.

The Air Force Personnel Center is approving PCS orders for airmen with projected departure dates in July, Stefanek said. But orders for those with dates in August or later "are being reviewed and approved on a priority basis," she added.

The Selective Reenlistment Bonus (SRB) program -- a cash incentive aimed at retaining airmen with certain skills -- is being suspended, but the service will allow airmen who would have been eligible after the deadline to extend their current enlistment into fiscal 2024, which would let most airmen still access the program under this year's rules until the fiscal 2024 program starts. Although they would still get the bonuses, those airmen would obviously be forced to wait before getting paid.

The Air Force is also pausing the Aviation Bonus Program, or AvB, a cash payment aimed at retaining pilots, that started just last month. The service is restructuring the program, which could include smaller bonuses or restricting eligibility, and plans to reopen the program within the next two weeks.

The Air Force is also pausing new Assignment Incentive Pay, a bonus paid for unusual or extended assignments, until the beginning of fiscal 2024. Airmen who are already receiving the bonus will continue to receive that pay.

And some airmen currently stationed overseas will be forced to remain there longer, according to Stefanek.

Service members who have a date estimated return from overseas, or DEROS, between October and Dec. 23 will have their return extended to between January and March 24, 2024.

The Air Force had announced a wave of bonuses this year as it tries to retain airmen amid one of the most dire recruiting environments in recent history. That includes the Air Force's Legacy Aviation Bonus, unveiled only last month. The service is also asking Congress for more than $648 million in bonuses and retention efforts in its 2024 budget.

In addition to the cuts announced this week, the Air Force also took aim at Special Duty Assignment Pay last month.

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.

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 fiscal 2024.

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

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.

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