Editor’s Note: The “People First” section is compiled from information from the Air Force Personnel Center, TRICARE, 56th Force Support Squadron, Airman and Family Readiness Flight, Veterans Affairs, the civilian personnel office and armed forces news services.
Painful budget reductions will reduce the future capabilities of combatant commanders, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III told Congress March 26.
Testifying alongside Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James at a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee, Welsh discussed the difficult decisions budget constraints have presented and will continue to present to the Air Force’s role in defending national security.
“Every major decision reflected in this budget proposal hurts,” he said. “Each of them reduces the capabilities our combatant commanders would love to have and believe they need. Your Air Force is the finest in the world, and we need to keep it that way. We built this budget to ensure that Air Force combat power remains unequaled, but that does not mean it will remain unaffected.”
There are no more easy cuts, the general said. “We simply can’t ignore the fact that the law is currently written [to return] us to sequestered funding levels in [fiscal 2016],” Welsh said. “So that’s also considered as part of our plan.”
While testifying on Capitol Hill March 25, the Defense Department’s top personnel leaders all agreed that in light of likely future budget reductions, slowing compensation and benefits growth is a difficult but necessary step to balance the rising cost of personnel with readiness and modernization requirements.
“The Air Force continues to balance today’s missions with tomorrow’s requirements in a constrained budget environment,” said Lt. Gen. Sam Cox, Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services. “We will manage the force with a focus on deliberately shaping and sizing the force to meet future mission needs, while also balancing the likelihood of decreased budgets in the foreseeable future.”
Jessica Wright, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told the House Armed Services Committee’s military personnel subcommittee DOD’s vision for balance is reflected in its recommendations for pay and benefits in the department’s fiscal 2015 budget proposal.
“We’re asking for a percent [military pay raise], as opposed to a higher percentage, so we can slow the growth of a military member’s pay while bolstering readiness and modernization,” she said.
In a press briefing at the Pentagon March 27, Air Force officials announced the findings from the Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., test compromise investigations, to include accountability actions and a way forward for the ICBM force.
In January, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Air Force Global Strike Command commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson announced a cheating incident involving 92 crew members at Malmstrom AFB. Wilson then launched a commander-directed investigation and force improvement program to get to the bottom of the situation and to recommend needed improvements. Additionally, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered the service to provide him a comprehensive plan to address the morale and ethics issues within 60 days.
James led with what the CDI initially confirmed, “We do have systemic issues in our missile community,” highlighting that the CDI and FIP have a number of recommendations to address not only the climate within the nuclear community, but also to ensure Airmen recognize importance of the nuclear mission to national security.
One year after the backlog of pending disability compensation claims peaked at more than 611,000 in March 2013, the Department of Veterans Affairs has reduced that number by approximately 44 percent to 344,000 claims – a reduction of more than 267,000. At the same time officials have improved the accuracy of the decisions being made on veterans’ disability claims. Additionally, on average, veterans are waiting for a decision 119 fewer days than they were at this time last year.
“No veteran should have to wait to receive earned benefits,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. “Through a combination of transformation initiatives and the hard work of our employees, we are making significant progress toward our goal of eliminating the claims backlog in 2015. We still have more work to do, and no one is more committed than our Veterans Benefits Administration employees, over half of whom are veterans themselves.”