WASHINGTON — Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey wants feedback from service members on the fiscal year 2015 defense budget request that he and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel outlined to reporters at the Pentagon Monday.
In an interview in his Pentagon office posted on Facebook, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff asked service members to contact him about their feelings on the budget in general and the pay, compensation and health care portion of the proposal, in particular.
Dempsey said the budget proposal is one step in the ongoing effort "to bring some stability and certainty to our budget." The fiscal 2014 budget now in effect and the fiscal 2015 request do give the Defense Department some certainty, as the Bipartisan Budget Act passed last year gave some relief from sequestration.
But beyond fiscal 2015, sequestration still looms. "Because of that — it is the law — we've had to do some planning on force structure, readiness [and] modernization, as well as changes to pay, compensation and health care," the general said.
The chairman set aside any discussion on military retirement for the time being. "Any changes to retirement will be proposed by a commission that will render its review sometime in the next six to nine months," he said. "Even then, it's been the position of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that any changes to retirement will be 'grandfathered.'"
Balance is the key word for the process that led to the budget request, Dempsey said. "What we are really trying to do here is find the right balance for our manpower costs in the context of the other things we've got to do," he explained. "We've got to buy new equipment, we've got to reset from 10 years of war, we've got to train, we've got to send men and women to school, we've got to provide health care, we've got to pay for the infrastructure we have."
The budget request also asks Congress to authorize a base realignment and closure process in fiscal 2017 so DOD can shed excess and costly infrastructure. The budget looks to retire some weapon systems no longer needed and to slow growth in pay, compensation and health care costs.
"These changes have been examined and discussed over the past year at every level, to include the service chiefs and at monthly sessions," Dempsey said.
The chiefs looked for a balanced package addressing direct and indirect compensation, the general said, looking to minimize disruption for service members in personnel accounts while finding the money to bring personnel accounts into balance with readiness and modernization accounts.
This was "to make absolutely sure that whenever we send you in harm's way, we can ensure that you are the best-trained, best-led, best-equipped force on the planet," Dempsey said.
The chairman said he thinks the chiefs did a good job under difficult fiscal circumstances. "But we're also going to want to hear from you," he said. "As this budget is dropped next week on Capitol Hill and the debate begins, I encourage you to let us know what you think about the totality of the budget."
Arguing to maintain the status quo is not realistic, the chairman said.
"We've got to make changes, so you can't just dig in and say, 'No change,'" he said. "We want to make sure we're making the right changes, and we only want to do it once.
"This is just my initial engagement with you," the chairman continued. "This discussion is just beginning, and I'll need your help in order to figure out which are right."