Size of Army Depends on Bending Budget


The size of the Army and the size of soldiers’ 2017 pay raise will be determined by the willingness of Congress to bend budgetary rules and diverge from Obama administration priorities. Initial work on the fiscal year 2017 budget began in late April, but negotiations are expected to continue until fall.

Responding to fears by Army leaders and the Association of the U.S. Army that the continuing force structure draw- down was leading to unacceptably high national security risk, efforts are underway to stop the drop. The House Armed Services Committee, the first congressional panel to weigh in on the fiscal year 2017 budget, moved to prevent additional losses in the Regular Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserve.

Their version of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act calls for 480,000 active-duty soldiers, 350,000 Army Guard soldiers and 205,000 Army Reserve soldiers. These combine to be 45,000 more than the Pentagon requested, and 20,000 more than the fiscal year 2016 authorization. Total Army strength would remain above 1 million soldiers under the committee plan. The Army has been scheduled to dip be- low 1 million by 2018.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is working on similar legislation to slow, stop or maybe even reverse the drawdown.

The House committee lawmakers partly pay for the added soldiers by taking $1.1 billion from the overseas contingency operations account and applying it to the Army personnel bud- get. The full cost of the added soldiers is estimated by Army officials to be about $2 billion. If correct, that means enactment of the House committee plan might require the Army to come up with about $900 million to divert from other accounts to cover the personnel costs.

Army personnel is not the only non-war expense the House panel would fund from the war-related contingency budget. Of the $58.8 billion in the overseas contingency budget, $23.1 billion is being used for non-war expenses. The cut is so big it is possible the contingency budget would run dry in six months, requiring additional war-related funding by June 2017.

“There will be a new president, who undoubtedly will review the operational activities proposed by President Obama as well as the funding levels for them,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R- Texas, the House Armed Services Committee chairman. “The new president and the new Congress will have the opportunity to make adjustments.”

Another question of budget priorities involves the 2017 military pay raise. DoD budgeted a 1.6 percent raise, an amount that is half a percentage point less than the military raise man- dated by law. If approved by Congress, this would be the fourth consecutive year that increases in basic pay and drill pay did not keep pace with average private sector pay increases.

The House committee provides for the full 2.1 percent increase to match the raise called for under the Federal Pay Comparability Act.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is concerned about the $330 million cost in the 2017 budget, and is also concerned about the cumulative $2.2 billion cost over five years of the slightly higher raise.

Reprinted with permission from Army: The Magazine of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA). A monthly subscription to Army is a benefit for all AUSA members.

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