Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Defense Funded, but Budget Debate to Continue

Last week, prior to leaving on a two week spring break, Congress passed a continuing resolution that funds the federal government for the balance of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. Defense was funded at a rate of $513 billion for FY-2011, bringing an end to a funding crisis for the Pentagon but not to the ongoing budget melodrama.

DoD faced a cash flow conundrum when a series of short term continuing resolutions (CRs) were passed during a heated deficit debate between the House and Senate. In March, CRs only weeks in length were passed, preventing DoD from paying for anything beyond the authorization limits of the CR. Procurement and contracts were put on hold, and military orders for both active duty and the Reserve Components were restricted to what could be executed during the period of available monies.

Prior to the FY agreement between the House, Senate and the White House (as a President might veto any bill), partisan deliberations became impassioned with accusations flung by each party. Described by pundits as bickering, the media hyped the debate, quoting the worst allegations.

The focus became “government shutdown,” and the ammunition used by some was “the military wouldn’t be paid.” This sent a ripple of panic through some military and veteran service organizations, which began letter campaigns and sent out instructions on how a government shut down would affect its membership. Yet what was feared never occurred.

ROA’s analysis was that a shut down, if occurring at all, would be short in duration, and as predicted funding was passed in the last minutes prior to the midnight deadline.

Within the Pentagon, a sigh of relief was likely heard, but the deficit debate is not yet over. Congress must still decide whether to raise the debt ceiling in May, and the FY-2012 budget will be formed during the summer and fall. DoD is funded is only until the end of September, and many in Congress are looking at defense dollars as a means to reduce the budget. The FY-2011 CR was $2 billion lower for DoD than was first suggested by the majority in the House.

ROA promises to keep a responsible watch as events and rhetoric develop, and will relay an honest appraisal of the situation to its membership. When the time is right, ROA will let the grassroots know when it is time to contact elected officials.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Hearings on Veterans’ Employment, Transition, and Guard & Reserve Civilian Programs

ROA and REA attended and submitted testimony for the recent Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC) hearing “Veterans’ Employment: Improving the Transition from the Battlefield to the Workplace.”

Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) brought up the fact that in March, the Department of Labor (DoL) found that unemployment for veterans aged 20 to 24 was more than 27 percent.

Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said that in two Government Accountability Office reports during fiscal year 2009 over $18 billion was spent on 47 separate programs set up by nine agencies, and all but three overlapped with at least one other program.

The DoL’s Assistant Secretary for Veterans’ Employment and Training testified that the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) is in the process of being completely revamped and is due to launch on Veterans’ Day this year. He also said there is a rural veteran outreach pilot that was launched in Washington and currently there is a 90 percent participation rate.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) asked the Defense Department’s (DoD) representative whether certifications could be validated with an official document that service members could take with them to civilian employment. But the response was confusing when initially the witness said yes, but one of his staff said it could not be done.

The Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel’s hearing regarding active, Guard, reserve, and civilian programs followed. Panels included Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who testified on removing the Survivor Benefit Plan and Dependent and Indemnity Compensation (SBP-DIC) offset, as well as the Senior Enlisted Advisors and military and veteran service organizations representing The Military Coalition. ROA and REA also submitted testimony for this hearing.

To ROA’s frustration, transition and employment for Guard and Reserve members was discussed little . There was more information provided in the written testimonies, but the oral testimony provides a greater opportunity to bring forward priorities and existing problems and concerns.

The Army witness mentioned the directive for a comprehensive review of the ACAP program; the Navy mentioned TAPs and that they have to keep an eye on the forefront; and the Air Force talked about the importance of the Post-9/11 GI Bill and transferability.

The Marines are looking into having a “one-stop shop” for transitioning service members with “Door 1” being for college and “Door 2” for a job, and per the Commandant’s request the entire transition program is to be assessed and overhauled. Yet during the employment hearing it was specifically mentioned by a former Navy Corpsman that one-stop shops are not effective - they are muddled with too much information.