Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Update on “Wish Lists” for Unfunded Programs

As previously reported on The Reserve Officer blog, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently announced  a decision to discontinue the practice of providing the Congress with formal lists of programs that were excluded from the president’s budget request. However, yesterday Senators argued that they cannot determine the military’s budgetary needs without the lists, known formally as the Unfunded Priorities Lists. As Congress continues to hold hearings to analyze the defense budget for FY 2013, they also need to consider what may be omitted from the Pentagon’s initial budget proposal. Chief of among the Senators’ objections: these lists, which have effectively been an extension of the Pentagon’s annual spending request for more than a decade, provide insight that may otherwise be overlooked. In a series of letters sent to the service chiefs, Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Susan Collins (R-ME), and John Cornyn (R-TX) said “Without your input, we do not believe that Congress can accurately determine the level of resources necessary to provide for our national defense.”  The lack of information could further limit the services in their force structure, end strength, and modernization as they attempt to meet the roughly $250 billion in cuts.

Whether or not the Joint Chiefs comply with the request from the Senators, the deadline for the mark- ups are drawing near. The House Armed Services Committee members will begin issuing their drafts on the defense spending budget on Thursday, April 26. A full mark-up of the spending package for FY 2013 will be delivered by the House on May 9, with the Senate expected to issue their version later that month.

USERRA: A Supervisor-Supervisee Relationship

On Monday, the Department of Justice reached a settlement to resolve allegations that a city violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act (USERRA) by failing to promote a navy reservist and firefighter, and by retaliating against him after he invoked his rights. The Justice Department’s complaint alleges that the city of Pittsfield, Massachusetts violated Jeffrey Rawson, a firefighter for the city, and his rights by passing him over for promotion to lieutenant in the Pittsfield Fire Department because of his military obligations with the Navy Reserves. Rawson joined the Pittsfield Fire Department in 1990. In 2002, Rawson began his service with the Navy Reserve, punctually reporting for training and duty when ordered.
Seven years later, in 2009, Rawson took a promotional exam to become lieutenant of the Fire Department. Based on the results of the exam, Rawson was ranked second on the promotional list. However, in July 2010 the city informed Rawson that he was being skipped for promotion. A firefighter who ranked lower on the promotional list instead was promoted to lieutenant in September of that year.

Upon learning this, Rawson filed a USERRA complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Service. The city retaliated by refusing to reinstate him to the list of firefighters eligible to serve as an acting lieutenant.

Under the Justice Department’s settlement, the Pittsfield Fire Department will promote Rawson to lieutenant retroactive to September 2010 and will provide him with over $22,000 in back pay, pension contributions and interest. Further, the city must provide USERRA training to city department heads and supervisors on the rights and obligations of those who serve our country.

While this may seem like a small victory when considered on a national scale, it should not be discounted. One of the most important results of the settlement is the fact that the city employers and supervisors will receive training on USERRA. The Veterans Employment and Training Services (VETS), a Department of Labor program, conducts an aggressive public outreach campaign to educate service members and employers on USERRA. In a report to Congress in 2010, VETS briefed 727,000 individuals on USERRA since September 11, 2001. Further, in FY 2010, VETS presented USERRA information to more than 93,000 people.  This figure, however, does not distinguish between service members and employers.
Having clearly not received the training before, the Pittsfield city department heads and supervisors raise the question: Do employers receive any formal training on USERRA? We are fully aware that service members receive briefings on USERRA; however, given the increase in USERRA violations it is not clear whether or not employers receive briefings. As in any supervisor-supervisee relationship, it should be both parties responsibility to inform and enforce policies, such as USERRA; it should not lie solely on the service member.

What are the practices at your place of work? Do supervisors receive training on USERRA?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

DoD Proposes Expanding Sabbatical Leave for Reservists

As reported in the Martine Corps Times yesterday, Pentagon officials have submitted a proposal to Congress to extend military sabbatical leave to Reservists and Guardsmen on full-time active duty. Through the Navy’s Career Intermission Pilot Program, or CIPP, service members can take a penalty-free break of one to three years in a military career for personal or professional reasons. During the break, service members receive a small monthly stipend (1/15th of their monthly basic pay) and are covered by the military’s health care system. When service members return to active service, they are restored to their same pay grade as if there had been no gap in service. They also retain eligibility for promotion and assignments. However, sabbatical entitlement is offset by two additional months on active duty for every month they were on leave. In addition, no more than forty officers and forty enlisted members may be given new sabbatical opportunities each year.

While initially, the proposed extension stands to leave a minimal footprint, the potential benefits for Guardsmen and Reservists should not be overlooked. As tough economic conditions persist, Reserve unemployment numbers yield a rate consistently one and a half times higher than the national average. Even more disturbing, trends of hiring discrimination against Reservists have been reported as employers are reluctant to take on a hire representing a guaranteed absence 1 out of every 5 years. In some cases, Reservists have even been advised to omit their Reserve and Guard status on their resumes. As recently reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s article Reservist status can be liability for job seekers, a veteran representative from Pennsylvania Career Links, a state-sponsored work force initiative, was quoted as citing direct guidance to avoid mention of Reserve service during the application process.  "I don't recommend they put [their Guard and Reserve status] on their resumes anymore…I advise my Reservists to put only the date of discharge on their resume, and when they do, their hiring outcomes improve."

Expansion of the sabbatical program represents a potential source of relief for reservists struggling with improving their outlook for civilian employment. Reservists could use this time to receive a higher education degree, again without the threat of being called for duty. Finally, defense officials argued that the sabbatical leave would give “greater flexibility to test and evaluate alternative career retention options in specialties and skills in which monetary incentives alone have not produced required long-term retention results.” It is conceivable that use and possible expansion of the sabbatical program would ultimately make for a stronger Reserve Component with greater retention and expanded skill sets maintained at lower cost.

The Department of Defense’s proposal does not change the December 31, 2015 termination date for the program, and it does not change the rule for a limited number of officers and enlisted personnel to receive new sabbatical opportunities each year.

What do you think about the sabbatical for Reservists and Guardsmen on full-time active duty?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Chiefs End "Wish Lists" for Unfunded Programs

According to the Congressional Quarterly, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will not give Congress formal lists of programs that were excluded from the president’s budget request that they would like to see funded. Officially known as the Unfunded Priorities Lists, the documents submitted have effectively been an extension of the Pentagon’s annual spending request for more than a decade.  The chiefs of the Marine Corps, Air Force, and Navy have all confirmed that they will not submit a “wish list,” while the chiefs of the Army and National Guard Bureau have not confirmed.

The chiefs’ decisions are already fueling a debate about whether the defense budget is and will be sufficient in future years. House Armed Services Committee chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon has argued that the lists provide an important tool for Congress to assess the adverse impact of budget cuts and where additional funds may assist the military. In addition, the chairman has asserted that increasing spending on a given program does not necessarily mean another need to be cut. Further, without the lists Congress will not be able to easily identify where money needs to be allocated. Many programs and projects could therefore be overlooked.

On the other hand, some see that the absence of the lists will not hinder the Total Force. Many feel that the budget is sufficient and aligns with the Pentagon’s new strategy. In fact, before they went before Congress, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chief of Staff General Martin Dempsey asked for lists from the chiefs. Therefore, the heads of the Pentagon are well aware of the concerns and needs of the military and prioritize those in the budget request. Furthermore, if the Unfunded Priorities Lists are not submitted, communication between the military and Congress will not shut down. There are other means for the military to address Congress (i.e. in testimony, hearings, etc.).

As a Reservist, how do you feel about the omission of the Unfunded Priorities List? Do you feel that Reserve needs will be overlooked? Or do you feel that Congress will be more efficient in addressing the military and the budget? Comment below with your opinions.