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Forty Sixth AFPRB Report

A lesson From Across the Pond

Updated: March 28, 2017

Today, March 28, 2017, the United Kingdom Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body (AFPRB) released its recommendation for a one percent pay increase for the military personnel effective April 1, 2017.

Sponsored by the British Ministry of Defence, the AFPRB is an independent commission that provides advice to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence on the compensation and charges for members of the Naval, Military and Air Forces of the Crown.

In line with our terms of reference, we make recommendations based on all the evidence we receive, including what is presented formally, what we hear from Service personnel on visits, and the data on pay comparability discussed above. We gave appropriate weight to the Government’s evidence on the economy, affordability and public sector pay policy, and considered the cost of living and pay settlements more generally, taking into account that Service personnel retain incremental pay scales and a non-contributory pension scheme. We also looked at recruitment, retention and motivation in the Armed Forces overall. We continue to have significant concerns, especially in respect of retention and motivation, but on balance, we conclude that the evidence justifies a one per cent across the board increase in base pay for 2017-18.

(The Full 46th AFPRB report [PDF])

The methodology used to determine the pay raises for the United States military is accomplished differently. The pay adjustments for the British are not a huge political event as compared to the United States, and they do not have a starting point based a private sector employment figure derived from data collected nearly a year and half in advance of the pay raise that would be realized.

For an example of how the United States accomplishes pay adjustment, we can look at what is currently underway for determining the 2018 basic pay raise;

First, on the last working day in October of 2016, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics released the Employment Cost Index for the period ending September 2016. U.S. Code Title 37 dictates that the wages and salaries for private industry workers percentage increase will be used to determine what the 2018 pay raise will be if no further action is taken by President Trump and Congress.

For the past couple of decades, the President and Congress has not followed that simple path allow by Title 37. For the first decade or so of the new millennium, Congress continued to add an additional 0.5 percent increase to basic pay — each time contrary to the President’s budget proposal which mirrored Title 37’s recommendation. After the U.S. economy was hit hard, President Obama, following the recommendation of the Department of Defense, proposed pay raises that were less than what Title 37 called for; each of those years, the Senate and the House of Representatives batted around numbers — the House would approve in their initial National Defense Authorization Act the number derived from title 37’s mandate; the Senate would usually fall with the President’s proposal — the percentage that would win out depended on how much money could be found within the already limited budget (and whether or not it an election year — anecdotal snark, I apologize). The raise process for 2017 was no different; the proposed percentage bounced around more than a Sanchez butt fumbled football.

As the raise percentage bounces around for the 10 or 11 months of public negotiations, news and blog articles are written, many times politically driven, which show how much pay would be lost or gained. It is as if a member of Congress or the President doesn’t allow for the largest raise possible that they are somehow anti-military — that is ridiculous. When debate needs to happen concerning raises, they should happen; but, don’t do it for the sake of politics. The military family should not be a pawn in the game of political chess. Life is stressful enough.

The British may have something in the way they do their process that we can learn from.

President Trump has yet to indicate what 2018’s budget request will bring. His recently released budget blueprint did not provide any clue — to note, that is in itself unusual; past Presidents have provided some indication in advance either through leaks or reports. If the President does not address a raise percentage in his budget proposal, and Congress does the same, then Title 37’s mandate of a 2.4 percent raise for 2018 will become effective January 1, 2018.

For the first time in a very long time, it is possible the military’s pay won’t be the political football it has been. We can only hope.

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