Thursday, April 29, 2010

Oh no she didn't!







A subcommittee of the US Senate's Armed Services Committee held a hearing today. "The Subcommittee meets today to hear testimony on military pay and compensation," declared Senator Jim Webb, Chair of the Military Personnel Subcommittee. Appearing before the Subcommittee were DoD's William J. Carr, GAO's Brenda Farrell, CBO's Carla Tighe Murray and James Hosek of the RAND Corporation. Webb noted that to retain the quality in the services, compensation must be able to compete with private business and the need for a "robust benefits and compensation program." Webb noted (after the witnesses' opening statements) that when service was compulsary (draft) for males in the US, it was decided to spend more money on the career ranks but when it became voluntary, more money was on the lower end in as a recruiting tool.

Subcommittee Chair Jim Webb: The question that came to mind when I was listening to this, when we're talking about comprability with private sector. For instance when the comment was made if you include other benefits there's about an 80th percentile for the typical military person. I would like to hear from all of you. First of all, which benefits are we including when we do that and which benefits are we not? For instance, on the medical side, do we factor in such things as not having to have malpractice insurance or to pay for an office. Do we count that as compensation when we're looking at comparing what the cost would be on the outside. What are we doing on these different areas? What are we putting in and what are we leaving out when we hit these kind of numbers? Ms. Farrell, you might want to start on that.

Brenda Farrell: Sure, senator. As I noted, the studies differ in what they include. The first -- That's the reason you get different results. Although at this time, the reports that we looked at from my colleagues here all came up showing that the military pay was very favorable. When we're talking about the 10th QRMC including select benefits it was health care, retirement and the federal tax advantage. And we're talking about a very broad base. When you refer to malpractice insurance, I'm thinking maybe you're thinking more of a scenario that's comparing one occupation for a physician in the private sector. These studies are very broad based. And that's the reason that we say they have limitations because the populations differ from -- usually your private sector population is older than what you have in the military workforce. And usually your private sector population has already further ahead in education. As you know, many people join our military with the plans to go on and get that education. So you have different populations in terms of demographics that you're, uh, viewing -- that places some limitations. But with that said, there's -- We feel that the studies that we looked at with CNA being the backup for the data with the 10th QRMC that included the three select benefits took a very reasonable approach. There could be -- There were a couple of comments that were made on the CNA study regarding making assumptions about health care and retirement -- and some other organization could come up with different assumptions. But we still think it's reasonable. One of the assumptions made, for example, about retirement involves the discount rate. You know if someone's going to retire in twenty years and receive $100 -- to make it very simple -- the discount rate that would be the present value today and the discount rate that CNA used could be a little bit on the high side compared to if a different rate was used. So there's differences in the assumptions that are used for these non-cash benefits such as the health care -- trying to place the value on it -- as well as the retirement. Does that help?

Subcommittee Chair Jim Webb: That helps.

William J. Carr: Sir, to make a point, I think. Military pay, if it's simple and it's understood, for example, pay stub. We've for years used regular military service compensation which is roughly equivalent with pay stub. It considers my basic pay and allowances -- housing allowances for example. And because allowances are not taxable, the tax advantage. An enormous amount of time explaining that to the soldier, sailor, air, marines, so that they can gain some cross-comparison. Whether it's true -- And I'll stipulate that we're 70% against that pay stub measurement or 80% if we included esoteric things that aren't reflected in the pay stub, it's simply used as a means of communicating a baseline. Either one is producing the same effect. 80% if you're using the esoteric, 70% if you're not. But the importance is consistency in use. So if we are 70% today and we've used that measurement for years, and hope to use it into the future, then we're communicating a point at which core retention patterns look okay to us. So what was the pay level then? And we'd say, "Well the regular military compensation, cause we have to account for the tax break, is at this level and, yes, retention was good, and unemployment was that [gesturing below with his hand]." We can communicate in much simpler cogent terms that I think the troops would subsribe to because, first, because we've talked to them in those terms for so long and secondly because it has to do with the pay stub. And they get that.

Subcommittee Chair Jim Webb: Well the question though is whether we have the right information out to truly compare because there are a number of concerns. We hear it from the Military Officer Association, etc saying that the pay differential for the same type of job in the military is less. And we need an accurate number, if it's less, it's less. But if you're factoring all of the different pieces in together and it's good, we should say it's good. So the question again becomes what-what are we putting into this when we make the formula? And Ms. Farrell, when I was talking about medical insurance, it was just one of the things that popped into my mind when you were giving your presentation in that you can't sue a military doctor. Federal Tort Claims Act. So there are doctors in civilian practice who spend tens -- if not hundreds -- of thousands of dollars in medical malpractice insurance in order to cover the possibility of a lawsuit. We, argubably, should factor that in when we look at compensation for medical folks. Just one -- just one of many questions I would have in terms of how sophisticated are we in should people should be concerned about these pay levels as they are right now. They should, maybe they shouldn't. But are we using the right for formula?

Brenda Farrell: Again we think by going with the 10th QRMC's recommendation to includes select benefits, that's an advantage to DoD, to show how good their package really is. And that it could be used as a recruiting or retention tool. We have reported in the past, through our surveys with service members, they lacked an understanding of how their pay compared to counterparts in the private sector and there are a lot of misperceptions out there. Granted, DoD has in its hands full because this is such a large workforce. I mean, they bring in about 180,000 every year, they're maintaining 1.2 million service members, it's a vast array of occupations but by doing -- when you're doing a broad based comparison of how the military compares to the private sector, we firmly believe that the total package should be included. The regular military compensation that Mr. Carr mentioned? We're not saying "Don't look at that." And keep that measurement of how the cash does compare with the civilian but also go with the recommendation to look at select benefits to the extent possible because it will give a fuller picture, it will help DoD to monitor so you can keep pace and be competative with the private sector and it's a good recruiting tool as we said.

Subcommittee Chair Jim Webb: Dr. Hosek, what do you think about that?

James Hosek: Well, various things. The first thing to observe, I think, is that the basic elements, what in the past have been referred to as regular military compensation for officers or enlisted personnel, still constitutes the vast majority of their current compensation even when one considers benefits and allowances -- that is it's on the order of 90%. And what that means to me is that it's really important to make sure that whatever we do, we keep track of that and watch it carefully. The second thing is that probably the most salient benefit to military families on active or reserve duty today would be the health benefit. And that comes not only because the military has pledged to care for military service members and their famiilies and follow through with this health benefit -- it's a fairly comprehensive benefit. But also because the cost of similar services in the private sector have risen dramatically -- at times upwards of 40 or 50% a year increase in cost. Today I believe in the private sector, the cost of a relatively good health care benefit for a family of 4 is around $13,000 whereas at the beginning of the decade, it was probably half that. And so the value of the military benefit can be thought of in terms of what it would cost a military family to obtain quality health care outside. A few years ago -- I want to certainly recognize the find work that's been done by CBO and GAO in this area -- also CNA. But with that comment let me note, a few years ago we did a study at RAND trying to place a value on the military health care benefit by which we made use of information on private sector claims data for providers and skill sets and the aging and ethnic distributions similar to that in the military. To make a story short, we too came up with a number such that when you put it in the full context, enlisted personnel had a benefit including basic pays, allowances, tax -- you know, the non-taxibility of the allowance and the health care benefit, placing their compensation at or around the 80th percentile. For officers, I believe it was at or around the 90th percentile. I'll end there with only additional final comment that as you said at the beginning, as important as it is to look at the elements of pay and be clear about what we're including and how we're doing it. We always want to be able to relate those elements of pay to our recruiting and retenetion outcomes. Thank you.

Senator Jim Webb: And also, if I may, on an issue like health care, that's a moral contract. It's a moral contract that goes beyond benefits and it goes to the life of an individual who spends their career in the military. I can't tell you how many people, in my lifetime, who are career military who point that out while they are on active duty and after they retire.

No, the witnesses are not in agreement. Shortly after, Webb would note that there's really no business model here in terms of the budgeting but that's also true in terms of how they're estimating comparble pay. The easiest way to set a standard, and Webb may end up proposing this, is for Congress to come and declare what is measured and what isn't when calculating a pay scale that you can then compare to the civilian world's pay scale for similar jobs and/or duties. That would actually make the most sense because Congress is going to determine whether or not a bump in pay takes place. They control the purse. So since they'll be the ones determining that, it makes sense to have them set the standards by which to measure whether or not the pay is comparable to the civilian pay.

Mike's been noting KPFT's Queer Voices radio program at his site. One of the features of the program is This Way Out's newswrap which is archived in text form here. Taren James and Michael LeBeau covered a large number of topics this week and we'll note the following:

The U.S. queer community's new grassroots activist pit bulls, GetEQUAL, upped the pressure on PResident Barack Obama this week over his failure to keep major campaign promises to LGBT Americans. Although Obama has taken several smaller steps seen as favorable or helpful, he's yet to secure passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, or repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Equality advocates are increasingly worried that chances for those actions will diminish after mid-term elections in November. While Democrats have significent majorities in both the House and Senate, and of course there's a Democrat in the White House, the majority party typically loses seats two years after a presidential inauguration.
Many in the mostly-younger generation of queer activists became activists after the passage of Proposition 8 in California. Some accuse the country's leading LGBT rights groups of being insider-wannabes who curry favor with administration officials rather than being the "fierce advocates" for equality that Obama himself promised to be. The Human Rights Campaign, which bills itself as the nation's largest, and its president Joe Solmonese, are the most frequent targets of that "business as usual" criticism.
GetEqual's latest broadside started April 19th at a political fundraiser for California's Democratic U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer in Los Angeles. She's facing a strong re-election challenge in November, and Obama was there to help her raise campaign cash.
Five GetEQUAL activists paid their way into the event, and then repeatedly shouted at Obama about repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell as he tried to address the gathering.
"Hey! Hold on a second! Hold on a second! We are going to do that!" Obama responded. "Barbara and I are supportive of repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, so I don't know why you're hollerin'."
The following day, April 20th, GetEQUAL protesters returned to the White House for a second round of handcuffing themselves to the fence and getting arrested, a months after the group's initial action there.
Six servicemembers locked themselves up this time. Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. Jim Pietrangelo II -- making return visits -- were joined by Petty Officer Larry Whitt, Petty Officer Autumn Sandeen, Cadet Mara Boyd and Cpl. Evelyn Thomas. "We are handcuffing ourselves to the White House gates once again," Choi said, "to demand that President Obama show leadership on repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
Thomas said that the protest by Choi and Pietrangelo last month "made me realize that I needed to do something to stand up for all the black female soldiers who have been discharged. . . Many people don't know that we Black women are discharged disproportionately more than others under Don't Ask Don't Tell."
The six protesters were taken into custody and released the following afternoon. Their court dates are pending. In an unsettling footnote, U.S. Park Police forced media people covering the event away from the action. "The park's closed. Back up," the Park Police officer yelled repeatedly as he herdered journalists away from the protest. Park Police spokesman Sgt. David Scholosser apologized the following day, telling that his department "screwed up."
GetEqual continued its onslaught in the U.S. capital on April 21st, disrupting a hearing of the House Education and Labor Committee to demand that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act -- or ENDA -- be marked up and sent to the House floor for an immediate vote. GetEqual cofounder Robin McGehee tried to give committee Chairman George Miller a magic marker so he could "mark up" EDNA. "I don't know if because of the recession that you guys can't afford markers or whatever the issue is," McGehee said, "but in our community there are people being fired [every day] because they are lesbian, gay, bi or transgender." "We're working on that as expeditiously as we can," Miller responded. "Thank you very much."
ENDA has been stuck in Miller's committee since last year even though openly gay U.S. Representative Barny Frank of Massachusetts had said it would be voted on by the end of 2009. More recently, Frank, openly gay Representative Jared Polis of Colarado, openly lesbian Representative Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have called the bill a priority and said that they have the vote to pass it. The protesters were not arrested. Polis escorted them from the hearing room. Frank called the disruption "immature" and "tacky," and "a stupid thing to do . . . I understand people are frustrated and angry," he added, but the action was "no help whatsoever."
"We've waited too long already," McGehee said in response. "We have been promised since last year and, since the 90s, that we were going to have employment protection put in place. And yet, we still don't have it on the House floor." As if to jump on the GetEQUAL bandwagon, more than 230 U.S. LGBT and supportive groups signed on to a one-sentence statement to Congress on the same day: "Pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act NOW!" The United States has not seen this kind of burgeoning grassroots activism since the heyday of ACT UP in the late 1980s.

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