Officials Stress Keeping Faith on Military Retirement

WASHINGTON, Oct. 26, 2011 — The Defense Depart­ment has no pro­pos­als or rec­om­men­da­tions on revamp­ing mil­i­tary retire­ment at this time, but any future pro­pos­al must not break faith with those in the mil­i­tary today, senior Pen­ta­gon offi­cials told Con­gress yes­ter­day.

Jo Ann Rooney, prin­ci­pal deputy under­sec­re­tary of defense for per­son­nel and readi­ness, and Vee Pen­rod, deputy assis­tant sec­re­tary of defense for mil­i­tary per­son­nel pol­i­cy, tes­ti­fied on mil­i­tary retire­ment before the House Armed Ser­vices Committee’s mil­i­tary per­son­nel sub­com­mit­tee.

The Defense Busi­ness Board has pro­posed mak­ing a mil­i­tary retire­ment sys­tem more like pri­vate-sec­tor sys­tems. The mil­i­tary sys­tem has remained fair­ly con­stant over time, Rooney said, while the pri­vate sec­tor has changed its retire­ment sys­tems to cater to the increas­ing­ly mobile work­force.

“Unlike [the pri­vate] sec­tor, the mil­i­tary ser­vices must grow most of their mil­i­tary work­force inter­nal­ly,” she said. “It gen­er­al­ly takes 15 to 20 years to devel­op the next gen­er­a­tion of infantry bat­tal­ion com­man­ders and sub­ma­rine cap­tains. As a result, the mil­i­tary must ensure com­pen­sa­tion, pro­mo­tions and per­son­nel poli­cies that all fos­ter the reten­tion and longer careers nec­es­sary to cre­ate these expe­ri­enced lead­ers.”

The mil­i­tary, she said, needs greater longevi­ty and con­ti­nu­ity to devel­op lead­ers, and a retire­ment sys­tem mir­ror­ing a pri­vate-sec­tor approach — with con­tri­bu­tions from indi­vid­u­als and trans­portable ben­e­fits — may not be the best way for the uni­formed ser­vices to go.

This does not mean that the cur­rent sys­tem is sacro­sanct, Rooney said. The depart­ment should exam­ine the retire­ment sys­tem in the con­text of a total mil­i­tary com­pen­sa­tion sys­tem, she added.

DOD offi­cials, she told the pan­el, are exam­in­ing all aspects of the retire­ment sys­tem for all com­po­nents. Rooney said the review has been delib­er­ate, care­ful and prag­mat­ic, and that offi­cials are review­ing pro­pos­als and mod­el­ing them to deter­mine the impact on recruit­ing and reten­tion.

The Defense Depart­ment, she said, is work­ing to strike the cor­rect bal­ance. “This includes weigh­ing the impact of a new sys­tem on recruit­ing and reten­tion, con­sid­er­ing the wel­fare of the indi­vid­ual ser­vice mem­bers and fam­i­lies — which includes grand­fa­ther­ing our exist­ing force who took their oath under the cur­rent sys­tem — and acknowl­edg­ing our respon­si­bil­i­ty to the Amer­i­can tax­pay­er,” she said.

The cur­rent mil­i­tary retire­ment sys­tem has sup­port­ed the most-suc­cess­ful vol­un­teer force in the world, Pen­rod not­ed.

“The ques­tion now,” Pen­rod added, “is whether the cur­rent sys­tem is still rel­e­vant in today’s envi­ron­ment. If not, should it be mod­i­fied in a man­ner more in line with the pri­vate sec­tor?”

Offi­cials are not look­ing at retire­ment in iso­la­tion, Pen­rod point­ed out, but rather at how per­son­nel and pay poli­cies affect deci­sions to join the mil­i­tary and then to stay.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)