Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pentagon Discusses Proposed Recruiting Cuts

News in Balance

News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, May 12, 2009 -- Despite an $800 million cut in funding for military recruiting and retention in the proposed fiscal 2010 defense budget, a senior Defense Department official expressed confidence in the department’s ability to continue to attract and retain quality troops.

The funding cuts were submitted to Congress last week as part of President Barack Obama’s 2010 budget, which included $17 billion in cuts across federal departments, half of which came from defense programs. The 2010 military recruiting and retention budget is proposed at $6.2 billion.

The cuts come on the heels of record recruiting years, and spending, for the armed services. Yesterday, all 10 active-duty and reserve military components reported meeting or exceeding recruiting goals for April.

All services met or exceeded recruiting goals for 2008, one of the department’s strongest recruiting years since 2004. The department more than doubled funding for recruiting and retention, from $3.4 billion to $7.7 billion, between 2004 and 2008.

And all services are on schedule to meet their goals again this year, even as the Army and Marine Corps are growing their ranks. The Army last year exceeded its recruiting goal by nearly 1 percent.

Curtis Gilroy, the department’s director of accessions policy, called the cuts for 2010 “reasonable,” and said he doesn’t predict they will be detrimental to either the quality or quantity of those entering the military.

The economic downturn and rising unemployment have made military recruiting less challenging, he said. It has also allowed the military to be more selective in those it allows within its ranks.

Current data shows that so far in fiscal 2009, 96 percent of new military recruits have a high school diploma, and 71 percent score in the upper half on the armed services qualification test, Gilroy said yesterday. Those figures are up from fiscal 2008, when the department reported 92 percent of its recruits entered with a high school diploma and 69 percent scored in the upper half on the qualification test.

The 2010 cuts likely will be felt in bonuses, advertising and production recruiters, Gilroy said.

For example, re-enlistment bonuses in the active-duty Army likely will drop to $444 million in 2010, down from $626 million requested for fiscal 2009, Army officials said last week. Enlistment bonuses will be capped at $450 million, down from $549 million. The Army this year already has reduced the amount it was doling out in recruiting and retention bonuses.

But Gilroy warned that despite the current recruiting conditions, the services must be careful in their cuts.

“We know the recruiting environment can be very volatile. Things can change rather quickly,” he said. “The danger is that we make the wrong choice.”

For example, in the post-Cold War drawdown, the number of recruits needed by the military dropped by about a third. But despite the smaller requirement, military recruiting became significantly more difficult and expensive in the late 1990s, according to a Defense Department-contracted study by Rand Corporation’s National Defense Research Institute.

The Army and Navy subsequently failed to meet their recruiting objectives in fiscal 1998, and the Army and Air Force failed to meet their requirements in fiscal 1999, according to the study.

The National Defense Authorization Act of 2000 authorized large increases in military pay, bonuses, educational benefits, recruiting resources, and a restoration of retirement benefits, which helped to improve recruiting and retention in fiscal 2000 and 2001, according to the study.

“When things turned around and recruiting became more challenging, we found it very expensive, time-consuming and difficult to ramp back up again when we needed to,” Gilroy said.

Services can correct cuts in bonuses and advertising relatively quickly, but putting more recruiters on the streets is not as easy, he said.

The military needs 180,000 new recruits each year for its active-duty force, and another 140,000 for the reserve components.

(Report by Fred W. Baker III, American Forces Press Service.)

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