Government Spending

Department of Defense Highlights Pay Inefficiency, Recommends Only Deserving Soldiers Get Combat Pay


Armed Soldiers

The Department of Defense released its 11th quadrennial report on military compensation this month. The report offers insight into the inefficiency of military's bureaucracy and highlights several obvious reforms to the military's pay structure.

For example, the report determined that established special and incentive payments—simple pay bonuses for certain groups such as Special Operations—help keeps soldiers in specialty fields. It has proven especially helpful in keeping personnel in the military when they have marketable skills that could pay better in the private sector, or when they are working under rough conditions.

"Such pays are essential to maintaining competitive compensation in many specialized career fields, responding rapid growth in demand for certain skills, and compensating personell for dangerous or undesirable working conditions."

This seems a tad bit simplistic as a conclusion, especially since militaries have used pay bonuses to reward and retain experienced soldiers for several centuries. But the fact that it was stated so clearly and repeatedly suggests that someone in the Department of Defense needed to be reminded.

The report also says that "combat benefits themselves are not correlated with exposure to combat or imminent danger." In fact, the vast majority of combat benefits have more to do with family size and income, as well as other factors that have nothing to do with actual combat or danger. In fact, people with the higher income receive the best combat benefits. Furthermore, people in the greatest danger actually receive the fewest benefits, the report states. In addition, combat pay is no longer used narrowly. Though it once covered only a very narrow range of military activity, it can now be given to people far behind the front lines. No doubt most Americans would be delighted to hear that it is off-the-ground officers, not the grunts on the line, who get good combat pay.

At least the Department of Defense is aware of these problems. The DOD made several suggestions for greater efficiency, such as a Combat Tax Credit, and a Direct Support Tax credit. These would allow soldiers to file for tax credits of various sizes based upon their proximity to danger. Perhaps these changes, if implemented, can help save a compensation system that has been FUBAR for a while. But a larger question remains: What will keep it from happening again, especially when combat pay started as an effective system the first time? Government accountability cannot be a sporadic undertaking. 

Find Reason coverage of military spending here and government spending here.