By Arlen Parsa on 5/26/2007, 12:37pm PT  

Guest blogged by Arlen Parsa

On Monday May 21st, The BRAD BLOG reported that the Bush Administration's military pay plan for 2008 was not in compliance with a key statute in the 1999 Defense Authorization Act. The Act, which went into effect in 2000, required annual pay raises for military personnel to be based on a figure called the Employment Cost Index (ECI), plus an additional 0.5% raise.

The Administration's proposed pay raise for 2007 is 3%, less than both the ECI increase according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (3.3%) and the traditional ECI + 0.5% figure, which would be equal to 3.8%. The BRAD BLOG had reported that by seeking to deny the additional 0.5% pay increase, the Administration would be breaking the law.

Further reporting, however, has revealed that our original report was actually incorrect in regards to the plan's illegality. At least based on the provision we had originally reported on. We have now determined that the Administration's plan would not break that part of the 1999 law because of obscure language in the 700 page Defense Authorization Act that fails to extend the 0.5% pay formula to fiscal year 2008.

The error was discovered while doing research for a follow-up to my original report.

Had the Administration offered its new plan in previous years, it would have been illegal. However, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle are now seeking to re-authorize the previous plan, which would make the Bush plan, as we reported previously, illegal once again under the new provisions.

As well, despite the expiration of the ECI + 0.5% measure, the Administration's proposal for a salary increase may still be illegal under the 1999 Defense Authorization Act...

In Section 602 of the 1999 Act, titled "Pay Increases for Fiscal Years after Fiscal Year 2000," which does not have an expiration date, Congress required the government to increase basic pay for service-members annually (assuming there was an increase in the normal Employment Cost Index). "The rate of military pay increases for fiscal years after fiscal year 2000 [must] be calculated using the full Employment Cost Index," the legislation ensures. In years previous to the 1999 bill, military wages had typically been based on the ECI but less than the full percentage increase. Legislation passed in 2004 reiterates this requirement.

"The [Armed Services] committee believes it is critical that military members know that they can expect future military pay increases to keep pace with the rate of pay increases in the private sector," the bill says.

An official Bush Administration policy statement issued last week claims: "While we agree military pay must be kept competitive, the 3 percent raise, equal to the increase in the Employment Cost Index, will do that."

But the Bush Administration's proposed raise of 3% is not in fact equal to the increase in the Employment Cost Index, according to figures calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Bureau has actually determined that the increase in civilian wages in 2006 (the fiscal year upon which 2008 wages are calculated) was actually 3.3%. In calculating their salary plan for 2008, the Administration seems to have rounded down the ECI increase to the nearest percentage, something which neither they nor Congress has ever done before and is in direct violation of the 2004 Defense Authorization Act.

The 2004 version of the Act specifically mandates in Section 601 that the government will calculate ECI increases in the future "rounded to the nearest one-tenth of one percent," not the nearest percent.

Meanwhile, there are bipartisan efforts to re-institute key provisions of the 1999 and Defense Authorization Act (which were renewed in the 2004 version for another 3 years) in order to maintain the traditional "ECI + 0.5%" pay increase and thus make the Administration's proposed pay plan illegal. Democrats on Capitol Hill have advocated a higher pay raise for service-members, calling for a 3.5% increase in across-the-board basic pay, which though higher than the Administration's proposed raise, is still below the 3.8% which would have been required in previous years.

On the Republican side of the aisle, Congresswoman Thelma Drake of Virginia (a member of the House Armed Services Committee) recently introduced legislation which would directly illegalize the Administration's pay increase plan by restoring a key provision in previous Defense Authorization Acts which requires all future pay increases until 2012 to include the traditional 0.5% increase over the normal Employment Cost Index percent growth. The House is likely to endorse Drake's proposal or one similar to it, and the Senate Armed Services Committee will take up the matter soon as well.

Representing growing bipartisan disagreement with the White House on the matter, Drake said: "Despite objections by the Administration, this extended pay raise is critical for boosting the morale of our service-members and making sure that our military families do not get left behind."

Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-PA, pictured right), an Iraq War veteran himself, called upon more of his Republican colleagues to reject the Administration's pay plan last Tuesday.

"Those Privates who are making $17,000 a year," Murphy said in a tone of measured outrage, "Those Privates who are leaving their wives, their kids at home, many of whom have to survive on food-stamps, those Privates who saw what we did in the defense bill, who said that's great --- a 3.5% pay increase, not even $1,000 per year --- a couple hundred dollars per year, the President of the United States said 'Thank you for your service to your country, but that's too much of a pay increase.'"

"The same standard that the president uses," Murphy continued, "where he says 'it's too much for the troops,' it's not too much for the contractors, who have proven that they mismanage over 9 billion dollars of our hard-earned money."

"It's okay when the president wants to use our troops as props for a fancy speech in the Rose Garden, but when it comes to budget, when budgets are moral documents, the president says 'too much.'" Murphy also recalled with indignation how the Administration had tried to cut his own imminent danger pay in 2003 while he was risking his life to serve in Iraq. "Mr Speaker, I hope the people at home are watching," he said to a House chamber that was mostly empty.