posted on June 06, 2011 10:22
This blog will be a place to update our readers on the Navy/DoD issues percolating around our nation’s capitol. Initially it will be a monthly effort and we’ll see how that develops. Your comments are important to us both in what you didn’t like but also what you would like to hear about more.
As May drew to a close the National Defense Authorization Act was on the floor in both houses of Congress. Actually passed in the House last week. That of course is a long way from actual passage of the final bill and if that is accomplished before the 30 Sep end of this fiscal year it would mark the first time in many many years. At issue is the $400 Billion that the President wants to cut from the initial 2012 budget proposals. There is no longer any doubt that this will be a challenge for the Services. Secretary Gates has tried to head this off with his 2011 cuts and realignment within the Department but the additional $400B will be a challenge for his successor, Leon Panetta. Gates’ strategy was to cut programs rather than percentage cuts across all programs which he believes led to the hollowing out the force when applied to the “peace dividend” years.
If you missed this issue, for Naval Aviation it was huge: The Marines have agreed to buy five squadrons of F-35 C aircraft (the carrier version) for their squadrons integrated into the Navy’s carrier air wings. This settled the long standing disagreement about having the “B” model (STOVAL aircraft) aboard the CVs. Keep your eye on the entire F-35 program. The Air Force, Navy, and Marines all need this aircraft and we believe that it is highly unlikely to be terminated outright in spite of the growing pains it has had. The far greater danger is “death by a thousand cuts,” where cost overruns and delays cause Congress to reduce the total buy then, reduce it again, and again. The effect is to drive unit cost through the roof and ultimately kill the program. Do you remember that the Air Force originally planned for some 700 F-22 fighters and are settling for 189 or so?
On the personnel side the Navy is working carefully to rebalance the enlisted force. The 2012 budget will call for a reduction of 9,000 Sailors while the Navy is sending 6,000 additional back to sea billets to increase maintenance capabilities aboard ship (see our interview with the CNO in the July issue of Navy). Can it be that the Navy has too many Sailors? Apparently yes as there will be a board held this year to select some number of Sailors for involuntary release. You may remember that just a couple of years back the Navy developed Perform to Serve as a way to evaluate performance in the enlisted community. The goal was to encourage Sailors in overmanned ratings to change rating to one with better promotion opportunities. As the Navy began to face the issue of too many Sailors for authorized end strength it became obvious that Perform to Serve was not the right tool to solve that problem. Only people approaching EAOS were looked at for Perform to Serve criteria. The result was that someone with an EAOS might be sent home while a lesser Sailor wasn’t being looked at. Hence the board.
TRICARE: It is still too early to tell how the proposed increases in TRICARE Prime fees will fare as the issue works its way through the halls of Congress. Remember the DoD has authority to raise fees on its own. It is only through Congressional action to block fee increases that there have been no increases for eight or so years. It would appear likely that Congress will go along with the modest $5 a month increase for a family under TRICARE Prime. The real issue to be played out is the proposed indexing of fees in 2013 and beyond. Our Association and others are on record as saying indexing would only be acceptable if matched to the percentage increase in retiree pension checks. One must also be wary that any indexing for Prime could be a precursor for establishing indexed fees for TRICARE for Life where today there are no fees or premiums for those over age 65. (TRICARE for Life does require participation and premiums for Medicare Part B.)
Later in June AUSN has been invited to another Veterans Service Organization round table discussion with Madam Leader Pelosi. We always take advantage of these events to press our Veterans issues. One that we will bring up is the apparent decision by a federal court judge in Florida who has ruled that doctors taking Medicare or TRICARE patients are in effect government contractors and must fill out and abide by government contractor paperwork and requirements. We are running this to ground right now but if true could be devastating for those using those programs and more doctors will surely refuse to treat Medicare or TRICARE patients. We’ll keep you posted.