Saturday, August 16, 2003

Excuse Me, What Did Chu Say?

The DoD made its bi-annual report to Congress and, according to The San Francisco Chronicle article that broke the story, the report recommended against reauthorization of temporary imminent danger pay increases to soldiers in combat areas, including Iraq and Afghanistan, and to use the roughly 300 million of annual savings for other purposes. Asked about the report, a White House spokesperson indicated that the report reflected the Administration's views.

Howard Dean, and other Democratic candidates all criticized the decision. Dean released this statement:


Dean Condemns Bush Administration Decision To Cut Soldiers' Pay

DES MOINES, IA--Governor Howard Dean condemned President Bush's misplaced priorities today and the continued disconnect between the Bush Administration's rhetoric and reality.

"I am becoming more and more concerned by the poor choices this Administration is making. As the President meets today with Marines at Miramar Air Station in San Diego, I encourage him to explain why his Administration will discontinue current levels of funding for imminent danger pay and family separation allowances to soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan."

"Let's be clear. Virtually every priority faced by our nation is placed behind this President's obsession with tax cuts for those who need them least. As a result, we are now facing a ludicrous situation in which Vice President Cheney will reap a $116,000 per year tax windfall, and yet our soldiers--on extended deployments and tragically dying every day--are facing pay cuts of $225 a month. This Administration's priorities are simply out of sync with the American people's."

The very same day the Pentagon held a press gaggle with Lawrence Di Rita, acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, and David Chu, Under-Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. They immediately denied that there will be any pay reduction.

Chu said, " I'd just like very quickly to put to rest what I understand has been a burgeoning rumor that somehow we are going to reduce compensation for those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is not true."

PL 108-11 §§1316 et seq. provides for increase imminent danger pay through September 30th 2003. The flap was that the civilian Pentagon leadership were recommending against extending that provision and the White House concurred.

A reporter asked:

Q: "The point was when this extra money provision expires in September, the report was that you were opposed to extending it."

Chu: "... we would prefer to use those other compensation powers as our way of ensuring that we target these compensation benefits on the troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan..."

He went on to say, "What Congress really would do if they extend this is actually pay it to a lot of people who aren't in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Who are also in designated conflict areas - yes. Isn't that the point? He seems to indicate that the DoD wants to ensure that only personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan receive the pay increases. Under what concept of equity should some of our soldiers at risk of harm be compensated more than others? Unasked; unanswered.

Di Rita and Chu dismissed the idea that the Pentagon were even considering reduction of soldier's pay in combats zones:

Di Rita: "The premise that we would somehow disadvantage U.S. forces in a combat environment --"

Chu: "Is absolutely wrong."

Di Rita: "It's absurd. It's not even wrong, it's absurd."

Isn't interesting how the guilty always seem to offer the most vociferous denials? Then Chu indicated that the Pentagon had, in fact, been contemplating the exact opposite. He claimed they were looking for ways to increase the benefits, if not the compensation, of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Chu: "That's why I was so startled when this story arose. We are actually looking at the opposite issue. What should we be doing for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan as appropriate for their circumstance, especially those who are serving long periods of time."

A reporter actually pulled him back to the central question:

Q: So how do you explain the statement that says you hadn't budgeted for these increases and therefore you didn't want the increases?

Now Chu claimed that the recommendation against re-authorization was just a technical matter. They had merely decided against using this particular method of providing enhanced compensation to the soldiers. He dodged the real question nicely, of course.

Chu: What I think you're pointing to is one piece of a very thick technical appeal document that speaks to the question do we want to extend the language Congress used in the Family Separation Allowance and Imminent Danger Pay statutes. And no, we don't think we need to extend that language. That's a different statement from are we going to reduce compensation for those in Iraq and Afghanistan"

"...I don't mean to be a technocrat here, but we have plenty of authority that we think is frankly better suited to the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan to maintain that compensation at the level it now stands without this power. And what we're saying in this document is we don't need this authority."

Really? Then why did the report recommend using the 300 million in savings for other purposes? Unasked; unanswered.

It hardly has to be said that this was the one question they feared most. But they skillfully headed it off by framing the issue at the outset in terms of rejection of the disbursement authority, so they got questions about that instead. Then they started throwing in red herrings to ensure that the press stayed off balance.

Chu now began trying to lead the public to believe that the problem was a lack of flexibility in the existing law, not that the Pentagon wasn't willing to spend the money. But if that were the case, wouldn't the Pentgon have sought a review of 37 U.S.C. 310(a), the authorization act itself, not just PL 108-11 which merely replaces $150 with $225?

Chu continues, "You're dealing here with authority. This is not an appropriation. This is the authorization bill. This gives us authority.[Yes, the authority to give 225 rather than 150, not the authority to give danger pay in the first place, which is skillfully implied - Michael] In fact actually this mandates, this is a bit of entitlement kind of thing, this mandates pay."

But this is simply not the case. There is no mandate that ANY soldier ANYWHERE get one red cent in PL 108-11, nor for that matter in 37 U.S.C. 310(a) either. Chu is either grossly incompetent, which I don't buy, has been advised VERY poorly, which I also don't buy, or is trying to "create a public mis-impression," to borrow Gore's euphemism.

37 U.S.C 310(a), which provides authorization for imminent danger pay, reads:

(a) Under regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Defense, a member of a uniformed service may be paid special pay at the rate of
$150 for any month in which he was entitled to basic pay and in which

Remember, all 108-11 §§1316 does is increase the amount of danger pay and separation pay allowable. Its language does not modify any other aspect of 37 U.S.C 310(a), which is clearly NOT mandatory, but discretionary. Indeed, the Secretary of Defense is free to issue such regulations as he sees fit to control the issuance of the benefit.

Those regulations, DoD Instruction 1340.9, in the relevant section provide that designated areas, the preconditions for which are set by 37 U.S.C. 310(a), wherein soldiers may be eligible (not "shall be given"), are determined by the Secretary of Defense.

3.2. Designated Areas. Areas where it has been determined by the Secretary of Defense, or the Secretary's designee, that Service members are subject to hostile fire or imminent danger under Section 310(a)(2) or 310(a)(4) of 37 U.S.C.

(a)(2) & (4) boil down to, "might have gotten shot at".

And the converse:

3.3. Nondesignated Areas. All other locations not designated by the Secretary of Defense, or the Secretary's designee. Service members performing duties in nondesignated areas are eligible for special pay under Section 310(a)(1) or 310(a)(3) of reference (b).

(a)(1) & (3) boil down to, "got shot at, or got shot".

Chu claims that the reason why the Pentagon recommended allowing PL 108-11 to lapse was not to reduce compensation, but to increase administrative flexibility. That does not hold up to an inspection of the relevant law, which gives the DoD, in the person of the Secretary, nearly complete freedom to provide or withhold danger pay to any soldier, anywhere.

Indeed Chu himself alludes to the power of the DoD to decide what areas are eligible for imminent danger pay when he says, "Imminent danger pay boundaries are constantly reviewed..." And they are changed by the DoD without reference to Congress or anyone else.

There is, of course, a process provided by Instruction 1340.9 which requires these designations to rise through the bureaucracy from area commanders. This ensures that threat areas conform to conditions on the ground. But the Instruction which mandates this reasonable procedure is modifiable at the discretion of the Secretary of Defense.

So one has to ask, where is the "mandatory" "entitlement" which Chu claims is the reason for the DoD's recommendation? The statutory language is discretionary, the Instruction is discretionary, and the Instruction can be changed whenever the Secretary of Defense sees fit.

There are less practical limits on the DoD's discretion to assign imminent danger pay than there is on family separation pay, which at least has a clear statutory requirement of 30 days away from home.

When asked to sum up the DoD's newly concocted position, Chu said, "It's too broad-based. It's like using a sledgehammer to hit a small nail."

Well, that sounds like good military doctrine to me, actually... but it is simply not true. The laws and regulations governing this type of pay have ample flexibility.

The DoD's real motive was to convince Congress to quietly allow 108-11 to die, leaving the Pentagon with "no choice" but to reduce imminent danger pay across the board. The characteristic Congressional lack of accountability would dampen the political hit, and the Pentagon could walk away with 300 million bucks a year filched from the pockets of our men and women in harms way. When they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar, this was the best excuse they could think up on short notice.

This was a poorly spun, clumsily concealed, attempted mugging of American service personnel in the field of combat. Combined with this Administration's past assaults on veteran's retirement and disability benefits, military medical facilities and benefits, and off-base educational programs aiding the children of service personnel, and the short-sighted and illegal refusal to give all service personnel complete physicals before entering a combat zone, the sum is total contempt for and neglect of military personnel. This Administration's constant attempts to ameliorate its self-inflicted budget problems at the expense of our service men and women is hypocrisy of the highest order. It is detrimental to military morale and thus to our national security.


At 7:18 AM, Anonymous Medical Blog said...

This ensures that threat areas
conform to conditions on the ground.


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