Points of Interest

By Tom Philpott

Indeed, the GAO said, the Navy does retain the logistical support necessary for active battleship operations, including technical manuals, spare parts, and ordnance. There are adequate stocks of 16-inch ammunition and propellant, and production could be resumed within months.

But the Navy has no plans to return the battleships to active service, the GAO said, because they fail to meet "current naval surface fire support requirements for range and accuracy, and cost too much to operate."

"Double Dipper" Rule May Be Deep-Sixed

As summer approached, the services were pressing Congress quietly to support a provision in the Senate defense authorization bill to end "dual compensation" penalties on retired military who work as federal civilians.

A 1964 law, written to discourage regular (non-reserve) officers from seeking federal civilian employment, requires those who accept such jobs to suffer a retired pay loss of about one-third, which typically means $10,000 to $20,000 per year.

These retirees can keep the first $10,450.77 of their retired pay, but only half of what remains. That is why so few regular retired officers—approximately 6,000—work as federal civilians. The penalty can be waived to meet certain critical hiring needs and does not affect retired enlisted or reserve officers.

All categories of military retirees fall under a second dual compensation limit passed in 1978. This one imposes a cap on total pay. Combined federal salary and military retirement pay cannot exceed $110,700 a year, the current ceiling for Level V executive pay.

Two congressional initiatives have sparked fresh interest by the services in lifting the dual compensation limits.

In February, the Senate passed the Soldiers', Sailors', Airmen's, and Marines' Bill of Rights Act (S-4), with an amendment from Senator Michael Crapo (D-ID) to rescind both dual compensation rules. The amendment, if enacted, not only would encourage more retired officers to stay in the government, but it also would restore the retired pay of those who now are federal civilians and would remove the combined pay ceiling.

Crapo was inspired by his own experience with a former staffer, a retired Air Force officer, who sacrificed thousands of dollars in retired pay to work on Capitol Hill.

It "deprived us of their expertise and experience," he said, and at a time when military backgrounds are more important to Congress as the proportion of lawmakers who are veterans continues to fall.

The services are pressing to hire more retired officers for critical civilian posts. The Air Force says it needs retired pilots and navigators to fill aviation-related staff positions made vacant by a severe pilot shortage.

The Army and Navy also want dual compensation restrictions lifted and Rudy de Leon, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel, testified this spring that the department would welcome the repeal of dual compensation.

Because the House failed to adopt a companion bill to S-4, Crapo expects to reinsert his dual compensation proposal into the defense authorization bill. The House Armed Services Committee was weighing whether to add a similar provision to its bill.

More limited relief is found in HR 606, a veterans transition improvement bill sponsored by Representative Bob Stump (R-AZ), chairman of the House Veterans Committee. It embraces a call by the Congressional Commission on Servicemembers and Veterans Transition Assistance to lift the 1964 dual compensation penalty, but only for officers who retire after the law is revised. Those currently working as civil servants would see no gain.

The Clinton administration has taken no stand on dual compensation changes. The key agency is the Office of Personnel Management, where one official suggested the logic behind the limits has not changed. There still is reason to be worried that a flood of retired officers taking high-level civilian jobs could clog promotions for career civilians.

That concern can be traced back to the 1800s, he said. Until 1964, no retired regular officers could work as federal civilians without a waiver. The 1964 law opened the door a crack. Initially, retired officers were allowed to keep the first $2,000 in annuities plus half the remainder, to keep total pay near that of enlisted retirees working for the government. That base figure has been raised each year to keep pace with inflation.

Crapo expects resistance on several fronts, including the $60 million cost of restoring full military retirement pay to current employees.

 

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