U.S. Department of Defense contracts are down. Republicans are calling for major cuts to the Pentagon's civilian workforce. And U.S. service members in the Navy and Marines are getting their first pay raise in more than 10 years. This is the era of the new austerity in total U.S. defense spending, which has hovered around $600 billion a year since 2007.
Even defense hawks are conceding that cuts are necessary, which is why Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) proposed a bill (H.R. 4257) that he says would address the Pentagon’s 17 percent spike in civilian staff between 2001 and 2012, which he says is sapping funds that could be used to maintain the nation’s active duty military and save $82.5 billion over five years.
"If left unchecked, [the growth in Defense Department civilian staffing] will negatively impact our men and women in uniform,” Rep. Calvert said when he announced the bill on Friday.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned earlier this month that “tough choices are coming” if the Pentagon is forced to implement future cuts under 2013's budget sequestration automatic spending cuts. Under current projections, the Pentagon estimates that active duty military personnel in the U.S. Army will be reduced from about 520,000 to about 445,000. The Army is currently slimming military personnel to 490,000 under a previous plan. This year’s Army personnel budget is $56.6 billion, a slight 0.39 percent increase from 2013. The total Army budget this year is about $130 billion, a 2 percent decrease from the previous year.
Defense contracts continue to decline in this era of austerity. February Pentagon spending on contracts dropped by 48 percent, to $12 billion, compared to the same month last year, according to Bloomberg news. The cold winter weather was partly to blame, but the main cause was a restriction on new contracts between October and January, which was lifted after President Barack Obama signed a $1.1 trillion deal to fund the government through Sept. 30. That measure allowed contract spending to increase by 42 percent from January. The Department of Defense is required to disclose all contracts worth more than $6.5 million.
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Meanwhile, the nation’s seamen, including the U.S. Marines, will see their second pay raise in almost 30 years. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced earlier this month that everyone who has served a cumulative three years at sea will get a 25 percent pay hike to their so called Career Sea Pay (CSP), which goes on top of the base salary for members of the Navy who spend most of their time at sea. Those who have served 36 consecutive months on the water will see their premium sea pay, known as CSP-P, double from $100 to $200 per month. Some sailors and Marines with eight years of cumulative time at sea will also see their pay increase. All but the greenest members of the naval forces will see a bump in salary for the first time in more than a decade. (Click here for a comparison of the old pay versus new pay table for CSP bonuses.)
The Navy’s 2014 budget is the largest budget of the three branches of the U.S. armed forces, at $155.8 billion, which represents a nearly 2 percent decline from the previous year's budget. The Navy personnel budget stands at $31.8 billion, a 2 percent increase. The 2014 budget for the U.S. Marines is $24.2 billion, a 3 percent reduction from the previous year. The U.S. Marines personnel budget for this year is $13.6 billion, a 3 percent increase.
The White House is proposing a 1 percent decline in military spending in 2015, to $606 billion. This includes the Department of Defense’s proposed $496 billion base budget plus spending on overseas contingency operations (defense spending excluded from the Pentagon’s base budget) and a special $26.4 billion fund to reverse previously announced cuts in politically sensitive districts. While the cuts are being touted as painful and rife with tough decisions, total spending is still far above $500 billion and more than the U.S. spent annually as recently as 2005. In 2001, total defense spending was just over $300 billion.