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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, October 6, 2003

Pentagon seeks shift in special pay raises

By Tom Philpott

The Department of Defense has asked Congress to roll back on Jan. 1 increases in Family Separation Allowance and Imminent Danger Pay enacted last April for deployed forces and instead increase Hardship Duty Pay only for military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If Congress agrees, FSA for tens of thousands of personnel would be decreased in January from $250 a month down to $100, and IDP would drop from $225 a month to $150. So, depending on individual circumstance, the pay cut could range from $75 to $225 a month.

Among deployed forces, only troops in Afghanistan and Iraq would be spared a cut in pay. Many in those theaters could see a pay gain. Their HDP would rise Jan. 1 by at least $225 a month, an amount to match any combined drop in FSA and IDP. HDP could be raised as much as $300.

As of July, 173,000 service members drew FSA, including sailors and Marines on routine sea deployments, if away from spouses and children more than 30 days. About 217,000 drew IDP, payable in any of scores of designated danger areas worldwide.

The uncertainty, as of Wednesday, showed that Defense officials still weren't prepared to discuss their plan to roll back FSA and IDP increases, and to raise HDP, even though broad details were revealed during a Sept. 25 hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., criticized panel witnesses, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his comptroller, Dov Zakheim, for making "a serious mistake" with their plan to return FSA and IDP to pre-April levels.

"How in the world do we justify activating all these Guard and Reserve (forces), removing them from their families and saying, 'If you don't happen to be assigned to Iraq or Afghanistan, we're going to revert back to $100 a month in Family Separation Allowance?' " Durbin asked Rumsfeld.

Zakheim, who appeared with Rumsfeld to defend an $87 billion spending request for 2004 for Iraq and Afghanistan, argued that raising Hardship Duty Pay would be fairer for troops in the two theaters because last April's FSA increase went only to all members with families while HDP is paid to all members in the two hostile areas.

Congress raised FSA and IDP to show appreciation for troops involved in the war on terrorism. Defense officials opposed the move as inefficient, going to many more thousands of personnel than those in Iraq and Afghanistan. David Chu, the department's top personnel official, likened the April raises "to using a sledgehammer to hit a small nail."

Congress made the FSA and IDP increases retroactive to October 2002. They were to expire Sept. 30 but passage of the fiscal 2004 defense appropriations bill that day, with $128 million to continue higher FSA and IDP through December, appeared to prevent a temporary drop in payments.

One reason to delay the drop until January, the administration reasoned, is to mask the overall effect on troop paychecks by timing the cuts to coincide with annual raises in basic pay and allowances.

Questions, comments and suggestions are welcomed. Write to Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA 20120-1111, or send e-mail to: milupdate@aol.com. Or visit Tom Philpott's Web site.