Duty status reform has been underway for years, but military leaders are not yet ready to reveal their complete proposal to simplify how members of the reserve components are compensated for their service.
At a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on military personnel last week, officials fielded queries on the far-reaching effort currently in the works. Jeri Busch, the director of military compensation policy at the Defense Department, urged the subcommittee to support those efforts.
Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Michael R. Taheri, the director of staff for the National Guard Bureau, acknowledged that the process has generated concern among governors and their adjutants general.
“We don’t yet have a final document,” Taheri said. “There’s a lot riding on this for our members out there.”
Lawmakers repeated some of those concerns during Wednesday’s hearing, including the belief that reform could erode or remove state authority over the Guard.
Busch said that was not the case. And when pressed by Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., she promised that no language in the legislation would dilute gubernatorial authority.
“This proposal, as drafted, does not interfere with the role of the governors and their states,” Busch said. “Rather, our legislation preserves the role of the states and governors in the utilization and the management of the National Guard.”
Taheri said NGB was working closely with adjutants general and governors to address their concerns, but added the previous attempts to update leaders through PowerPoint presentations were inadequate. He called the process a “learning experience.”
“We are really very optimistic to find a way to help get this language through while preserving capabilities,” he said.
Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Miss., the subcommittee’s ranking Republican, urged leaders to be more open in the reform process.
“Everybody needs to be able to see the sausage being made,” he said.
Kelly, a brigadier general in the Mississippi Army Guard, said duty status reform should lead to an improved, more easily understood and more predictable personnel management system.
“The multitude of statutory authorities and duty categories currently in law causes unnecessary confusion and inequities in pay and benefits,” he said.
Some service members can be mobilized for the same mission in the same location, yet receive drastically different benefits due to their duty status, Kelly said.
Other legislators noted that a single service member may have their duty status change several times during a single deployment.
Busch said the reform is aimed at combining the more than 30 duty statuses into broad categories that creates parity for service members, no matter if they are downrange in Afghanistan or fighting a wildfire in California.
But that will be no easy task, she said.
Currently, the proposal encompasses more than 485 separate changes to federal law, involving 21 titles of U.S. Code. Hundreds of government agency directives and instructions, regulations and policies will also need to be significantly changed, along with numerous individual state laws.
“Because of the complexity, the proposal will require multiple years to implement after enactment,” Busch said. The roll-out would need to include multiple lines of effort, to include the introduction of new personnel systems.