November 18, 2011
As budgetary pressures rise across the government, leaders at every level are reexamining every expenditure. This is particularly true for leaders in the Department of Defense (DoD), which represents the single greatest share of the government’s discretionary spending—over $670 billion in 2012. By necessity, the costs to support the men and women of the armed forces—which total over $186 billion and have grown at rates far greater than inflation over the last 12 years—cannot be exempt from this review. Defense leaders must come to a determination about whether these expenses must continue and if the high-quality force of volunteers that has proven itself so valiantly over the past decade can be sustained at a lower cost. These are the questions this study seeks to address.
The study attempts not to advocate for any specific outcome, but instead to inform the ongoing national debate by describing how and why military compensation costs have expanded and what this means for future expenses. It then offers a high-level overview of the range of options that have been proposed for reducing those costs, an analysis of how various proposals might affect the overall health of the force, and an exploration of how well they align with military culture. It is offered in the hope that it will help to bound and clarify thinking on these issues and decisions about national priorities.