DOD must control rising personnel costs, Hagel tells NCOs

  • Published
  • By Jim Garamone
  • American Forces Press Service

The Defense Department has to get personnel costs under control, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told “NPR Morning Edition” host Steve Inskeep in an interview broadcast today.

The interview came at the conclusion of Hagel’s monthly lunch with junior NCO’s in his Pentagon office Nov. 4. The secretary uses these lunches, and the troop visits he conducts, to take the pulse of the more than 1 million enlisted members of the armed forces.

“You can’t build institutions, you can’t build national security for this country, unless you have the right people motivated in the right culture and they believe they are being treated fairly,” the secretary told Inskeep.

The secretary discussed the issue of sexual assaults in the military. He told the NCOs that the system was broken, and that the services are working to fix it. One NCO noted to the secretary that the recent case of an officer tasked with formulating service policy to combat sexual assault being accused of the crime does not help the push to eliminate sexual assaults in the military.

The NCOs also discussed the issue of women in combat with the secretary. Hagel said he does not want a lowering of standards or a quota system for putting women into combat jobs. Rather, he said, he wants equality of opportunity for all service members.

But the discussion with the NCOs, and later with Inskeep, came down to money and the defense budget. Former secretaries Robert M. Gates and Leon E. Panetta pointed out that the department cannot afford the uncontrolled growth in personnel accounts. The services already have plans to cut the number of personnel, and that sequestration-mandated spending cuts will speed this process if they continue.

“Health care costs are consuming a larger and larger percentage of our budget every year,” Hagel said. “Personnel costs right now, including retirement compensation (and) health care, are about 50 percent of our total budget.”

If this continues, the Defense Department cannot afford it, the secretary said.

“We made a number of recommendations over the past few years, … but Congress has to be a partner in this,” he added. “If we don’t make some tough choices here along the way, … then we’ll have a military that is heavily compensated, but probably a force that is not capable and not ready.”

This is not a subjective evaluation, Hagel said, and it is the way the military is heading, unless changes are made.