Guard Won't Hold Recruits to Contracts if Bonuses Aren't Authorized

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 2008 - Emphasizing that they expect a defense authorization act eventually to pass into law, Army officials indicated yesterday that National Guard recruits who enlist before it does won't be held to their contracts if the law doesn't provide the recruiting bonuses they're expecting.

Army Secretary Pete Geren said he's confident the legislation will come, and that the Army will be able to offer the enlistment and re-enlistment incentives it relies on to attract and keep quality soldiers.

"I just can't imagine that we are not going to end up with an authorization bill at some point," he said adding that he believes Congress will make it retroactive to include the interim period before it takes effect. "I don't know how they'll get to the end game, but they will end up working it out."

The Fiscal 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes enlistment, re-enlistment and a variety of other special and incentive pays, is the focus of a standoff between Congress and the administration. President Bush announced Dec. 28 that he won't sign the bill until Congress revises some of its provisions regarding Iraq.

As a result, recruiters find themselves having to tell prospective recruits they may be able to offer enlistment bonuses, but can't make any promises. So recruits end up signing contingency contracts that acknowledge they could feasibly get no bonus.

In the unlikely event that Congress doesn't pass the legislation or doesn't make it retroactive to cover the interim period, the Army National Guard director said yesterday that the National Guard will make good on its commitments to troops now enlisting.

Army Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn said the Guard counts on the trust it has built in communities around the country. He indicated that if recruits sign up expecting an enlistment bonus and don't get it, they won't be required to continue serving.

State adjutants general and governors are responsible for National Guard recruiting in their states and have a lot of leeway in ensuring they keep their promises to their troops, Vaughn said.

"There is no adjutant general that will hold them responsible for something that we told them that didn't happen," Vaughn said. "They have a lot of flexibility to turn around and let them go if they renege on a promise. Some organizations can't do that."

Defense officials have expressed concern that the impasse over the Defense Authorization Act will hurt recruiting. "That can have a chilling impact on the propensity of a person to sign one of those contracts," said Bill Carr, deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel policy. "That might affect their willingness to enter into a contract that conditionally promises a bonus."

Officials are hopeful the delay doesn't reverse positive momentum on the recruiting front. Defense Department officials announced yesterday that all four services met or surpassed their monthly active-duty recruiting goals for December, before authority for bonus payments expired Dec. 31.

The Army recruited 789 active-duty soldiers last month, 105 percent of its December goal. On the reserve-component side, the Army National Guard recruited 4,985 members, 120 percent of its goal, and the Army Reserve, 3,280 soldiers, 107 percent of its goal.

Geren conceded yesterday that the authorization act delay poses yet another challenge to recruiters who work to attract high-quality men and women into a wartime force with a clear recognition that they're likely to deploy into combat. Adding to the challenge is the fact that the Army is increasing its end strength.

Despite these challenges, Geren expressed confidence the Army can overcome them and continue to meet its recruiting goals. "This will be a tough year; last year was a tough year," he said. "We are confident we will meet our goals this year, but I am also confident it won't come without a lot of work by a lot of folks."

While the authorization act situation also affects re-enlistments, Carr said, the impact isn't expected to be as big, or as immediate, as with recruiting bonuses. He said that's because many people already in the military have seen similar situations before -- in 1993, 1996 and most recently in 2006 -- and understand it's probably just a temporary hiccup.

"It has happened before, and Congress in the past has always gone back and made whole any circumstances that occurred during the lapse in authority," he said.

Carr said he's "guardedly optimistic" that Congress will do the same this year and make bonus payments in the authorization act retroactive to Jan. 1, and he's hopeful the situation will be resolved soon.

"The department is concerned whenever we throw a curve at those serving or at those who might choose to serve," he said. "When we upset the plans and the momentum you have in force, that is not good."

Another downside of the authorization act impasse is its impact on servicemembers' paychecks. The 2008 Defense Authorization Act had called for a 3.5 percent pay raise for military members. Bush authorized a 3 percent raise -- an amount based on an economic index ? that took effect Jan. 1 until the authorization act passes into law, when the 3.5 percent figure takes effect. Carr said he hopes Congress will approve making the 3.5 percent hike retroactive to Jan. 1, as it has in the past.

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