Should military pilots who have been reassigned from cockpits to ground-based computer consoles to fly remotely-piloted vehicles continue to draw the same flight pay as pilots who still fly jets and helicopters?

Should reserve component personnel on lengthy overseas assignments in locales like Germany continue to draw the same overseas cost-of-living allowances as active duty counterparts?

Is it time to review and possibly streamline various piecemeal improvements made in recent years to compensation and benefits provided to wounded warriors and their families?

These are some of the questions to be answered next year by a new Department of Defense pay study -- the 11th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation (QRMC). President Obama ordered the study to begin in a Dec. 11 memo to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Current law requires that the executive branch conduct a study of military compensation every four years. The law leaves it to the president to decide what issues the study should focus on, however.

Obama wants the 11th QRMC to focus on four areas. They are:

1) Review of compensation for service performed in combat or hostile fire areas, during combat operations or while exposed to a hostile fire event.

Congress signaled its interest in this by including in the fiscal 2010 defense authorization act a provision to curb some combat pay abuses. The services will begin soon to pro-rate hostile fire pay, imminent danger pay, hazardous duty pay, assignment pay and skill incentive pay, based on actual days spent in qualifying danger areas. Service members have been drawing a full month’s payment, for example, if they crewed an aircraft into a war zone, or visited a war theater headquarters, as little as a day per month.

2) Review of Reserve and National Guard compensation and benefits for consistency in current and future “utilization” of these forces.

The consistency sought appears to refer to how reserve compensation stacks up against that of active duty members, in light of a heavier load current reserve component carry compared to past generations. One goal of the study, explained a Pentagon manpower official, will be to smooth “on and off ramps” for reservists mobilized and demobilized for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Another will be to make pay rules for reserve components as simple as possible and to end reserve versus active pay disparities where appropriate.

Army headquarters proposed recently, for example, that overseas cost-of-living allowances end for reserve component members sent on permanent change of station orders to Germany for long tours in support of the war effort, a source explained.

Critics of the move in Europe countered that this attempt to hold down personnel costs would come at the expense of reservists’ who face the same off-post prices for goods and services as do their active duty colleagues.

“This is indicative of a collision between different judgments of what’s fair and equitable,” said a Pentagon official who wants to see the QRMC review such issues and recommend policies or law changes that would end any inappropriate or illogical active/reserve compensation disparities.

3) Review of compensation and benefits for wounded warriors and their caregivers and survivors of fallen service members.

Congress has much to improve disability benefits and to support programs for veterans wounded or disabled since 9/11. That pattern continues with the Senate this year voting an unprecedented payment for family members or other at-home caregivers who attend to needs of severely wounded veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. That Senate plan still must be reconciled with less robust initiatives approved by the House.

“The QRMC gives us an opportunity to organize a lot of good initiatives” that have been approved piecemeal over the last several years, this official explained. Where initiatives conflict or overlap, the QRMC will be able to recommend ways to improve or to clarify recent pays or benefits.

4) Review of pay incentives for critical career fields to include mental health professionals, linguists and translators, remotely piloted vehicle operators, and special operations personnel.

Bonuses and special pays have been increased significantly in recent years to attract and retain these specialties. The QRMC will judge whether it has been enough. Pentagon officials already had been reviewing aviation pay. Indeed without start-up of the QRMC, they might have been ready to make recommendations early in 2010. But Obama’s memo speficially identifies incentive pay for operators of remotely-piloted vehicles as an area needing more study.

The rising population of RPV operators in the Air Force, for example, draws the same flight pay as other pilots with equal years of experience. Relative risk is likely will be a new factor the QRMC weighs when it decides if RPV pilots are properly compensation, said a manpower official.

Current compensation, Obama said, “has allowed us to recruit and retain the highest caliber men and women in our Nation's history, and that system needs to be regularly validated for sufficiency and responsiveness.”

“What’s laid out [by the president] is perfectly healthy for the department to look at,” said a Pentagon official. “These are all areas that, if you ask anybody on the street what’s bothering them, these are them.”

Gates, executive agent for the pay review, is expected to name a QRMC director in early 2010. The study is to haverepresentatives from other agencies including Homeland Security, Commerce, and Health and Human Services. Obama wants the review completed within a year of its initiation and to see a progress report after six months.

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