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Cash to leave in 2015: AF cranks up retirement, separation budget

Mar. 24, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Barksdale Airmen prepare for Global Strike Challen
The Air Force has said airmen in overmanned fields such as enlisted security forces must be cut. (2nd Lieutenant Victoria Lalich / GovMedia)
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The Air Force is planning to spend as much as $1.6 billion on separations and early retirements by the end of fiscal 2015, according to budget documents submitted to Congress.

The Air Force is planning to spend as much as $1.6 billion on separations and early retirements by the end of fiscal 2015, according to budget documents submitted to Congress.

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The Air Force is planning to spend as much as $1.6 billion on separations and early retirements by the end of fiscal 2015, according to budget documents submitted to Congress.

Nearly a billion dollars could be spent in fiscal 2015 alone, the budget documents show, as the number of airmen being involuntarily separated spikes. The Air Force has also requested $320.6 million to fund a possible second round of Temporary Early Retirement Authority for up to 4,200 enlisted airmen next year.

Spokeswoman Rose Richeson said the budget request does not mean the Air Force has definitively decided on a second enlisted TERA.

“We continue to have force management programs every year to meet the end strengths that were provided,” Richeson said March 14. “Right now those programs are all being reviewed to decide what we need for next year. It all depends on how many applications we get in [this year], how many are eligible and how many approvals we have. That’s what next year’s programs will be based on. We’re continuing to try to meet projections associated with the FY15 President’s Budget.”

In the coming weeks, Air Force leaders plan to announce details “on the nature and timing” of force management programs for 2015, after determining not all personnel cuts could be achieved before this fiscal year ends Sept. 30, according to a March 15 release.

As the budget documents were released March 11, the Air Force had put parts of its voluntary force management programs on pause while it re-evaluated them. In a March 14 interview, Lt. Gen. Sam Cox, deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, said that the Air Force was still planning to get down to an end strength of 310,900 in fiscal 2015, as the budget calls for.

“I don’t see any significant changes to that number,” Cox said.

Separations and retirements

The Air Force’s planned budget for separation and early retirement — voluntary and involuntary —payments provides a glimpse into how it expects the current force reductions will shape the service.

The Air Force plans to spend $ 204 million on officer separation payments related to force management — for involuntary separation, voluntary separation and TERA — in 2014 and another $231.6 million in 2015 on just involuntary separations. That would be more than six times the $36.1 million it spent on all officer separation payments — which include officers who are separated for disability or because they failed promotions or were otherwise deemed unfit for duty, plus payments to the Voluntary Separation Incentive trust fund — in 2013.

Enlisted separation payments related to force management will shoot up to $398.1 million in 2014 and again to $744.1 million next year — a nearly 11-fold increase from the $69.1 million in overall enlisted separation payments, including disability and trust fund payments, made in 2013. The number of enlisted airmen receiving some form of separation payment will increase from 2,232 in 2013 to 17,925 in 2015.

In all, the Air Force will spend nearly $1 billion on separation payments next year.

This year, the Air Force expects to pay $81.6 million to 560 officers taking Temporary Early Retirement Authority, or 15-year retirements — one of the keystone programs of the ongoing force management effort. Another 1,137 officers will receive $108.8 million in voluntary separation payments this year. The Air Force has not budgeted for officer TERA or voluntary separation pay in 2015, suggesting the service does not expect to offer these programs again next year to officers.

And the Air Force plans to pay 2,500 enlisted airmen $188.9 million in TERA payments this year and 4,200 enlisted airmen $320.6 million in TERA payments next year. The Air Force has also budgeted $120.7 million in voluntary separation payments for 2,928 enlisted airmen this year, but none for 2015.

The Air Force is planning to pay $245.2 million to 3,246 involuntarily separated officers over the next two years — mostly in 2015.

And another 12, 875 enlisted airmen are expected to be involuntarily separated in 2015, costing the Air Force $423.5 million.

But elsewhere in the budget documents, the Air Force said that “if demand assumption proves incorrect and additional active forces are needed, ... these reductions are reversible within one year.”

The Air Force said it would use increased accessions to reverse these cuts.

Fewer re-up bonuses

The budget documents also show competition for bigger, but fewer, re-enlistment bonuses will be much tighter this year and next. And retention bonuses will be more plentiful for airmen with critical skills such as intel, according to the budget documents.

The Air Force spent more than $232.5 million on re-enlistment bonuses in fiscal 2013, according to the documents. But that amount is expected to drop to $179.3 million this year — a decline of nearly 23 percent — and remain flat next year.

The number of enlisted airmen receiving the first part of their re-enlistment bonus payments will fall by more than half this year — from 7,776 in 2013 to 3,644 in 2014 — and stay around that level in 2015.

However, airmen who do manage to snag one of those bonuses will find them much sweeter — the average initial re-enlistment bonus rate will go up from $11,310 in 2013 to $14,913 this year, and up again to $19,023 in 2015.

Bonuses for critical skills

And after a steep decline in 2013 spending on retention bonuses for critical skills, the Air Force hopes to restore some of those bonuses in coming years. In 2013, the Air Force spent about $7.3 million to retain airmen in vital career fields such as contracting, special tactics and combat rescue, and social work — a steep decline from the $23.2 million and $18.5 million it spent in fiscal 2011 and 2012, respectively. In 2014, the service expects to spend nearly $14.4 million on critical skills retention and $13.6 million in 2015 — a dramatic increase from 2013 but still well below previous years.

The Air Force is planning to restore critical skills bonuses to retain intelligence officers this year, which were dropped in 2012 and 2013, according to budget figures. The Air Force has budgeted $5.7 million to retain intelligence officers in both 2014 and 2015, the same as it spent in 2011. Spending on retention bonuses for contracting and special tactics and combat rescue officers is also slated to increase by 41 percent and 50 percent, respectively, between 2013 and 2015.

Spending for pilot retention bonuses is expected to drop from $70.7 million in 2013 to $63.8 million in 2014, before rising to $66.6 million in 2015.

Less for special pays

And with the war in Afghanistan due to end at the end of this year, the Air Force is also winding down the amounts it has budgeted for hostile fire pay and hardship duty pay. Hostile fire pay will drop from $61.1 million in 2013 to $3.6 million this year and to $3.4 million next year. Likewise, hardship duty pay will drop from $29.3 million in 2013 to $5.6 million this year and then to nearly $5.4 million in 2015.

In another sign of the war’s end, the budgeted amount for family separation allowances for airmen on temporary duty for more than 30 days in locations where they cannot bring their families will also decrease sharply — from $51.5 million in 2013 to $13.4 million this year and to $12.2 million next year.

Overall, special pays will drop from $716.2 million in 2013 to $571.4 million this year and to $565.3 million next year.

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