Next Step for Incentive Pay Boost for Guardsmen and Reservists Coming in 'Weeks,' Defense Official Vows

Airmen of the Iowa Air National Guard.
Airmen of the Iowa Air National Guard take part in a 9/11 20th anniversary ceremony in Sioux City, Iowa September 11, 2021. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Ter Haar)

The Defense Department within "weeks" will take the next step on a report that will pave the way for National Guardsmen and reservists to receive higher incentive pay, a department official pledged Wednesday.

At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee's personnel subpanel, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., confronted officials for being nearly six months late in following a congressional mandate to give members of reserve components incentive pay equal to the bonuses given to active-duty service members. Under the 2021 annual defense bill, the Pentagon was required to submit a report to Congress before increasing the pay, but the report has yet to be finished.

"I think you guys are slow-rolling this because you don't want to implement it," Duckworth said after a department official gave a jargon-heavy answer to her question about why the report is six months late.

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While the official demurred on a timeline to provide the report to lawmakers, he promised staffers would be briefed in "weeks or less."

"Not years, not months," Thomas Constable, the acting assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs, told Duckworth. "I think the answer is weeks. Obviously, faster when I go back than before I left the building."

Duckworth demanded lawmakers get the report in four weeks.

"You need to do this," she said.

At issue are 18 categories of incentive pay used to attract recruits or retain service members with specific skills or qualifications. Many of the bonuses, which can add hundreds of dollars a month to a service member's paycheck, require specialized training or involve duties that put a service member at greater risk.

Current Pentagon policy caps the incentive pay for Guardsmen and reservists lower than for active-duty troops, despite the fact that they are required to do the same training or duties as their active-duty counterparts to receive the bonuses. For example, Duckworth said Wednesday, both active-duty and reserve paratroopers are required to keep up their skills with three jumps a month, but reservists get only $5 compared to active-duty members getting $150.

To close the disparity, the National Defense Authorization Act passed in 2021 requires that the bonuses be the same for reserve components and active duty. But it also required the Pentagon to first submit a report laying out an implementation plan for incentive pay parity and certifying in writing that parity will not have a detrimental effect on force structure.

That report was due Sept. 30. Duckworth, a retired Army National Guard lieutenant colonel, and five other Senate and House members from both parties sent a letter weeks after the report was due bemoaning the delay. At the time, the Pentagon told it would have an update on the report "within the coming months."

At Wednesday's hearing, Constable suggested the delay has revolved around some bonuses that officials don't want to increase and concerns that offering higher incentive pay to Guardsmen and reservists could lure some troops away from active duty.

"Not all special skills, not all special pays are created equally or should be treated the same," he said. "We just have to find the right mix of places wherein we seek equal dollars versus equal consideration. And of course, cognizant of creating incentives to draw people from one force to the other."

Duckworth said she found that argument insulting.

"This idea that you can slow-roll this and that an active-duty troop is going to leave the active duty to go to the reserves because he's gonna get 150 bucks extra a month for three jumps is an insult to the troops who are on active duty," she said. "And it's still an insult to the [reserve] troops who do those same three jumps every single month in order to meet those standards."

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

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