JUST IN: Congressional Delays Hampering Civil, Military Relations
Reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the all-volunteer force, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks said its backbone is its people, and political rifts in Congress are jeopardizing not only national security but civil and military relationships.
After passing a continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown in September, “the clock is ticking again,” Hicks said during a Center for a New American Security event Nov. 7. With only 10 days until the continuing resolution expires, Hicks said Congress’ “now routine failure to secure needed resources for defense and for the whole government erodes military trust in civilian leaders.”
Hicks said a “critical piece” of ensuring healthy civil-military relations is keeping politicization out of the military and keeping it “routinely trained and educated on this very issue.” Civilians play an “important role” in reinforcing this norm, she added, “and protecting our service members from being dragged into the political fray or being colored or affected by policy disagreements that they by design have no control over.”
She said one of the strongest signals of healthy civil-military relations the Defense Department can send now is Congress passing fiscal year 2024 defense appropriations — “and soon.”
The cumulative months the Defense Department has been under a continuing resolution since 2011 totals four years’ worth of delays, she said. “Delayed new programming, delayed training and delayed permanent change of station moves. We cannot afford any further delays. I can assure you that Russia and the [People’s Republic of China] are not going to slow down while we get our house in order.”
She also noted ending Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) blockade of high-ranking military promotions would send another strong signal of healthy civil-military relations.
“This hold is unnecessary, unprecedented and unsafe,” she said. “It’s bad for the military, it’s bad for families and it’s bad for America. And it needs to stop now.”
She said confirmation of these leaders is “critical” to national security, applauding recent efforts to generate movement, but it’s “not enough. We need all these nominations to move forward now, and I hope that the Senate will recognize that and move swiftly to confirm the nearly 360 remaining men and women into their positions.”
Delays also affect recruiting, she said — an area the Pentagon has been transparently challenged on and focused on improving.
She said each branch of the military has been “working tirelessly to get after this issue,” with programs and policy changes that will increase the pool of eligible candidates, “from raising the maximum ages of enlistment, to launching new programs that help potential recruits meet eligibility requirements, to offering a variety of incentives and bonuses.”
Areas of focus include reaching younger generations and improving family life.
“We … need as a nation to amplify the value and importance of service,” she said. “This change in military recruitment patterns didn't happen overnight. It's generational. And it is our responsibility to tell younger generations the benefits of military service, of the educational benefits and the cutting-edge training that they can receive and the skills they can learn and develop.”
The good news, she said, is “strong” evidence suggesting Gen Z has a “deep desire, like many generations before … to make sure they’re contributing to something bigger than themselves. We just have to make sure the military is a place both that really delivers on that and that they see is delivering on that. That’s the job that’s left to us.”
That includes communicating how military service creates long-term opportunities in virtually every career field, she said.
Hicks said 40 percent of the Defense Department’s fiscal year 2024 budget request is dedicated to “taking care of our people. We know that when we take care of the basic needs of our service members … they can focus on their mission to defend the nation.”
One basic need Hicks said is the “number one thing” she hears about when visiting installations is access to affordable childcare, saying it will “continue to be a focus” in the fiscal year 2025 budget request.
The Defense Department operates the nation's largest employer-sponsored childcare program, she added. “We provide care to more than 160,000 children 12 years of age and under,” but said in some geographic locations, service members experience long wait lists “largely the result, we believe, of understaffing.”
She also noted the fiscal year 2024 budget request makes a “historic” investment in universal, full-day pre-kindergarten education in Defense Department schools, as well as increasing assistance “to make sure service members know how they can access benefits related to childcare in their state or district.”
Other areas of focus included food security, spousal employment and competitive compensation.
“We are not a perfect institution,” Hicks said. “We are sending a strong signal that we're listening and we're moving to make progress wherever we can, for those who currently serve and to be more attractive to those who show a propensity to serve. Yet with a government shutdown looming once again, and the hold on promotions, we are robbing service members and their families of one thing they deserve most, and that is certainty.”
Topics: Defense Department