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Budget Advice For Hagel

Too bad Chuck Hagel wasn't at the Brookings Institution on Friday when a panel of national security experts discussed a solid agenda for the next secretary of defense.

He would have heard the former chief of naval operations, retired Adm. Gary Roughead, describe how the Defense Department could absorb the pending $500 billion sequester reduction in planned Pentagon spending over the next 10 years if it had "the latitude to rebalance its own spending/.../"

His and Schake's paper is toughest on reducing personnel costs, which they say exceed "civilian compensation at every point along the 20-year career period, with the greatest variance among those with only a high school diploma."

They note that pay is only 51 percent of overall compensation and that it's the military "benefits, not salaries, that are crowding out operational and procurement spending." Citing a 2012 survey of 2,600 military personnel, retirees and dependents sponsored by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, they wrote that service personnel in lower and mid-career ranks value their base pay most.

The study found that service members at all stages of their career do not value the Tricare health program commensurate with its $52 billion a year in the base budget. Roughead and Schake propose phasing out Tricare for life, increasing copays for medical and pharmaceutical costs but grandfathering under current programs those with 10 years of service. The rest would get "a package of benefits tailored to their specific needs."

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