Air Force to pause bonuses and PCS moves

The Air Force will delay PCS moves and pause bonuses to make up for a budget shortfall that could spell problems for recruiting goals.

An unforeseen funding shortfall means Air Force families will face a delay in permanent changes of station (PCS) and a pause in retention bonuses for the rest of this year. The Air Force detailed the programs it would curtail in a statement released Monday.

About 2,000 bonuses would be affected by the pause along with about 20,000 PCS orders, according to an Air Force spokesperson.

“The funding shortfall resulted from higher-than-expected PCS costs as a result of inflation and the addition of recruiting and retention bonuses,” said Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek in an emailed response to Federal News Network.

The suspension of bonuses comes at a critical time for the service as it faces continuing recruiting problems and expects to fall about 10 percent short of its recruiting goals this year. The need for pilots has been particularly acute. In June, the Air Force announced a one-year increase in retention bonuses from $35,000 to $50,000 for specific categories of pilots who were at the end of their military contracts and eligible to re-sign. Those bonuses are now on hold.

No new assignment incentive pay will be given out this year for airmen signing new contracts, and those who re-enlist will not be able to get a re-enlistment bonus. Airmen can extend their enlistment until next year to remain eligible for an enlistment bonus.

“This allows most Airmen to still access a [selective retention bonus] program with the fiscal 2023 rules until the fiscal 2024 program starts. Airmen who reach their maximum extensions by law on their enlistment can also be accommodated through constructive re-enlistment,” Air Force officials said in Monday’s announcement.

For Air Force families planning PCS moves in August or later, the service will review their orders and moves will be approved on a priority basis. Those deemed not priorities will be delayed. Families based overseas also face uncertainty.

“Airmen on overseas long tours with a DEROS (Date Estimated Return from Overseas) between October — December 2023 will have their DEROS extended to January — March 2024,” the Air Force said.

Families of military officers whose promotions need Senate confirmation are also in a holding pattern. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) blocked Senate voting to confirm nominations to protest the  Defense Department rules regarding paid leave and travel for reproductive health.

In a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing Tuesday morning for the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force General C.Q. Brown, the nominee, said the block on promotions hurts military families and it will hurt recruiting and retention.

“Whether it’s schools, whether it’s employment, or the fact that they’ve already sold their home because they thought they were going to move, and now they’re living in temporary quarters — that creates a challenge,” Brown said in the hearing.

Although the holds only affect the most senior officers and political appointees, Brown said service members and their families are taking note.

“We will lose talent. Our spouse network is alive and well. And the spouses will compare notes. The member may want to serve, but the spouses in the families get a huge vote,” he said.

The Pentagon said by the end of the year it could have up to 650 vacancies for general and flag officers if the Senate continues to hold up nominations. DoD officials said the block creates a logjam that holds up lower-ranked officers from moving to their next position.

“There’s a whole chain of events that go down to our more junior officers. It has an impact on their progression in their career field. If one doesn’t get promoted or move on, then they’re blocking a spot for someone else,” Brown said.

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