Bipartisan bill addresses National Guard promotion delay issue

A new bill will give backdated pay to officers who are waiting months for promotion.

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National Guardsmen waiting half a year or more for their promotions to be validated by the Pentagon may find some reprieve this year.

A bipartisan bill in the House and Senate will backdate pay for guardsmen under their new, promoted salary. Instead of continuing to get paid at their old salary until the Pentagon approves the promotion, guardsmen would get the pay of their new rank from the time they were nominated for promotion and took over the new duties. Guardsmen will receive that pay once the promotion gets DoD’s stamp of approval.

The bill, which is sponsored by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Reps. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) and Trent Kelly (R-Miss.), also tries to get to the root of the promotion delay.

The bill requires the military to recommend improvements to automation and streamlining to quicken the promotion process. The bill also directs the military to report on the status of promotions that are tardy.

“This bill is the end-all be-all for fixing this problem. If we come back from the report in 180 days and DoD maybe identifies some points in law that helps them streamline, I could see [the need for more legislation], but we are 100 percent about the text of the language,”  J.C. Cardinale, legislative affairs manager at The National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS), told Federal News Radio.

Cardinale said the association is hopeful the text of the bill or some of its provisions will make it into the 2019 defense authorization bill. Defense authorizations bills have an impeccable passage record.

The National Guard promotion issue started gaining attention after NGAUS released a survey stating 49 percent of the more than 3,100 guardsmen they polled said more than 196 days passed between state recognition and federal recognition of a promotion. Thirty-seven percent waited between 196 days and 120 days and only 14 percent were promoted in less than 120 days.

“It’s not right to make our junior officers wait months and months to receive the pay and benefits they have earned because of bureaucratic delays. I’ve heard from Massachusetts Guard members who are frustrated by these delays — our bipartisan bill takes simple steps to fix the problem and do right by our dedicated men and women in uniform,” Warren said in a May 8 release.

Her Republican counterpart expressed similar sentiments.

“It’s shameful that they have to wait around for government to do its job to be compensated for the work they have done and sacrifices they have made. This bipartisan bill will right this wrong and ensure Montana’s National Guard members are paid promptly and fairly,” Daines said in a statement.

Warren grilled Army Secretary Mark Esper on the issue last month during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Esper acknowledged the wait time for National Guard promotions is out of hand.

Esper said one of the main issues is the process itself.

“The numbers are too long and unacceptable and frankly in my time in the Guard I had a similar action happen to me,” Esper said. “What we are doing is we are digging through it right now. Part of the challenge is there are multiple steps. The process begins at the state [adjutant general] level and goes through the [National Guard Bureau], the G-1 (Army Personnel} and in some cases the Senate if it’s a colonel or above.”

The secretary noted the Army added more manpower to the problem and is looking into better automation.

“I think there are ways we can reduce the time. There’s about 30 to 45 days added on to determine they have exhibited exemplary behavior and then there are other things out there that may require congressional action,” Esper said. “Part of the process as I understand is the scrolling, which is an antiquated pen and paper process, which also adds time to it. We are trying to attack it on a number of fronts, but it needs to be much, much more timely.”

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