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Before the Subcommittee on Personnel, Committee on Armed Services, 
U.S. Senate: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 

For Release on Delivery: 
Expected at 10:00 a.m. EDT:
Wednesday, April 28, 2010: 

Military Personnel: 

Comparisons between Military and Civilian Compensation Can be Useful, 
but Data Limitations Prevent Exact Comparisons: 

Statement of Brenda S. Farrell, Director: 
Defense Capabilities and Management: 


Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

Thank you for providing me this opportunity to discuss our most recent 
report on military and civilian pay comparisons and the challenges 
associated with those types of comparisons.[Footnote 1] The Department 
of Defense's (DOD) military compensation package, which is a myriad of 
pays and benefits, is an important tool for attracting and retaining 
the number and quality of active duty servicemembers DOD needs to 
fulfill its mission. Since DOD transitioned to an all-volunteer force 
in 1973, the amount of pay and benefits that servicemembers receive 
has progressively increased.[Footnote 2] When it is competitive with 
civilian compensation, military compensation can be appropriate and 
adequate to attract and retain servicemembers. However, comparisons 
between the two involve both challenges and limitations. Specifically, 
as we have previously reported,[Footnote 3] no data exist that would 
allow an exact comparison between military and civilian personnel with 
the same levels of work experience. Also, nonmonetary considerations 
complicate such comparisons, because their value cannot be quantified. 
For example, military service is unique in that the working conditions 
for active duty service carry the risk of death and injury during 
wartime and the potential for frequent, long deployments, unlike most 
civilian jobs. 

In addition, there is variability among past studies in how 
compensation is defined (for example, either pay or pay and benefits) 
and what is being compared. Most studies, including those done by the 
Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and RAND Corporation, have compared 
military and civilian compensation but limit such comparisons to cash 
compensation--using what DOD calls regular military compensation--and 
do not include benefits.[Footnote 4] DOD has also conducted studies 
comparing military and civilian compensation as part of its 
Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation (QRMC)--a review required 
by law, every 4 years, of the principles and concepts of the 
compensation system for members of the uniformed services.[Footnote 5] 
The 2008 QRMC (the 10th) focused on seven compensation-related areas, 
including the adequacy of compensation, and it recommended, among 
other things, the inclusion of both cash and some benefits--such as 
health care--when assessing military compensation. The 10th QRMC also 
found that, when some benefits were included, military compensation 
compared approximately with the 80th percentile of comparable civilian 
compensation--that is, that 80 percent of the comparable civilian 
population earned less than the military population in the comparison. 
Previously, the 2004 QRMC (the 9th) found that regular military 
compensation met the 70th percentile of comparable civilian cash 

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 required 
that we conduct a study comparing the pay and benefits provided by law 
to members of the Armed Forces with those of comparably situated 
private-sector employees, to assess how the differences in pay and 
benefits affect recruiting and retention of members of the Armed 
Forces.[Footnote 6] Earlier this month, we issued our report. 
[Footnote 7] My testimony today summarizes the findings of that 
report. Specifically, my statement will (1) examine total military 
compensation for active duty officers and enlisted personnel, (2) 
compare private-sector pay and benefits for civilians with those of 
officers and enlisted personnel of the Armed Forces, and (3) assess 
the 10th QRMC's recommendation to include regular military 
compensation and select benefits when making such comparisons. 

We focused our work on active duty servicemembers' perspectives on 
compensation--that is, cash compensation and the value of benefits to 
servicemembers versus the costs to the government of providing 
compensation. To conduct our work, we identified and reviewed studies 
on compensation by such organizations as CNA Corporation (CNA), CBO, 
the Congressional Research Service, DOD, GAO, and RAND. We interviewed 
officials from DOD's Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for 
Personnel and Readiness, including the Deputy Under Secretary of 
Defense for Military Personnel Policy and officials within the 
Directorate of Compensation, as well as officials from CNA, CBO, the 
Defense Manpower Data Center, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the 
Military Officers Association of America. To assess total military 
compensation, we reviewed a 2008 DOD-commissioned report[Footnote 8]-- 
completed by CNA--and identified estimated values for the elements of 
military compensation (that is, regular military compensation, health 
care, retirement, and additional tax advantages). We also identified 
the employee benefits available to active duty servicemembers and used 
DOD survey data to identify the utilization rates of these benefits by 
servicemembers. To compare military compensation with private-sector 
pay and benefits of comparable civilians, we used CNA's report to 
identify estimated values for private-sector compensation--pay and 
benefits--for comparable civilians. In addition, we reviewed the 
methods CNA used to estimate values for several benefits--retirement, 
health care, and additional tax advantages.[Footnote 9] Finally, to 
assess the 10th QRMC's recommendation to include regular military 
compensation and select benefits when comparing military and civilian 
compensation, we conducted a review of recent literature on 
compensation--including regular military compensation and select 
benefits--and interviewed DOD officials and other knowledgeable 
individuals in the fields of compensation and human capital 
management. We conducted our work in accordance with generally 
accepted government auditing standards. Those standards require that 
we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate 
evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and 
conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that the 
evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and 
conclusions based on our audit objectives. 

Total Military Compensation for Active Duty Officers and Enlisted 
Personnel Is Broad and Difficult to Assess: 

DOD provides active duty servicemembers with a comprehensive 
compensation package that includes a mix of cash, such as basic pay; 
noncash benefits, such as health care; and deferred compensation, such 
as retirement pension. The foundation of each servicemember's 
compensation is regular military compensation, which consists of basic 
pay, housing allowance, subsistence allowances, and federal income tax 
advantage. The amount of cash compensation that a servicemember 
receives varies according to rank, tenure of service, and dependency 
status. For example, a hypothetical servicemember with 1 year of 
service at the rank of O-1 and no dependents would currently receive 
an annual regular military compensation of $54,663, whereas a 
hypothetical servicemember with 4 years of service at the rank of E-5 
and one dependent would receive an annual regular military 
compensation of $52,589.[Footnote 10] In addition to cash 
compensation, DOD offers current and retired servicemembers a wide 
variety of noncash benefits. These range from family health care 
coverage and education assistance to installation-based services, such 
as child care, youth, and family programs. 

While many studies of active duty military compensation have attempted 
to assess the value of the compensation package, most did not consider 
all of the components of compensation offered to servicemembers. CBO, 
RAND, and CNA have assessed military compensation using varying 
approaches. All of their studies include some components of 
compensation--for example, cash compensation beyond basic pay, which 
includes housing and subsistence allowances, the federal income tax 
advantage, and, when possible, special and incentive pay. However, 
these studies did not assess all components of compensation offered to 
servicemembers. Thus, the results of these studies differ based on 
what is being assessed, the methodology used to conduct the 
assessment, and the components of compensation included in the 

The most recent study, a 2008 DOD-sponsored study performed by CNA, 
assessed military compensation using regular military compensation and 
some benefits (specifically, health care, the military tax advantage, 
and retirement benefits).[Footnote 11] In particular, the results of 
this study state that in 2006, average enlisted servicemembers' 
compensation ranged from approximately $40,000 at 1 year of service to 
approximately $80,000 at 20 years of service.[Footnote 12] 
Additionally, in 2006 the average officers' compensation ranged from 
approximately $50,000 at 1 year of service to approximately $140,000 
at 20 years of service. Our analysis of CNA's 2008 study found that 
overall, CNA used a reasonable approach to assessing military 
compensation; however, we provided comments on two issues. In general, 
we agree that when assessing military compensation for the purpose of 
comparing it with civilian compensation, it is appropriate to include 
regular military compensation and benefits (as many as can be 
reasonably valued from the servicemembers' perspective). For example, 
in order to value health care, CNA estimated the difference in value 
between military and civilian health benefits, because servicemembers 
receive more comprehensive health care than most civilians.[Footnote 

As mentioned previously, we identified two areas for comment with 
regard to CNA's approach. First, with regard to retirement, health 
care, and tax advantage, CNA's methodology makes various assumptions 
that allow the study to calculate approximate values for these 
benefits. While the assumptions are reasonable, we note that other, 
alternative assumptions could have been made, and thus, in some cases, 
could have generated substantially different values.[Footnote 14] 
Second, the CNA study omits the valuation of retiree health care, 
which is a significant benefit provided to servicemembers. 
Nevertheless, we note that CNA's study and other studies of military 
compensation illustrate that valuing total military compensation from 
a servicemember's perspective is challenging, given the variability 
across the large number of pays and benefits, the need to make certain 
assumptions to estimate the value of various benefits, and the 
utilization of benefits by servicemembers or their dependents, among 
other reasons. 

Military Compensation Generally Compares Favorably with Civilian 
Compensation in Studies, but These Comparisons Present Limitations: 

In comparing military and civilian compensation, CNA's study as well 
as a 2007 CBO study,[Footnote 15] found that military pay generally 
compares favorably with civilian pay. CNA found that in 2006, regular 
military compensation for enlisted personnel averaged $4,700 more 
annually than comparable civilian earnings. Similarly, CNA found that 
military officers received an average of about $11,500 more annually 
than comparable civilians. Further, CNA found that the inclusion of 
three military benefits--health care, retirement, and the additional 
tax advantage for military members--increased the differentials by an 
average of $8,660 annually for enlisted servicemembers and $13,370 
annually for officers. A 2007 CBO study similarly found that military 
compensation compares favorably with civilian compensation. For 
example, CBO's report suggested that DOD's goal to make regular 
military compensation comparable with the 70th percentile of civilian 
compensation has been achieved. We note that the major difference 
between the two studies lies in their definitions of compensation. CNA 
asserted, and we agree, that the inclusion of benefits allows for 
comparisons of actual levels of compensation and provides some useful 
comparison points for determining whether servicemembers are 
compensated at a level that is comparable to that of their civilian 
peers, although the caveats that we discuss below should be 
considered. CBO also noted, and we agree, that including benefits can 
add another level of complexity to such analytical studies. 

However, while these studies and comparisons between military and 
civilian compensation in general provide policymakers with some 
insight into how well military compensation is keeping pace with 
overall civilian compensation, we believe that such broad comparisons 
are not sufficient indicators for determining the appropriateness of 
military compensation levels. For example, the mix of skills, 
education, and experience can differ between the comparison groups, 
making direct comparisons of salary and earnings difficult. While some 
efforts were made by CNA to control for age (as a proxy for years of 
experience) and broad education levels, CNA did not control for other 
factors, such as field of degree or demographics (other than age), 
that we feel would be needed to make an adequate comparison. As 
another example, one approach that is sometimes taken to illustrate a 
difference, or "pay gap," between rates of military and civilian pay 
is to compare over time changes in the rates of basic pay with changes 
in the Employment Cost Index.[Footnote 16] We do not believe that such 
comparisons demonstrate the existence of a pay gap or facilitate 
accurate comparisons between military and civilian compensation 
because they assume that military basic pay is the only component of 
compensation that should be compared to changes in civilian pay and 
exclude other important components of military compensation, such as 
the housing and subsistence allowances. We note that CBO also 
previously discussed three other shortcomings of making such 
comparisons in a 1999 report.[Footnote 17] Specifically, CBO noted 
that such comparisons (1) select a starting point for the comparison 
without a sound analytic basis, yet the results of the pay gap 
calculation are very sensitive to changes in that starting point; (2) 
do not take into account differences in the demographic composition of 
the civilian and military labor forces; and (3) compare military pay 
growth over one time period with a measure of civilian pay growth over 
a somewhat different period. 

10th QRMC's Recommendation to Include Regular Military Compensation 
and Select Benefits When Comparing Military and Civilian Compensation 
Appears Reasonable: 

The 10th QRMC's recommendation to include regular military 
compensation and select benefits when comparing military and civilian 
compensation appears reasonable to us because it provides a more 
complete measure of military compensation than considering only cash 
compensation.[Footnote 18] Given the large proportion of servicemember 
compensation that is comprised of in-kind and deferred benefits, the 
10th QRMC emphasized that taking these additional components of 
compensation into account shows that servicemember compensation is 
generous relative to civilian compensation--more so than traditional 
comparisons of regular military compensation suggest.[Footnote 19] The 
10th QRMC also recommended that in order to maintain the standard 
established by the 9th QRMC's 70th percentile (which includes only 
regular military compensation), DOD adopt the 80th percentile as its 
goal for military compensation when regular military compensation and 
the value of some benefits, such as health care, are included in the 
analysis. In general, when comparing military and civilian 
compensation, a more complete or appropriate measure of compensation 
should include cash and benefits. When considering either a military 
or a civilian job, an individual is likely to consider the overall 
compensation--to include pay as well as the range and value of the 
benefits offered between the two options. The challenge with this 
approach, as mentioned previously, lies in determining how to "value" 
the benefits, and which benefits to include in the comparison. 

Prior to issuing our report earlier this month the Deputy Under 
Secretary of Defense for Military Personnel Policy provided us with 
oral comments on a draft of the report. The Deputy Under Secretary 
generally agreed with our findings, noting that numerous studies have 
attempted to estimate the value military members place on noncash and 
deferred benefits and that each study has found that identifying 
relevant assumptions, valuing these benefits, and finding appropriate 
benchmarks and comparisons are significant challenges. Noting the 
variation in the results of these studies, the Deputy Under Secretary 
stated that further study is necessary before DOD is willing to 
consider measuring and benchmarking military compensation using a 
measurement that incorporates benefits. 

While comparisons between military and civilian compensation are 
important management measures, they alone do not necessarily indicate 
the appropriateness or adequacy of compensation. Another measure is 
DOD's ability to recruit and retain personnel. We have reported in the 
past that compensation systems are tools used for recruiting and 
retention purposes.[Footnote 20] Similarly, in 2009, CBO stated that 
ultimately, the best barometer of the effectiveness of DOD's 
compensation system is how well the military attracts and retains high-
quality, skilled personnel.[Footnote 21] Since 1982, DOD has only 
missed its overall annual recruiting target three times--in 1998 
during a period of very low unemployment, in 1999, and most recently 
in 2005. Given that (1) the ability to recruit and retain is a key 
indicator of the adequacy of compensation and (2) DOD has generally 
met its overall recruiting and retention goals for the past several 
years, it appears that regular military compensation is adequate at 
the 70th percentile of comparable civilian pay as well as at the 80th 
percentile when additional benefits are included. We note that 
although the services have generally met their overall recruiting 
goals in recent years, certain specialties, such as medical personnel, 
continue to experience recruiting and retention challenges. As a 
result, permanent, across-the-board pay increases may not be seen as 
the most efficient recruiting and retention mechanism. In fact, our 
previous work has shown that use of targeted bonuses may be more 
appropriate for meeting DOD's requirements for selected specialties 
where DOD faces challenges in recruiting and retaining sufficient 
numbers of personnel.[Footnote 22] 

Concluding Observations: 

In closing, we note that comparisons between military and civilian 
compensation are important management tools--or measures--for the 
department to use to assess the adequacy and appropriateness of its 
compensation. However, such comparisons present both limitations and 
challenges. For example, data limitations and difficulties valuing 
nonmonetary benefits prevent exact comparisons between military and 
civilian personnel. Moreover, these comparisons represent points in 
time and are affected by other factors, such as the health of the 
economy. To illustrate, it is not clear the degree to which changes in 
the provision of civilian health care or retirement benefits affect 
the outcome of comparing military and civilian compensation. In 
addition, valuing military service is complicated. While serving in 
the military offers personal and professional rewards, such service 
also requires many sacrifices--for example, frequent moves and jobs 
that are arduous and sometimes dangerous. Ultimately, DOD's ability to 
recruit and retain personnel is an important indicator of the 
adequacy--or effectiveness--of its compensation. 

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. I would be happy 
to respond to any questions that you or members of the subcommittee 
may have at this time. 

GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments: 

For further information about this testimony, please contact Brenda S. 
Farrell, Director, Defense Capabilities and Management, at (202) 512- 
3604, or Key contributors to this statement include 
Marion A. Gatling, Assistant Director; K. Nicole Harms; Wesley A. 
Johnson; Susan C. Langley; Charles W. Perdue; Jennifer L. Weber; and 
Cheryl A. Weissman. Other contributors include Natalya Barden, 
Margaret Braley, Timothy J. Carr, and Patrick M. Dudley. Contact 
points for our Offices of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs 
may be found on the last page of this testimony. 

[End of section] 


[1] GAO, Military Personnel: Military and Civilian Pay Comparisons 
Present Challenges and Are One of Many Tools in Assessing 
Compensation, [hyperlink,] 
(Washington, D.C.: Apr. 1, 2010). 

[2] Historically, "basic pay" has been the largest component of 
military compensation, and is paid to all servicemembers according to 
their respective rank and years of service. Congress has provided for 
and DOD has also implemented over the years a number of additional 
benefits--some of which may be deferred until after the completion of 
active duty service. An example is the Post 9-11 Veterans Educational 
Assistance Act, which expanded the education benefits available to 
qualified active duty and reserve component members. 

[3] GAO, Military Compensation: Comparisons With Civilian Compensation 
and Related Issues, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: June 5, 
1986) and [hyperlink,]. 

[4] Regular military compensation is the sum of basic pay, allowances 
for housing and subsistence, and the federal income tax advantage-- 
which is the value a servicemember receives from not paying federal 
income tax on allowances for housing and subsistence. It was initially 
constructed by the Gorham Commission in 1962 as a rough yardstick to 
be used to compare military and civilian-sector pay. 

[5] 37 U.S.C. § 1008. 

[6] Pub. L. No. 111-84, § 606 (2009). 

[7] [hyperlink,]. 

[8] James E. Grefer, CNA Corporation, Comparing Military and Civilian 
Compensation Packages (Alexandria, VA: March 2008). 

[9] For example, servicemembers do not pay Federal Insurance 
Contributions Act (FICA) tax and state tax on their housing and 
subsistence allowances. 

[10] These estimates come from DOD's regular military compensation 
calculator, available at hyperlink,]. 

[11] CNA was commissioned by the 10th QRMC to conduct a study 
comparing military and civilian compensation. The results of the study 
were used by the QRMC. Typically, discussions of the military tax 
advantage focus on the savings that arise because the allowances for 
housing and subsistence are not subject to federal income tax. 
However, CNA's study also included an estimation of the expected 
annual tax advantage that servicemembers receive because they do not 
pay state and FICA taxes on their housing and subsistence allowances 
and can often avoid paying any state income taxes depending on their 
state home of record. 

[12] We did not verify the calculations underlying CNA's reported 
estimates of the value of these select benefits. 

[13] Specifically, active duty servicemembers are automatically 
enrolled in TRICARE Prime and do not pay premiums or out-of-pocket 
expenses for their healthcare whereas many civilians do not receive 
any health care benefits from their employers and even those who do 
usually pay some out-of-pocket expenses and part of the premium. By 
calculating the amount that the typical civilian worker pays for 
premiums and out-of-pockets expenses, CNA found the difference between 
what civilians and servicemembers pay. In other words, the benefit 
servicemembers receive is avoiding the costs civilians would have to 
pay to receive comparable health care. 

[14] For example, when applying discount rates to value retirement 
benefits, the rate assumed affects the value of the retirement. To 
illustrate, if a person is to receive $100 in 20 years, the present 
value of that money is $3.65 using 18 percent, $10.37 using 12 
percent, or $31.18 using 6 percent. 

[15] CBO, Evaluating Military Compensation (Washington, D.C.: June 

[16] The Employment Cost Index is a nationally representative measure 
of labor cost for the civilian economy and measures changes in wages 
and employers' costs for employee benefits. 

[17] CBO, What Does the Military "Pay Gap" Mean? (Washington, D.C.: 
June 1999). 

[18] According to senior officials in the Office of the Under 
Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness' Directorate of 
Compensation, the department has not yet adopted the 10th QRMC's 
recommendation of including benefits in comparing military and 
civilian compensation, thus setting the department's overall 
compensation goal at the 80th percentile of comparable civilian 

[19] According to 2005 and 2007 GAO reports, about half of active duty 
compensation costs consist of benefits, as compared with about 18 
percent in the private sector and about 33 percent for federal 
civilian employees. See GAO, Military Personnel: DOD Needs to Improve 
the Transparency and Reassess the Reasonableness, Appropriateness, 
Affordability, and Sustainability of Its Military Compensation System, 
[hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: 
July 19, 2005), and Military Personnel: DOD Needs to Establish a 
Strategy and Improve Transparency over Reserve and National Guard 
Compensation to Manage Significant Growth in Cost, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: June 20, 

[20] GAO, Military Personnel: Active Duty Benefits Reflect Changing 
Demographics, but Opportunities Exist to Improve, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 18, 

[21] CBO, Statement of Matthew S. Goldberg: Long-Term Implications of 
the Department of Defense's Fiscal Year 2010 Budget Submission 
(Washington, D.C.: Nov. 18, 2009). 

[22] GAO, Military Personnel: Observations Related to Reserve 
Compensation, Selective Reenlistment Bonuses, and Mail Delivery to 
Deployed Troops, [hyperlink,] 
(Washington, D.C.: Mar. 24, 2004); Military Personnel: DOD Needs More 
Effective Controls to Better Assess the Progress of the Selective 
Reenlistment Bonus Program, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Nov. 13, 
2003); Military Personnel: DOD Needs More Data to Address Financial 
and Health Care Issues Affecting Reservists, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 10, 
2003); and Human Capital: Effective Use of Flexibilities Can Assist 
Agencies in Managing Their Workforces, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Dec. 6, 2002). 

[End of section] 

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