May 10, 2024

ICYMI: Chairing Hearing, Warren Highlights Priorities for Military Personnel for Year Ahead, Urges More Investment in Housing, Child Care

Video of Hearing

Washington, D.C. — Yesterday, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), chair of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, led an annual hearing highlighting personnel priorities for the Department of Defense (DoD) and the military services for the coming year. Senator Warren applauded DoD for making progress on recruiting challenges discussed at last year’s posture hearing, and reiterated her call for fiscal reforms at DoD that would lower costs and free up room for investments in other priorities, like military housing and child care.

Mr. Ashish S. Vazirani, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, agreed with Senator Warren’s concerns with indefinite delivery contract costs and the need to collect and evaluate good cost data to clarify priorities and identify room for savings. When pressed by Senator Warren, Acting Under Secretary Vazirani agreed that competitive salaries are a national security concern and necessary to ensure a strong, civilian force, saying “As we're competing in a very tight labor market, we need to have a competitive pay structure.”

On housing, Acting Under Secretary Vazirani agreed quality of housing impacts quality of service and quality of life for service members. Senator Warren urged Congress to expand the Defense Community Infrastructure Program (DCIP) to build more housing to improve the readiness and quality of life for service members and their families. “Access to affordable housing certainly will improve the quality of life for military families,” Vazirani said. 

Beth Foster, Executive Director of the Office of Force Resiliency, spoke about the Integrated Primary Prevention Workforce and its role in preventing harmful behaviors at DoD. In an update to Senator Warren, Ms. Foster highlighted the thousand personnel hired, and reiterated that those personnel are getting credentials and appropriate training to do effective work and prevent harm. 

In response to Senator Warren, all of the personnel leaders for the military services agreed that quality, affordable child care is integral to military readiness, retention, and national security. “We've got to get the additional funding to do this,” Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel, and Services Lieutenant General Caroline Miller said. Senator Warren reiterated that increasing child care staff is critical, especially given the shortage of 3,900 caregivers needed to match existing childcare needs of the services’ military personnel. 

Transcript: To Receive Testimony on Military and Civilian Personnel Programs in the Department of Defense in Review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2025 and the Future Years Defense Program 
U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel
May 8, 2024 

Senator Warren's Opening Remarks

Senator Warren: This hearing will come to order. 

Good afternoon and welcome to the Personnel Subcommittee's hearing to receive testimony on military and civilian personnel programs in the Department of Defense and military services. Our annual posture hearing provides the Department and military services the opportunity to discuss their personnel priorities for the coming year. 

It is also a chance for the members of this subcommittee to continue to address the major challenges confronting our all-volunteer force. I am pleased to see the military services are making progress in addressing their recruiting challenges. Since our last posture hearing. Nice work. It is critical that we welcome and support anyone who wants to serve their country. 

There are several topics I want to focus on today with our witnesses. First, if we want to continue to have the most powerful military in the world, we need to be smarter about resources. Last July, this subcommittee held a hearing looking at opportunities to better manage the DoD workforce and, at the same time, to reduce costs. 

Now, while most people think DoD workforce is made up only of military and civilian employees, there's also a huge band of contractors, providing consulting, legal, and accounting services. Witnesses from the Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office told us that we don't know how many are on the payroll, or even how much we're paying. In September, the GAO released a report describing how we are missing out on billions of dollars worth of opportunities to be smarter about how we manage this contractor workforce. 

If we can be smarter with our resources, it could save billions of dollars that could then be used to support service members and their families. There are two areas on this in particular that I would like to focus on. 

First is military housing. I have worked with my colleagues on this committee to address significant shortfalls in the quality of housing that we provide to our service members. And we will keep working on that. But we also have another huge housing problem, there simply is not enough housing for active duty military. 

By some estimates, we are short at least 7 million housing units nationwide. And that shortage has a big impact on military families. You know, every few years, sometimes every few months, we ask families to pack their bags and move– often to communities where there aren't nearly enough affordable homes. These housing shortages force military families to strain their budgets and pay prices they can't afford or to undergo long commutes. Those higher housing and commuting costs should be covered by the basic housing allowance that DoD provides to military families. But the most recent Blue Star Families survey found that nearly three quarters of military families living in civilian housing are paying more than $200 out of pocket. 

Congress acknowledged this problem in fiscal year 2019. It created the Defense Community Infrastructure Program, DCIP, because we have to have an acronym for everything, to help communities address community infrastructure shortfalls near military installations. Now, DoD made clear from this program's inception, that its top priority– top priority was, quote, “military quality of life, military resilience, and military value in that order,” close quote. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about how this program could be used to help address our military's housing crisis.

Another area we should be investing in our military personnel is child care. Accessing child care remains a problem for all families– military and civilian. Two-thirds of active duty military families have children living at home. We must modernize and improve the way that DoD ensures that service members and their families have access to affordable, high-quality child care. 

I know that this is a top priority for many of the members of this committee. I have very much appreciated Ranking Member Scott's partnership and commitment on this issue. Right now, there are thousands of vacancies for child care workers across DoD Child Care Development Centers, which means fewer available child care spots for military families. The department has put together a plan to finally update the pay scale for child care workers. I am particularly interested in hearing from our witnesses from the military services about how increasing child care capacity could help us continue to recruit and retain the best in the military world.

We must do better to support our military families. And so I want to say to our witnesses, welcome. Thank you for appearing.

We're going to have two panels today. The first panel consists of officials from the Office of the Secretary of Defense who cover the full range of military and civilian personnel programs. 

The Honorable Ashish Veri, Veriani – Verizani. I know I know how to do this. Did I get close? Vazirani. It just took me a minute to look. I apologize. Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

The Honorable Kohane– Robert Kohane, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs.

Dr. Lester Martinez-Lopez, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.

And Beth Foster, Executive Director of the Office of Force Resiliency. 

The second panel will consist of the personnel leaders for the military services. I will introduce them when they sit down. And now I will turn to Senator Scott for his opening statement.

Panel 1, Round 1: Budget Priorities

Senator Warren: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. 

So this year the Pentagon requested $850 billion in funding and some of my colleagues are howling that that is not enough. But before we talk about spending more money, we should examine opportunities for DoD to save billions of dollars. 

When we talk about defense contractors, as I was saying earlier, most people think about Lockheed Martin or Boeing, but DoD also relies on service contractors, which are contractors like Booz Allen, McKinsey, and CACI are hired to do things like consulting, accounting, and strategic analysis. DoD’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office found that, in some cases, those contractors can cost two or three times as much as a civilian employee doing the exact same work. 

Secretary Vazirani, you oversee DoD's entire workforce, including the contractors. When determining the right mix of employees, service members, and civilians, how important is it to have good cost data?

Mr. Ashish S. Vazirani, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness: Senator, as stewards of the taxpayer dollars, it's very important that we have good cost data and we do our very best to get accurate cost data as we develop our budgets. 

Senator Warren: I'm glad to hear you say that and I agree with you entirely. 

You know, the Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office, told this committee last year that DoD doesn't know how many contractors it hires, doesn't have reliable data to determine if hiring a contractor will cost more money or less money than a federal employee doing the same job, and that these decisions make it possible about– it makes about service contractors pose one of the highest risks in government of taxpayers getting cheated. 

The GAO released a report in September that found the military services are failing to collect and evaluate the workforce data that they need to clearly set priorities and identify efficiencies. The result is DoD is missing essential potential cost savings on service contractors, quote “totaling billions of dollars.”

Secretary Vazirani, spending on service contractors has more than doubled in just the past 25 years. The GAO estimates that we– estimates– that we spend about $200 billion on these contractors, though the CBO thinks it's closer to $300 billion that we're spending. So do you think we ought to know how much we're actually paying?

Mr. Vazirani: Senator, I think it's, it's very important that we know how much we're spending on these, on these contracts and on these contractors. 

Senator Warren: I appreciate your saying this, and I know that it may feel like the answer is, “Well duh!” But it is important that we get this on the record. And you are the one that's trying to run these programs, and it is critical that we get this information and have it when we're evaluating the decisions we make.

Now one of the types of contracts that DoD uses for these services is called an “indefinite delivery contract,” which is used when DoD doesn't know the timeframe, or doesn't even know how many people that it needs to hire under these contracts. 

So, Secretary Vazirani, about how often do you think that DoD uses an indefinite delivery contract to hire consultants and other contractors?

Mr. Vazirani: Senator, an indefinite delivery contract is one of many contracted vehicles available to the department. They're typically used when there are emerging missions and we need that flexibility. It's my understanding that we utilize those contracts about 50% of the time.

Senator Warren: Yeah, I think the GAO says it's 54% of the time. 

You know, I understand these contracts in extraordinary circumstances. But it can't be a majority of the time that we're using contractors and still call it a surprise in any way. More than half the time that we're signing these contracts we're not sure what we want, or when we want it, but we are committing to pay whatever is charged. 

The civilian employees working alongside these contractors are under a whole lot more scrutiny, and we thank them for their service by asking them to endure pay cuts and freezes. As Ranking Member Wicker has pointed out, quote, “The Department also does not pay competitive salaries.” 

So, Secretary Vazirani, would you agree that failing to pay competitive salaries makes it challenging for DoD to build the civilian workforce that we need to protect our national security?

Mr. Vazirani: Senator, the civilian component of the total force is critical to our mission. We do need to ensure that we can compete. Over the last several years the Congress has given us the ability to increase pay for civilian employees. This year, given the total, the fiscal constraints, we've had to make some hard choices. But we will continue to use the flexibilities provided by Congress to ma– ensure that we can enhance our competitiveness. We also understand and support the, what's in the President's budget with regard to changing some of the structure and ensuring that we can address issues like pay compression to ensure that we are–

Senator Warren: I just, I just want to underscore here though, Secretary Vazirani, I appreciate that you're doing the best with what you're given. And I'm not quarreling about that. 

I just want to get on the record that failing to pay competitive salaries makes it really challenging for DoD to build the civilian workforce that it needs in order to protect our national security. Do you agree with that?

Mr. Vazirani: Senator, I agree that as we're competing in a very tight labor market, we need to have a competitive pay structure.

Senator Warren: Good.

The Federal Salary Council has found that federal employees make 27.5% less than their private sector counterparts. This year's budget doesn't even keep their salaries in line with inflation. 

So, Secretary Vazirani, I want to work with you and the rest of DoD to build the workforce we need to keep Americans safe. But that has to start with looking at where we can save billions of dollars, and investing in enduring capacity to keep DoD at the cutting edge that we need to do to protect our national security. 

Thank you.

Panel 1, Round 2: Housing

Senator Warren: Ms. Foster, I understand now that we have an integrated primary prevention workforce, and that it was designed to try to deal with a lot of interpersonal issues of sexual assault in the military, child abuse, other kinds of issues, and that you've been trying to hire nationwide for this. Can you just give us an update on where you are, what kind of challenges you faced, and what you see over a sort of near-term horizon for this, for this workforce?

Beth Foster, Executive Director of the Office of Force Resiliency: Senator, absolutely. Thank you for the question. 

The Integrated Primary Prevention Workforce is a key focus of ours in preventing harmful behaviors at the Department of Defense. What I can tell you is that the department has hired over a thousand of those personnel. Our goal is to have in place 2,500 personnel across the globe– at every installation across the world. We've been really focused on making sure that this is a truly professional workforce. So that ensures – that means that we have to ensure that this workforce receives adequate training to do their difficult work. One of the things that we've done is created a first-of-its-kind prevention credential. And we're in the process of ensuring that those personnel that we've hired are getting that credential and getting that appropriate training.

Senator Warren: I appreciate the update. 

So, another issue I'd like to talk about, and I said I would talk about at the beginning, is about housing. Families all across this country, military and non-military, are struggling because of our nation's housing crisis, but this is hitting the military really hard. Nearly two-thirds of servicemembers live off base, 73% of those troops are paying well over $200 a month in out-of-pocket housing costs, despite the military providing them a basic housing allowance that, allegedly, covers their housing needs. 

In Florida, a housing shortage led to a shortage of air traffic controllers at a base in Key West when sailors refused their assignments to the base because of its reputation for housing issues. Shortages have also forced some Navy sailors, who served on tour for months, to live on ships when they return home because there's no place on land for them to live. 

Secretary Vazirani, when there isn't enough housing to go around, how does that affect military readiness and personnel?

Mr. Vazirani: Senator, quality of housing certainly impacts quality of service and quality of life. And that certainly has – the quality of life for a military family affects military family readiness and overall readiness. So–

Senator Warren: So in fiscal year 2019, Congress created a pilot program called the Defense Community Infrastructure Program, DCIP, to help state and local governments improve, quote, “deficiencies in community infrastructures supportive of a military installation.” In other words, we can spend money to help out in the community if it would help our military base. 

Now, DCIP has been so successful that Congress made this program permanent in last year's NDAA. And in the last year alone, these grants helped to replace aging stormwater infrastructure in the port of Alaska and Norfolk, Virginia, to construct a new fire station in Florida, and create a multi-agency emergency command center in Louisiana. 

Secretary Vazirani, have DCIP’s investments in off-base community infrastructure paid off for service members and their families, in your opinion?

Mr. Vazirani: Senator, I think the DCIP’s program is certainly – has been an effective program in investing in those communities where there are significant numbers of military.

Senator Warren: And investing in the communities in a way that benefits the military. This is not just, “you got lucky and won the lottery, you have a military base.” It's that it actually helps the people who are serving on base, is that right? I just want to make sure I've got this right.

Mr. Vazirani: Senator, that is correct. 

Senator Warren: And the reason I want to push on this issue is because I want to build on the success of DCIP. According to a recent survey, shortages in off-base housing is one of the top issues facing service members and their families. Expanding DCIP to prioritize projects that will increase the housing supply for families who can't live on base, or who don't want to live on base, would be a good first step. 

So, Secretary Vazirani, would more funding for off-base communities to build more housing to improve the readiness and quality of life ser– for service– would it improve the readiness and quality of life for service members and their families?

Mr. Vazirani: Senator, access to affordable housing certainly will improve the quality of life for military families. We're very focused on that. As we look at, for example, the BAH, we evaluate that yearly, we look at what is available housing, we look at the quality of the housing level, we focus on areas where there is high quality housing, where there are– where there's low crime. And we also look at where our military families currently living as we set those BAH rates. 

Senator Warren: Good. I appreciate that.

I want to work with Senator Scott and other members of this committee to see if we can't get more help through the DCIP program. 

You know, there's a lot we need to do to improve current military housing, from getting rid of mold and abusive non-disclosure agreements, to fixing up conditions in barracks. And I'm going to be pushing hard to do that in this year's NDAA. And I know I'm gonna get a lot of help here.

But at the end of the day, there's just no substitute for more housing. Congress should build on the success of the DCIP program by expanding DCIP to help tackle one of the worst problems we're facing and that is the housing shortage for our military personnel. 

So, thank you.

Panel 2, Round 1: DoD Child Care 

Senator Warren: So, recruitment, we hear a lot about that. I want to focus in again on an issue we've talked about that's a retention issue. 

Two-thirds of active duty military families have children living at home. Two-thirds. The number one issue for many, many parents is, “where will my children be. Who's taking care of them when I have to be at work?” Now, this is why the Department of Defense runs the largest employer-sponsored child care program in the entire United States. Our childcare is affordable, it is high-quality, so that our service members can show up to work, protect our country, and know that their children are safe and well cared for. 

Here's the good news: the DoD program is known for being one of the best child care programs in the country. But here is the bad news: DoD cannot find enough workers. There were 12,000 children on DoD’s waitlists, as of last year, waiting for child care. Think about what that means. That's more than 12,000 parents struggling to find out how to meet their military obligations when they have small children at home that need care. 

So, today we have the deputy chiefs, and I just want to get this on the record. And I'll start with you, Lieutenant General Miller.

Is childcare critical to the Air Force’s readiness and retention, and therefore to national security. Or let me ask it another way. How important is child care to being able to retain the military that you have invested in, you have paid for their training. These are the people who not only can do the job, the people who are doing the job. How much do you need child care? 

Lieutenant General Caroline Miller (U.S. Air Force), Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services: Oh, it's absolutely critical to readiness. The first thing you do when you get a PCS assignment is you look at, if you have children, where are my children gonna go? What is the access to the child care? You know, how, what's available to me? How do I get on the list as soon as possible? So it is absolutely, it is a mission ready– I mean, it is mission readiness.

Senator Warren: Mission readiness. Lieutenant General Glenn?

Lieutenant General James F. Glynn (U.S. Marine Corps), Deputy Commandant, Manpower & Reserve Affairs: Yeah, I would, I would echo Lieutenant General Miller's comment. It is– continues to be a consideration for every family. And what families seek, we hear over and over again, is predictability. And so can I predictably, in this instance, predictably, take care of my children? Do I know what school system? Is there after school activities available? And all the things related to. Yes, Senator, it’s very important.

Senator Warren: Okay. “Can I count on this.” really important. Vice Admiral Cheeseman? 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman (U.S. Navy), Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Personnel, Manpower, and Training: Senator, same answer for the Navy. It's absolutely mission critical to be able to take care of our sailors' children. And we're making every effort we can to increase capacity, all those childhood development centers that you're talking about. 

Senator Warren: And, Lieutenant General Stitt?

Lieutenant General Douglas F. Stitt (U.S. Army), Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, G-1: Senator Warren, critical to the overall quality of life and therefore critical to the care of our soldiers and families. We want to make sure that when the soldier comes in to work, they're focused on the mission, and that they know that their child is cared for appropriately. 

Senator Warren: And Miss Kelly?

Ms. Kate Kelly (Space Force civilian), Deputy Chief of Space Operations for Human Capital: Senator Warren, it's absolutely crucial in the Space Force, because of the uniqueness of some of the mission sets that we do, and, and some of that focus around-the-clock type of scenario. 

Senator Warren: You know, that's the thing about it, too. It's the kind of work you do. 

I just, I don't know how to keep underscoring this. 12,000 Children are on your waitlists right now, and I have to assume the demand would be even greater, except there are some people who just give up and don't even put a child on the waitlist. They just say, “the list already is too hard.” 

And here's the problem: since the start of the pandemic, recruiting and retention of DoD child care workers has been a challenge. The shortages and the waitlist for military families are not getting better. You all are talking about your recruiting is getting better across the services. It's not getting better for your child care workers. 

In March, DoD reported it was still short 3,900 caregivers needed to match our existing childcare needs. In other words, the DoD centers are there. This is the part that's really shocking. We've got the physical facilities for it. But the staffing shortages right now are so bad that centers are accepting 30% fewer children than they could if they had full staffing. 

And I know there are a lot of ideas about how to improve child care access for military families, but clearly staffing up has to be the number one focus. Hiring more people would let us increase the overall capacity, literally by tens of thousands of children, if we just hire up to all of the spots we've got. 

So, there's good news again, and that is this year's DoD’s budget request includes funding for proposals from a special taskforce to address the child care staffing shortage. Number One on the list is reworking the pay scale for child care workers. We will be doing this for the first time in 30 years. We need to give these caregivers the critical pay raises that they need. DoD has asked for 33 and a half million dollars to invest in child care for military families. I would just like anybody who wants to, to make the case to get it on the record, why DoD should get its full 33 and a half million dollars from this Senate and we'll fight for it over in the House so that, at a minimum, we can start to staff up the facilities that we've got.

Anyone want to swing at that ball?

Lieutenant General Miller: Senator, I'll take that. 

We've got to get additional funding to do – to do this. Right now we have, we have in the Air Force, we have initiated many things to increase that, and we have seen an increase, but we're still sitting at about 80% childcare providers. So we have 20%, we have a 20% deficit. And so anything we can do, I will tell you that we are, we are also looking at modifying the PDs of the child care, so they're not, you know, so it's more of an educational type thing so we can, we can pay them more. 

But absolutely, we need that because it is a, it is a readiness issue and right now, we are facing peer competitors that we have not seen since probably World War Two and Russia, you know, during the Cold War, so it is critical now. 

Senator Warren: Good. Anybody have anything they want to add on this? 

Lieutenant General Stitt: Look forward to working with the committee in the Department of Defense on a way forward. We need to find the right people and compensate them appropriately. 

Senator Warren: Thank you, Lieutenant General Stitt. 

Lieutenant General Glenn: Senator?

Senator Warren: Lieutenant General Glenn? 

Lieutenant General Glenn: Yeah, just, one, I think one positive note in all of what you just said, and then, and then reinforcing it is, thanks to the support we've gotten in the past– the fee assistance program, right? It – it gives me much more comfort about where and what our children are up to because we don't have a waiting list for free assistance. The assistance is being fully utilized and maximized. And so what it does speak to is what, I believe what you said earlier, which is the quality of the care and the confidence that – that families have in the on installation child care. So we have folks waiting for their opportunity to come out of, you know, something, not on an installation, on to it. And I'm optimistic, and I– we appreciate the continued support there. 

But, you know, to your point, you know, the funding of it: there are many quality of life discussions and issues that many of them came up in panel one, that we collectively talk about this all the time. There, there aren't too many we would argue against. But we have to have the top line funding to afford them. There's things in what you're suggesting here that we would all do right now. We – we have different levels of – of assistance for folks, for their first child that enrolls between 50 and 100%. Talking between us, we'd all have 100% if we could all afford 100%. And so we have to have the top line to afford. 

Senator Warren: And our job is to make sure you can afford 100%.

Did you want to add something, Vice Admiral Cheeseman? 

Vice Admiral Cheeseman: Senator, yes, ma'am. I can't not go on record after all my colleagues did.

Senator Warren: Absolutely!

Vice Admiral Cheeseman: So I appreciate the time. So to your point about childcare, in the Navy, and I imagine it's in the rest of your services as well, there are CDCs within the budget to be, to be built. A lot of emphasis has been put there, in the Navy, to give it the foundational support that our sailors need. Any assistance we could have from Congress to accelerate that or to help us with the hiring, the future hiring that we anticipate, will be greatly appreciated. 

Senator Warren: Okay, I appreciate that. Miss Kelly, you don't want to be left behind here? 

Ms. Kelly: Not at all. Certainly not on this topic, ma'am. What I would add is also that there are other programs as well that we have to take advantage of that cover that round-the-clock care that we discussed–

Senator Warren: Yes.

Ms. Kelly: –And also leveraging child care in your home scenarios in the community partnerships that are so important. So, clearly an additional top line to cover increased pay is crucial, as is taking advantage of some of the other options that are out there because the situations are so unique for individuals, at least in my case, guardians, that we want to make sure that we've got multiple options to try to combat this issue. 

Senator Warren: I am looking forward to the day when every single service member with a small child who's thinking about whether to sign up for another tour of duty is saying, “you know, if we don't though, we're gonna lose this first-rate, top-notch, affordable, available child care.” That's one more good reason to stay in the service. So that's the day we're looking forward to.

Senator Warren’s Closing Remarks

Senator Warren: I, I  want to thank you all. Do you have a closing statement– anything more you want to say? 

I want to thank all of our witnesses for your testimony today. I also want to thank John Clark, Gary Leeling, Andy Scott, Noah Sisk, Katie Magnus, and Sean O'Keefe for their work in putting today – today's hearing together. 

Our people are our greatest strength as a nation, and we need to do better for them. We've got a lot of people who are committed to doing well, we need to make sure you've got the resources to do even better. That is our job here. 

I want to thank you all for being here. Senators have until Friday, May 9th to submit additional questions for the record.

With that, this hearing is adjourned.