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Defense's $125 million recruit advertising budget. The strong

economy and diminishing interest by young people in joining the military also contribute to the challenge of maintaining an effective, equitably staffed work force in all job specialties.

The 1996 Report to Congress regarding youth attitudes toward the military includes data from the Youth Attitude Tracking Survey (YATS) indicating that interest in the military has declined significantly since 1991 (20.7% for young males and only 10.6% for females). Contributing to this is a disparity in education benefits offered by the Coast Guard compared to those offered by DOD. For example, tuition assistance varies significantly between the Coast Guard and DOD ($1,000 vs. $2,500 per member annually). Negative advice from parents about the possibility of joining the military, the continuing DOD draw down amid increased operational commitments, and proposals for even more DOD personnel cuts per the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) are also contributing to the decline.

Recruiters must spend extraordinary time and effort to qualify each Coast Guard recruit. This equates to contacting an average of 100 leads for each recruit brought into the service.

COMPENSATION AND ALLOWANCES

Full Employment Cost Index (ECI) active duty pay adjustments remain a top priority with not only the FRA but also The

Military Coalition (TMC), a consortium of 26 military and veterans organizations representing the interests of over five million active duty, reserve, and retired personnel from the seven

uniformed services.

Competitive pay is vital to maintaining the all-volunteer force and ensuring military readiness, yet pay adjustments were capped below the ECI in 12 of the past 16 years resulting in a pay gap in excess of 13%. Adjustments are also implemented 15 months after statistics are compiled, further exacerbating the gap between military and civilian pay.

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FRA is encouraged by inclusion of a 3.1% pay adjustment for 1999, however, if Congress increases the amount of the adjustment, the Coast Guard may as in the past, be left to find funds to pay for the increase in a tight budget that barely maintains

current services.

Regarding the new basic allowance for housing (BAH), FRA thanks Congress for revamping this allowance by linking rates to

more credible independent survey data compiled by zip code
throughout the United States. However, our members are concerned
about the accuracy of housing cost data in remote locations
duty sites for thousands of Coast Guard enlisted personnel.

The expansion of Reserve Special Pay authority for the Secretary of Transportation would provide special pay to Selected Coast Guard Reservists performing IDT with special units and provide an accession/retention incentive with these units. FRA supports legislative language modifications authorizing this

change.

Last year, FRA strongly supported the budget request of $8 million for quarters/housing allowances, sea pay for 65' cutter crews, increased dislocation allowance, VHA locality floors, and

increased travel expenses during PCS moves. Again, the Associa

tion urges adequate funding for these and other quality of life programs in order to maintain parity with DOD.

FRA also draws attention to need for continued funding for the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) which expires on 1 October 1999. Transition services are important to all personnel separating and/or retiring from the uniformed services.

Finally, FRA opposes establishment of a Uniformed Services Thrift Savings Plan (USTSP) due primarily to lack of support from the enlisted force. The plan is not targeted to junior enlisted personnel and the USTSP may pose another significant threat to the military retirement system.

HEALTH CARE

Access to quality health care is a major concern for Coast Guard personnel and a major reason cited for considering a military career. Dramatic changes are taking place in the health care arena as DOD implements TRICARE, a new managed care system throughout the United States which requires family members to select one of three care options. Of special concern to Coast Guard personnel stationed in remote locations, is the availability and cost of accessing health care. The TRICARE program is flawed due in part to increasing difficulty that "Prime" and *Standard" enrollees have with locating and retaining quality health care providers. These problems must be fixed.

In addition, retirees must pay annual enrollment fees for care and Medicare-eligible retirees are forced out of the TRICARE system and onto Medicare at age 65.

These changes to the government's commitment to lifetime care are incomprehensible for most retirees and perceived as part of the

continuing erosion of benefits by young uniformed service members contemplating career decisions. The result is a growing readiness

challenge.

Although not directly under the purview of your distinguished panel, FRA strongly urges support for H.R 1766, a bill by Rep. Jim Moran, (D-Va.) which would authorize a demonstration of allowing Medicare eligible Coast Guard and other military retirees the option of joining the Federal Employees Health Benefit

Plan (FEHBP).

HOUSING

Unfortunately, DOD is proposing a significantly lower budget for military construction and FRA has difficulty believing the

Administration's commitment to provide adequate funding for this and other important quality of life programs. Family housing construction has decreased over 40 percent annually since 1996. Specific to the Coast Guard, the acquisition, construction and improvement (AC&I) account has been consistently underfunded well below the $600 million required annually to properly fund and support housing, barracks and other vital infrastructure needs, as well as funding required for necessary modernization of cutters, aircraft, and command, control and information systems.

In addition, the Association stresses the importance of child care and physical fitness centers, and other facilities

important to the quality of life for Coast Guard personnel and

their families.

CONCLUSION

Press reports cite speculation by elected officials about a pending federal budget surplus. FRA strongly recommends that if a surplus is realized, at least a portion of the money should be appropriated to fund recommendations in this statement.

The FRA wishes to express appreciation to you and other distinguished members of the Subcommittee for past support of quality of life programs benefitting Coast Guard personnel and asks for your endorsement of the President's budget request along with increased funding for vital quality of life programs.

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