Halting Promotions and PCS Moves May Be A Last Resort Sequestration Option

In a letter to Congress in July, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel listed several strategies that the Department of Defense may need to implement if the federal government continues with the second round of automatic sequestration cuts in October. The halting of promotions and permanent change of station (PCS) moves are two of the most alarming possibilities for current members of the military.

In early 2013, the federal government implemented a mandatory cut of 10% across the board on almost every category of expenditures in the government. The Department of Defense had to reduce its spending by $50 billion in Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. Across the nation, members of the military saw cost savings measures take effect such as mandatory furloughs of government civilian workers, commissary hours reduced, training budgets constrained, the pausing of tuition assistance programs (which were later reinstated), and a host of other measures.

Promotion Ceremony

Will this be a rare sight in the near future?

If Congress does not act to delay or change the next round of mandatory budget cuts written into law by the Budget Control Act which set sequester level caps and made sequestration law, the Pentagon will have to find an additional $52 billion in cost savings from their FY 2014 budget which begins on October 1st. Halting promotions and pausing PCS moves are just two of the ways the Department of Defense is looking at cutting expenses over the next fiscal year.

Here are a few thoughts on the dangers of tying promotions and permanent change of station moves to budget cuts.

Promotions Are Tied To Needed Strength

It will not be an easy fix to simply halt promotions of members of the military even for a limited amount of time. The military completes promotion lists with the help of boards and sophisticated algorithms and computer models that help determine precisely the number of officers and enlisted members each month that each service needs based on normal attrition.

Delaying normal promotions even for a few months could seriously impact the number of qualified leaders that are available to lead our troops. It could also delay the career progression and movement of leaders from one assignment to the next. Or, it could cause units to simply have vacancies in key leadership roles and assignments.

Halting Some PCS Moves May Not Be Realistic

While the military may be able to lengthen the amount of time that many members of the military stay at any one duty assignment, the federal government will most likely not be able to completely halt all moves.

A large number of military members are conducting initial or mid-level career training throughout the year. At the end of these training periods, which can be many months or even a year or more long, these military members and their families will need to conduct a PCS move to their next assignment.

Military members stationed overseas may face Status of Forces Agreements (SOFA) that limit the amount of time they can spend overseas. When those members reach their time limit, they must move out of the country and PCS to another base. Someone will be needed to backfill those troops who are moving.

There Are No Easy Answers for Budget Cuts

However you cut the Department of Defense budget over the next ten years, whether or not sequestration is involved, there are many new changes that must take place in the Department of Defense and even in the Veterans Affairs realm as well.

Defense Department civilians face continued furloughs. Sequestration will require some type of Reduction in Force (RIF) and a lowering of the military’s end strength. The RIF will likely extend through both the military and civilian workforce. The government will most likely have to cancel or significantly reduce large military contracts and programs in order to meet its budget constraints required by sequestration’s automatic 10% cuts.

These are tough fiscal times for our military, retirees, and veterans. But, like all things, this too will pass. Our military and our veterans are resilient. They adapt and overcome. Hopefully, Congress can reach some type of compromise before the next round of automatic spending cuts take place.

Have you been affected by sequestration? How likely do you think that we could see a mandatory halting in promotions or PCS moves?

photo credit: The 621st Contingency…

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Date published: August 5, 2013.

Article by

Hank Coleman is a Major in the U.S. Army and a writer who focuses on personal finance, investing, and retirement. Hank holds a Master’s Degree in Finance and is currently studying to take the Certified Financial Planner exam. He runs the site Money Q&A and his writing has been featured on sites such as The Motley Fool, Military.com, and many others. You can follow him on Twitter at @HankColeman.


  1. JW says

    Actually, it wouldn’t hurt the military much at all.

    Our forces structure is over inflated. We have as many flag and general officers now (with a force of 1.5M) as we did during WWII (force of 6.5M). We have senior officers doing jobs that field grade officers did before, and field grade officers doing jobs company grade officers did before. Can anyone say Powerpoint Ranger?

    When I was a senior O3/junior O4 I filled an O5 slot. Not uncommon in the late 80’s and 90’s. World didn’t end. It won’t end if we delay promotions or even cut senior force structure, and in fact, would save millions of dollars.

    Please stop the hyperbole.

  2. Jarhead says

    They could still “promote” but not pay the higher rank in what in the Marine Corps and Navys is called frocking. This means that the person has been selected for the next rank, but continues to be paid at the lower rate. For example a Gunnery Sergeant (E7) selected for 1stSgt (E8) will often find himself frocked (wears 1stSgt rank) but doesn’t get paid as asn E8 until his number in the promotion line comes up. This allows the person to fill the position by rank but saves money for the service by still paying them at the E8 level.

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