Despite budget cuts to almost 200 legacy programs to fund modernization, Army senior leaders told lawmakers their fiscal year 2020 request will not cut any programs supporting military families.
"Due diligence was absolutely applied to ensure that there were no cuts that impacted Soldiers and their families," Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley testified March 27 to the Senate Appropriations Committee's Defense subcommittee.
He was referring to the "night court" process in which senior leaders reviewed every one of the Army's programs to assess how they impacted readiness and lethality.
It was an unprecedented 50 hours of "painstaking deliberations," Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper said.
"Tough choices" had to be made, Esper said, before submitting the $182.3 billion budget request for FY20. About $30 billion was redirected from legacy programs over the five-year defense plan to fund the Army's six modernization priorities.
"To deter the growing threat posed by great-power competitors … we must leap ahead to the next generation of combat systems," Esper said. In order to fund development of those systems, cuts had to be made to the number of legacy platforms upgraded.
"There were cuts that impacted others, but not Soldiers and their families," Milley emphasized. "That's sort of the bargain we struck."
"No cuts have been made to the childcare for our Soldiers," Esper said. "It's access that we're wrestling with. I'm looking at a number of policy changes."
First and foremost is to give Soldiers priority for childcare over civilian employees and contractors. "In many cases, that's not what's been happening," Esper said, citing that about 30 percent of daycare centers are filled by "non-priority" personnel.
The Army is looking at expanding capacity at Child Development Centers at some installations, he said.
Esper said he'd also like to look at transitioning to hourly daycare, so that military families would not be required to pay for childcare by the month.
The Army recently saved funding by reforming the way parents sign up for childcare, Esper said.
"We had a redundant management system in place," he said. "Rather than going to the daycare center to sign up, you went to a separate building with separate people. We got rid of that. Now to sign up for daycare, you go just to the daycare center."
Esper said he would like to expand family childcare, or FCC, where family members on base provide childcare at their homes.
He recently signed a directive that allows on-site supervision of children by Army spouses immediately following their FBI background check. Now spouses can begin offering childcare in less than three weeks from arriving at an installation, he told legislators.
"It's a great opportunity, but we need to incentivize that program to expand," he said.
A new Child and Youth Services Employment Tool places the names of spouses interested in conducting childcare into a database following completion of their background check.
"Rather than every time you go to a new assignment -- a new installation -- and go through the check again, we have your name in a database, we'll hold it for five years and you can seamlessly move from base to base to base and get hired immediately," he said.
Esper said as he travels around the Army and visits installations, two issues that come up all the time are childcare and spouse employment. The two are related, he said.
Spouse employment is a "very personal" issue for him, Esper said, dating back to when he served as an infantry officer after graduating from West Point in 1986.
"During my time on active duty, my wife could net get a job when we were at Fort Benning or in Italy, because of frankly discrimination against Army spouses at the time," he said.
"I think our spouses are highly qualified and underemployed," he said.
Army initiatives to hire spouses include an outreach to have states recognize the teaching credentials of other states.
Esper said he is personally engaging with states on this initiative and Tennessee recently signed onto the program. Spouses arriving at Fort Campbell can now immediately apply for teaching jobs in Tennessee, if they have teaching credentials from another state, he said. They do not need to wait for a second set of credentials from Tennessee to begin a teaching job.
Esper also suggested Congress expand the "direct hiring authority" that already exists for certain critical career fields, such as medical fields, and allow military spouses to be hired into federal jobs without competing. Such authority would require legislation, he said.
Programs that support spouses and families definitely impact readiness, Milley said.
"We want our Soldiers to focus on their job," he said.
"If they're worried about their medical care, good housing, mold in the house, good childcare for their children, education, a safe base and so on… then they're not focusing on their job.
"So it's absolutely a readiness issue -- there's a direct correlation to the readiness of the force," he said.
In World War II, only about 10 percent of the Army was married with children, Milley said, while today about 60 percent of the force is married with an average of two children.