Defense Conference Bill Would Ensure Fair Retirement Benefits for Federal Workers in Alaska

Legislation Also Would Restore ATG Retirement Benefits

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, announced today that congressional conferees approved a Defense Authorization bill that would ensure pay and retirement equity for federal employees in Alaska, Hawaii and the U.S. territories.

Federal workers in Alaska, Hawaii and the U.S. territories currently receive a cost of living allowance (COLA) based on the increased costs of living in those areas,” Murkowski said. “But unlike locality pay received by federal employees in high cost areas in the contiguous 48 states, the COLA is not factored in for retirement purposes. Furthermore, while locality rates generally increase, Alaska’s COLA rates have generally been declining from a high of 25 percent to the current 23 percent in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau.

The defense bill would phase in locality pay over the next three years. Current Alaska COLA rates would remain stable over that period. During the three-year period, Alaska federal employees would receive a blend of locality pay and COLA.

“I receive calls every day from senior level Alaska federal employees wondering whether the federal government would implement locality pay for Alaska,” Murkowski said. “Many have delayed their retirement decisions awaiting congressional actions on this legislation. I’m hopeful that this bill will help keep our senior federal employees at work in Alaska knowing that their hard work on behalf of Alaskans will count toward their retirement.”

The Fiscal Year 2010 Defense Authorization conference bill approved today is expected to be approved by the Senate and the House and signed into law by the president, also bringing to a successful conclusion an effort by Murkowski and Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, to restore military retirement benefits to some two dozen ATG members who defended Alaska during World War II.

“I have worked hard all year to get the ATG retirement benefits restored, despite strong objections by the Obama administration, and I was pleased to see the Defense conferees recognize these brave men’s service during World War II,” Murkowski said.

“With the passage of time, people forget that Alaska was invaded by Japanese forces while elements of the regular military were engaged elsewhere. The Alaska Territorial Guard was our primary defense against further incursions into our Great Land. The members of the Alaska Territorial Guard agreed to put their lives on the line to defend Alaska. Their sacrifice and commitment to the defense of America was no less significant than that of our active duty forces. It is appropriate that our Nation honor their service by restoring their retirement benefits.”

During consideration of the Defense Authorization bill in July, the Senate accepted an amendment by Alaska’s two senators that would restore military retirement benefits to about two dozen Alaska Territorial Guard members whose service in the ATG was considered active duty service until the Defense Department reversed its position on the issue earlier this year.

Then last month, the Obama administration announced that it objected to a similar provision Murkowski had included in the Fiscal Year 2010 Defense Appropriations bill, which passed the Senate Tuesday night. A White House Statement of Administration Policy said that counting the ATG’s WWII service as ‘active duty’ would create a bad precedent. In a Senate floor speech last week, Murkowski said the precedent argument “defies logic and history,” and she cited the Fiscal Year 2001 Defense Appropriations Act in which Congress recognized service in the ATG as active duty service. That bill required the Secretary of Defense to issue discharge certificates to each member of the ATG if it was determined that the nature and duration of the service warranted it.

No former member of the Alaska Territorial Guard earned his military retirement pay solely through service in the Territorial Guard. Many remained in the military after their Territorial Guard service ended and earned the right to retirement pay as a result of their subsequent service. The language in the Defense Authorization bill clarifies that they are entitled to receive higher retirement payments on account of their Territorial Guard service.

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