Legislation That Restores
ATG Retirement Benefits and Ensures Fair Retirement Benefits
for Federal Workers in Alaska Signed into Law
October 29, 2009
WASHINGTON, D.C. Despite opposition from the Obama administration
to restoring retirement benefits for Alaska Territorial Guard
(ATG) members, President Obama on Wednesday signed into law a
wide-ranging defense bill that resumes payment of the retirement
benefits, announced U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
The 2010 Fiscal Year Defense Authorization bill that Obama signed
also will ensure pay and retirement equity for federal employees
in Alaska, Hawaii and the U.S. territories.
"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 President, in the end, sign this
bill that recognizes 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."
Restoration of the ATG retirement benefits brings to a successful
conclusion an effort by Murkowski and Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska,
to restore the benefits to some two dozen ATG members who defended
Alaska during World War II.
In addition to restoring ATG benefits and ensuring fair retirement
benefits for Alaska's Federal employees, the law also includes
a provision co-sponsored by Sens. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin
and Murkowski that will help ensure wounded service members of
the Guard and Reserves are not discharged before their injuries
are treated and evaluated. Many wounded service members have
been discharged prematurely and this has compromised their recovery
and imposed additional hardships upon them and their families.
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 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.
Last month, the Obama administration announced that it objected
to a similar provision Murkowski had included in the Fiscal Year
2010 Defense Appropriations bill. 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, 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.
The defense bill also included a retirement equity provision
for federal employees in Alaska, Hawaii and the U.S. territories.
Federal workers in Alaska, Hawaii and the U.S. territories currently
receive a non-foreign cost of living allowance (COLA) based on
the increased costs of living in those areas as compared to the
District of Columbia. But unlike locality pay received by federal
employees in the contiguous 48 states, the COLA is not factored
in for retirement purposes. Furthermore, while locality rates
generally increase, non-foreign COLA rates have been gradually
declining and are scheduled to drop for all non-foreign COLA
areas later this year.
The defense bill will freeze non-foreign COLA rates at their
current levels and phase-in locality pay over the next three
years. Non-foreign COLA will be phased out at a slower rate
than locality pay is phased in. At the end of the three year
period, if the locality pay rate is less than the offset amount
of non-foreign COLA for a particular area, employees will continue
to receive the difference in non-foreign COLA and locality pay
until the locality rate reaches the offset COLA rate. Only at
that time will employees no longer receive non-foreign COLA.
"We came so close last year to giving Alaska's federal employees
the certainty they need to make informed retirement decisions.
The Senate passed the bill. The House of Representatives did
not. Alaska's federal employees have spoken loud and clear that
they prefer locality pay which counts toward their retirement
over their current tax free COLA which does not," Murkowski
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