December 1, 2001
The Ninth Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation (QRMC)is reviewing ways to structure military compensation to improve military recruiting, retention and manning. Retirement pay is a significant component of the current compensation package, and there is concern that the structure of these benefits is not competitive with that offered by the private sector. The current military retirement system is a defined benefit program, with some limited ability to participate in a thrift savings plan (TSP). In contrast, the private sector increasingly uses defined contribution plans, which give the employee an opportunity to manage at least part of the retirement plan benefits. Expansion of the TSP component of military retirement benefits would potentially increase the attractiveness of military compensation. Given the sheer size of the military, however, several concerns have been raised about the implications of such a dramatic shift in compensation. At least four major questions have been asked-questions surrounding the level of service member participation, potential effects on total saving, implications for federal tax revenues, and the administrative costs associated with such a program. In light of these concerns, this research memorandum summarizes both the theoretical and empirical literature devoted to these issues. The evidence suggests that participation and contribution rates are strongly related to the size of matching contributions made by the employer. In addition, surveys show that military personnel would increase participation in TSP if the government were willing to make matching contributions. Given the financial risk associated with these plans relative to insured, defined benefit plans, there is also evidence that financial education (preferably provided by the emplyer) increases employee saving and improves contribution allocation.
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