The bipartisan proposal, introduced Wednesday, comes just weeks after the Government Accountability Office found that women service members can pay as much as $8,300 out-of-pocket over the course of a 20-year career for uniform items not covered by annual clothing allotments.
“Women service members pay far more than their male counterparts on uniforms,” said Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., head of the House Veterans’ Affairs task force on women veterans and sponsor of the new legislation.
“These gender-based inequities are antiquated, and we have a duty to ensure that all service members are treated fairly and do not incur disproportionate out-of-pocket costs for uniforms.”
About 16 percent of the military’s enlisted forces and 19 percent of the officer corps are women, according to Defense Department statistics. Under the proposal, dubbed the The Equal Pay for Servicewomen Act, Pentagon leaders would be required to develop more consistent criteria for uniform requirements “so as to reduce differences in out-of-pocket uniform costs across services and by gender.”
The legislation would also mandate periodic reviews to ensure that gender disparities don’t exist in uniform item costs and requirements, and a review before any future service uniform changes are approved to ensure those moves won’t create higher out-of-pocket costs for men or women.
All of those suggestions were outlined in the GAO report released in February. Pentagon officials at the time offered support for those ideas.
“Requiring servicewomen to pay more for uniforms than servicemen pay is blatant gender discrimination, pure and simple,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., one of the bill’s co-sponsors and chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee.
“The military requires servicewomen to buy swimsuits, dress pumps and other items that are either not required for servicemen or that have less-expensive equivalents for men, and the GAO found that servicewomen have been more affected by mandatory uniform changes that must be covered out of pocket.”
The Pentagon spends more than $887 million a year on uniform allowances for enlisted and officers across the services, according to the GAO. But the amount of money given to individual service members varies widely depending on gender, service and individual assignments.
For example, until last year the Marine Corps provided a uniform stipend for male underwear but not female underwear. The total cost of replacing the Army’s 15 “initial issue” uniform items costs on average about $382 for male soldiers and $642 for female soldiers.
“(This bill) is a straight-forward solution to address a tremendous gender-related inequity in the United States military,” said Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y. and another member of the House Armed Services Committee. “America’s selfless military women deserve equal considerations in all aspects of their service.”
Lawmakers did not provide a potential cost estimate of what the changes could mean for the services. The measure is likely to be considered before Speier’s subcommittee later this spring as part of the annual defense authorization legislative process.