An Examination of the Methodology for Awarding Imminent Danger Pay and Hostile Fire Pay

by Beth J. Asch, James V. Marrone, Michael G. Mattock

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Research Questions

  1. What is the current methodology for making an HFP or IDP designation or recommendation?
  2. Is the current IDP process effective? Does it meet the needs of service members, including special operations forces?
  3. Is geographic eligibility the best method for awarding IDP, or would a different approach, particularly one based on deployment or operations, be more effective and efficient?
  4. What are the difficulties in implementing the current system?

To recognize the risks faced by service members in the line of duty, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) offers combat, hazard, and other risk-related pay supplements and benefits to eligible personnel. In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, Congress expressed concern about whether the process for awarding hostile fire pay (HFP) and imminent danger pay (IDP) is effectively meeting the needs of service members in the current operational environment. In this report, RAND researchers examine the methodology for awarding HFP and IDP and explore whether a different approach, such as one based on deployment or operations, might be more effective and efficient. The researchers conclude that the process is generally effective; however, it could be improved by allowing IDP rates to vary with the severity of threat in a location but not by basing the rates on deployments. Among other things, the researchers recommend that DoD create tiered rates of IDP based on severity of threat, increase the current monthly rate for HFP and IDP, and institutionalize regular periodic reviews of IDP designations.

Key Findings

The current review and recommendation process is generally effective but could be improved

  • The current methodology is effective but not considered efficient. Almost all of the subject-matter experts interviewed for this study indicated that the HFP and IDP process is administratively tractable and provides pay to those who are serving in a threatening environment. In some cases, however, modern warfare and a more dynamic threat environment may have led to some personnel, such as special operations forces, missing out on IDP, given that their missions are often classified and they are rapidly deployed.
  • The process could be improved by allowing IDP rates to vary with severity of threat but not by basing them on deployments. The IDP designation process tends to define geographic locations rather broadly and keep a designation for a long time. As a result, the severity of threat can vary widely within an IDP-designated location. Interviewees uniformly rejected the idea of basing IDP on deployments or other operationally based metrics because they would be unfair to service members and might be infeasible.

Recommendations

  • Create tiered rates of IDP based on severity of threat.
  • Increase the current $225 rate for HFP and IDP.
  • Identify whether it is possible to reduce the length of time for IDP certification.
  • Institutionalize regular periodic reviews of IDP designations.
  • Amend DoD Instruction 1340.09 to require the geographic combatant commands to seek input and concurrence from the special operations commander within the command's area of responsibility on packages relevant to special operations forces.
  • Review the criteria in DoD 1340.09 to assess whether additional risks to service members should be considered as a criterion for designating IDP.
  • Create a capability that would allow IDP administrators across DoD to access up-to-date information.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Overview of Hostile Fire Pay, Imminent Danger Pay, and Other Risk-Based Pays

  • Chapter Three

    Major Themes from Interviews with Subject-Matter Experts

  • Chapter Four

    Insights from Past Studies

  • Chapter Five

    Risk-Based Pay in Other Agencies and Militaries

  • Chapter Six

    Conclusions and Recommendations

  • Appendix A

    History of Risk Recognition Pay with Zonal Eligibility

  • Appendix B

    Areas Designated for Hostile Fire Pay or Imminent Danger Pay

  • Appendix C

    Areas with Combat Zone Tax Exclusion Eligibility

  • Appendix D

    Hazardous Duty Incentive Pays

  • Appendix E

    Combat-Related Pay and Deployment Tabulations

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Personnel Policy and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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