FMA Celebrates Major Win for DOD Civilian and Uniformed Military Travelers

The Federal Managers Association (FMA) is an organization dedicated to representing the interests of managers in the federal government on Capitol Hill, and one of the primary reasons people join is for our legislative advocacy. Thanks in large part to that advocacy, the Department of Defense (DOD) will soon be prohibited from reducing the long-term temporary duty (TDY) per diems for all DOD civilian and uniformed military travelers based on duration of the assignment.

This has been an FMA legislative issue brief in recent years. FMA, along with several unions and travel industry trade associations, successfully lobbied to include a repeal of the DOD policy in the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (NDAA). Since 1961, the NDAA has directed DOD policy and spending.

We understood DOD’s intentions when it made changes to the Joint Travel Regulations (JTR) in November, 2014, reducing per diems by 25 percent for those on TDY for more than 30 days, and by 45 percent for travel longer than 180 days. As federal managers, we are always looking for ways to increase cost-savings across the government, while providing necessary services. However, FMA criticized the cuts from the beginning, saying the minimal estimated savings to DOD should not come at the expense of individual employees. We wrote, “These extreme cuts will create undue financial burdens on these dedicated employees who will struggle to meet these per diem requirements.” FMA argued DOD should not have created a disincentive for employees to take TDY assignments.

TDY employees are asked to spend a significant amount of time away from their families and their homes, and now they are expected to cover much of the costs at their own expense.  As a direct result, managers, who already found it difficult to find people at the senior grade levels required, found it even more difficult to find people willing to accept long-term TDY assignments. We heard this often from FMA members at shipyards, who regularly need to send hundreds of employees to distant locations for extended periods of time to work on aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines.

Furthermore, a Government Accountability Office report found that “DOD did not ensure that certain required processes established in DOD guidance were completed prior to the policy’s approval, and its assessment of the policy’s costs and benefits was not comprehensive . . . As a result, DOD may not be well positioned to understand where the flat rate per diem policy is cost-beneficial and meeting its objectives to reduce travel costs without negatively affecting the traveler and the mission.” Retired Admiral William Hilarides, the respected former Commander of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), wrote the JTR changes had “the potential to increase the end cost of projects.” He also stated the policy “had a negative impact on the Naval Shipyards’ ability to effectively and efficiently conduct Navy ship maintenance.”

For the past four years, the House Armed Services Committee included bipartisan language in the NDAA that would end DOD’s policy, however it was not included in the final conference report the previous three years. This year, for the first time, the Senate Armed Services Committee also included repeal language, and the conference committee preserved a full repeal in the final conference report. The House of Representatives approved the conference report on July 26 with a bipartisan vote of 359-54. The Senate is expected to approve the conference report as soon as this week, clearing it for President Trump’s signature into law.

We at FMA offer special thanks to all of the bipartisan champions in Congress who fought for many years to achieve this victory. We are grateful for Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI), and Walter B. Jones (R-NC), and Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) for their diligent and dogged leadership on this issue. This is a change that will immediately help thousands of feds and uniformed military members alike. FMA is proud to stand with them.

Posted in Hear it from FMA

Tags: Federal Managers Association, FMA

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