A bipartisan group of legislators is pushing to give additional furlough flexibility to Defense Department civilians charged with recovering U.S. prisoners of war and service members who went missing in action or were killed and not brought home.
The 2013 POW/MIA Accounting and Recovery Support Act, introduced on Friday, would allow civilians on deployed missions for the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command—also known as JPAC—the flexibility to take their furlough days after they return home.
In a statement released Friday, the bill’s lead sponsors, Reps. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., and Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., said its imperative that JPAC’s efforts to “locate and recover the remains of unaccounted-for American service members are not delayed due to sequestration.”
Lynch continued: “I’ve witnessed JPAC’s world-class research and forensic operations first-hand, and I believe that we must make every effort to safeguard the Command against any disruption in its landmark search for our missing and fallen American troops.”
Defense had originally scheduled 22 unpaid furlough days for its civilian employees because of across-the-board budget cuts from sequestration. The stopgap bill to fund the government through the end of fiscal 2013 reduced that number to 14 days, and some reports have indicated that the number may be cut even further.
According to JPAC’s website, the command is working to help find and identify 83,000 Americans missing from past conflicts. The bill’s sponsors noted that civilians working at JPAC do not operate on a traditional work schedule. Many are deployed on missions lasting between 35 to 45 days in foreign countries to help search for deceased service members, making mandatory furloughs a significant burden during ongoing operations.
“It’s an important promise we made to all our veterans and service members, and this bill will protect JPAC’s civilian employees while they are on deployment,” Thompson said.