Shipyard Senators Want Pentagon Travel Cuts Repealed
Bipartisan effort urges appropriators to reverse year-old cuts to long-term travel per diems for service members and Defense civilians.
Two senators with shipyards in their states are making an eleventh-hour appeal to their colleagues to scrap year-old cuts to per diems for service members and Defense civilian employees on long-term government travel.
Republican Susan Collins of Maine and Democrat Brian Schatz of Hawaii want appropriators to include language in the fiscal 2016 omnibus spending bill that would repeal the reduced reimbursement rates for lodging, meals and other expenses for service members and Defense civilian employees on long-term TDY (temporary duty). The fiscal 2016 Defense appropriations legislation is silent on the matter, but the fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act -- signed into law by President Obama at the end of November -- allows the cuts to stand for now, but calls for a study due June 1, 2016, on the policy’s ramifications for employees. The Defense policy took effect on Nov. 1, 2014.
“Such a prohibition in fiscal 2016 would allow Congress the opportunity to review and assess the Comptroller General’s study regarding the cuts,” Collins and Schatz wrote in a Nov. 30 letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Ranking Member Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.
The policy reduced the reimbursement rates by 25 percent for long-term TDY of 31 to 180 days, and by 45 percent for travel exceeding 180 days. So for long-term TDY of 31 to 180 days, the reimbursement rate was up to 75 percent of the locality rate (lodging plus meals and incidentals) for each full day during long-term TDY of 31 to 180 days; for travel lasting more than 180 days, it fell to 55 percent of the locality rate for each full day under the policy.
Those opposing the cuts, including Schatz and Collins, fear the lower reimbursement rates are hurting morale and forcing service members and civilian employees to pay expenses out of pocket for official travel. “This is particularly true of shipyard workers whose work keeps our nation safe,” the senators wrote. Collins and Schatz are members of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, a federal employee union that has urged Congress to repeal the policy since it took effect, said it appreciated the senators’ support for reversing the cuts and for “continuing to hold the DoD accountable for their inexplicable policy” of lowering the reimbursement rates for long-term Defense travel. “We are hopeful that the final spending package approved before the end of the year will include the recommendation included in the letter,” IFPTE said in a statement.
Congress and the Obama administration over the last few years have told agencies they need to cut travel costs. Still, Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, as well as several unions, believe the Pentagon’s changes have eroded morale and caused an undue burden on government travelers. The new policy is simply unrealistic, given the increased rates of rental housing and many hotels, they have argued.
The Pentagon has estimated that lower per diem rates for long-term TDY will save $22 million per year. Defense has noted that the commercial lodging industry considers stays over 30 days “extended” and “typically offers reduced rates to ensure occupancy.” The department also advised Defense travelers to consider staying in furnished apartments or similar types of lodging “which are typically cheaper than room rates in commercial lodging.”