Defense not using short-term deployment allowance

The Defense Department has not yet implemented a special pay allowance for military service members who are frequently deployed for short periods of time, according to a new General Accounting Office report.

The allowance, approved in the fiscal 2004 defense authorization law (P.L. 108-136), is designed to cover service members who do not receive a family separation allowance when they are deployed because they are gone for less than 30 days at a time. However, Defense has not yet identified frequent short-term deployments as an issue that might require a special allowance, the report states.

Several other allowances are already granted to personnel on short-term deployments, such as per diem pay, hostile fire and imminent danger pay, mission-oriented hardship duty pay, and tax-free compensation for service members in combat zones. But Defense officials have not set a timetable for implementing the new allowance, known as the "high-deployment allowance." Unlike the existing allowances, the high-deployment allowance would benefit service members' dependents by compensating them for expenses that would not otherwise have been incurred -- such as child care and certain automobile and home repairs that would have been performed by the absent family member.

GAO recommended that Defense establish a timetable for establishing criteria to implement the allowance, that officials define what constitutes frequent short-term deployment and that they determine eligibility requirements.

"Given the long-term nature of the global war on terrorism, [an] increase in the frequency of short-term deployments is expected to continue for the foreseeable future," the report said. "DoD will need to assure adequate compensation for service members using all available special pays and allowances in addition to basic pay."

Defense officials agreed with the need to set a timeline and establish criteria. But they said they have not implemented the allowance because they believe it to be a peacetime authority. In wartime, they said, it is more difficult to control deployments and therefore officials have elected to use other methods to provide pay allowances. Defense, the officials said, will reassess the use of the high deployment allowance "at some point in the future."

"Members GAO interviewed 'did not identify any specific concerns regarding compensation received as a result of short-term deployments,'" a Defense official told Government Executive. "The members GAO interviewed indicated the increased tempo of operations they've been experiencing is the issue of concern with them, not pay." GAO officials said the allowance could be used as a "compensation tool to help retain service members during a time of war." The report stated that setting criteria will permit the allowance to be implemented quickly when it is "deemed appropriate and necessary" by the Pentagon.

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