Moving On

House votes to offer families of fallen law enforcement officers relocation assistance to return from their duty post.

Even when working for Uncle Sam requires dangerous assignments or far-flung duty posts, there's always been the draw of family-friendly benefits. But if federal workers are killed on the job, will the families left behind still be offered help?

Families of federal law enforcement officers who die in the line of duty would benefit from a bill that passed in the House on Tuesday, which would oblige federal law enforcement agencies to offer surviving family members financial help to move back to their homes of record.

The House unanimously approved the Special Agent Samuel Hicks Families of Fallen Heroes Act (H.R. 2711), named for the FBI special agent who was shot and killed while trying to serve an arrest warrant on a suspected drug dealer in Pittsburgh. The FBI could not assist his family with moving expenses for their return to Baltimore because no legal obligation existed.

Relocation costs could range from $10,000 to $20,000, said Konrad Motyka, president of the FBI Agents Association, which offered financial aid to Hicks' spouse and son. The group's lobbying wing worked with lawmakers to craft the legislation.

Motyka said the bill attempts to put the service of federal officers on par with military benefits. Law enforcement agencies most likely would rely on existing relocation benefit models to set aside the money for financial assistance, he said. The benefit is expected to cost agencies less than $1 million annually.

"The assistance that would be available through this legislation to their surviving families is but a nominal token of our appreciation for their courageous commitment to their jobs," said Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.

Motyka praised lawmakers for passing the legislation, but added he would liked to have seen broader provisions tacked on to the bill, including one requiring agencies to foot funeral expenses for law enforcement officers killed on duty. "But that has to be a project for another day," he said.

"If you introduce a bill, other entities outside law enforcement will say, 'What about us?' That would weigh the bill down," Motyka said.

As employers go, the federal government is known for acknowledging that family matters. The Dependency and Indemnity Compensation program, which the Veterans Affairs Department manages, issues monthly checks to compensate the families of military members killed during active-duty service or who die as a result of a service-related injury. And the Defense Department also pays lump sums to the families of service members who die in those circumstances.

Also, the 1993 Federal Employees Compensation Act provides 50 percent of an employee's salary as a survivor benefit if a worker dies from a job-related illness or injury.

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