After years of failed efforts, lawmakers included a provision in the Defense authorization act to roll back a 2014 reduction in long-term travel reimbursements.
The Senate on Wednesday sent to President Trump a Defense policy bill that would reverse 2014 regulations reducing per diem rates for Defense Department military and civilian employees on extended government travel.
The language to restore full per diems was included as part of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, which passed on an 87-10 vote. The bill now heads to Trump’s desk.
In November 2014, the Pentagon reduced reimbursement rates by 25 percent for travel between 31 and 180 days, and by 45 percent for travel longer than that. Per diem rates include lodging, meals and incidentals, and they vary by locality.
While the standard governmentwide per diem rate for fiscal 2018 is $144—$93 for lodging and $51 for meals and incidental expenses—Defense Department employees traveling for 31 to 180 days currently would receive only $108 per day, and if they are on travel for longer than 180 days, they would only receive $79.
Lawmakers have at various points tried to overrule the Defense Department’s decision to reduce per diem rates. The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act included a provision allowing agency leaders and service secretaries to waive the rule if they determine the per diem is not sufficient, given the circumstances of the assignment. Last year, Sens. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Mike Rounds, R-S.D., introduced a bill to repeal the rule for both civilian and military personnel.
The Government Accountability Office found that the committee tasked with forming the Pentagon’s travel policies did not properly vet the proposal, nothing that a majority of officials at Defense Department depots found employees were less willing to volunteer for long-term temporary postings under the reduced rates.
Hirono called the restoration of per diem rates “long overdue.”
“The full repeal of the Department of Defense’s per diem cuts is a significant victory for employees at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Department of Defense employees across the country,” she said.
In a statement, Federal Managers Association National President Renee Johnson applauded the repeal’s inclusion in the authorization act.
“As I said last week when the House approved it, we are pleased the conference agreement prohibits the Department of Defense from implementing its policy of cutting long-term TDY per diems based on the duration of the assignment,” Johnson said. “This is a change that will immediately help thousands of feds.”
The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers also praised the provision’s passage.
“We are pleased that the fiscal year 2019 NDAA will include bipartisan legislative language for full reversal of the per diem cuts put in place several years ago,” IFPTE International President Paul Shearon said.
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