Bipartisan House bill challenges DoD travel cuts

By Jory Heckman
Federal News Radio

Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle are fighting back against the Pentagon’s cost-cutting plan for employees who travel for work.

Last fall, DoD announced plans to significantly scale back its reimbursements for service members and civilians who are serving away from their normal duty stations for extended periods of time.

Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.) introduced a bill Monday that would keep the Pentagon from lowering the reimbursement rate for workers who frequently travel for their jobs.

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“The Pentagon should not put the biggest burden of spending cuts on the backs of workers,” Kilmer said. “We need to ensure that workers and servicemembers can find decent lodging while traveling to support military missions.”

As of now, federal travelers are reimbursed per diem for both their hotel and meal and incidental expenses at levels that are supposed to reflect the costs at the travel destination.

The new policy will cut back those payments during extended stays: For trips of more than 30 days, DoD will only pay 75 percent of the set per diem rates. And for stays of more than 180 days, the payments will fall to 55 percent of the locality rate. DoD’s rationale is that it’s probably overpaying for those longer trips right now, since it already has agreements in place with large hotel chains that give it discounted rates for extended stays.

Kilmer, along with 25 other members, sent DoD a letter last fall protesting the travel changes.

The letter argued that the General Services Administration froze per diem rates for its employees and made it harder for them to find lodging for required travel.

The National Federation of Federal Employees, which represents some defense workers, says the change in rates would shift $22.5 million in costs to the defense workforce.

“We applaud Reps. Kilmer and Jones, as well as our allies on Capitol Hill that support this legislation and who agree that civilian Defense employees have endured enough,” said NFFE President William R. Dougan. “Enduring years of pay freezes, pension cuts and furloughs is bad enough, but these cuts to reimbursements are going to have a significant negative impact on employee morale.”

J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, also supported the bill.

“These employees who are required to regularly travel for extended periods should not be unfairly burdened with the consequences of having to find lodging and meals well below nationally established per diem rates. These DoD civilian employees travel around the world and work to support our nation’s military readiness. It is unreasonable to reduce their per diem allowance and leave them to pay out of their personal pockets for work related travel expenses.”

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