Civilian defense pay & benefits provisions on NDAA negotiating table

With Congress back in session and in the midst of the fiscal 2017 budget negotiations, the House and Senate still need to reconcile some pay and benefits provisions in their versions of the national defense spending bill.

The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, has pushed for reversing per diem travel cuts for defense civilian employees in the final version of the bill.

Don Hale, chairman of the AFGE defense conference, told Federal News Radio that the travel cuts, meant to reduce costs under sequestration, have had a negative impact on readiness.

“The change in the rate of per diem has affected DoD’s ability to put workers where they need to have them,” Hale said.

Instead of  having a volunteer workforce go on temporary duty assignment and take long-term travel assignments to depots and shipyards, people are no longer volunteering, Hale said. With a lack of volunteers, these assignments have been put on reluctant civilian defense employees.

“When you’re going to mandate an employee to be away from their family, working on helicopters, or airplanes, or aircraft carriers, or nuclear submarines, and they don’t want to be there, and they’re disgruntled, I think that you’re doing a disservice to our warfighter,” Hale said.

Since November 2014, DoD’s change in policy has meant a cut in travel reimbursement by 25 percent for federal and military personnel on temporary duty assignment lasting longer than 30 days, by 45 percent for travel lasting longer than 180 days.

Hale said the cost savings under the program pales in comparison to the overall detriment it causes for defense readiness.

“The change in per diem in the overall DoD budget, it’s a trickle. The savings, what they hope to achieve, is wiped out by the fact that you have all these employees doing work that they have no desire to do … a lot of them are just going through the motions, so you’re not getting that same quality of work that you were getting by employees that wanted to be there,” he said.

Raising the DoD buyout

AFGE has also pushed for raising the $25,000 maximum cap on buyouts for civilian defense employees. The union supports a provision in the Senate version of the NDAA that would raise the maximum to $40,000.

Hale said the $25,000 cap, which has been around since the 1970s, isn’t the incentive that it used to be.

“People are reluctant to get out as it is. When you offer them $25,000, which comes out to about $17,000 after taxes, it’s still not a big incentive for people to make that decision to take an early out,” he said.

Raising the buyout, Hale said, would give an aging workforce more of an incentive to leave, and allow DoD to replace them with younger talent at a lower grade on the General Schedule pay scale.

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