DoD, State Dept streamline process for federal employees to telework overseas

The federal government is stepping up efforts to become a more attractive employer for the spouses of military service members living overseas.

The federal government is stepping up efforts to become a more attractive employer for the spouses of military service members living overseas.

The Defense Department and State Department are streamlining the process for federal employees to continue their careers as part of the Domestic Employees Teleworking Overseas (DETO) program. 

Under a permanent memorandum of agreement signed at the White House on Wednesday, DoD and the State Department agree to work together to simplify the approval of DETO arrangements for those who plan to work remotely from military-managed residences while overseas.

The DETO program dates back to 2009, and is intended to provide more secure career options for spouses of military or Foreign Service members who are stationed overseas.

Wednesday’s memo builds upon an interim arrangement between both departments in July 2022.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order last summer, requiring agencies to develop common standards for DETO policies, “to promote consistency and effective coordination in the implementation of the DETO program across the executive branch.”

Congress also passed language in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) giving DETOs a locality pay equivalent. That legislation led to 265 DETOs seeing a significant pay raise.

The memo streamlines residential safety and security screening requirements for DETOs.

DoD will provide security services normally carried out by regional security officers at U.S. embassies and consulates — such as emergency planning, evacuation assistance and incident response for serious incidents.

The Biden administration says this will eliminate State Department inspections of military housing, and shorten the DETO approval process.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks said the memo allows military spouses living abroad to continue their federal careers “with as little disruption as possible.”

“With having to move from post to post every couple of years, maintaining meaningful employment can be especially difficult for military spouses. It’s even more challenging to do so when you’re assigned to a duty station overseas,” Hicks said.

Hicks said the memo is expected to “greatly streamline” the DETO approval process and avoid delays that, in the past, often resulted in military spouses making difficult choices — such as whether to leave the federal workforce or endure lengthy family separations.

The Biden administration, in a fact sheet, said the DETO memo is part of a broader effort to make the federal government a “model employer” for military spouses.

The Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management released a strategic plan in February, giving agencies guidance on how to hire, retain and support military spouses.

More than 16,000 military, veteran, and surviving spouses work for the federal government.

Military spouses face a 21% unemployment rate — a figure that has not changed much over the past decade.

First Lady Jill Biden is championing the DETO program as part of her Joining Forces initiative, which supports families of service members and veterans, as well as their caregivers and survivors.

Biden said military spouses often struggle to keep a steady job when their families move every few years — and that it can be especially hard to maintain a career that began prior to living overseas.

That burden on military families, she added, makes it harder for service members to continue in their military careers.

“They’re stressed about how difficult it is to make ends meet on one income, questioning how long they can serve their country when their spouse is unhappy or unfulfilled. We cannot allow military families to be alone,” Biden said.

Biden said the memo makes it easier for the federal government to hire military spouses and gives them time off when they have to move.

Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Richard Verma said the DETO program gives military spouses in the federal workforce “critical flexibility for their family and their career.”

“Long before the pandemic, we recognized the value and impact of flexible work arrangements,” Verma said. “And we have been proud to continue to grow the DETO program. With this agreement, we are demonstrating our commitment to streamlining access to those flexibilities.”

Verma said the DETO program allows military families to stay together, and allows federal agencies to “retain our best talent.”

The DETO memo, he added, builds on Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s diplomacy modernization agenda, and makes the department a “model workplace.”

“To retain top talent, we must put people first, and this memorandum of understanding does just that,” Verma said

Julie Humphreys, a DETO living in Stuttgart, Germany, and working for the State Department’s Bureau of Global Talent Management, said her family has moved 13 times over the past two decades.

“Needless to say, it is not always easy to maintain your career when you pack your house up every few years,” Humphreys said.

Humphreys said the DETO program “ensures military spouses like me don’t have to sacrifice their careers to keep families together.”

“Today is also a win for the federal agencies who now have a way to keep their experienced and valued employees, when they move overseas,” Humphreys said.

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