Senators call for end to DoD’s per diem travel cuts

Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) have called on Senate appropriations leadership to stop implementing a Defense Department policy that ...

Two Senate Appropriations Committee members are calling for a rollback of cuts to the Defense workforce’s per diem travel reimbursement.

Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) have called on appropriations chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and ranking member Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) to stop implementing a Defense Department’s policy that has cut travel reimbursement since November 2014.

“We are concerned that such cuts may affect mission accomplishment and hurt morale,” the senators wrote in their letter. “The cuts may also lead to military members and employees who fulfill critical mission requirements having to pay for expenses related to official travel out of pocket. This is particularly true of shipyard workers whose work keeps our nation safe. We should not force personnel to shoulder the burden of expenses related to basic necessities such as food, laundry and transportation to and from their duty assignments while on official travel.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, followed by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, join other senators in a rush to the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014, for a procedural vote to advance the $585 billion defense bill. With a  midnight Thursday deadline to keep the government running,  a $1.1 trillion government-wide spending bill is teetering as many lawmakers find more in the measure to dislike than like. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) followed by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) join other senators in a rush to the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington.

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

National Federation of Federal Employees President William Dougan praised the senators’ move to stop the per diem cuts.

“The Department of Defense unilaterally imposed these senseless budget cuts, and Senators Schatz and Collins recognize this injustice. Saddling Defense workers with an additional $22.5 million in cuts following years of pay freezes, pension cuts and unpaid furloughs is a slap in the face. These cuts take money directly out of the pockets of working men and women,” Dougan said. “NFFE will continue to work with Senators Schatz, Collins and the rest of our allies on Capitol Hill to fight for the 50,000 DoD employees we represent to repeal these cuts.”

American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox also announced his support for the senators’ actions.

“AFGE fully supports and thanks the Senators’ effort to rollback the per diem cuts. DOD employees who travel for long-periods of time should not have to worry if they can afford to travel for work and take care of their families and financial responsibilities back at home. Department savings should not be at the expense of the hard-working men and women who are committed to providing the support services that military personnel need to keep our nation safe.”

DoD announced the travels cuts last November as part of a larger bundle of proposals it made to deal with sequestration spending limits.

The Schatz-Collins letter marks just the latest opposition on Capitol Hill to the Pentagon’s cuts.

Rep. Mark Takai (D-Hawaii) in April attached an amendment to the 2016 national Defense authorization bill that would have reversed the per diem cuts. President Barack Obama vetoed the NDAA bill in October.

The bill received support from labor unions representing defense workers, including the the American Federation of Government Employees and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.

“The Department of Defense’s reduced per diem rates have negatively impacted the morale of their workforce and damaged the financial well-being of their employees. The Department should not put workers in a spot where they are required to travel for official work, but have to pay out of pocket for necessities. This policy resulted in financial losses to our hardworking civilian employees and businesses dedicated to serving the military,” Takai said in introducing his bill.

Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.) in March introduced a freestanding bill that would also roll back the per diem travel cuts. That bill, however, never left committee.

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