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Shaheen Seeks Waiver of Reimbursement Policy for Portsmouth Shipyard Workers on Long-Term Assignments

(Washington, DC) – Today, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter seeking a waiver for some Portsmouth Naval Shipyard workers from a Department of Defense (DOD) policy change that has reduced reimbursement allowances for workers during long-term duty assignments. Portsmouth Naval Shipyard employees perform critical work at shipyards around the country and are essential to maintaining the U.S. naval fleet. This reimbursement adjustment could impact shipyard workers at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard who may have to pay expenses out-of-pocket while traveling and could discourage workers from volunteering for long-term assignments.

“Portsmouth Naval Shipyard workers are in demand for submarine modernization projects around the country,” said Shaheen. “There shouldn’t be a disincentive for shipyard workers to lend their specialized skills on long-term assignments. With some reasonable flexibility from the Department of Defense, we can make sure that willing and able shipyard workers continue to volunteer for these assignments that are important to our national security.”

Last week, Shaheen successfully included a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that would direct the Comptroller General to study the impact of the policy change and gather data to determine if there is a negative impact on shipyard workers who travel on long-term temporary duty assignments.

The letter is also signed by the following Senators: Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Angus King (I-ME), Patty Murray (D-WA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Mark Warner (D-VA). The full text of Shaheen’s letter is included below:

October 05, 2015

The Honorable Ashton Carter

U.S. Department of Defense

1000 Defense Pentagon

Washington, DC 20301-1000

Dear Secretary Carter,

We write to express concern regarding the changes made by the Department of Defense (DOD) to per diem allowances for long-term temporary duty (TDY) and the unique impact of these changes on shipyard employees. While we applaud DOD’s efforts to seek cost efficiencies and understand DOD’s rationale for the reduced long-term TDY rates, the reductions may impact mission in certain circumstances. For this reason, the Senate included report language in the FY16 National Defense Authorization Act urging DOD to monitor the travel policy change to ensure employees who volunteer for mission essential travel are fully supported and encouraged. To further address this concern, we request that you consider granting greater waiver authority in circumstances when a traveler is unable to reasonably reduce costs for long-term TDY.

As you know, DOD made changes to the Joint Travel Regulations (JTR) effective November 1, 2014, that include a 25 percent cut to the per diem allowance and the lodging stipend for travel in excess of 30 days, and a 45 percent cut for travel longer than 180 days. It is our understanding that if a traveler and the commercial travel office are unable to arrange for suitable lodging at the reduced per diem rate, the full lodging rate may be authorized, but the daily rate for meals and incidental expenses (M&IE) remains at the reduced rate.

Shipyard employees often volunteer for long-term TDY assignments to conduct critical maintenance on the naval fleet at other shipyards and bases, often in high-cost areas. The efforts of highly skilled shipyard employees ensure our naval fleet is deployed in a safe, affordable and timely manner. The long-term M&IE reductions could lead to shipyard employees paying for expenses out-of-pocket, which could serve as a disincentive for workers to volunteer for long-term TDY. Shipyard employees work long shift hours, often precluding these travelers from purchasing groceries and preparing food. In high-cost areas, lodging with adequately equipped kitchenettes may not be available – increasing M&IE costs.

That is why it is important that in instances when a traveler is unable to reasonably reduce M&IE costs, the Department should consider providing the approving official with flexibility to waive the reduced M&IE daily per diem rate consistent with the exception already allowed for lodging.

Thank you for your consideration and your continued distinguished service on behalf of all of our men and women in uniform.