WASHINGTON — House lawmakers introduced a bill this week that would block the Defense Department from slashing per diem allowances for long-term temporary duty.
The DoD is looking at a 25 percent reduction in the allowances for TDY longer than a month, and a 45 percent cut for assignments longer than 180 days — a move that could require troops and civilian workers to cover about $22 million in travel expenses annually.
The move is a cost-saving measure in a time of tight budgets. But Federal unions called the proposal “wrongheaded” and have persuaded a group of 26 lawmakers to oppose it and the new legislation co-sponsored by congressmen Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., and Walter Jones, R-N.C.
“In recent years, Defense workers have experienced death by a thousand cuts, with pay and benefits being whittled away little by little,” William Dougan, national president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said in a written statement. “These cuts to DoD employees’ TDY reimbursements are just salt in the wound. These cuts dealt a significant blow to morale within the department.”
The Defense Travel Management Office said the changes create an incentive for Defense Department travelers to find cheaper long-term lodging. Extended-stay hotels offer kitchenettes and refrigerators so “people aren’t eating out at an expensive restaurant every day,” DTMO director Harvey Johnson said in an October DoD News report.
Some civilian federal agencies have already enacted similar reimbursement systems, according to DTMO. Also, travelers who cannot find cheaper extended-stay lodging may be able to get a waiver from their authorizing official.
Dougan’s group and 12 other unions sent a letter to congressional leaders in October asking them to step in. That same month the coalition of lawmakers also urged the Pentagon to reconsider.
The House bill was filed Monday, according to the sponsors.
“The Pentagon should not put the biggest burden of spending cuts on the backs of workers,” Kilmer said in a statement. “We need to ensure that workers and servicemembers can find decent lodging while traveling to support military mission.”