Collins, King, Ayotte, Shaheen Introduce Legislation to Ensure Shipyard Workers Are Fully Reimbursed for Long-Term Travel for Maintenance

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Angus King (I-Maine), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), as well as Senators representing the other three public shipyards, this week introduced legislation to repeal the existing Department of Defense (DoD) long-term temporary duty (TDY) policy for shipyard workers conducting off-yard maintenance.

The Senators introduced this legislation following concerns voiced in January by Vice Admiral William Hilarides, the Commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, that the existing long-term TDY policy “has already had a negative impact on the Naval Shipyards’ ability to effectively and efficiently conduct Navy ship maintenance…[and] has the potential to increase the end cost of projects”.

The legislation would require DoD to modify the Joint Travel Regulation to ensure that the reduced flat rate per diem for long-term TDY does not apply for public shipyard civilian employees traveling to conduct direct labor in support of off-yard work.  These employees would instead be paid the full per diem rate.  The legislation conforms with Admiral Hilarides’ January 19, 2016, request.

“Our nation relies on the highly trained, exceptional workers at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to conduct maintenance, modernization, and repair work on our Navy’s ships and nuclear submarines,” said Senator Collins. “When workers based at PNSY and public shipyards across our country deploy their expertise and perform critical work to maintain our naval fleet far away from their homes and families, they should receive full reimbursement for expenses related to this official government travel.  While I support the Department’s effort to look for ways to reduce extraneous costs, the Department’s misguided, one-size-fits-all approach to its long-term temporary duty per diem policy negatively affects our workers, may increase long-term costs, and could potentially harm our national security. This bipartisan legislation would exempt our dedicated shipyard workers from this misguided policy and ensure they receive full reimbursement when they conduct these critical missions.”

“Cost savings are important, particularly during a time of constrained budgets, but those savings shouldn’t come at the expense of military preparedness and they certainly shouldn’t be shouldered by the hardworking men and women at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard who are just doing their jobs – and doing them well, I would add,” Senator King said. “Repealing this flawed policy will ensure that shipyard workers across the country are not only appropriately reimbursed for their travel expenses, but are also able to effectively do their jobs in maintaining our nation’s submarine fleet.”

“I support DoD’s efforts to scrutinize costs carefully in order to eliminate waste, but in a well-intentioned effort to save money, the Department has pursued a misguided one-size-fits-all approach to its long-term temporary duty per diem policy, which has adversely affected shipyard workers while potentially costing more and harming naval readiness.  In order to reduce temporary duty expenses, the Department should eliminate unnecessary temporary duty, not cut the reimbursement rate for workers undertaking temporary duty that is essential to sustain military readiness,” said Senator Ayotte. “Workers at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard continue to demonstrate a gold-standard of excellence in maintaining our nation’s submarine fleet, and it is critical they are not forced to pay expenses out of pocket when traveling to conduct mission critical work at shipyards across the country.”

“Portsmouth Naval Shipyard workers and their expertise are in demand for submarine modernization projects around the country and their work is critical to our national security,” said Senator Shaheen. “Reducing per-diem rates for long-term temporary duty assignments is misguided and hurts these necessary modernization efforts. Shipyard workers shouldn’t have to pay expenses out-of-pocket to lend their specialized skills on long-term assignments, and I hope we can act quickly on this bipartisan proposal to correct this policy.”

The legislation’s additional cosponsors include:  U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Mark Warner (D-VA) and Mike Rounds (R-SD).

On March 15, 2016, the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Michelle Howard, testified that the new TDY policy for civilian public shipyard workers may end up costing more money instead of the intended result.  She also expressed concern that any policy should reflect the commitment of the Navy to “these artisans and their skillsets” and ensure public shipyard workers are not paying money out of their pockets for appropriate expenses.

In February, the Senators sent a letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, urging him to grant Admiral Hilarides’ request and warning that Congress would act if DoD did not.

This week, Admiral Hilarides testified before the Senate Armed Services Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee. Admiral Hilarides reiterated his positions in his January letter, which included an immediate waiver from and permanent change to the long-term TDY per diem policy for public shipyard employees conducting direct labor for off-yard work.