Senators Fight for Shipyard Workers and Servicemembers

Ayotte, Collins, Shaheen, and King Urge Armed Services Committees to Ensure Shipyard Workers and Servicemembers are Fully Reimbursed for Official Travel

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, U.S. Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Susan Collins (R-ME), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Angus King (I-ME) sent a letter to the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees urging them to incorporate language in the final National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would ensure servicemembers and Department of Defense (DoD) civilians, including public shipyard workers, receive full reimbursement when traveling on long-term temporary duty (TDY).     

“We strongly support DoD’s efforts to scrutinize costs carefully in order to eliminate waste.  However, as Senators with a keen interest in protecting our shipyard workforce and capabilities, we have seen the negative impact of this policy firsthand.  This policy has adversely affected our shipyard workers, who often conduct essential long-term TDY assignments to maintain our nation's naval fleet,” the senators wrote. “…Servicemembers and DoD civilians who are asked to spend long periods of time away from their home and families should be confident that they will receive full compensation.  They should not have to worry that they may have to cover expenses out-of-pocket for official travel.”

Ayotte, Collins, Shaheen, and King fought to ensure the Senate-passed NDAA and associated Senate Armed Services Committee Report language would ensure public shipyard workers traveling on long-term TDY to conduct maintenance, as well as others as determined by the respective services, would not be subject to the reduced TDY rate.  Building on this success, they are now fighting to ensure the full policy is repealed and that all servicemembers and DoD civilians receive full compensation for long-term TDY expenses.

The Senators sent the bipartisan letter with Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Patty Murray (D-WA), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

The full text of the letter is below.

Dear Chairmen Thornberry and McCain and Ranking Members Smith and Reed,

As you reconcile the differences between the House-passed and Senate-passed versions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, we write to urge you to adopt Section 603 of the House FY 2017 NDAA, which would stop the Department of Defense (DoD) from reducing the employee per diem allowance based on the duration of the temporary duty travel (TDY) assignment.

As you are aware, in November 2014, DoD made changes to the Joint Travel Regulations (JTR) that included a 25 percent cut to both 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.

We strongly support DoD’s efforts to scrutinize costs carefully in order to eliminate waste.  However, as Senators with a keen interest in protecting our shipyard workforce and capabilities, we have seen the negative impact of this policy firsthand.  This policy has adversely affected our shipyard workers, who often conduct essential long-term TDY assignments to maintain our nation's naval fleet.  The former Commander of NAVSEA, Admiral William Hilarides, wrote that the policy "has already had a negative impact on the Naval Shipyards' ability to effectively and efficiently conduct Navy ship maintenance."  Additionally, he added that the policy "has the potential to increase the end cost of projects."  Also, on March 15, 2016, then-Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Michelle Howard, also expressed concern about the policy saying, "as a government we should be providing just compensation to our people." 

We believe shipyard workers deserve just compensation, but so do servicemembers and other DoD civilians traveling for other mission-essential purposes.  Servicemembers and DoD civilians who are asked to spend long periods of time away from their home and families should be confident that they will receive full compensation.  They should not have to worry that they may have to cover expenses out-of-pocket for official travel.  DoD’s 2014 JTR policy change undermines morale of the existing workforce at a time when we need to attract the next generation of public servants and retain the experienced and skilled workers currently serving in defense of our nation.

However, based on the facts discussed above, we believe servicemembers and other DoD civilians should be able to benefit from the same policy.  If the purpose of the long-term TDY is sufficiently serious to warrant the travel, then the servicemembers or DoD civilians traveling should be fully reimbursed.  If the long-term TDY is not mission essential, DoD should not be authorizing the travel in the first place. 

Therefore, we respectfully request that the final Conference Agreement retain the House-passed language and rescind the 2014 JTR changes.  Consistent with Section 1151 of the Senate-passed NDAA and the associated Senate Armed Services Committee Report (114-255) language, this will ensure public shipyard workers traveling on long-term TDY would not be subject to the reduced TDY rate and would not be required to submit receipts in order to receive the full per diem rate.  Adopting Section 603 of the House FY 2017 NDAA would also ensure that all servicemembers and DoD civilians, including shipyard workers, receive full compensation for TDY expenses.  

Thank you for your leadership and for your consideration of this important issue.

Kelly A. Ayotte

Mazie K. Hirono

Susan Collins

Jeanne Shaheen

Thom Tillis

Angus King

Roger Wicker

Patty Murray

Mike Rounds

Maria Cantwell