The Defense Department has asked Congress to standardize and improve benefits for federal civilian employees who are assigned to combat zones and other dangerous areas overseas.
“Civilians are becoming increasingly prominent in areas of armed conflict, leading reconstruction and stabilization operations that require a whole-of-government approach that unites uniformed and civilian personnel from DoD and other agencies,” the department said in making the request.
The language is one of the recommendations for the annual Defense authorization bill, which will be crafted on Capitol Hill during the upcoming weeks, starting in the House. Similar requests have been made in the past, including in a proposal from the Office of Personnel Management in 2010.
Under the new proposal, the Defense and State departments together would determine whether an area is a “zone of armed conflict” for benefit purposes. Under current procedures requiring a presidential order, such designations “often occur long after employees are exposed to exceptional levels of armed violence and are often in place long after the exceptional levels of armed violence ends,” it says.
For areas that have such a designation, the plan would set standard policies in areas including health assessments before and after such assignments, various special pay authorities, personal travel, family travel for emergencies, home leave and recuperation leave during an assignment, readjustment leave after returning, compensation in the case of injury or death, and more.
A 2009 Government Accountability Office report found wide differences among agencies in the benefits they provide to their deployed employees. GAO noted that some agencies have authorities that don’t apply in other agencies. Also, some agencies with small numbers of employees working in such areas may be unfamiliar with the benefits to which employees may be entitled, it said.
OPM does not collect data on the number of federal employees deployed in support of combat missions. An estimated 41,000 civilian federal employees have deployed worldwide since 2001 to support combat operations, contingencies, disaster relief and stability operations, according to a GAO report issued earlier this year.