Human Capital:

Actions Needed to Better Track and Provide Timely and Accurate Compensation and Medical Benefits to Deployed Federal Civilians

GAO-09-562: Published: Jun 26, 2009. Publicly Released: Jun 26, 2009.

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The Department of Defense (DOD) and other executive agencies increasingly deploy civilians in support of contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Prior GAO reports show that the use of deployed civilians has raised questions about the potential for differences in policies on compensation and medical benefits. GAO was asked to compare agency policies and to identify any issues in policy or implementation regarding (1) compensation, (2) medical benefits, and (3) identification and tracking of deployed civilians. GAO reviewed laws and agency policies; interviewed officials responsible for governmentwide guidance at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and for policy at six selected agencies, including DOD and State; reviewed all workers' compensation claims filed by deployed civilians from January 1, 2006 through April 30, 2008 at the Department of Labor; and conducted a generalizeable survey of civilians deployed from the six agencies during this same period.

Although policies concerning compensation for deployed civilians are generally comparable across agencies, GAO found some issues that affect the amount of compensation--depending on such things as the agency's pay system or the employee's grade/band--and the accuracy, timeliness, and completeness of this compensation. For example, two civilian supervisors with comparable salaries who deploy under different pay systems receive different overtime pay because the overtime rate is determined by the employee's pay system and grade/band level. While a congressional subcommittee asked OPM to develop a benefits package for all deployed civilians to war zones and to recommend enabling legislation, OPM has not yet developed such a package or provided legislation. Also, implementation of some policies may not always be accurate or timely. For example, GAO estimates that approximately 40 percent of the deployed civilians in its survey reported experiencing problems with compensation--including not receiving danger pay--in part because they did not know where to go for assistance. Moreover, in January 2008, Congress gave agency heads discretion to apply the death gratuity provision retroactively for deaths connected with operations in Iraq or Afghanistan on or after October 7, 2001. At the time of GAO's review, agencies had not yet issued formal policy to implement this benefit. Although agency policies on medical benefits are similar, GAO found some issues with medical care following deployment, workers' compensation, and post deployment medical screenings that affect the benefits of deployed civilians. Specifically, while DOD allows its treatment facilities to care for "non-DOD" civilians following deployment in some cases, the circumstances are not clearly identified in guidance and some agencies were unaware of DOD's policy. Civilians who deploy also may be eligible for medical benefits through worker's compensation. GAO's analysis of 188 such claims filed with Labor revealed some significant processing delays resulting in part from lack of clarity about the documentation required to support claims. Without clear information on what documents to submit to support a claim, applicants may continue to experience delays. Further, while DOD requires medical screening before and following deployment for civilians, State requires medical screenings only before deployment. Prior GAO work found that documenting the medical condition of deployed personnel before and following deployment was critical to identifying conditions that may have resulted from deployment. Each agency provided GAO with a list of deployed civilians, but none had fully implemented policies to identify and track these civilians. DOD, for example, had procedures to identify and track deployed civilians but concluded that its guidance was not consistently implemented. While the other agencies had some ability to identify and track civilians, some had to manually search their systems. Thus, agencies may lack critical information on the location and movement of personnel, which may hamper their ability to intervene promptly to address emerging health issues, as GAO has previously reported.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To help ensure that civilians deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan or future contingencies receive comparable types of compensation and benefits such as overtime and locality pay, regardless of deploying agency, the Director of OPM should develop and oversee an executive agency working group to review existing compensation to develop an action plan or make legislative recommendations if necessary and appropriate to address differences, such as overtime and locality pay, in the types of compensation provided to civilians deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, or future contingencies.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 2010, OPM submitted proposed legislation to Congress thereby meeting the intent of this recommendation

    Recommendation: To help ensure that civilians deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan or future contingencies receive the full compensation and benefits to which they are entitled, the Secretary of Labor should revise the application materials for Federal Employees' Compensation Act claims to make clear what documentation applicants must submit with their claims.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Department of Labor has indicated that they cannot anticipate every document that might be needed to support a claim. In the report we pointed out that claims from combat zones frequently took longer than the DOL standard for processing because of repeated requests for additional information. DOL indicated that they would relax the processing standard for claims from combat zones. In recent correspondence with DOL, it was noted that the claim form for occupational disease identifies the types of documentation that would be needed to substantiate a claim. We suggested that including a similar section on the claim for traumatic injury would be responsive to our recommendation because the recommendation was intended to ensure that injured civilians receive the compensation to which they may be entitled in a timely manner, not to ensure that DOL processes claims within any specific time standard. We are awaiting a response from DOL.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that civilians deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan or future contingencies receive the full compensation and benefits to which they are entitled, the Secretary of Labor should set a clear timeframe for issuing implementing guidance concerning the death gratuity granted by section 1105 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, Public Law Number 110-181.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On August 18, 2009, the Department of Labor published the final interum rule for the implementation of the death gratuity authorized in section 1105 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009. This action made the provisions of this section effective immediately. This action meets the intent of our recommendation to set a timetable for publishing the implementing guidance.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that civilians deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan or future contingencies receive the full compensation and benefits to which they are entitled, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to establish an ombudsman program to help ensure that deployed civilians obtain accurate information and receive such compensation and medical benefits in a timely manner.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2013, DOD reported that civilian human resources (HR) office in Afghanistan to provide assistance on matters related to compensation and benefits, and senior HR Advisors have been forward-deployed since late 2009. These actions meet the intent of our recommendation, but we are not taking an accomplishment since final action was completed in 2009.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that civilians deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan or future contingencies receive the full compensation and benefits to which they are entitled, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to clarify guidance governing the availability of medical care at military treatment facilities for federal civilians following deployment and formally advise other agencies that deploy civilians of the circumstances under which care will be provided.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD has taken a number of actions to clarify and disseminate its policies concerning the treatment of non-DOD civilians at military treatment facilities following deployment. Specifically, beginning in early fiscal year 2010, DOD has posted information related to the medical treatment to which deployed federal civilians are entitled on its expeditionary workforce website. This information includes clarification of its policy for treatment of non-DOD civilians. For example, DOD posted (1) a form for non-DOD federal civilians to request additional medical care from Medical Treatment Facilities (MTFs) following deployment, (2) a briefing titled Guidance on Medical Care for non-DOD Federal Civilians In Theater and Following Deployment on March 29, 2010, and (3) frequently asked questions concerning access to medical care for non-DOD federal civilians in theater and following deployment on December 2, 2009. Finally, on April 1, 2010, DOD sent a letter to the head of other federal agencies to provide guidance and information to those agencies concerning medical care for non-DOD federal civilians who become ill, contract diseases, or are injured or wounded while forward deployed in support of contingency operations.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that civilians deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan or future contingencies receive the full compensation and benefits to which they are entitled, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to establish standard procedures to ensure that returning civilians complete the required post- deployment medical screenings.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD indicates that its policy now includes a requirement that deployment out processing for civilians will include a include a visit to the Military Treatment Facilities TRICARE Operations and Patient Administration Flight, to include a review of the post-deployment health assessment DD Form 2796 and the Unit Deployment Manager is responsible for notifying deployed civilians when they are due to complete the post deployment health reassessment. These actions meet the intention of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that civilians deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan or future contingencies receive the full compensation and benefits to which they are entitled, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to establish mechanisms to ensure that the Department's policies to identify and track deployed civilians are implemented.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October, 2011, the Joint Chiefs of Staff published JP 1-0, Joint Personnel Support, which introduced DMDC's Joint Personnel Accountability and Reconciliation Reporting application. This application provides near-real-time personnel reporting through the use of existing service specific deployment systems. According to JCS officials, JPARR captures data recorded when deployed personnel use their common access card within a Combatant Commander's area of responsibility and reconciles this data with information contained in DOD and service specific deployment systems and data bases. As a result, DOD's ability to identify individuals deployed to specific locations has been enhanced.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that civilians deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan or future contingencies receive the full compensation and benefits to which they are entitled, the Secretary of State should develop post-deployment medical screening requirements for civilians deployed under the purview of the Department of State.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: State has established post deployment medical screening. For State employees, the screening is part of our medical clearance process, through a separate PTSD screening questionnaire which will soon be incorporated into the medical clearance exam and medical clearance update form. Screening at post: State offers screening questionnaires to everyone under the Chief of Mission Authority in Iraq and Afghanistan during their tour and before they depart post. According to State, it is continuing to improve its check out processes at post to ensure that it captures all employees. Post-deployment screening & tracking: According to State, it continues to make strides in improving its post-deployment screening and tracking processes, offering screening via email at about 90 days to 6 months post-deployment. Further, State said that it has made progress in its efforts in developing a master list of those who are serving or have served under the COM authority in Iraq and Afghanistan. State has used historical records to compile a list of civilians and have to date emailed about 4,000 PTSD screening questionnaires and received about 3,100 replies. As mentioned earlier, for State employees, the screening is and will remain part of our regular medical screening process before and after overseas assignments.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that civilians deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan or future contingencies receive the full compensation and benefits to which they are entitled, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Homeland Security, and State, the Attorney General, and the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development should establish ombudsman programs, or for agencies deploying small numbers of civilians, focal points with human capital expertise, to help ensure that deployed civilians receive the compensation and medical benefits to which they are entitled.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2010, the Secretary of Agriculture submitted the official response to the recommendations in GAO-09-562. This response indicated that the department had created the ombudsman position, selected an employee to fill the position, and that the employee reported for duty on October 26, 2009. By establishing the ombudsman position, the department has taken action to ensure that deployed civilians receive the compensation and benefits to which they are entitled in a timely manner by clearly identifying the office responsible for resolving any issues they might encounter.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that civilians deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan or future contingencies receive the full compensation and benefits to which they are entitled, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Homeland Security, and State, the Attorney General, and the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development should establish ombudsman programs, or for agencies deploying small numbers of civilians, focal points with human capital expertise, to help ensure that deployed civilians receive the compensation and medical benefits to which they are entitled.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In June 2011, the Secretary of Homeland Security delegated authority to the Under Secretary for Management to develop and oversee implementation of policies within the department, and except as otherwise provided by law, carry out the functions of the agency to provide personnel appointed or assigned to serve abroad, allowances and benefits similar to those provided by chapter 9 of title I of the Foreign Service Act of 1990. In July 2011, the Under Secretary for Management issues a memorandum stating that the Department of Homeland Security was adopting the pertinent provisions of the Department of State Standardized Regulations and Foreign Affairs Manual until such time as the department develops its own rules. Finally, in April, 2012, the department provided a draft of the International Deployment Manual which outlines which organizations deployed employees should contact to resolve issues with compensation while deployed. DHS anticipates finalizing this manual on September 30, 2013.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that civilians deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan or future contingencies receive the full compensation and benefits to which they are entitled, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Homeland Security, and State, the Attorney General, and the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development should establish ombudsman programs, or for agencies deploying small numbers of civilians, focal points with human capital expertise, to help ensure that deployed civilians receive the compensation and medical benefits to which they are entitled.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Department is strengthening its processes and procedures to best serve our employees, but to date has not created the position of ombudsman. At the Director General's request, her staff has convened a working group to identify the principal HR-related problems encountered by employees who serve in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan (AIP) and has developed a concrete plan for addressing these issues. Also as a result of that process, the Director General directed the formation of an ongoing AIP HR Services Working Group to further enhance information sharing, accountability, and responsiveness. That said we expect to reexamine the results of our efforts - and the need to establish an ombudsman - this summer.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that civilians deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan or future contingencies receive the full compensation and benefits to which they are entitled, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Homeland Security, and State, the Attorney General, and the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development should establish ombudsman programs, or for agencies deploying small numbers of civilians, focal points with human capital expertise, to help ensure that deployed civilians receive the compensation and medical benefits to which they are entitled.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: At the time of our report, USAID stated that they had an ombudsman program in place, but did not provide any supporting documentation despite several requests both prior to issuance of our report and following the issuance of our report. In July 2012, USAID provided a position description that showed the ombudsman was in place at the time our report was issued.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that civilians deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan or future contingencies receive the full compensation and benefits to which they are entitled, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Homeland Security, and State, the Attorney General, and the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development should establish policies and procedures to accurately identify and track standardized information on deployed civilians, such as location specific movements in theater for any future medical issues related to their deployment.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: While USAID did not concur with our recommendation in written comments on our report, it did identify actions it planned to take in response to our recommendation to improve its ability to identify and track deployed civilians in its formal response to Congress on proposed actions to address the recommendations contained in our report. Specifically, USAID planned to consolidate data available from information systems available at its Washington headquarters with data available from information systems available at USAID Missions in Bagdad and Kabul. Subsequently, in July 2010, USAID implemented a workforce management tool developed by IBM to produce and store real-time information vital to the success of USAID's mission in Afghanistan and includes personnel management capabilities. This tool tracks information on assigned personnel such as assignment start and end dates, position titles, office/region assigned to, division/province assigned to, and where applicable, the specific provincial reconstruction team, district support team, or forward operating base. The development of this workforce management tool provides USAID with the capability to track the specific locations to which civilians are deployed and will enhance its ability to contact civilians in the event that future health issues arise.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that civilians deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan or future contingencies receive the full compensation and benefits to which they are entitled, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Homeland Security, and State, the Attorney General, and the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development should establish policies and procedures to accurately identify and track standardized information on deployed civilians, such as location specific movements in theater for any future medical issues related to their deployment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Office of the Attorney General

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2013, DOJ provided a binder concerning the compensation and benefits to which deployed DOJ civilians are entitled. DOJ had begun its efforts to centralize information related to the compensation and benefits for deployed civilians in 2008 and these efforts evolved into an ombudsman/focal point system during 2009. In reviewing the information provided by DOJ, the development of this binder did meet the intent of our recommendation to create an ombudsman/focal point program. Since DOJ's action was completed in 2009, we cannot take an accomplishment report at this time.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that civilians deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan or future contingencies receive the full compensation and benefits to which they are entitled, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Homeland Security, and State, the Attorney General, and the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development should establish policies and procedures to accurately identify and track standardized information on deployed civilians, such as location specific movements in theater for any future medical issues related to their deployment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHS has created a limited system to track deployed civilian personnel, but the system does not contain personal identification information and therefore cannot be used to identify specific individuals deployed to specific locations. In addition, the system does not track TDY personnel. Additionally, DHS relies on the State Departments country clearance system to track personnel, however, that system only captures requests for country clearance, not actual arrival in country. With the fielding of DOD's JPARR application, DHS would have the ability to track individual employees and locations through the use of the common access card readers.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that civilians deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan or future contingencies receive the full compensation and benefits to which they are entitled, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Homeland Security, and State, the Attorney General, and the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development should establish policies and procedures to accurately identify and track standardized information on deployed civilians, such as location specific movements in theater for any future medical issues related to their deployment.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: With the fielding of DOD's Joint Personnel Accountability and Reconciliation Reporting (JPARR) application, State would have the ability to track individual employees and locations through the use of the common access card readers. The combination of these measures meets the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that civilians deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan or future contingencies receive the full compensation and benefits to which they are entitled, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Homeland Security, and State, the Attorney General, and the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development should establish policies and procedures to accurately identify and track standardized information on deployed civilians, such as location specific movements in theater for any future medical issues related to their deployment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA relies on other agencies to track civilians in country, either State or DOD. In addition, USDA tracks employees using manual spreadsheets. With the fielding of DOD's JPARR application, USDA would have the ability to track individual employees and locations through the use of the common access card readers. The combination of these measures meets the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that civilians deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan or future contingencies receive the full compensation and benefits to which they are entitled, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Homeland Security, and State, the Attorney General, and the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development should establish ombudsman programs, or for agencies deploying small numbers of civilians, focal points with human capital expertise, to help ensure that deployed civilians receive the compensation and medical benefits to which they are entitled.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Office of the Attorney General

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2013, DOJ responded that the focal point created in 2009 also maintained records concerning when and where DOJ civilians had deployed. This internal capability along with the fielding of DOD's JPARR application, provide DOJ with the ability to track individual employees and locations through the use of the common access card readers. The combination of these measures meets the intent of our recommendation.

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