Overseas military spouses struggle to continue telecommuting for their federal agencies


At a time when more employers are embracing telecommuting — including many federal agencies — some federally employed military spouses are being denied overseas telecommuting opportunities for their federal agency.

It also affects other overdue federal spouses – federally employed spouses who accompany their spouse on their government missions abroad.

Two senators have written to Secretary of State Antony Blinken asking for clarification on the confusing guidelines.

“Our understanding is that these recent changes to policy guidance have had a negative impact on federally employed spouses who accompany their spouses on government duty or overseas military orders,” the senses wrote. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Maggie Hassan, DN.H..

They asked for details on the changes and for clarification. “We are concerned that this policy denies all telecommuting requests from federal employees assigned to or near military installations,” they wrote. “We understand that [these agreements] are rare in the federal government due to increased security concerns and costs for employment agencies.

A number of military spouses who moved overseas with their military on permanent station change orders have had their applications denied to work for their federal agency overseas under the telecommuting program. domestic workers abroad. In other cases, their DETO agreements have been cancelled. It costs spouses tens of thousands of dollars in income and primarily affects young spouses with three to five years of service with their federal agency, according to one foreign spouse.

Federal agency employers may be supportive of maintaining spousal employment through telecommuting, but the process of obtaining the required DETO approval is not.

This appears to be related to more spouses requesting telecommuting agreements and State Department officials in some overseas areas not having the staff to go out and check homes to ensure that security requirements are met, according to the spouses interviewed.

The good news is that the Departments of State and Defense “are working to resolve the issue and will notify all interagency partners through [the Office of Personnel Management] when a resolution is reached,” a State Department spokesperson said in an email response to the Military Times. “In the meantime, agencies are encouraged to contact the Department of State on a case-by-case basis for guidance on navigating military spouse DETOs.”

Advocates for military spouses are thrilled to see the questions being asked, said Sue Hoppin, president of the National Military Spouse Network. “During the pandemic, people were seeing that remote work was viable, and so more people were open to the notion of remote work,” she said. Limiting DETO deals “goes against the Biden/Harris administration’s goal of making the federal government an ’employer of choice’ for military spouses,” she said. “We have the ability to make military spouses in federal jobs work [overseas] who could work through PCS, and now we’re putting up an artificial barrier? »

Some spouses interviewed said the military family has to foot the bill for security requirements for a DETO, such as bombproof and shatterproof glass, specific door locks, and an alarm system to notify the Department state in the event of a break-in. A wife said she spent $15,000 on security requirements.

“The safety and security of American personnel is among our highest priorities,” the State Department spokesperson said. “We cannot talk about the costs incurred by individuals, because the Overseas Security Policy Council – with members from all the executive agencies posted overseas – agrees on the standards that need to be complied with, including residential safety standards.”

State Department officials did not report the number of spouses working under these federal overseas telecommuting agreements. But spouses interviewed said they believe “hundreds” are affected, and some are on unpaid leave while waiting for a DETO to be approved.

The confusion stems from official communications from late last year, including a written communication to State Department officials in Germany indicating that no further DETO deals would be approved, according to military spouses interviewed.

In some other countries, the situation is uncertain. Some spouses are denied their application or their DETO agreements are withdrawn, although there is no written communication about local policy changes.

Spouses interviewed asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, although they noted that their federal employers had been supportive of them in trying to help them obtain and keep their telecommuting agreements.

They say they were told the reason for the change is the increase in demand for these telework arrangements. There is a lack of staff to go out and check houses to make sure they meet safety requirements.

The standards apply whether the spouse lives at a military installation overseas or off base. But homes outside the gate must meet Army security requirements for service members and their families to live there, the spouses said.

Under federal law and presidential directive, all DETO agreements, including those of military spouses, fall under the security authority and responsibility of the State Department’s chief of mission, said State Department spokesman. “Spouses of DoD service members assigned to military installations are eligible for DETO arrangements. However, when the sponsor is not under [chief of mission] responsibility for security makes it difficult for the relevant U.S. mission (nearest embassy or consulate) to provide adequate security services and ensure compliance with required residential security standards,” he said in the statement. reply by e-mail.

“The safety standards are already there,” said a spouse. “The logical answer is that we are under the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence. Safety standards are already there. It’s redundant.

In effect, it gives spouses unfavorable options: to stay in the United States and pay for two separate households, with yet another forced military separation; or be forced to resign from your federal job, losing tens of thousands of dollars or more in income, as well as career advancement, years of Thrift Savings Plan, and retirement and life insurance benefits.

No more roadblocks

Meanwhile, DoD officials have reported to Congress that it is not possible to provide telecommuting facilities at overseas military bases for military spouses working for private companies.

In the FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress directed the DoD to establish a pilot program to determine if the idea was feasible, but no such pilot program was undertaken. .

“There are multiple, insurmountable challenges associated with setting up telecommuting facilities overseas,” DoD officials said in a report provided to Congress, obtained by Military Times.

Among the challenges: Military spouses working for a U.S.-based company may be required to pay both host country and U.S. taxes. There are also security issues. “Military spouses could not use DoD networks for connectivity. Some companies have expressed reluctance for spouses to use host country internet service providers,” DoD officials said.

The DoD is conducting a study of coworking spaces for military spouses at facilities across the United States, and the Army launched its first coworking space in Fort Belvoir, Va., in 2021.

Congressman Leo Shane III contributed to this report.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for over 30 years, and co-authored a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book “A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families”. She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Florida and Athens, Georgia.


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