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Civilians in War Zones Face Inconsistency From the Government

Joe Davidson | The Washington Post via YellowBrix

September 21, 2009

When we think of Uncle Sam’s men and women overseas, our thoughts understandably go toward the troops in uniform who risk their lives in the name of the United States.

But there are many other federal employees, with no uniforms or weapons, who also subject themselves to daily war zone dangers. The civilians, however, face an inconsistent set of compensation, benefits and services that can generate confusion and damage morale.

“Since 2001, approximately 35,000 federal employees have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in support of ongoing combat missions, political and economic development efforts, and state reconstruction projects related to Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom,” Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.), said at a Wednesday hearing of a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee. “Current and formerly deployed federal employees report inconsistencies in pay, leave and worker compensation benefits, as well as medical care upon return.”

Many of the problems the civilians face stem from benefit programs that were not designed for those who serve in combat areas. They also cannot use Veteran Affairs hospitals, which have experience dealing with war-related psychological trauma and injuries.

In one illustration of the difficulties civilians face, the Government Accountability Office said about 40 percent of the deployed civilians reported problems with compensation, including danger pay. Furthermore, because of differing pay systems between agencies and even within the same agency, “deployed civilians at equivalent pay grades who work under the same conditions and face the same risks may receive different compensation,” the GAO said in a report released at the hearing.

The GAO recommended that the Office of Personnel Management oversee an executive agency working group to address the inconsistencies and make legislative recommendations.

Postal Deficit

Postmaster General John E. Potter tried to put a good face on a bad situation as he outlined his vision for the way forward for an agency drowning in deficit.

During his annual state-of-the-business address to the mailing industry on Wednesday, Potter said the U.S. Postal Service has cut spending by $6 billion in 2009 while maintaining high levels of customer service. That’s great, but the agency still faces a $7.5 billion deficit this year and is looking to Congress for help.

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