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DoD Supports Spirit of Volunteerism

By Staff Sgt. Alicia K. Borlik, USA
American Forces Press Service

Washington, Sept. 17, 1998 – The spirit of volunteerism – and opportunities to perform volunteer work – are alive and well throughout DoD.

That’s the assessment of DoD’s top civilian personnel manager after a review of policies and programs which support employee desires to participate in volunteer activities outside the workplace.

Diane Disney, deputy assistant secretary of defense for civilian personnel policy, reviewed DoD’s policies in response to President Clinton’s April initiative calling on all federal agencies to encourage employee participation in volunteer activities. Specifically, Clinton asked agencies to examine their work scheduling policies and when possible, “allow employees to plan and take time off to perform community service as the public business permits.”

After her review, Disney is confident DoD’s personnel policies support the President’s goals, saying DoD’s “robust flexible work schedule concepts” are strong and continue to improve. “It’s more of (emphasizing) the same thing,” she said in describing how DoD is working to better enable its employees to participate volunteer activities.

Although civilians cannot be given paid time off for volunteer work, Disney said current personnel policies more than adequately facilitate community service.

First, employees can sign up for a flexible work schedule in which they work longer hours each day, then receive one day off per pay period. This is often referred to as flex-time or an alternate work schedule. Indeed, Disney said more than 40 percent of DoD civilian employees are currently working on some type of flexible schedule other than the traditional 40 hours per week.

Second, employees may use annual leave or earned compensatory time for volunteer efforts.

Regardless of the options and DoD’s long-standing commitment to supporting volunteer work, Disney said the President’s statement that it should be accommodated “as the public business permits,” is paramount.

Organizations must balance mission requirements with the desires of employees when coordinating the needed time off, Disney said. “It’s up to the creativity of the manager of those organizations to see what flexibility is appropriate. It’s worked out between the manager and employee.”

Although it’s uncertain how many DoD employees currently participate in volunteer work, Disney said the “percentage is bound to be very high,” because volunteerism is such an integral part of life at many military installations.

Examples of volunteer efforts abound across the services, Disney said. At the DoD level, the Pentagon has 15-year relationship with the John Tyler Elementary School in Washington, D.C. Over the years, more than 700 DoD volunteers have mentored and tutored young students there.

At the service level, many Army and Navy installations sponsor adopt-a-school programs which mirror DoD’s initiative of bonding with a needy area school. In 1997, the Army encouraged personnel to join “adopt-a-school” programs by authorizing them an hour of excused absence each week to do so.”

Disney encourages civilian employees to get involved and pointed out it doesn’t always require time off from work to get involved. Tutoring a student or working on a newsletter for a community organization are just two examples of volunteering that can be done anytime, she said.

“Volunteering helps people within the department strengthen their bonds with each other. That sense of solidarity, having people to depend upon, people who pitch in when things are difficult, is extremely important to morale,” she said. “Volunteering is also important outside our ‘family’ because it shows the rest of the American family the kind of caring people who work in defense.”

Volunteerism, she said, is one of those rare opportunities with no downside.

“It makes you feel better about yourself, makes your community more cohesive and makes us a stronger country,” she said.”

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