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Military, Civilians Get Keys to Help Unlock Gridlock

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 9, 2000 – Military members and DoD civilians within the United States and its territories are now eligible for mass-transit subsidy benefits.

Deputy Defense Secretary Rudy de Leon directed Oct. 13 that DoD installations and activities establish mass transit incentive programs for DoD personnel in the 50 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Diane Disney, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for civilian personnel policy, said commuting headaches have become a major concern in many urban areas across the United States. Consequently, she said, federal, state, and local officials are seeking ways, such as mass- transportation subsidies, to reduce gridlock.

Use of commuter mass-transit subsidies helps to “reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality, reduce wear and tear on the roadways, and relieve commuters’ stress,” Disney said. The expanded DoD mass-transit program is not available overseas, she noted, since the U.S. Clean Air Act does not cover those areas.

On April 21, President Bill Clinton directed all federal agencies to establish transportation fringe benefit programs in order to reduce federal employees’ contribution to traffic congestion and air pollution, and to expand commuting alternatives.

In support of the Executive Order, DoD worked with the Department of Transportation, and on Oct. 1 established a mass transit benefit program for employees in the National Capital Region who use conveyances such as buses, trains, and van pools.

“Under the Executive Order, there were differences between what was to be provided inside the National Capital Region, and what was to be provided outside of it,” Disney said. Inside the region, she said, the Executive Order prescribed a subsidy of up to $65 a month, indexed for the future. Outside the National Capital Region, she added, there was not a direct subsidy, but a tax-sheltering benefit, where people would be able to pay for their transportation costs with pre-tax dollars.

Through de Leon’s directive, all DoD agencies may now offer their employees the direct subsidy in amounts that do not exceed personal commuting costs, up to the maximum allowed by the Internal Revenue Code (currently $65/month; $100/month and indexed beginning January 2002). Parking costs are not included in the program.

The actual costs of DoD’s mass transit incentive program are borne by the agencies involved, and vary according to the number of people choosing to participate, Disney said. Non-appropriated fund government employees and reserve component members on active duty are also eligible to participate in the program.

DoD’s mass-transit program also supports a provision within the National Defense Authorization Act, signed by the President Oct. 30, that requires mass transportation incentives for those areas affected by the Clean Air Act, Disney said. The Clean Air Act affects all 50 states and territories, but not U.S. installations overseas.

Gridlock, whether caused by too many cars on insufficient roadways or construction snarls, “is a very costly phenomenon,” Disney said.

“Not just in the cost of work time lost,” she said, “but also in the dislocation of people who have to go around the construction” and other traffic tie-ups.

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