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DOD, State Department Expand Employment Opportunities for Military Spouses Stationed Overseas

The Defense Department is taking steps to ensure military spouses can continue to thrive in their own careers while accompanying service members on overseas assignments. 

A new memorandum of agreement signed yesterday by Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks and Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Richard Verma will streamline the approval process for military spouses seeking overseas teleworking arrangements while federally employed. 

A woman in civilian attire sits at a table with service members in uniform.
Hicks Luncheon
Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks speaks with service members during a lunch at RAF Lakenheath, England, Nov. 28, 2023.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Cesar J. Navarro
VIRIN: 231128-D-GD090-1522A

Hicks said removing barriers for military spouses to remain in federal positions while accompanying their spouses stationed overseas will further improve economic security for military families and enhance readiness and retention for the all-volunteer force.   

"By signing the memorandum of agreement, we are enabling federally employed military spouses to work remotely from where their service member is stationed overseas and continue their professions with as little disruption as possible," Hicks said during a signing ceremony at the White House.   

"That matters for military spouses who want to continue down their chosen career path," she said. "It matters for the economic well-being of our military families. It matters for our ability to retain valuable talent and expertise in the federal workforce. And it matters for our national security."  

The State Department manages the Domestic Employees Teleworking Overseas, or DETO, program, which governs arrangements by federal employees to work for pre-determined periods at approved overseas work sites while serving in domestic federal positions.   

Under the newly signed memorandum, the State Department will accept DOD suitability determinations for overseas housing, both on and off installation, when considering DETO arrangement requests.   

Previously, the State Department required additional security and safety surveys for off-installation housing.  

The measure is designed to streamline the approval process and reduce delays that can lead to lengthy family separations or cause military spouses to give up their federal positions when moving abroad.  

Those tough choices are reflected, in part, by a 21% unemployment rate among military spouses, according to White House figures.  

Administration officials point out that despite military spouses being diverse, talented and resilient, that unemployment figure has remained largely unchanged over the past decade. 

Civilians take notes while seated at desks in a classroom.
Readiness Class
Air Force spouses listen to Alisha Davis, 31st Force Support Squadron Civilian Personnel Office flight chief, during a class at the Military & Family Readiness Center at Aviano Air Base, Italy, Sept. 27, 2023
Photo By: Air Force Airman 1st Class Hannah Stubblefield
VIRIN: 230927-F-HS287-1128X

More than 16,000 military, veteran and surviving spouses work for federal agencies according to White House figures, further underscoring the broad reaching impact of the policy governing overseas teleworking arrangements has on the military community.   

Verma said streamlining the DETO program isn't just about improving the lives of military families, it is also about putting the right policies in place to ensure the federal government attracts and retains top talent.   

"When we make a DETO opportunity possible, it means families stay together; two careers are supported; that State, Defense and our other federal partners can carry out our critical missions at home and abroad and that we can continue to retain our best talent," Verma said. 

He said the memorandum is a reflection that attracting top talent means putting people first.  

The agreement is limited to areas where DOD has approved accompanied assignments and established Military Housing Offices serving the local military community.   

The memorandum also outlines procedures for DOD and the State Department to jointly address future concerns surrounding DETO arrangements for military families as necessary. 

It clarifies that spouses of Coast Guard personnel assigned to overseas billets under DOD combatant commanders are also covered under the agreement.  

A person holds an electronic tablet displaying job postings.
Job Search
Meaghan Mueller, an Air Force spouse, researches jobs in Aviano during a workshop about federal hiring for spouses hosted by the Military Family Readiness Center and the Civilian Personnel Office Aviano Air Base, Italy, Sept 27, 2023.
Photo By: Air Force Airman 1st Class Hannah Stubblefield
VIRIN: 230927-F-HS287-1195A

President Joe Biden directed the agencies to make improvements to the DETO program as part of a June 2023 executive order aimed at helping military spouses retain their federal jobs while accompanying their service members overseas.  

Yesterday's memorandum aligns with Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III's priority of strengthening support for DOD personnel and family members under his "Taking Care of Our Service Members and Families" campaign.   

Those efforts include key initiatives to improve the lives of service members and their families through access to quality and affordable child care and easing the burden of relocation for military families, among other things.  

"We have incredible initiatives underway today to take care of military families, including universal pre-K in DOD schools, increases in pay, and new child development centers," Hicks said yesterday. "And we continue looking for ways to do even more to strengthen and support our military families."  

Hicks underscored that military family members are a critical component of the all-volunteer force.   

"We have the fiercest fighting force in the world because we have the finest military families in the world, and we cannot maintain military readiness and a strong all-volunteer force without them," she said. "Providing the support that they need is the least we can do for all that they do in defense of this nation." 

A woman in civilian attire sits at a table with children.
Roundtable Discussion
First Lady Dr. Jill Biden welcomes National Guard senior leaders and Guard family members for a roundtable discussion on support for National Guard children in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Washington, Nov. 27, 2023.
Photo By: Army Sgt. 1st Class Zach Sheely
VIRIN: 231127-Z-VX744-1322

The steps also reflect the Biden administration's broader efforts to improve economic security for military families and increase military spouse employment.  

Those priorities among others are a key focus of First Lady Dr. Jill Biden's Joining Forces initiative, which focuses on efforts to support active duty and veteran families, caregivers and military survivors.   

"Our military spouses — so many of you here — you may not wear a uniform, but you serve our country too," the first lady said during yesterday's signing ceremony. "And it's our responsibility to serve you.   

"This isn't just a moral obligation," she said. "It's a national security imperative."  

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