Transcript

Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Provides Update to Department Stop-Move Policy

April 18, 2020
Matthew P. Donovan, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness

STAFF:  All right.  Well, it's 10 o’clock, and we're going to go ahead and get started.  So good morning, everyone.  Thank you all for joining us on the line today.  Today's briefing is on-the-record and off-camera.  Mr. Matthew Donovan, the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness will be providing you with an update on the department's Stop Movement Guidance to the Force.

The briefing will not be life-streamed; however, a transcript will be available on defense.gov once complete.  In a few moments, Mr. Donovan will be providing opening remarks and we will open it up to questions shortly thereafter.

As a reminder, please do not use the speaker function on your phone, and when you're not speaking, please ensure your device is muted.  We want to prevent feedback from interfering with the call.  Alright, so without further delay, I present Mr. Matthew Donovan, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. Sir?

UNDERSECRETARY OF DEFENSE MATTHEW DONOVAN: Well, good morning, everyone.  I hope everyone's happy.  I'll give some prepared remarks and then we'll take some questions.

After careful consideration and assessment of the situation of the National COVID-19 [Coronavirus Disease] Pandemic Response, Secretary Esper, will the advice of Chairman Milley, has decided to extend the DOD [Department of Defense]-wide travel restrictions he emplaced back in March until June 30, 2020.  This will be effective on Monday, April 20, 2020, and replaces the previous orders.

Continuing these travel restrictions is necessary because of the global nature of the Department of Defense enterprise.  We have service members stationed in all 50 states with innumerous foreign nations across the globe.  While many areas in the United States may be on a positive trajectory, some areas and many nations are not.

As personnel movements continue to present a threat of spreading COVID-19 within our ranks and communities, and from abroad, this extension continues the secretary's three priorities of protecting our service members, DOD civilians, our families, and safeguarding our national security capabilities, all while supporting the whole-of-nation response.

Our service members are currently on the front lines, supporting the whole-of-government response.  Military doctors, nurses, scientists, and engineers are working around the clock to support cities and communities challenged by the virus.  Our National Guard is performing essential tasks such as testing, logistics and planning throughout the nation.  All told, we have over 57,000 service members across the nation fighting this invisible enemy.

While the department supports the whole-of-nation response to COVID-19, our men and women in uniform continue to stand the watch safeguarding our nation.  We continue to support operations around the world, such as counterterrorism missions, supporting our coalition partners in the Middle East, monitoring North Korea's weapons tests, working with our NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] allies in Europe and conducting Freedom of Navigation operations across the global commons.  To any adversary who may consider our robust response to COVID-19 as a moment of weakness, to send a clear message:  make no mistake, the United States stands ready to meet any threat to our nation. 

Since the beginning of this fight against the coronavirus, we have put measures in place to protect our personnel and their families.  Earlier this week we released the eighth supplement in the department's Forced Health Protection Guidance with the first one released on January 30, just prior to the department activating global pandemic plans.

Secretary Esper understands these travel restrictions impact our service members, civilians and families, and very careful deliberation went into his decision.  We want to give our people sufficient time to plan to make personal and work adjustments and to prepare to the changes this extension will bring.  Additionally, understanding we are approaching our major permanent change of station season, the department will actively provide support options to assist our people.

In addition to extending the travel restrictions, the new guidance allows for operational deployments and redeployments, recruiting and basic training activities, and allows travelers who are in the middle of temporary duty to travel or permanent change of station moves continue onto their home stations or new duty stations.  It also exempts travel necessary for medical treatment.

As before, we will continue to allow travel for individuals pending retirement or separation.  Further, we will still allow for exceptions for mission, humanitarian and personal hardship reasons.  Also, when it meets operational requirements, we will consider in-place assignment extensions or waivers for PCS [Permanent Change of Station] moves for service members with school-age dependents to minimize school year disruptions and education costs.

Finally, on April 16, I signed a department-wide authorization for service members to accrue and retain an additional leave balance of up to 120 days, which is twice the normal carryover limit of 60 days.  Service members will have until September 30, 2023 to take any accrued leave over a 60-day balance.

Again, we understand the impact this has on our service members and their families.  However, this is a necessary measure to keep our people safe and our military ready.  While aligning with President Trump's Opening Up America Again Guidelines, Secretary Esper will maintain a continuous conditions-based assessment of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we'll formally review this policy every 15 days to determine if conditions allow travel to resume earlier than June 30.

I thank all our service members, DOD civilians and their families for their service, their resilience and their cooperation.  We will all get through this together and be stronger as a result.  Thank you, and I'm prepared to take any questions you might have.

STAFF:  Thank you, Mr. Donovan and with that we'll open the lines for questions.  First up, Howard with Military Times.

Q:  Yes, good morning, thanks.  Is there any anticipation that this ban would be extended beyond June 30?

MR. DONOVAN:  You know, we're following CDC and White House projections, and although there's still a lot we don't know about the, how this virus is behaving, I think it's important that, as I said in my statement, that we're making a continuous condition-based assessment of this, and the Secretary will formally review it every two weeks.

Q:  So it's possible, with the reviews?

MR. DONOVAN:  Well, I never say never.  Next?

STAFF:  All right.  Hope with Military.com.

Q:  Yes.  Thanks for taking my question for doing this briefing.  My question is, do you have data thus far on how many waiver requests have been approved or what proportion, percentage of waiver requests have been approved since the ban initially took effect?

MR. DONOVAN:  I don't have the exact number.  I think Lisa can give that to you, but I know they have been numerous.  General Lyons, the U.S. Transportation Command Commander, told us that he's moving folks at about 30 percent of the normal rate, so , and then we hear each service is moving about 10 percent of their normal rate -- so that kind of makes sense.

Q:  Thank you.

STAFF:  All right.  Rose Thayer, Stars and Stripes.

Q:  Hey, there.  Thank you for taking the time this morning. I was wondering if you could sort of better clarify how the new order will allow for deployments, redeployments, and then training?

MR. DONOVAN:  Well, you know, the primary mission of the Department of Defense is national security operations, so we'll examine each individual movement or location to make sure that it meets the Secretary's three priorities, first protecting our troops, and then maintaining our national security mission capabilities, and that's the most important part of it.

So the global enterprise that I mentioned in remarks is very broad with a lot of moving pieces in it, when we have to move things, and as I mentioned with USTRANSCOM [U.S. Transportation Command] commander, he has to worry about moving people from location A, set up the transportation to move them all the way to location B, which may be across the state or it may be across the entire United States or maybe overseas to other locations where there are other restrictions in place by a host nation.  So, so it's a very complicated process, be he's got a good plan on how to ramp this back up when the travel restrictions are lifted.

STAFF:  All right.  Jared Serbu, Federal News Network.

Q:  Good morning,  Mr. Secretary.  Thanks for doing this.  Are the conditions and caveats on travel in the order that we're going to see on Monday, you know, markedly different from what's in place right now?  I just ask, because it sounded like there's going to be something different beyond just extending the existing restrictions, if there's going to be a new order?

MR. DONOVAN: It's a little bit more liberal in some of the exemptions, that you'll see in there.  And, uh, and also more liberal in the waivers that will be granted.  Because, it's such a situation-by-situation occurrence that we have to examine the whole, as I mentioned before, the whole circuitous line on transportation and make sure that, you know, we can maintain the Secretary's priorities throughout that entire situation.  But you'll see that it's a little bit looser, because we know more about the COVID-19, and we can get projections on potential hot spots, and we have more information from nations where our troops would be moving to.

Q:  More liberal for deployments and redeployments, or leave travel, or all of the above?

MR. DONOVAN:  For deployments and redeployments, definitely, for leave travel, it's still going to restrict the folks to the local area leave only, but there are waivers available for those three reasons I talked about; the mission, humanitarian, or personal hardship.

STAFF:  All right.  Richard Sisk with Military.com.  Richard, are you on the line?

Q:  Yeah.  I'm sorry, sorry.  You know, thanks, Mr. Donovan.  One of the exceptions is for troops in Afghanistan.  Have any of them moved in the withdrawal process yet.  Have they come back to the States?

MR. DONOVAN:  I don't have any information on that.  I would defer to the commander of the U.S. Central Command for that, because he has responsibilities of operations, you know, in his AOR [Area of Responsibility].

STAFF: All right.  Pam with CBS.  Pam, are you on the line?  All right, moving to Sylvie with AFP.

Q:  Hello.  I would like, I didn't understand very well what are the differences.  So, a little bit more liberal usage for personal leave -- and what about deployment and redeployment?  How can it be more liberal?

MR. DONOVAN:  Well, the previous orders stopped all redeployment and deployment of operations and units that would be supporting operations.  So, we've had folks that have been stayed in place, and, because of, you know, and again, it's a case-by-case basis on examining the conditions in that whole travel chain from redeploying them back to their home stations, but it does allow for those deployments and redeployments to continue.

Q:  Okay, thank you.

STAFF: All right.  I'm going to generally open the line.  Is there anyone that is on the line that has a question?  Please state your name and your outlet.

Q:  Lisa, it's Barbara -- I do have a question.

STAFF:  Okay.  Go ahead, Barbara.

Q: You have sketched out some, you know, obviously broad generalities, but I fear it's going to be very difficult to write any detailed stories because we only have these broad generalities.  How soon can we get a copy of what is actually signed, and what is spelled out, and what these exemptions are and are you really doing PCS and TDY [Temporary Duty] changes case-by-case?  I don't know if that means person-by-person, unit-by-unit, large unit, small unit.  I would just ask for a lot more specifics. How soon can we get a copy of what is actually approved?

MR. DONOVAN: Well you know, I'll leave it to P.A. [Public Affairs] for the exact timing and stuff, but the Secretary will sign it, and as I mentioned, it'll be effective on Monday the 20th.

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  So none of this is signed yet -- none of this is --

(CROSSTALK)

-- a done deal yet? Is that correct?

MR. DONOVAN:  No, not yet.  The final draft is with the Secretary, and he's indicated that he agrees with the way it’s written, so it should come out.  You know --

(CROSSTALK)

-- when you said, you know, is it unit-by-unit or case-by-case, I mean, we, in a normal year, U.S. Transportation Command moves 400,000 people between locations.  So, it is sort of a -- you know, because we PCS individuals and their families.  It is a case-by-case basis, because not all of them go from the same place using the same transportation mode and then get to a new duty location.  Each one will have to be examined and the services are all queued up, ready to do that.  But there are priorities for movements and (inaudible) --

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  If there a difference between --

(CROSSTALK)

-- overseas and U.S.?

MR. DONOVAN:  In – from what perspective?

Q:  In any of this, are all these cases, is the decision the same, whether you are -- all TDYs, pardon me, leave is restricted to local areas, CONUS [Continental United States] and OCONUS [Outside the Continental United States], is that correct?

MR. DONOVAN:  Correct.

Q:  And for TDY, CONUS, OCONUS, is it treated the same?

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  Is there anything different between...

(CROSSTALK)

MR. DONOVAN:  Yeah, when you say OCONUS, there are a lot of host nation restrictions that are still in place at various locations around the world, so it really is a case-by-case basis, on whether you know, a traveler would be allowed to go TDY or PCS. (inaudible)

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  So, my last question is this.  If it's a case-by-case basis still, and he had restricted it originally, what is actually, precisely different in this order other than it's extended to a new time frame?  Because, there were exemptions previously.

(CROSSTALK)

 

MR. DONOVAN:  There were exemptions, and this does open it up a little bit more, because we, you know, the previous order was March.  We didn't really know how long that was going to last, so he extended it into May, and that was still prior to the main permanent-change-of-station season for us, so what we're doing is the services are gathering up and identifying their priority movers first, and, in some cases, those will be excepted from this, but still, it's because we've learned more about the situation that these waivers and exemptions could be opened up a little bit more, but it's still a travel restrictions order very similar to the previous one.

Another thing is -- and the real reason is because we're coming up to the permanent-change-of-station season where, you know, I think roughly we move 100,000 people during that season, and because of the constraints of the coronavirus, that will have to be phased in and it takes a longer period once the travel restriction is lifted.  In the meantime, exceptions are for those must-movers, and the services will establish those priorities.

Q:  Can I follow up on that?  This is Jared, again.  As you say, June 30 takes you well into the peak PCS season, so can you elaborate on the support options that you mentioned earlier, for people who are going to be facing financial hardship?  Because people doing June PCSs they're probably signing leases, like, today.

MR. DONOVAN: That's part of it.  You know, we're making sure that the services understand all their authorities for paying.  There are situations where it's at no fault of the member that they don't have to pay.  There are other, under the Service Members Civil Relief Act.  There's, you know, a lot of times clauses have been put in those things for military orders are exempted and this is a valid military order.

So that, that’s some of the support that we would provide for -- but again, it's sort of a hands-on approach after the services come up with their priority movers, and it will be a hand-massaged process, because we have to examine where they're leaving from, what the mode of transportation they're going to use throughout their trip, and the ability of the installation on the other end to receive them and what their local conditions are.

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  I have just one follow up, Mr. Secretary.  I was wondering if you could kind of outline what the personal hardship exceptions will look like?  Because, we're in the middle of a pandemic, and I'm sure a lot of service members have personal hardships.  I know there are service members missing funerals.  What do the exceptions look like and are you, are there any mitigation measures in place for what this might do to personnel morale?  Thanks.

MR. DONOVAN:  Well, you know, I think our troops are really cooperating very well, and they understand the Secretary's priorities very clearly.  You know, as far as personal hardship, I mean you know, we don't want to list what is a personal hardship because you know, the Secretary is very interested in delegating this authority and responsibility down to the lowest level of the installation commander who has the best situational awareness of what's going on in his installation and with his troops.

STAFF: All right. Are there any other question?

Q:  It's Courtney Kube.  Hey, it's Courtney Kube.  I'm sorry I joined late.  If I could just ask one clarification, and I apologize if you've covered this already, but what I don't  understand about the priority movers is -- so is it possible there will be situations where you have an individual, a service member who needs to go, priority mover, needs to go to their next station, because they're mission essential or whatever, but you will -- but the recommendation or the requirement will be for their families to stay behind so that you -- so they'll basically, like, go geo-bach for a while so that you cut down on the number of people who potentially could be exposed during travel?

MR. DONOVAN:  Not at all.  No, not at all.  That's not a requirement at all.  Again, there may be situations, because remember the commander of U.S. TRANSCOM will have to make sure that they're movers and packers available to pack up household goods at the departing location, and then he'll have to make sure that they're available at the arriving location as well, too, with you know, different hot spots, different states reopening at different times, according to the phases of the president's guidelines.  That's why we have to just examine each one.

Q:  Okay, thanks.

STAFF: All right, any other follow-ups?

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  Luis Martinez with one more question, if I could?  With the current extensions for PCSs, will the service members who do those permanent changes of stations, will they be required to go through 14-day quarantines upon arrival at their new station?

MR. DONOVAN:  That could be.  I mean some of the things that we're developing are those pre-reception and reception procedures, if you will -- to make sure that they match what the local area conditions are, and that's why we leave that up to the installation commanders on setting their health protection condition levels and all of those things based on the situation, on the location and also in coordination within the state or the country that they're located.

STAFF:  All right, we have time for one more question.  Anyone else on the line?

Q:  Can I just echo Barbara's concern about pushing out some more information here as soon as you guys can, because, again...

STAFF:  Who is this?  I'm sorry.

Q:  June PCS orders in hand.  Sorry, it's Jared again.  There are people with June PCS orders in hand who are going to be reading our stories today and just wondering what the details are who are probably trying to make some pretty important life decisions.

MR. DONOVAN:  Oh, I absolutely agree with you and, you know, the secretary wanted to get the word out.  He's -- you know, this is a priority for him, and he wants to get it signed and get it pushed out as well, too.  So as I said, it's effective on Monday.  We should get it out.  I'll leave it to P.A., but it should be first thing Monday.

Q: This is Howard Altman again.

Q:  All right, thank you.

Q:  When you do you anticipate -- can you tell us when you might get it -- this guidance will be today, it will be tomorrow, it will be Monday?  This is really for P.A. at this point.  Do you have a better sense, because (inaudible).

(CROSSTALK)

STAFF:  We will send it out.  We will send it out as soon as we have it, once it becomes available, so as Mr. Donovan said, if it is available on Monday, we'll send it out at that time.

Q:  So, it won't be until Monday that you send this out?

(CROSSTALK)

STAFF:  Once we have the -- understood.  Once we have the official documents or guidance in hand we can present it to the media at that time.

Q:  It will be very difficult to write accurate stories today, very difficult.

Q:  Any estimate on when that might be?

MR. DONOVAN:  I know as soon as the secretary signs it, it'll go out broadly to -- across the force and be provided to the media as well.

Q:  Do you think that'll be today, tomorrow?

MR. DONOVAN:  No, it likely will be Monday.  It's effective on Monday.

STAFF:  All right.  Well again, thank you all for joining us today.

If you have any additional follow-up questions please feel free to send them to me.  Again, I'm Lisa Lawrence.  I'm the desk officer covering personnel and readiness matters, and this concludes today's briefing.  Again, thank you all for joining.

MR. DONOVAN:  Thank you all.