Consecutive Overseas Tours, needs of the Navy vs. cost effective detailing
PEARL HARBOR (Nov. 6, 2010) - For many years, Sailors stationed outside the continental U.S. have transferred from one overseas location to another under the Consecutive Overseas Tour (COT) program, but the high cost associated with COTs have forced the Navy Personnel Command to consider the number of requests being approved.
In addition to the cost of moving family members and household goods associated with most Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders, the COT program provides incentives for completing back-to-back overseas assignments, which ends up increasing the overall cost of the PCS.
“It costs about the same to move a Sailor from Guam to Japan as it does from Guam to the U.S., but where the cost differs is when a service member receives a COT entitlement,” said Master Chief Navy Counselor Brent Emricson, fleet career counselor for the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
The COT entitlement as defined in the Joint Federal Travel Regulations and MILPERSMAN 1300-308 includes government-funded plane tickets for the service member and his/her dependent family members to return to their home of record and then back to the overseas duty location. In many cases, this ends up costing more than it would to move a family from the continental U.S. to the overseas location.
“It costs the Navy about $4,000 per family member, or service member, for the COT entitlement,” said Emricson. “So if I had three dependents and my PCS was from Guam to Japan, there would be an additional $16,000 added to whatever the PCS dollar amount is, and that’s where a lot of Sailors are being told it costs too much money.“
This has resulted in confusion and a number of complaints from Sailors who desire to remain overseas, but who are being told by their detailer they have to rotate back to the continental U.S. before they could take another overseas assignment.
Navy Personnel Command does not have a policy that restricts PCS moves from Guam to Hawaii or Japan. Detailers at NPC balance assignments for Sailors with the needs of the Navy (Fleet readiness), rating sea/shore flow or CONUS/OCONUS rotation, career progression, Sailors' desires and the cost of the PCS transfer.
According to Emricson, over the past five years the Navy has become more focused on how it spends money and what programs the money goes to support.
“There is no more non-essential travel for TAD, or spending money on nice-to-haves,” said Emricson. “It’s all about mission essential items now, and the detailers are just doing their part.”
“As good stewards of finite PCS resources, PERS-4 detailers look closely at the costs associated with every move,” explained Rear Adm. Mike Shoemaker, assistant commander of Navy Personnel Command for Career Management. “Careful management of the financial costs associated with each assignment is required in order to obligate PCS funds responsibly. “
Even if we’re talking about single Sailors, the additional expense of the COT entitlement can add up in a hurry. For example, if we had just 25 single Sailors PCS each fiscal quarter and they each received a $4,000 COT entitlement, it would end up costing the Navy an additional $400,000 per year in PCS expenses.
“That doesn’t mean that every COT will be disapproved. There are other factors that go into consideration when the detailer makes that decision,” said Emricson.
For example, a Sailor applying for a billet that requires an immediate fill or a specific Navy Enlisted Classification code will be more likely to receive COT approval because it meets the Navy’s needs. But even there are no guarantees.
“Previously, detailers had waiver approval authority, but now COT requests are being looked at for cost effectiveness and must be approved by the rating assignment officer,” said Emricson. “If there are other Sailors with the same skill sets that are applying for those orders, and the cost for them to move there is cheaper, then they’re more than likely going to be the ones selected to go because it’s a cost savings to the government.”
“The most important thing the detailer is looking at is making sure that applicant is the ‘right fit’ for the job,” said Emricson. “We won’t sacrifice mission capability in order to save money, but the detailer will try to get most for their dollars.”
“If a Sailor really wants to go to Japan from Hawaii, they have the option of going stateside for a tour and then applying for a billet in Japan,” said Emricson. “It might take them longer than they desire, but the opportunity is still there.”
Although cost is a major factor in determining which applicant is selected to fill an open billet, the Navy’s primary focus is making sure those billets are filled by qualified people. This is particularly true among the Forward Deployed Naval Forces (FDNF) operating in the Western Pacific Ocean and Southeast Asia.
“Experience in (the FDNF) AOR has demonstrated the need to carefully screen Sailors desiring to remain here,” said Commander, Naval Forces Japan (CNFJ) Command Master Chief Robert Shannon. “Our goal is not to ignore our Sailors’ desires, but to ensure we continue to keep Sailors that maintain the standards needed in this AOR as well as not overload the infrastructure capabilities.”
Adequate space and support programs such as medical care, schools, retail services and employment opportunities are a major concern within the FDNF structure due to the overseas location. As a result, applications for orders to the FDNF are thoroughly reviewed to ensure support programs are able to meet each family’s needs.
According to Shannon, CNFJ also reviews all COT requests and gives careful consideration to the Sailor’s individual performance and personal conduct before recommending approval of the request.
“Disciplinary issues, PFA issues, the amount of consecutive time that a Sailor has served in the AOR and the number of dependents are all factors for consideration,” said Shannon. “Those Sailors that have had discipline issues while serving here are looked at with a critical eye, as well as those that don't perform well at their jobs.”
Of the 1,259 COT requests submitted during fiscal year 2010, 46 were disapproved. That’s less than 5 percent of the total, a clear sign that the majority of Sailors who are performing up to standards remain unaffected by COT, but a strong message that poor performance and questionable personal behavior will not be tolerated and can have a negative impact on a Sailors career.