DOD Clarifies Civilian Overseas Assignment Policy
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 5, 2012 – The Defense Department wants to clarify a personnel policy — generally known as the “five-year rule” — that establishes time limits for civilian overseas assignments, an official said here today.
Sheila Dent, the department’s acting director of human resources for operational programs and advisory services, spoke to the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service about the thinking behind DOD Instruction Number 1400.25, Volume 1230, which took effect in July.
“What we’ve done is taken several different policy documents and consolidated them into one regulation,” she said. “The basic policy remains the same as it was … but now we only have to go to one place.”
Since the new policy was published, she said, her office has offered a lot of advice to “folks wanting to make sure that they understand what the provisions are.”
The five-year rule has been in effect in some form since 1960, Dent noted. The policy establishes time limits for overseas assignments, and sets conditions for re-employment “return rights” when civilian workers return from overseas assignments.
The policy, she said, states that, “If an employee takes an assignment to an overseas post, then they have a job to return to in the states, but that the typical rotation period shouldn’t exceed five years.”
There is a provision for overseas employees to remain after five years, but only in two-year increments, officials said. Dent explained the new instruction offers components -– the Army, Navy, Air Force and DOD agencies – some flexibility in setting approval authority for such extensions.
There is no cap on the number of extensions an employee can receive, she said, but under the policy components can set approval authority at any level within the component.
“Previously, it would stop at the installation commander level, typically,” she added. “But now it might be a level or two above that commander.”
Higher-level approval of extensions can benefit workforce and succession planning, Dent said.
“We see that we have to be more deliberate in determining what our competencies are … [and] what we need to meet the mission,” she said. “Typically, a supervisor above that local level has a wider perspective of what’s going on in that area of operations.”
The instruction also states an employee must spend two years in a stateside job after completing an overseas posting before being eligible for another five-year overseas assignment.
“Basically, when an employee returns to the states, we’re looking to establish a couple of things,” she said. “One is stability in that work environment that they return to … [and second] that the employee has time to get settled and refamiliarized, so that they can get up to speed in the latest changes in technology.”
Civilian jobs exempt from the five-year rule have, in the past, included positions that included frequent contact with host-nation officials or that required a high level of host-nation cultural knowledge, Dent said.
“We eliminated the exemption from the five-year rule,” she explained. “However, the commander still has the authority to approve an extension for individuals in those positions. Again, it goes back to workforce planning and shaping.”
In deciding on repeated extensions for long-term overseas employees, she said, managers should consider how to grow the skillset the next worker in that job will need, and also ensure that policy makers in the states can benefit from the knowledge overseas employees gain about partner nations.
When employees do rotate back to the states, Dent noted, they can benefit from a broad range of return rights guaranteed under the new instruction.
“Previously, each component set the rules about … how they would authorize return rights,” she said. Now, she noted, “if you take an assignment outside of that organization overseas, you are guaranteed return rights back to a position similar to what you had, in the organization that you left.”
Overall, she said, the new instruction doesn’t require any big changes from commanders and managers overseas.
“This document gives the managers clearer emphasis on their responsibility for planning for that strategic workforce,” Dent said.