Congress asks for probe of DOD policies on overseas LQA
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 7, 2014
STUTTGART, Germany — Members of the House Armed Services Committee are calling on the government’s investigative arm to assess the Defense Department’s policies on overseas housing allowances and to determine whether those policies are in line with overarching U.S. government regulations.
In a Dec. 17 letter to the head of the Government Accountability Office, Rep. Robert Wittman, R-Va., and Rep. Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, asked investigators to examine a Defense Department decision that rendered hundreds of overseas workers ineligible for housing allowances and indebted for past payments received.
“Given the current impact on more than 700 individuals and their families, and approaching deadlines for repayment of LQA (living quarters allowance) under new DOD guidance, we would ask that you expedite this review if at all possible,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to GAO chief Gene Dodaro.
Last year, DOD determined that roughly 700 overseas workers were receiving the allowance “erroneously.” In May, affected employees were informed that they would lose their housing benefits and would be required to repay the government for previous payments unless a special debt waiver was received. DOD granted a one-year extension of the allowance, which is set to expire in May.
At issue are conflicting opinions over whether State Department regulations allow certain locally hired workers to receive the benefit.
In the meantime, many overseas workers have been calling on Congress to intervene with legislation that would restore the allowance and eliminate their debts across the board.
In their letter calling for a GAO review, the lawmakers say they want the office to examine the ways in which DOD’s interpretation of eligibility regulations differ from State Department rules governing overseas housing allowances.
The letter refers to a 2-year-old U.S. Court of Federal Claims case in which the judge sided with an Italy-based Defense Department civilian who sued the department in connection with allegations he was wrongly denied housing benefits. In awarding a summary judgment to the employee, the judge said DOD’s implementation of housing allowance policies was in conflict with the overarching State Department Standardized Regulation, which would have authorized the allowance.
Now, lawmakers are asking the GAO to examine how DOD has modified its policies in light of recent court decisions and to determine how many employees would be affected by any policy change.
Affected overseas workers have argued that the 2011 housing allowance case — Thomas v. the United States — offers the legal rationale for restoring their own benefits.
DOD has appealed the Federal Claims Court ruling.