The Navy's plans for eliminating the backlog of sailors waiting to conduct a permanent change of station move this year call for prioritizing the operational forces and granting additional pay to personnel whose moves are delayed for more than six months.
With roughly 42,000 sailors delayed from executing their PCS orders during the novel coronavirus pandemic, Navy Personnel Command has developed a strategy for prioritizing moves, focusing first on sailors slated for operational sea duty, including those going to forward-deployed billets, special operations elements or Optimized Fleet Response Plan units.
Members going to these units will PCS first, which the Navy says will likely shorten their shore duty tours by up to 6 months. Those already assigned to these units will transfer last, potentially extending their sea duty tours by 6 months.
Vice Adm. John Nowell, chief of naval personnel, said the decision was made to ensure that the fleet maintains its readiness.
"The ultimate goal is for the Navy to preserve its maritime superiority by focusing on fleet readiness," Nowell said in a Navy administrative message.
In cases where a sailor is extended for seven months to a year, the service plans to ease the burden by providing a new assignment incentive pay of up to $500 a month, or grant continuation of sea duty incentive pay for qualified individuals who extend duty stations by 12 months or more, whichever amount is higher, Nowell said.
The new pay is expected to be approved shortly by Navy leadership, Nowell told reporters Thursday during a press briefing.
"We are requiring face-to-face reliefs in some of these operational sea duty billets and we know that comes at a cost to sailors and their families ... I can't just extend your six months into seven to 12 months, so we are coming to closure on ... assignment incentive pay that will compensate sailors for additional time at sea," Nowell said.
The Department of Defense initially issued a stop-movement order for all service members in March and in April extended the travel ban through the end of June.
But in late May, the Department of Defense announced it would lift PCS move restrictions in stages, allowing installations in locations with a low risk of COVID-19 transmission to accept new personnel immediately.
The go-ahead allowed the Navy to start developing its plans for eliminating its backlog, which Nowell said may take until January or February 2021.
Service members have been allowed to apply for travel waivers throughout the pandemic, and the Navy has granted them for reasons including humanitarian concerns, financial hardship, needs of the service and critical billet requirements, according to Capt. Derek Trinque, assistant commander for Navy Personnel Command.
During the priority process, sailors will still be able to apply for waivers, Trinque said.
"If it's critical to the family for an economic reason, or a humanitarian reason -- say, families separated when the stop was imposed, or the sailors are mission-critical -- the next command can and will move them," he said.
To determine whether a duty station can accept new personnel, the Navy will take into account local conditions, including COVID-19 transmission risk, the readiness of child care, medical care and services required by transferring personnel. The service will also evaluate U.S. Transportation Command's ability to schedule and execute PCS moves.
After the operational force backlog is cleared, the second group that has priority are those going to accessions assignments such as the Recruit and Officer Training Commands and Navy Recruiting Commands.
They will be followed by personnel on orders to civilian or service schools and key joint billets, and then sailors transferring to overseas shore, fleet, combatant commander or joint staff duty.
Next would be service members transferring to nonoperational sea duty posts, such as those traveling to ships under repair or in pre-commissioning status, followed by all others moving to shore duty within the U.S.
Once the backlog is cleared, the remaining 36,000 service members with orders this year will be processed, and, like those in the backlog, will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
"We take family situations into account. We know kids are in school. We know that folks are trying to do family planning, we know there will still be impact there. We're trying to drive as much certainty in the midst of a very uncertain time," Nowell said.
Sailors whose orders are before Sept. 1 can request a delay in travel for their dependents of up to 180 days and those who have dependents in school can delay their dependents' moves until the end of the 2021 school year or June 30, 2021, whichever comes first.
Personnel planning do-it-yourself moves also may have a leg up on receiving transfer orders, Nowell said, since they won't require scheduling with a commercial mover. But their commands still must follow the guidelines set in the NAVADMIN, he added.
This year, troops have an even bigger incentive to move themselves: in May, DoD said it would increase reimbursement rates for members conducting DITY, or personally procured, moves.
Under revised Joint Travel regulations, they will be reimbursed 100% of the cost of the move, rather than the standard 95% they normally receive, according to DoD.
For those worried about the impact of the delays on promotions and job opportunities, Navy leaders said they don't anticipate an impact on careers.
"I think the way selection will work over the next couple of years, everyone will remember the impact of COVID-19 on the force and how it's possible that transfers were delayed," Trinque said.
Nowell said the coronavirus pandemic has created "a complex challenge to how the Navy balances the distribution of sailors and maintains fleet readiness."
But, he added, he is grateful for the sailors and families enduring the experience.
"I know that this will induce additional hardship for some sailors and families and I thank you and them for your service and sacrifice," Nowell said.
For more information on Navy PCS moves this year, visit MyNavy portal or call 1-833-330-6622.