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SECDEF Esper Lifts DoD Stop Movement Order, Replaces With Conditions-Based Guidance

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper addresses local Colorado Springs media outlets during his visit to the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command’s headquarters, May 7. DoD Photo

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper ordered replacing the military’s expansive movement restrictions on Tuesday with a regional conditions-based set of guidelines governing when and where service members, civilian employees and dependents can travel.

The Department of Defense in March issued a sweeping stop-movement order essentially freezing the ability of most of the 3 million active-duty, reservist and civilian DoD employees from traveling. The order was an attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19 throughout the military. It had previously been extended by Esper to last until June 30. Tuesday’s memo canceled that date.

“While the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic still presents risk to DoD Service members, civilians, and their families, improving conditions warrant a transition in our approach to domestic and overseas personnel travel to a conditions-based, phased approach to personnel movement and travel. While we make this transition, my priorities remain ­protecting our Service members, DoD civilian employees, and families; safeguarding our national security capabilities; and supporting the whole-of-nation response,” Esper states in his memo released Tuesday.

Military-related moves to or from states, districts, territories and host nations, according to Esper’s memo, is now allowed if it meets the following three criteria:

  • Removal of shelter-in-place orders or other travel restrictions
  • 14-day downward trajectory of flu-like and COVID-19-like symptoms; and
  • 14-day downward trajectory of new COVID-19 cases or positive tests.

Along with Esper’s memo, senior Defense Department officials released additional guidance Tuesday to further detail the conditions necessary to lift existing movement restrictions.

The Pentagon’s leadership is pushing down the chain of command the decision of whether to open office spaces and move personnel. A host of other conditions are also to be considered, said Matthew Donovan, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, during a Tuesday press briefing.

Service secretaries and local commanders will also consider, Donovan said, “whether there are local travel restrictions, sufficient capacity at medical treatment facilities or local hospitals, testing capability and capacity, and the availability of essential services such as school and childcare.”

For the Pentagon reservation, where currently tens of thousands of military and civilian staffers are teleworking, they are likely weeks or even months away from returning to their office spaces, based on the detailed list of guidelines released Tuesday.

The Pentagon reservation is close to meeting the standard of recording a 14-day downward trend of COVID-19 cases, said Lisa Hershman, the department of defense chief management officer.

However, bringing the entire 20,000-plus workforce back into the Pentagon will be conditions-based and occur in five phases, she said. The Pentagon is currently operating at Phase Zero. Department heads will consider such factors as the status of schools and child care, regional stay-at-home orders and the frequency of Metro rail and Metro bus operations.

Another consideration to bringing staffers back to the Pentagon, Hershman said, was the relative success of teleworking. Anecdotally, she said some offices, including hers, reported increased productivity from staff workers teleworking. Pentagon leaders are considering how teleworking fits into completing the mission, she said.

“We started an actual downward trend and that started May 14,” Hershman said of COVID-19 cases connected to the Pentagon reservation. “We don’t have any data yet from the weekend, but so far we’re counting eight days of solid data and we’re still in a downward progression.”