Category Archives: Bills

FY2014 Omnibus – State and Foreign Operations Appropriations: $49 Billion

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— Domani Spero

On January 13, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, House Appropriations Ranking Member Nita Lowey, and Senate Appropriations Ranking Member Richard Shelby announced the release of the fiscal year 2014 consolidated appropriations bill.  The bill provides $1.012 trillion for the operation of the federal government and avoids a government shutdown. The Omnibus contains all 12 regular appropriations bills for fiscal year 2014, with no area of the government functioning under a Continuing Resolution.  Below is a quick summary of the FY 2014 Omnibus – State and Foreign Operations Appropriations:

The State and Foreign Operations portion of the fiscal year 2014 Omnibus contains funding to support American interests, diplomatic operations, and humanitarian assistance abroad. In total, the legislation provides $49 billion in discretionary funding – $4.3 billion less than the fiscal year 2013 enacted level.

Within the total, the bill provides full funding for embassy security – plus additional funds for upgrades of temporary missions, such as Benghazi – to prevent and protect against future terrorist attacks, unrest, and other acts of violence.

The bill also provides funding to support security and stability in the Middle East – including for our key allies such as Israel and Jordan and the frontline states of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. For Afghanistan, the bill provides the resources needed for diplomats and development experts to operate safely, but scales back assistance programs to a more sustainable level as U.S. armed forces drawdown during 2014. In addition, contingency funding is included for other areas of conflict and emerging crises, such as Syria and Africa.

In addition, the bill prioritizes global health, humanitarian, and democracy promotion programs – while reducing funding in other lower-priority areas – to advance American interests around the globe and to fulfill the nation’s moral obligation to those in dire need.

State Department Operations and Related Agencies – The bill contains a total of $15.7 billion in base and contingency funding for operational costs of the State Department and related agencies – a decrease of $2.4 billion below the fiscal year 2013 enacted level and $1 billion less than the request. Within this total, the legislation provides $5.4 billion – $25 million above the amount requested – for embassy security costs relating to the protection of personnel and facilities.

United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Operations – The bill contains $1.3 billion for USAID operations, a reduction of $215 million from the fiscal year 2013 enacted level. Within this total, $91 million is provided for contingency funding for USAID operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and for the USAID Inspector General to conduct appropriate and rigorous oversight of U.S. taxpayer dollars in those countries.

Funding Prohibitions – The bill seeks to promote good government and rein in unnecessary spending by prohibiting or eliminating funding for a variety of projects and activities. Some include:

    • A prohibition on funding for the renovation of UN Headquarters in New York;
    • A prohibition on appropriations for a new London embassy;
    • Providing no funding or authorities for debt relief for foreign countries;
    • A prohibition on funding to move the Vatican embassy unless certain conditions are met to maintain its importance and authority;
    • A prohibition on aid to Libya until the Secretary of State confirms Libyan cooperation in the Benghazi investigation;
    • A prohibition on funding to implement the UN Arms Trade Treaty; and
    • Providing no funding for assessed and voluntary contributions for the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Groundbreaking Ceremony, U.S. Embassy London November 2013 (Photo via US Embassy London/Flickr)

Groundbreaking Ceremony, U.S. Embassy London
November 2013
(Photo via US Embassy London/Flickr)

International Security Assistance – The bill provides a total of $8.5 billion in base and contingency funding for international security assistance. This includes funds for international narcotics control, anti-terrorism programs, nonproliferation programs, peacekeeping operations, and other critical international security and stabilization efforts. It also provides funds to support ongoing counter-narcotics and law enforcement efforts in Mexico, Colombia, and Central America.

Israel: In addition, the legislation provides security assistance to key allies, including fully funding the $3.1 billion commitment to the United States-Israel Memorandum of Understanding.

Egypt: Allows requested funds to be provided to Egypt if certain conditions are met – including maintaining the strategic relationship with the United States, upholding the peace treaty with Israel, and meeting milestones Egyptians have set for their political transition.

Palestinian Authority: The legislation stops economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority if the Palestinians obtain membership to the United Nations or UN agencies without an agreement with Israel. In addition, the bill puts new restrictions on aid if the Palestinians pursue actions against Israel at the International Criminal Court. New language is included to ensure that the Palestinian Authority is taking action to counter incitement of violence.

Afghanistan:  Withholds funds for the Government of Afghanistan until certain conditions are met, including having a signed Bilateral Security Agreement and safeguards being in place to ensure that U.S. assistance is not taxed. It also withholds a portion of funds until proper security is in place for implementers of USAID and State Department programs. In addition, the legislation strengthens requirements on the rights of Afghan women and girls and combatting corruption.

According to WaPo, the measure includes $85.2 billion for military operations in Afghanistan, a $2 billion cut from fiscal 2013 due in part to ongoing troop reductions. But the agreement also withholds money for the Afghan government “until certain conditions are met,” including a decision to sign a new bilateral security agreement (via).

The bill reportedly also authorizes a 1 percent pay increase for civilian federal workers and U.S. military personnel.

Read more on State here. See the Appropriations Committee here.  WaPo has a quick look at the winners and losers of the new spending bill. here.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Bills, Congress, Follow the Money, FS Funding, Govt Reports/Documents, New Embassy Compound, State Department, U.S. Missions, USAID

Please Ask Congress to Support the Mustafa Akarsu Local Guard Force Support Act

– Domani Spero

On February 1, 2012, the United States Embassy in Ankara, Turkey was attacked by a suicide bomber.  The attacker was reportedly carrying a handgun, a hand grenade, and 6 kilograms of TNT.  Had he been successful,  there would have been considerable harm to Americans and embassy employees inside. One of the armed Turkish Embassy Guards, Mustafa Akarsu, stopped the bomber before he could get into the compound.  The suicide bomber detonated the device, killing Mustafa instantly. See our previous posts below:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presents an award to the family of Embassy guard Mustafa Akarsu at a Memorial Ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, on March 1, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presents an award to the family of Embassy guard Mustafa Akarsu at a Memorial Ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, on March 1, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

1,294 people helped DS Agent, David Root raised funds for Mustafa Akarsu’s next of kin.  On April 26, 2013, Rep. McCaul, Michael T. [R-TX-10] also introduced the Mustafa Akarsu Local Guard Force Support Act.  It currently has 18 cosponsors.  In June 2013, it was referred to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security. Below is a quick summary of the bill:

Mustafa Akarsu Local Guard Force Support Act – Amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide special immigrant status for the surviving spouse or child of a U.S. government employee killed abroad in the line of duty, provided that: (1) the employee had performed faithful service for at least 15 years; and (2) the principal officer of a Foreign Service establishment (or, in the case of the American Institute of Taiwan, the Director) recommends, and the Secretary of State approves, the granting of such status.

States that this Act shall be effective beginning on January 31, 2013, and shall have retroactive effect.

We should add that unlike the Iraqi and Afghan SIVs which require “faithful and valuable service” to the U.S. Government “for a period of one year or more,” this bill is narrowly tailored only for the surviving spouse or child of an employee with at least 15 years of service who die in the line of duty.

Over in VoxPop (h/t to M), constituents are running 52% to 48% in opposition of the bill when it was first flagged to our attention. The support has slightly gained numbers as I’m writing this but the numbers are small and borderline.  I have not used this service but it “provides a curating interface for anyone — including Congressional staff, the public and the media — to access and understand the voice of the people.”

Someone from California’s 6th district writes, “I oppose H.R. 1781 [….] because this doesn’t sound like a good idea. It invites angry people here.”

But most comments so far, are favorable and supportive.

David from Maryland’s 1st District writes:

I was one of the U.S. Embassy employees in Turkey that was saved the day Mustafa selflessly sacrificed himself and stopped a suicide bomber from killing may others.

The standing policy is that any local employee who has worked for the U.S. Government for 15 years or more is eligible to become a U.S. citizen with his family. Mustafa had more than 22 years and was in the process of finishing his application when he was killed, defending American soil.

In a time, when many are automatically placed in front of Mustafa with no service to America at all, isn’t this very limited legislation the LEAST we can do to ensure that his family has at least a place in line?

A constituent from South Carolina’s 1st district writes, “If it wasn’t for Mr. Akarsu who knows how many people would have been hurt in this attack.” 

An FSO from Texas 21st district pleads, “Please do what’s right and honor the sacrifices of all members of the Embassy community, most especially those who die for America even when it is not (yet) their country.”

An Embassy employee from Washington State’s 3rd district writes:

“I was directly in harms way when Mustafa stopped the February 1 bomber. I have interacted with his family and can speak first hand of the warmth and affection they have for our mission and the United States. These are not jaded or bitter people. Mustafa’s family is one of many who has devoted so much to the U.S. and to the protection of our missions. It’s wrong to turn our backs on the families of those who have given so much for us. Please support this bill. It’s the right thing to do.”

It will only take a moment.  Please add your voice of support by contacting your representatives.  If you want to use the VoxPop service (registration required), you may contact your reps by clicking the “Support” button here.  You have an option to add  a personal message in your letter to your congressional reps.

Thank you! Ben teşekkür ederim!

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Filed under Bills, Congress, Diplomatic Security, Foreign Service, John F. Kerry

Read Before Burning: Debating the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act

Matt Armstrong has written a must-read piece on the Smith-Mundt Modernization debate. Something for those who did not get their Smith-Mundt Minute Maid boost before wading into the bush.

There’s this – Congressmen Seek To Lift Propaganda Ban

And then there’s this – Much ado about State Department ‘propaganda’

Here is an excerpt from Matt Armstrong’s Congress, the State Department, and “communistic, fascistic, and other alien influences”:

The current debate on the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act is filled with misinformation about the history of Smith-Mundt, some of it verging on blatant propaganda, making the discussion overall rich in irony. In 1947, the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional committee assembled to give its recommendation on the Smith-Mundt Act declared that it was a necessary response to the danger posed “by the weapons of false propaganda and misinformation and the inability on the part of the United States to deal adequately with those weapons.” Today, it is the Smith-Mundt Act that is victim to “false propaganda” and “misinformation” that affect perceptions of, and potential support for, the Modernization Act.

Many of the negative narratives swirling around the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act are based on assumptions and myths that, like true propaganda, have an anchor in reality but stray from the facts to support false conclusions. These fabrications include the false assertion the Act ever applied to the whole of Government or the Defense Department as well as fundamental confusion, and lack of knowledge, of America’s public diplomacy with foreign audiences.
From the information programs to the programs for the “interchange of persons, knowledge, and skills,” the Congress made its clear its concerns that the State Department may intentionally, or inadvertently, undermine the American way of life for reasons ranging from Roosevelt and Truman “New Dealers” to the liberal culture of the State Department.
[T]he distrust of State remained. Rep. Fred Busbey (R-IL) sought to delay the bill until the State Department was cleaned up: “I believe there should be in the State Department an Office of Information and Cultural Affairs, but it should be free of communistic, fascistic, and other alien influences.” Congressman Clare Hoffman (R-MI) believed the exchange program was for the State Department to establish an espionage net directed against the United States.

Continue reading, Congress, the State Department, and “communistic, fascistic, and other alien influences”

We should note that a tiny twig of the federal government had been charged with appraising U.S. Government activities “intended to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics.” That’s the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (ACPD), created in 1948 and defunded by Congress on December 16, 2011.

On the issue of trust or in this case, distrust — distrust of the Department of State is a shadow that started stalking the organization soon after it came into being following the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1789. Donald Warwick in his 1978 book on bureaucracy points out that the early image of State was influenced by its adoption of the European model of diplomacy and our country’s mistrust of foreign relations.

“As a concrete expression of concern with European contamination, the Continental Congress ruled that diplomats could remain overseas no more than three years. Rapid corruption thereafter was feared. […] Public mistrust of diplomacy in general and of its foreign-oriented practioners was to surface later in the McCarthy era.”

The limit on continuous duty overseas is alive and well. In the Foreign Service Act, Congress imagined that diplomats would still be contaminated but only after 15 years of continuous exposure abroad.

Domani Spero

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Filed under Bills, Blogs of Note, Congress, Diplomatic History, Diplomatic Life, Foreign Service, Huh? News, Leaks|Controversies, State Department

Learn more about the Internet Censorship Bills (SOPA/PIPA)

House takes Senate’s bad Internet censorship bill, tries making it worse
Protect The Internet
SOPA: Hollywood Finally Gets A Chance to Break the Internet
SOPA on OpenCongress
PIPA on OpenCongress

Contact Congress, join the strike, petition the State Department via

The Internet is going on strike on January 18th.  You can help by driving contacts and readers to Congress. The blackout is from at 8AM EST and end at 8PM EST.  You can read more and join the strike here:

ProPublica has put together an interactive SOPA Opera with a database that keeps track of where members of Congress stand. Findings
are based on two factors: whether a member is a sponsor of the proposed
bills, and each member’s voting record on the current bills’ precursors
and alternatives. 

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Foreign Service Line of Duty Death Gratuity Act of 2011

On August 2, 2011, Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) introduced S.1493 also known as the Foreign Service Line of Duty Death Gratuity Act of 2011 “To provide compensation to relatives of Foreign Service members killed in the line of duty and the relatives of United States citizens who were killed as a result of the bombing of the United States Embassy in Kenya on August 7, 1998, and for other purposes.” Section 2 of the bill increases the death gratuity to $100,000. Section 3 of the bill increases the group life insurance benefits to those killed in line of duty to “$400,000 if such amount is greater than the amount for which such employee is otherwise insured.” The bill has been read twice and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. You may read the text of the bill here.

On September 9, 2011, Congressman Allen West (R-FL) introduced the Foreign Service Line of Duty Death Gratuity Act of 2011, along with Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and more than 20 other original cosponsors. The bipartisan legislation authorizes the Department of State to provide compensation for the families of fallen Foreign Service employees that is comparable to what is provided to the families of fallen military personnel.

Here is part of what Congressman West said during his introduction of the bill:

Under current law, the surviving family members of an American Foreign Service employee are entitled to one year’s salary and the proceeds of their federal life insurance benefit. In contrast, the family of a fallen member of the military is entitled to an enhanced life insurance and death gratuity that was authorized by the United States Congress in 2005. This is a disparity that can no longer be overlooked.

The Foreign Service Line of Duty Death Gratuity Act would ensure that the families of Foreign Service employees receive, at a minimum, a death gratuity equal of $100,000, matching the benefit provided to military personnel. An enhanced life insurance benefit of at least $400,000 for Foreign Service employees serving at a recognized danger pay post also matches the benefit available to military personnel participating in combat operations or stationed in combat zones. Foreign Service employees with a higher yearly salary or life insurance payout will maintain their benefits as they exist under current law.

This legislation also recognizes our moral obligation to the families of the twelve Americans killed in the August 1998 Al Qaeda bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Many of the surviving family members of that incident have endured significant and continuing financial and personal hardships that serve as a poignant example of the burdens faced by such survivors. These families have been unable to seek damages through the courts as other families in similar situations have because such actions are limited to state-sponsored acts of terror.

Similar legislation has passed the House of Representatives in previous Congressional sessions, but failed to clear the hurdle of the United States Senate. Then-Congressman ROY BLUNT (R-MO) continually led this effort over the years, and I am honored to carry the torch during the 112th Congress.

Congressman West full remarks is here: [Page: E1574]  GPO’s PDF and [Page: E1575]  GPO’s PDF.  H.R. 2881 has been referred to House Oversight and Government Reform. Read the full text here.

Thirteen years after the East Africa embassy bombings, compensation for the victims is still an aspiration. Of course, similar bills have been introduced in the past and did not go anywhere. This is way, way overdue for the families of those victims. As for the rest of the Foreign Service, the danger posts and unaccompanied posts seem to get longer every day. Our folks have been working in the war zones for many years now, and recently have been inserted into places like Libya where there is an ongoing civil war, or in Syria where the government is killing its people without qualms. It looks like this is the new normal, particularly in the new Middle East.

Given the budget constraints these days, it is easy to imagine that these bills like the previous ones will die a natural death in Congress . But I think we owe it to those who died in the Africa bombings to keep trying until our country meets its moral obligation to the families of the victims. Please write to your congressional representatives to show you care.

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Senate Bill Blocks Pay For Lawmakers and President During Govt Shutdown

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced S.388  on 2/17/2011– To prohibit Members of Congress and the President from receiving pay during Government shutdowns.  It was referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs the same day.

Here is the text of the bill:

To prohibit Members of Congress and the President from receiving pay during Government shutdowns.

      Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


      (a) In General- Members of Congress and the President shall not receive basic pay for any period in which–

            (1) there is more than a 24-hour lapse in appropriations for any Federal agency or department as a result of a failure to enact a regular appropriations bill or continuing resolution; or
            (2) the Federal Government is unable to make payments or meet obligations because the public debt limit under section 3101 of title 31, United States Code, has been reached.

      (b) Retroactive Pay Prohibited- No pay forfeited in accordance with subsection (a) may be paid retroactively.

is Barbara Boxer in ABC News:

“It’s absolutely the right thing to do,” she said. “Why should a small class of people be treated differently than anyone else especially since they’re the ones responsible for a government shutdown or not raising the debt ceiling?”

On March 1, 2011; 6:27 PM EST, AP reported that the Senate has unanimously passed this legislation. No similar action in the house as far as I’m aware. Ball in House’s court right now, which will probably do a quickie one, or it might look bad. Then it’ll go to the White House. Can’t imagine a scenario where the WH vetoes this. But it’s not done until its done.
Note that in the furloughs of FY1996, the feds eventually got retroactive pay. This one made sure lawmakers and the president won’t even get retro pay if there is a shutdown. 


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Filed under Bills, Budget, Congress, Obama, Politics

No Govt Shutdown This Week? Okie Dokie But Check Back in Two Weeks

CSM has an update on a temporary measure to avoid the government shutdown this week:  

The Republican-controlled House on Tuesday passed a temporary spending bill that cuts $4 billion out of US appropriations while keeping the government running for another two weeks.

This “continuing resolution” legislation is almost certain to pass the Senate: Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid says he expects his chamber to vote on it within 48 hours. President Obama is likely to sign it, too, even though the White House really would prefer that the kicking-the-can-down-the-road period be lengthened from two weeks to a month.

Below are the details from the House Committee on Appropriations on the “Continuing Resolution” that would keep the US Government running until March 18:

The House Appropriations Committee today unveiled a short term Continuing Resolution (CR) to provide funds to keep the government operating over the next two weeks until a compromise can be reached on a year-long funding bill. The CR, which includes $4 billion in spending reductions, will prevent a government-wide shut down that would occur on March 4th – if no agreement between the House, Senate and White House is reached on a longer-term funding bill.

The CR contains funding to allow all government agencies and programs to continue operating at the current level of spending for the next two weeks, until March 18, 2011, except for several programs that will be terminated or cut.

A statement from Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers follows:

“A government shutdown would halt critical and necessary services and programs that Americans across the country rely on, and it is not reflective of the kind of leadership that the American people expect or deserve of their representatives in Congress. While I would have greatly preferred that the Senate act on the hard-fought and thoughtfully crafted funding legislation that the House passed last week – which saves the taxpayers $100 billion compared to the President’s request – it is clear that more time is needed. This short term, two week CR will provide more time, while cutting $4 billion in spending as a symbol of our continued commitment to getting our nation’s fiscal house in order.

You can read the summary of the $4 billion in cuts included in the two week, short term CR here.

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Filed under Bills, Budget, Congress, Obama, Politics

Foreign Service "Cushy" Lives: 10 Ways to Help Debunk the Myth in Congress and Elsewhere


HR 1: The House of Representatives did pass a budget proposal for the FY11 budget late last Friday. There was a contentious debate surrounding this legislation in determining where cuts would occur.  The process surrounding this proposal was conducted outside the normal channels for appropriations and budget consideration, something that is highly unusual.  The bill (HR1) went to the floor of the House with significant proposed cuts from the FY11 request for international affairs, including approximately $1.1b for State, $205m in Operating Expenses for USAID, $83m for the Foreign Agriculture Service, and $93m for the International Trade Administration (part of Commerce). As AFSA understands, nearly six hundred amendments were presented and debated.

The Reed Amendment: Of particular concern is an amendment offered by Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY 28th) designed to roll back the hard won progress we have made on overseas comparability pay. The Reed amendment was designed to restrict funds from being used to close the pay gap. Rep. Reed apparently misunderstood and mischaracterized the facts related to OCP. In the end, the Reed amendment was agreed to (without a recorded vote) and included in the final House bill.

Action with the Senate: Reliable sources in the Senate say that the House Bill (including the Reed amendment) is dead on arrival and that it is highly unlikely that there will be any backtracking on the 16% we currently have. However, the budget climate on Capitol Hill does lead us to conclude that it will be extremely difficult to secure funding for the final 8%, although we will still try.  

I have written previously about the proposed pay cut for Foreign Service Officers which passed the House last weekend. See Since you enjoy your jobs so much, Congress wants you to take a pay cut ….

AFSA has a template letter to Congress here.  A reminder if you work for Uncle Sam:

AFSA reminds active duty Foreign Service employees that it is illegal to lobby congress using official time or government resources.  If you write or call your congressional representative, do not use government time or resources (such as a government computer, letter head, telephone, etc).  If you meet in person with a congressional representative, you must take annual leave or schedule the meeting on your lunch hour.  In addition, make clear that you are writing or speaking in your individual capacity as a constituent and not as a representative of your agency.     

Donna of Email From The Embassy, currently in Jordan has a great blog post on the Foreign Service pay cut. A finger right on the button on this issue. She writes:    

Now, all you FSOs out there, are you ready for this? Here’s what I think: This is all your fault.

Seriously. Your. Fault.

And she proceeds to describe what goes into a CODEL visit and why Important Politicians think FSOs have cushy lives.

Read Current Events (Or Why We Deserve This Pay Cut).

At the end of that post, she asks, “How can we change this?”

The truth of the matter is, as one writer puts it, even informed, engaged Americans know diddly squat about the State Department or what diplomats do overseas.  Read Ben Casnocha’s post here.

DiploPundit offers the following magnifique suggestions (tongue clearly in cheek) that you may or may not like.

Foreign Service “Cushy” Lives: 10 Ways to Help Debunk the Myth  

1) Next time post gets a CODEL, reception should be at the apartment of a first-tour officer not at the Ambassador’s villa with a pool. That will help them get a feel of real life in the service that is foreign to them. [Action: STATE/H; EMB] 

2) Since Congress wants to save money, every CODEL visitor should travel by commercial air, economy fare  even for trips beyond 14 hours (not military jets), and be offered accommodations in FSO govt-housing. EFMs may not appreciate this but pizza for dinner and CODEL guests pitch in with housework. If not possible, the TDY or Interns’ quarters would do just as well.  No maid service and no wake up call. Just like life from middle class America. [Action: CONGRESS, STATE/H, EMB, FSO/EFM]

3) Every CODEL should be offered participation in “duck and cover” exercise at every diplomatic mission they visit. [Action: STATE/H; EMB] 

4) Congressional folks should be offered participation in Crisis Management Training exercise to all the hotspots. Start with posts in the Middle East and North Africa because the chances of the exercise becoming real is quite high. If they’re in town for a real evacuation, so much the better. First attendees will get lots of press clips. [Action: STATE/H, FSI, CA, EMB]

5) State has always called its FSOs smart; logic follows, they are smart enough to know what not to blog.  Take the gag off FSOs.  Allow them to blog about their lives in vivid, true colors, warts and all without the threat of a career penalty. Not in DipNote, silly [Action: STATE All hands; FSO]
6) Educate bureau and post management that every quietly shuttered blog is one less advocate for the Foreign Service. [

7) Educate the public on the challenges of personal and official expenses and how the twine sometimes meet in the service of diplomacy.  Uncle Sam’s money is all Uncle Sam’s, but the FSO’s personal funds oftentimes also covers Uncle Sam’s shorts. [Action: STATE/A; FSO/EFM].

8) Keeping a stiff upper lip as part of the old culture is just that. Old and sooo 19th century. You can be the change you want to see, but for that — folks need to speak up. Or blog about it [Action: FSO/EFM] 

9) Connect with the American public about real life in the Foreign Service.  As long as the misconception remains that the Foreign Service is an exclusive, elitist institution full of rich people rolling around in the galaxy, there won’t be any sympathy for pay cuts or for any other issue. [Action: STATE: All hands; FSO/EFM]    

10) Advocate for the official change of name for the U.S. Foreign Service to the United States Diplomatic Service. That will stop getting diplomatic folks confused with the other USFS – the Forest Service. [Action: STATE/H, FSO/EFM]  

A note on the acronyms: “H” is the legislative bureau of the State Department and works with Congress; “CODEL” stands for congressional delegation when members of Congress makes trips overseas, “A” is the administration bureau, “FSO” is Foreign Service Officer, “EFM” stands for eligible family member, normally spouses and under 18 year old dependents of diplomats. 


Most items on my list above only works in a parallel universe.  Feel free to  come up with your own list this side of the universe. Whatever you do, you need a better plan because things will not get any better or any easier. 





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Filed under Bills, Budget, Congress, Foreign Service, FS Blogs, Pay Gap, Spouses/Partners

Since you enjoy your jobs so much, Congress wants you to take a pay cut ….

In case you did not see this — Rep. Thomas Reed, R-N.Y sponsored an amendment that cut the locality pay for Foreign Service officers serving overseas. Mr. Reed’s press release touts the removal of the “automatic 24 percent pay raise for foreign service officers,” his third successful amendment apparently. And it passed the House over the weekend.

There is locality pay for all CONUS states. Why Congress is only targeting the 11,500 Foreign Service workforce is not clear. About 70% are not in the Senior Foreign Service and could be affected by this cut when deployed overseas.  I mean really, that’s about 7,600 federal employees serving overseas in over 260 posts. Mr. Reed’s state is home to some 69,000 federal employees (not counting the feds working for CIA, DIA, NSA and the other “A”s who may be assigned in the state of New York). Look – that’s 9 times the Foreign Service number. Imagine the savings there?   

Makes you kinda scratch your head, huh?

Could it be because you have “foreign” in your job title? Or it it because you work overseas and is not in real America?  And by the way, who knows if you even vote when you are so far away!?!

I think of this as a simple fairness issue.  Of course, nothing is ever simple when it comes to money, or politics.    

WaPo’s Ed O’Keefe had an item on the House spending bill that cuts the locality pay for overseas diplomats.  And this: “The president’s bipartisan fiscal commission also recommended canceling locality pay for overseas diplomats. Though proponents believe the payments are necessary to address recruitment and retention concerns, “the foreign service career field remains highly competitive with 25,000 applicants competing for 300 to 900 positions annually,” the commission concluded.”

Perhaps, the commission looked at those numbers but certainly did not calculate talent loss. There will always be more applicants than jobs. The question is — can the US government afford to spend $$$ for recruitment, training and particularly, language training, year in and year out only to see that talent walk away before it gets back the return of investment? If State and AFSA pushes this as a “retention concern” as the commission calls it, I think it would be really helpful if the State Department can run down the numbers and have solid  retention and ROI numbers. How much does it cost to recruit and train an entry level officer, add 6-12 months of language training, 1-2 post assignment, and how many years before the government’s investment pays off. It is unfortunately that it would come down to numbers but I think that’s the way it goes in this difficult budget environment.           

In any case, as Ed points out “the House bill as enacted has no hope of Senate passage or earning President Obama’s signature, so this proposal — while interesting and certainly controversial — may not survive.”

May not survive this time, that is not to say it won’t happen ever.  

All that did not preclude folks from slinging around their ignorance online — 

You folks working overseas apparently do not pay the first $80K of your income overseas. Did you know that? Hah! That IRS has been cheating on FS folks again! It collected every tax penny from your salary including self-employed spouse’s annual income of less than $700. If you believe everything you hear, that IRS did not have to collect anything from your $56K + $700 income?  Really.

Go ahead and believe that crap, and you might end up sharing a jail cell with whatshisname actor and tax evader.

Foreign Service folks are not/not exempt from paying full federal, state, and Medicare/SS tax on salaries just because they live in Burkina Faso or whatever the name of the hellhole they’re presently assigned to. They pay their taxes happily and willingly, ‘cuz if they don’t, they could get written up for atrocious unlawful uncivic unprofessional behavior, then they won’t get promoted, then they get kick out, then they’re just part of the 9% unemployment stats. The end. 

Now, if your spouse (who is not employed by Uncle Sam) writes a bodice ripper and earns — I think the foreign earnings figure is actually $92,900 for 2011 — he/she may actually get an exclusion. But best check with Uncle Sam on that. Anyway, despite prevailing belief to the contrary, Uncle Sam’s employees overseas are not exempt from paying taxes (unless they’re civies at Gitmo). The foreign earned income does not include amounts paid by the United States or an agency thereof to an employee of the United States or an agency thereof. Congress wrote that up. It’s the law of the land. And we know that US diplomatic missions are part of that land, even if they are located all over the map, right? 

You also — supposedly ride around town in a $50,000 Cadillac with diplomatic license plates on the bumper like — let me get this right — “like you are better than the very citizens you are supposed to be serving.” Ouch! Such sparkling prejudice. Really, a Cadillac? That must be the low level Qatari diplomat riding around in his regular car in DC streets.   Have not seen any Cadillac at US overseas posts, not saying there’s none, just haven’t see any from the embassy compounds I’ve been to.  Saw lots of armored Chevy where you can’t roll down the windows. In case you think its armored for decoration, I can assure you it’s not. It is armored from front to back and have bullet resistant glass because driving/riding around in a USG vehicle overseas is like driving around with a target mark on your back.  What?  Um, sorry, not target, they’re called cross-hairs now. And in case you think this is vehicle security gone mad, it’s not that either. See, the US ambassador to Lome got carjacked recently. And the ICE agents in Mexico who were recently killed/wounded in Monterrey were also using an armored SUV. If not for armored vehicles, not Cadillacs, mind you — there would be many, many more names up on that memorial plaque on the wall.

So thank heavens for non-Cadillac armored SUVs overseas! 

Here are a few comments from Ed O’Keefe’s piece:

Brewer1056, an FSO writes:

“We pay taxes on 100% of our salary, even if serving in combat zones (and lots of us are), whereas our military colleagues are tax exempt in combat zones no matter the job or distance from combat.”

Well, there is that. We have unarmed diplomats in Iraq and Afghanistan. Also in Pakistan where they hate/hate the USA terribly and now think all diplomats are spies. And you don’t ever get a tax break for service in those posts. 

Somebody else writes:

“Also, please note that COLA only exists at posts with high costs of living. The US dollar doesn’t go very far in many parts of the world these days.”

Doesn’t go very far, I can attest to that. I’ve watched a friend in a European post make her own ice cream for four kids not because she is a domestic diva but because she could not afford to buy the local ice cream. And her husband was not even an entry level officer. 

Bevinbell, another FSO who work 70-hour weeks writes:

“I took a 35% pay cut to become a Foreign Service Officer – I did it because I love my country and wanted to serve overseas. However, this is not a volunteer job – I expect a salary and benefits to compensate me for the 70 hour workweeks that I routinely put in. I do not get overtime, my pay is frozen (like all federal employees), I serve at a very high hardship post (though not the highest), and I want to be treated fair.”

Yep, you get brownie points for working in excess of 40 hours, but brownie points can’t pay the mortgage.

unagi posted a question:

“Yes, there are hardship payments — so, for example, an employee could work in Libya or DC and make the same amount. What will they choose?”

Take a guess.

wenteast on the spouse unemployment track:  

“One other thought on our “extravagant” salaries — 98% of the time, your spouse can’t work overseas, OR he/she makes a fraction of what he/she could at home. So that’s a huge financial hit there.”

I should add that if you are a diplomatic spouse and have not worked in the last oh several months overseas, most states won’t even consider you for unemployment benefit. Which is fine if your husband/wife is still employed but not so fine if you have suddenly become separated/divorced with a lot of hurt in your pocket and kids to feed. One separated spouse told me she could not even afford a Big Mac for her kids when her husband dumped them and she and her kids had to return to the US.  

rbsher, another FSO out of Asia and Africa:

“I went through 5 coup d’etats in Laos (real bullets, real morters) with weather temperatures on many days exceeding 125 degrees, one small bedroom air conditioner, packs of wild (and mostly) rabid dogs running wild, meager medical facilities, and I was very comfortable driving my 6 year old Volkswagen. I went through 3 coup d’etats with postings in Africa with many of the foregoing comments applicable. Despite the dangers and (mostly uncomfortable) living conditions, I loved my foreign service career! Those who now see a ‘great savings’ by eliminating post differentials should have some of these experiences.”

If folks are arguing again on the post differentials, please send them to Sudan during harmattan or heck, why not have them spend their vacay in Beijing with its crazy bad air.

Of course, it’s not a complete line up of this United States of America unless you have some really wacky ideas thrown in like this one:

“Close the State Department. Hire mercenaries.”

Oh! What a gem, dat! I bet the writer would not suggest that if he/she were ever evacuated out of Abidjan, Tunis, Cairo, Tripoli, etc. etc.

But just in case Congress takes in that suggestion (because, hey, why not, huh?) — close the State Department and Uncle Sam somehow hires ‘em mercenaries — here is my simple advice if you’re an American in search of an adventure: Do not/do not go to Yemen. What’s neat on paper is not always neat in real life. Mercenaries will not arrange an evacuation to bring you back home, they will not notify your next of kin of your welfare or whereabouts, they will not have spouses to cook meals and help check on you in jails or hospitals.  And this one is really important — they will not search morgues to ID your body and ship it home.

I’ll get off my soapbox now, thank you… thank you ….

On a more serious note, LAJ has posted an AFSA item here on this issue. You can contact your representatives here.  The problem is (yes, I’ll be a party pooper) I just don’t think the FS has the numbers.  Even if the entire Foreign Service, and spouses and kids write to their congressfolks and senators, that may not really matter when push comes to shove. The diplomatic service needs to tell its story better. You need more than employees and family members to step up and say — it’s unfair to single out a small group of people for a pay cut. 




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Filed under Bills, Congress, Foreign Service, Huh? News, Realities of the FS, Staffing the FS, State Department

Corporation for Travel Promotion Signed into Law

On Thursday, March 4, 2010 the President signed into law:

H.R. 1299, the “United States Capitol Police Administrative Technical Corrections Act of 2009,” which establishes a Corporation for Travel Promotion to encourage international travel to the United States; and makes miscellaneous amendments to authorities of the United States Capitol Police.

Related Post:
Coming Soon – a Corporation for Travel Promotion…

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Filed under Bills, Consular Work, Obama, Visas