Category Archives: FS Benefits

AFSA Urges State Dept to Move Swiftly to Ensure Equality of All FS Families

The American Foreign Service Association released the following statement urging the State Department to move swiftly  to ensure equality of all FS families in light of the June 26, 2013 SCOTUS decision on DOMA:

AFSA welcomes today’s Supreme Court decision declaring the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.

AFSA President Susan R. Johnson said “AFSA has long advocated for full equality for the same-sex spouses of our Foreign Service employees.  Much progress was made during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s time in office as far as access to benefits is concerned.  Given that he was one of only fourteen Senators to vote against DOMA in 1996, we know Secretary of State John Kerry is committed to full equality.  Now it’s time to finish the job on a federal level.”  She added: “We urge the Department of State, USAID and the other foreign affairs agencies to move swiftly to ensure full equality for all Foreign Service families, including health, pension, and immigration rights.”

AFSA urges a quick resolution of any outstanding bureaucratic issues that may hinder any legally-married same-sex couples from having immediate and full access to over 1,100 federal benefits.  Our LGBT Foreign Service personnel perform admirable service on behalf of this country all over the world, and their full right as Americans should now be recognized as quickly as possible.

Secretary Kerry also released a Statement on Supreme Court Ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act with this:

“To fully implement the requirements and implications of the Court’s decision, we will work with the Department of Justice and other agencies to review all relevant federal statutes as well as the benefits administered by this agency. We will work to swiftly administer these changes to ensure that every employee and their spouse have access to their due benefits regardless of sexual orientation both at home and abroad.”

Life After Jerusalem writes, “No more skim milk marriage for me and my wife!”

Adventures by Aaron writes, “I just want you to know that, today, I am incredibly happy.”

To our blog pal D and his beloved somewhere  in Asia, and to 4G and her house full of love, we’re sending you hugs and kisses.  To a friend and his family somewhere in the far continent, you can come home again, dude!

(♥_♥)

 

 

 

 

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Compensating the Victims of the August 7, 1998 Embassy Bombings Would Set a Precedent? Goddammit, So What?

Fourteen years ago today, between 10:30 am and 10:40 am local time (3:30–3:40 am Washington time), suicide bombers in trucks laden with explosives parked outside our embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya and almost simultaneously detonated themselves. In Nairobi, approximately 218 people were killed, and an estimated 5,000 wounded; in Dar es Salaam, the attack killed at least 11 (including 7 FSNs) and wounded 72.  Twelve Americans were killed. (see our post R E M E M B E R – August 7, 1998; also Courting Remembrance).

August 1998: The U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in the aftermath of the August 7, 1998, al-Qaida suicide bombing. Eleven Tanzanians, including 7 Foreign Service Nationals, died in the blast, and 72 others were wounded. The same day, al-Qaida suicide bombers launched another near-simultaneous attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, which killed 218 and wounded nearly 5,000 others. (Source:Diplomatic Security)

The Kenya Broadcasting Corporation reports that the victims of the August 1998 bomb blast at the American embassy in Nairobi are still demanding compensation saying the US government has turned a deaf ear to their suffering.

The victims also claimed that Kenya’s leadership has not shown commitment in ensuring that they lead a normal life fourteen years after the explosion that claimed over 200 lives.

Led by the 1998 bomb blast association chair Ali Mwadame, the victims said they will present a memorandum to parliament and the office of the Prime Minister.

Speaking to KBC on phone on Tuesday, Mwadame said a majority of victims who were maimed during the tragedy have died while others cannot even afford medication.

Back here at home, the families of 12 Americans killed in the attack are still fighting for federal compensation that has been granted to other terrorism victims — a struggle that has left many feeling betrayed and forgotten.

The Baltimore Sun reported back in June that the families have turned to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, for help.

The effort by the families, including two from Maryland, has raised difficult questions about who is entitled to federal support when relatives are killed by an act of terrorism directed at the United States, and how much money is fair. Congress has been unwilling to answer those questions.
[...]
“Because it happened to our embassy, many people don’t think about it as American soil, but that is American property,” said Edith Bartley, a Prince George’s County resident whose father and brother were killed in the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. “Those families, that embassy, our nation were targeted in Kenya. It was the same as 9/11.”

Past legislation would have set aside nearly $1 million for each family. Mikulski’s approach is less direct: Rather than specifying an amount of money, the proposal would require the State Department to develop policies for how to compensate survivors when employees are killed at work. Supporters hope the back-door approach will lead to the same result.

The amendment was added to a bill to fund the State Department. That spending legislation was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 29-1 vote May 24.

Families of Foreign Service workers killed in the line of duty receive up to $10,000 in death gratuity and one year’s salary.
[...]
Those who lost kin in the Nairobi bombing say the comparison to the Oklahoma City attack is not analogous; the link to al-Qaida, they say, makes the East Africa bombings more similar to the Sept. 11 attacks. They say the State Department’s current policy unfairly treats Foreign Service workers killed in a car accident, for example, the same as those who died in a major terrorist attack.
[...]
That argument has won bipartisan support among some lawmakers. Language similar to Mikulski’s is being carried in the House of Representatives by Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, and Florida Rep. Allen West, who is among the more conservative Republicans in Congress.
[..]
Mikulski said objections by the State Department have stymied past efforts.

This is certainly not the first time that somebody in Congress waded in on this issue.  Roy Blunt, the chief deputy Republican whip in the House in 2001 introduced legislation to make the families of the Americans killed or injured in two American Embassy bombings in Africa in 1998 eligible for the federal compensation fund set up for victims of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

Since we’re still talking about this, nothing obviously happened to that effort eleven years ago.  At that time, Mr. Blunt in the NYT also said:

”The State Department had been reluctant to approve compensation in any way that involved establishing blame or proving negligence,” he explained. But the new federal fund, he added, is a no-fault fund that does not require any finding of blame.

This is where it does not/not get better. Again. Because who do you think is blocking this effort? More from the Baltimore Sun:

“What we get is not a compassionate response but a lawyer response that if we do this, we’re going to set a precedent,” Mikulski said of her efforts to negotiate with department officials. “But we’re establishing a precedent by not doing anything, even though these people died on American soil, died at their duty stations.”

A State Department spokeswoman declined to comment on Mikulski’s effort or negotiations. Asked about the issue during a House subcommittee hearing last year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — who was the first lady at the time of the East Africa attacks — was noncommittal.

“I can’t make any promises,” Clinton told Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., an Illinois Democrat. “But I will certainly work with you on that.”

Whisky-Tango-Foxtrot! So what if it sets a precedent, goddammit! They were KIA in the service of their country! Excuse me for sounding mad, I am growwwling :mad:

Now — since Secretary Clinton has been trying to win a world record as the most -traveled Secretary of State ever, when does she get time to work with him on that? And now that Representative Jackson Jr., is receiving treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for depression and gastrointestinal issues, and she’s sailing out the doors of Foggy Bottom, they obviously will have lots of time to work on this before long.

There is certainly a precedent to this taking care of your people business in the State Department. In May this year, the NYT reported that the Supreme Court rejected the last legal appeal for former American hostages seeking compensation for their captivity in Iran three decades ago, leaving legislation newly introduced in Congress as the last chance to resolve their longstanding grievance.  A lower court, acting at the request of the State Department (not/not Iran), previously blocked the hostages’ effort to win compensation from Iran, holding that the agreement under which they were released barred such claims.

Yes, yes, go ahead and stop at the vomitorium, there are tons of buckets there.

Domani Spero

Related posts:

 

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Thanks to a Hardworking Congress, Some Feds in the Garden Countries of I’Af/Pak to Lose Some Benefits

Stephen Losey of Federal Times reported last week that federal employees deployed to the I’Af/Pak region who are not in the Foreign Service have now lost numerous travel, medical and leave benefits because those benefits were not renewed by Congress after they expired Oct. 1. Excerpts:

The following benefits, which are available to Foreign Service officers, will no longer be available to non-Foreign Service personnel posted in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan, according to the Office of Personnel Management:

  • Reimbursement of travel costs when going home on leave.
  • Reimbursement of travel costs when obtaining necessary medical care when such care is not available locally.
  • Reimbursement of travel costs when evacuating family members who are in imminent danger.
  • Reimbursement of travel costs when transporting furniture and other personal effects when moving to another duty station.
  • Mandatory leave for employees who have returned home after a three-year deployment. Agencies also will no longer have the option to offer leave to employees who had served in a war zone for 18 months.
  • Medical examinations, mental health care, inoculations, vaccinations and other preventative care.
  • A death gratuity equal to one year’s salary when an employee dies of injuries sustained while supporting military operations.

Read in full here.

I have not read the OPM notice but I am presuming that these changes applies to non-Foreign Service and non-Defense employees serving in those three priority countries.

The 2010 OIG review of US Embassy Pakistan indicates that there are some three dozens non-State and non-DOD personnel in that country (DEA: 16, FBI: 7, DHS: 4, BBG:1, DOE: 1, NAS: 8, Treasury: 1).

On the U.S. Embassy Iraq staffing — well, trying to pin down the staffing number over there, is of course, rocket science and I simply do not have the brains for it. Also, with the military withdrawal and the embassy taking charge, a whole lot of big numbers are bring thrown around – 5,000 – 17,000.  Security people is a big component but not sure how many non-State/USAID and non-DOD personnel will continue to deploy in Iraq and our consulates there when all is said and done in 2011. 

Due to the recent “flavor of the month” in Afghanistan, the civilian uplift staffing picture there is a bit more clearer.  Seven civilian agencies (State/USAID excepted) account for about 26% of the total civilian uplift.  So all those folks, plus some three dozens in Pakistan and an undetermined number in Iraq will be affected by Congress’ non-renewal of warzone benefits.

In short, if they need mental health care after service in the warzones, they’re basically out of luck?

This will have an impact to the employees already deployed there, but may have a larger impact on recruitment of employees for the 2012 assignment and onward.

From SIGAR/State OIG

Below is an excerpt from the SIGAR/State OIG review of the civilian uplift in that country:

[...] State increased its civilian personnel deployed to Afghanistan from 192 in January 2009, to 501 in March 2011—an increase of 309 personnel.

State has an additional 81 authorized full-time equivalent positions for the civilian uplift as of May 31, 2011, but the positions are currently unfilled. According to State officials from the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA), they will continue to place additional civilian personnel in these positions through fiscal years 2011 and 2012.

USAID had the second largest presence of any agency prior to the start of the uplift. USAID personnel increased from 85 in January 2009 to 307 as of March 2011, an increase of 222 personnel. USAID has an additional 80 authorized positions for Afghanistan that are currently unfilled. According to USAID officials, they will continue to place additional U.S. civilians in these positions in fiscal years 2011 and 2012.

As of June 2011, the other seven civilian agencies with a presence in Afghanistan accounted for an increase of 189 personnel, or approximately 26 percent of the total civilian uplift. These agencies provide personnel at the request and direction of the Chief of Mission in Afghanistan and State officials in Washington in order to meet the mission’s strategic goals. The Chief of Mission determines the number of authorized civilian uplift positions in consultation with each department.

DOJ accounted for an increase of 78 personnel, or 11 percent, of the total civilian uplift. The majority of these uplift personnel are employees of the Drug Enforcement Administration who work on mentoring and training Afghan law enforcement entities in an effort to promote the rule of law. In addition, they provide leadership and guidance in the conduct of bilateral counternarcotics investigations and operations. USDA has deployed 59 civilian uplift personnel as of June 2011, representing eight percent of the total civilian uplift. These employees primarily mentor Afghan government officials at the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock.

The remaining five agencies account for approximately seven percent of the total civilian uplift. DHS personnel advise, mentor, and train Afghan border, customs, and related entities to enforce Afghan customs and immigration law. Treasury places technical experts at Afghan government ministries where they provide assistance in four areas: strengthening budget and financial accountability, combating economic crimes and corruption, building internal audit capacity and increasing non-tax revenues, and achieving debt relief and improving debt management. Transportation personnel advise officials at the Afghan Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation on issues such as civil aviation law and surface transportation planning. HHS personnel work on health programs, such as programs to strengthen maternal and child health services in Afghanistan. Finally, Commerce personnel assist with efforts to promote Afghanistan’s economic development and trade. 

Related item:       
SIGAR Audit-11-17 & State OIG AUD/SI-11-45 Civilian Uplift | September 8, 2011

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Filed under Af/Pak, Afghanistan, Career Employees, Civilian Surge, Congress, Federal Agencies, FS Benefits, Iraq, Pakistan, State Department, War

Rest and Recuperation (R&R) Travel Benefits Under Some Microscope

A 26 segment × 3 exposure (78 frames in total)...Image via WikipediaThe State Dept’s OIG has just posted a memo to “M” dated April 1, 2011 on the Oversight of Rest and Recuperation Travel Documentation and Certification, Report Number ISP-I-11-37. Some interesting items:

  • R&R justification for continued eligibility has not been submitted by US Consulate General Hong Kong for 6 years, US Embassy Greece for 10 years, and US Embassy Malta for 20 years.
  • The R&R destination for US Consulate General Naha, Japan is Hong Kong.

  • The R&R destination for US Consulate General Hong Kong is  ____ (what is Sydney, Australia??). 
  • The six regional bureaus and nine functional bureaus spent more than $30.8 million (approximately $26.3 and $4.5 million respectively) for R&R travel in FY 2010
  • R&R expenses for Afghanistan and Iraq totaled more than 35 percent of the Department’s total 2010 R&R expenses   

Excerpts:

The purpose of R&R is defined in 3 FAH-1 H-3721.2 as: “Conditions of life at the post present distinct and significant difficulties of sufficient severity to justify temporary relief for an employee and employee’s eligible family members during a period of assignment.” The regulation identifies 11 factors that, at a minimum, are used to justify and approve a post’s request for R&R designation. In designating a relief destination for R&R posts, the location must have a climate, altitude, or environment sufficiently different from that of the R&R post. Another important factor for determining a relief destination is the cost of travel to the nearest point that provides the necessary change of conditions from post.

There are approximately 146 overseas missions (at more than 190 locations) designated for R&R in 3 FAH-1 H-3722. The six regional bureaus and nine functional bureaus spent more than $30.8 million (approximately $26.3 and $4.5 million respectively) for R&R travel in FY 2010 (other agencies’ R&R costs are not included in this figure). It should be noted that R&R expenses for Afghanistan and Iraq totaled over $11 million for FY 2010 (more than 35 percent of the Department’s total 2010 R&R expenses).

Overseas missions approved for R&R travel benefits are required to submit documentation biennially to their regional bureaus to justify their continued eligibility (see 3 FAH-1 H-3721.4). OIG determined that Embassies Athens and Valletta and Consulate General Hong Kong may not have submitted documentation for recertification to their regional bureaus for a number of years. A review of available documentation at each mission indicated that it has been approximately:

• Six years for Consulate General Hong Kong
• Ten years for Embassy Athens
• Twenty years for Embassy Valletta

During the inspection, OIG determined that the conditions for which Embassies Athens and Valletta were approved for R&R benefits no longer exist and recommended that the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR) discontinue R&R for both missions at an annual cost savings of more than $180,000. In an informal response to the Athens report, EUR informed OIG that it agrees with the recommendation and is in the process of informing Embassy Athens of its decision to discontinue its benefits.

The local conditions cited in Consulate General Hong Kong’s original justification may have changed, and OIG recommended that Consulate General Hong Kong submit justification for its continued eligibility for R&R to the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP). Complicating matters is the fact that 3 FAH-1, Exhibit 3722(3) lists Hong Kong as the relief destination for Consulate General Naha, Japan. In response to this review, EAP stated that it is in the process of changing the relief destination for Consulate General Naha to Sydney, Australia. Consulate General Naha’s R&R cost for FY 2010 was more than $14,000; a change in relief destination to Sydney would result in a substantial increase in R&R travel costs. The local conditions at Consulate General Naha may not warrant its continued eligibility for R&R. In addition, Consulate General Hong Kong should be ineligible for R&R benefits if local conditions are suitable for it to be designated as a relief destination.  An annual savings of more than  $170,000 could be realized if R&R benefits were eliminated for both Consulates General Hong Kong and Naha.

Read in full here.

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US Embassy Malta: OIG Slams Political Ambassador for "Outside Activities," Recommends Termination of Employees’ R&R Benefits

The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General had just released its inspection report of the US Embassy in Valleta, Malta. The embassy was the temporary safehaven location during the evacuation of US Embassy Tripoli weeks ago. It is one of the nine posts identified by the State Department to remain open at 100% staffing in the event of a government shutdown due to what it calls the “extreme nature of events.”
 
A quick look on Malta from the IG inspectors: 

Malta is a small island country located in the south-central Mediterranean, astride some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. It joined the European Union in 2004, the Schengen visa system in 2007, and the Eurozone in 2008. With a population of 412,000, it is the smallest country in the European Union.

The country is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, with a Christian culture that reaches back to the beginnings of the church. Reflecting the church’s continuing influence, abortion and divorce remain illegal. There is a small Muslim population of about 10,000, almost half of whom are migrants from sub-Saharan Africa. Maltese and English are the official languages; English is widely spoken, a legacy of 150 years of British colonial rule between 1814 and independence in 1964.


The political ambassador on “a special mandate,” reluctant to accept guidance and instruction from Foggy Bottom. Excerpts from the IG report:

The Ambassador had been at post more than a year at the time of the inspection, and had achieved some policy successes. He is respected by Maltese officials and most mission staff, but his unconventional approach to his role as ambassador has created friction with principal officials in Washington, especially over his reluctance to accept their guidance and instructions. Based on a belief that he was given a special mandate to promote President Obama’s interfaith initiatives, he has devoted considerable time to writing articles for publication in the United States as well as in Malta, and to presenting his views on subjects outside the bilateral portfolio. He has been inconsistent in observance of clearance procedures required for publication. He also looks well beyond the bilateral relationship when considering possible events for the mission to host in Malta. His approach has required Department principals, as well as some embassy staff, to spend an inordinate amount of time reviewing his writings, speeches, and other initiatives. His official schedule has been uncharacteristically light for an ambassador at a post of this size, and on average he spends several hours of each work day in the residence, much of which appears to be devoted to his nonofficial writings.

At the same time, he has not focused sufficiently on key management issues within the embassy, including the NEC.
[...]
The Ambassador advised the inspection team that he intended to discontinue his outside writings and focus on matters that directly pertain to the embassy and priorities outlined in the Mission Strategic and Resource Plan (MSRP). Within weeks of the team’s departure, however, he resumed drafting public essays that addressed subjects outside his purview as Ambassador to Malta and detracted from his core responsibilities. These activities also detracted from the core responsibilities of embassy staff members who devoted time and effort to reviewing and editing the ambassador’s drafts and seeking approvals occasionally after the writings had been submitted for publication from Department officials.

RECOMMENDATION 1: The Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs should require the Ambassador to report on his efforts to refocus attention on mission priorities and eliminate his use of embassy and Department resources
on nonofficial writings. (Action: EUR)


New Embassy Compound: 60% Expansion of LE Staff, Budget Increase at 125%, Utility Costs at 10-Fold Increase

The major challenges facing the embassy are the scheduled May 2011 move to the NEC and the additional staffing it will require. The new $125.5 million compound consists of eight separate buildings on 10 acres. The new chancery will be approximately twice as large as the current one, and more than twice as expensive to operate. The NEC will require a 60 percent expansion of LE staff, primarily guards.

The NEC also has budget implications for the embassy and the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. The embassy’s budget grew from $3.8 million in FY 2009 to $5.5 million in FY 2010. The projection for FY 2011 is $8.5 million, an increase of 125 percent in 2 years. In 2010, utility costs for the current chancery were about $130,000; utility costs for the NEC could reach $1.2 million annually, a 10-fold increase. Landscaping and cleaning contract costs also will increase significantly.

Upon completion, the 57,264-gross square feet chancery will provide a secure and functional space for the 62 employees for whom it was designed. The inspection team was surprised by several features, including three unclassified conference rooms, a political-economic section suite that will house just one officer, and a large IRC whose usage will be limited by the NEC location. The building also has air handling equipment within the controlled access area that will require cleared escorts for every maintenance and repair. In addition to the chancery, the compound also will have a 17,760- gross square feet warehouse, a 6,781- gross square feet Marine security guard quarters, and a 1,227- gross square feet recreational center, as well as a 2,142- gross square feet swimming pool.

OIG Calls Embassy’s Rest and Recuperation, An Unnecessary Expense; Recommends Termination

Employees at Embassy Valletta have been receiving rest and recuperation (R&R) travel benefits since at least 1991, the year the last R&R recertification could be located in embassy files. U.S. direct-hire staff on 3-year assignments receive two R&Rs, and entry-level officers on 2-year assignments receive one R&R. According to 3 FAH-1 H-3721.4, all posts that receive R&R are required to submit documentation every 2 years to the appropriate regional bureau executive to justify continued eligibility.

Embassy Valletta has not done so. The inspection team found no evidence to justify continuing R&R. The post’s own report of conditions cites excellent weather, adequate medical care, good local transportation, and easy access to Europe. In FY 2010, the Department spent about $40,000 to fund R&R travel for employees in Valletta—an unnecessary expense.

RECOMMENDATION 16: The Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs should discontinue the rest and recuperation benefit for Embassy Valletta. (Action: EUR)

Oh dear! A tiny island in the middle of the Med. And no getting off for three years, folks!   

Forbes quotes Ambassador Kmiec saying he would not apologize for how he has conducted himself in the job.

“I must say that I am troubled and saddened that a handful of individuals within my department in Washington seem to manifest a hostility to expressions of faith and efforts to promote better interfaith understanding,” Kmiec said in an e-mailed statement to The Associated Press. “Our constitution proudly protects the free exercise of religion — even for ambassadors.”


And might just be coincidence, of course — Pepperdine Graphic.com published Mr. Kmiec’s email (
also Pepperdine Law Professor) about that rescue effort the mission conducted with US Embassy Tripoli — headlined, “Ambassador Kmiec leads dangerous rescue:”

As you know, we — and when I say we, I mean some well trained consular, Coast Guard and Navy personnel under my direction — were able to rescue and evacuate all of the U.S. embassy employees in Tripoli ….
[...]
Former Secretary James Baker (a friend from my days as Ronald Reagan’s constitutional lawyer) was so impressed with our rescue work that he wrote me, “It appears that you have been very busy … It was nice to read the positive words that Prime Minister David Cameron said about your leadership.”  Apparently, Secretary Clinton feels the same way since when the budget deficit was looming and no budget threatened to close down virtually the entire federal government, except for a handful of exceptional services, our Embassy in Valletta was one of a handful of embassies around the globe deemed “essential” and not to be shuttered.

 Read in full here.

I’ve read the OIG report front and back, nothing there that says he cannot have his expressions of faith, I presumed the inspectors just wanted his eyes on the core goals of the embassy — after all that’s why we, the taxpayers pays for him and his staff to be there: strengthening maritime security, promoting U.S. trade and investment, the enforcement of nonproliferation sanctions against Iran and other countries that use Malta’s shipping facilities, trafficking in persons and attending to key management issues within the embassy.

Based on the above, I doubt if this political ambassador is going to change how he does his job.  One more WH headache, which I suspect will be tolerated given the much bigger headaches out there.  Those at the Bureau overseeing Malta will probably just have to live with this, I mean, what else can they do, eh? May need lots of Aspirin.

Related item:
OIG Report No. ISP-I-11-16A – Inspection of Embassy Valletta, Malta – March 2011

 


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Filed under Ambassadors, FS Benefits, Govt Reports/Documents, Leadership and Management, New Embassy Compound, Political Appointees, U.S. Missions

US Embassy Greece: OIG recommends elimination of R&Rs, closure of ConGen Thessaloniki

Seal of ThessalonikiImage via Wikipediaand reduction of language designated positions  

State/OIG recently posted its February 2011 inspection report of US Embassy Athens. Among other things, the IG report recommends the elimination of rest and recuperation (R&R) travel benefits for U.S. direct-hires on 3-year assignments (two R&Rs) and for ELOs on 2-year assignments (one R&R), reduction of its Greek-language designated positions and the closure of the Consulate General in Thessaloniki. Excerpts extracted from the report:

Rest and Recuperation Travel

Employees at Embassy Athens and Consulate General Thessaloniki have been receiving rest and recuperation (R&R) travel benefits since 2000. U.S. direct-hires on 3-year assignments receive two R&Rs, and ELOs on 2-year assignments receive one. Department regulations (3 FAH-1 H-3721.4) state that all posts that receive R&R are required to submit documentation to the appropriate regional bureau executive every 2 years to justify continued eligibility. The most recent justification submitted by Embassy Athens and the consulate general was 10 years ago.

The principal reason for providing R&R at that time was personal hardship. The inspection team found scant evidence to justify that decision today. The post’s own report of conditions in Athens and Thessaloniki cites adequate medical care, local transportation, communication, and recreation opportunities. The schools are good. It is easy and relatively inexpensive to travel to the Greek islands and other European countries. Traffic and summer pollution are problems, but no more so than in many other cities. In FY 2010, the Department spent $108,600 to fund R&R travel for 23 direct-hires and 24 dependents, which the team believes was an unnecessary expense. Many embassy employees agree that R&R is not justified for Greece.

Recommendation 24: The Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs should discontinue the rest and recuperation benefit for Embassy Athens. (Action: EUR)

Closure of Consulate General in Thessaloniki

In inspecting the consulate, the team was mindful that, in 2004, the last OIG inspection report had questioned the need to maintain a full consulate general in Thessaloniki. In addition, the Department’s operating budget is likely to face pressures in the years immediately ahead. With Portugal, Greece is among the smallest  countries in Western Europe where the Department still maintains a stand-alone constituent post. The consulate’s operating budget is approximately $2.2 million a year. Central support costs, the salaries and benefits of its three U.S. employees, and the cost of language training add another $600,000, at a minimum.

The OIG inspectors considered the post’s small output of reporting and analysis, its limited consular and public outreach programs, and the ease of transportation between Athens and Thessaloniki. The team concluded that, while Consulate General Thessaloniki adds a dimension to embassy reporting and outreach, it is not essential to achieving U.S. interests in Greece.

Recommendation 37: The Bureau of European Affairs, in coordination with Embassy Athens, the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, the Bureau of Legislative Affairs, and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security should prepare a written plan for the Under Secretary for Management, outlining measures to close Consulate General Thessaloniki at the earliest opportunity.
(Action: EUR, in coordination with Embassy Athens, OBO, H, and DS)

The report notes that only 15,000 U.S. citizens reside in Thessaloniki’s consular district. It also points out that Embassy Athens could adequately provide these and other consular services, particularly if the embassy maintained a local staff member in Thessaloniki to assist.

Reduction of Language-Designated Positions

An excessive 36 officers and staff members received long-term language training prior to arrival at post. Twelve were trained to a level of 3/3. Most of those interviewed by the inspection team reported they seldom need to speak Greek for more than pleasantries in their professional work, relying instead on English. As a result, their language skills steadily deteriorate after arrival at post.

The inspection team estimates that only half a dozen Department officers have the ability, and need, to deliver substantive public addresses or conduct complex official discussions in Greek. Officers in the consular and public affairs sections regularly use Greek, but a number of political and economic officers who are trained to a professional 3/3 level probably could do equally well with a less expensive, working level 2/2, and with more emphasis on reading than speaking. The OIG team saw no work statements that require officers to maintain their language skills, although most participate in the post language program.
[...]
The inspection team believes the Department is misspending several hundred thousand dollars a year to give employees Greek language skills that quickly deteriorate and are not useful elsewhere except Cyprus, making it difficult to amortize training costs over several tours. The team estimates the cost of training an officer to a 3/3-level Greek to be approximately $150,000, counting salary, or roughly $50,000 a year for a 3-year tour. That would put the cost of training 12 officers to 3/3 level at approximately $600,000 a year. To this expense must be added the cost of training an additional 24 officers and staff to lower skill levels. Finally, based on 2009 figures, the Department spends $200,000 a year in language incentive pay for officers and staff in Greece. Some of these costs are justified, because they support officers who require Greek language skills to be effective in their jobs; other costs are unnecessary and should be eliminated.

Recommendation 2: Embassy Athens should submit a request to the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs that (1) reduces post’s 12 positions that are language-designated to a 3/3 level to 9 positions; (2) reduces the number of language-designated positions at post from 36 to 20; and (3) maximizes the number of officers and staff who are offered first-and secondtour
or other short-term training prior to arrival at post. The request should identify specific positions to be redesignated. (Action: Embassy Athens)

A few other items also caught my attention:

  • Ethics } The Ambassador told employees early on that he would adhere to the highest ethical standards and would require the same of them. The previous ambassador’s tenure was clouded by questions over ethics, primarily the acceptance of gifts from outside the embassy. In light of this, the current Ambassador is continuing a strengthened gifts policy, adopted in August 2010. This policy shifted responsibility for cataloguing gifts from an LE staff member in the protocol office to an American officer, who records and values incoming gifts from either a foreign government or nongovernmental source and flags any gifts that appear to be inappropriate.

To check on previous ambassadors to Greece, click here.

  • Consular Management }The FS-01 consul general leads a staff of two mid-level officers, three full-time ELOs, and one half-time ELO. One additional mid-level position was not filled this summer, and one of the two ELO positions will be eliminated when the current incumbent transfers next summer. [...] While the consul general is directly involved in the ACS unit and backs up the ACS officer, he is less involved in the visa unit and adjudicates only Class A referrals. The IG report offers an informal recommendation that Embassy Athens should encourage the consul general to adjudicate visas on the line at least once a month to retain his skills and observe the operation.
  • Nepotism } Despite complaints about nepotism and favoritism, the OIG team found no specific examples of inappropriate hiring. The perception of nepotism stems from the fact that over 12 percent of the LE staff are related to each other. Any nepotism concerns had been properly addressed prior to hiring. The human resources officer has taken steps to open the hiring process, to reduce the possibility of family members exerting undue influence on hiring and promotion. He has insisted that all advertisements are placed in local newspapers and on the Internet. He and his senior financial specialist will review each application after an initial screening, to increase transparency.

The IG report cites two best practices from US Embassy Athens: 1) Professional Development for FAST Officers and Specialists: program includes 18 specific training goals (such as public speaking, interacting with other diplomats, and serving as control officers) and a detailed calendar of events, and features a broad array of programs, including those that expose management offi cers to political work and equally important, expose reporting officers to management work; 2) Expanded emergency call center: Under the supervision of the regional security office, the embassy has expanded the security receptionist program into a call center staffed by bilingual responders who can provide prompt 24-hour service and assistance to embassy staff and their families. The center also prepares an overnight briefing for the regional security office



Related item:

OIG Report No. ISP-I-11-15A – Inspection of Embassy Athens, Greece – February 2011


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State Dept’s WarZone Deployment Incentives, Programs, Training and Medical Support

trash-pit-fireImage by octal via Flickr

Still no post deployment medical screenings  as of April 2010

This one excerpted from the GAO:

Although agency policies on medical benefits are similar, GAO found some issues with medical care following deployment and post deployment medical screenings. Specifically, while DOD allows its treatment facilities to care for non-DOD civilians after deployment in some cases, the circumstances are not clearly defined and some agencies were unaware of DOD’s policy. Further, while DOD requires medical screening of civilians before and following deployment, State requires screenings only before deployment. Prior GAO work found that documenting the medical condition of deployed personnel before and following deployment was critical to identifying conditions that may have resulted from deployment. GAO recommended, among other things, that State establish post-deployment screening requirements and that DOD establish procedures to ensure its post-deployment screening requirements are completed. While DOD and State agreed, DOD has developed guidance establishing procedures for post-deployment screenings; but, as of April 2010, State had not provided documentation that it established such requirements. 

Read more here.

Ambassador Patrick Kennedy who is the State Department’s Under Secretary for Management was one of the witnesses in the Deployed Federal Civilian hearing on April 14. Note that he made mention of the High Stress Outbrief Program but made no mention of post deployment medical screenings recommended by the GAO. Really, the briefing is great, medals are welcomed, I’m sure, handbooks are helpful, but the post deployment medical screening for deployed personnel is actually more important. Why is State not doing that? We’ve been in this warzones exactly seven years going on eight in Iraq and nine years this October in Afghanistan.  You’d think that the smart folks would figure this out by now.

Okay, okay, we now know that there are no/no WMDs in Iraq, yok, nada — and we might be tempted to say that well — there are no harmful exposure over there.  But, you’ve heard about those burn pits, right?  This report from Navy Times says that “A 2008 study that fine particulate matter at Balad and 14 other deployment sites is well above both World Health Organization and U.S. military standards.” The Senate Democratice Policy Committe even had a hearing on burn pits and this testimony from a VA doctor testifying in his own personal capacity is worth reading. He said in part that “Inhalation of PM [particulate matters] air pollution can lead to premature death from respiratory and cardiovascular causes, including strokes. Inflammation and reduced lung function may even be seen in lung tissue from healthy adults. Year-round exposure to PM has been associated with small airway disease and increased risk of dying from lung cancer and cardiovascular disease.” Also see this one on toxins in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Big yikes!

On additional work hours, Ambassador Kennedy also had this to say: “employees receive overtime, or a comparable payment, to compensate for the long hours that extend the work week far beyond 40 hours.” Pray tell, what does “comparable payment” actually means in simple English? Is that comp time? Or something else? Remember that the US Embassy Kabul staff are reportedly working 80 hour workweeks. If employees get comp time instead of overtime, does that mean 40 hour comp time a week for a year? How do you actually spend that?  Just asking… 

In any case, if you’ve been to the warzones and were ever extended post deployment medical screening by MED, would you let us know? Curious minds would like to know; although we can’t really imagine why State would not tell GAO if the program already exists.  Excerpt below from Ambassador Kennedy’s testimony:   

DEPLOYMENT INCENTIVES AND PROGRAMS
Our missions in Afghanistan and Iraq always have been fully staffed with volunteers. In turn, the Department has focused on ensuring that these volunteers are prepared, trained, compensated and supported before, during and after their assignments. In recognition of the personal risk and hardship to our employees, we have strengthened the compensation and benefit package received when serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These employees receive a compensation package of incentives and benefits comprised of the following. All receive the maximum hardship differential and danger pay allowance allowed by law, totaling an additional 70% of an employee’s basic pay. With the exception of political appointees, Senior Foreign Service, and the Senior Executive Service, employees receive overtime, or a comparable payment, to compensate for the long hours that extend the work week far beyond 40 hours. Employees also are offered several Rest and Recuperation (R&R) trips during their one-year tours and can choose to return to the U.S. or take R&R within the region. We offer administrative leave to facilitate the employee’s ability to actually take these R&R trips. And we supported legislation that increased the annual premium pay cap to equal the Vice President’s salary and eliminated the aggregate pay cap for eligible employees serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We also established certain incentives specific to the Foreign Service. For example, Selection Boards are reminded that as they consider those eligible for promotion, they recognize that service at posts, like Iraq and Afghanistan, is done under exceptionally challenging circumstances in fulfillment of our foreign policy priorities. Moreover, support for our employees and their families during and after their assignments is critical. With 18 posts around the world designated by the State Department as ―unaccompanied or ―partially unaccompanied posts, we realized the importance of addressing the challenges invariably faced when families are separated for extended periods. Our Family Liaison Office (FLO) addresses these specific challenges. For example, we have established two positions in that office dedicated solely to working with the families of employees serving on an unaccompanied tour. These professionals provide the families with a single point of contact for information, referrals, emotional support, and assistance through personal consultations, e-mails, newsletters, phone calls, print and online publications, and group briefings. The Department also contracted with MHN (formerly Managed Health Network) to provide 24/7 access to a customized Web portal, telephone hotline, and face-to-face counseling sessions with a clinician for any family members residing outside the Washington, D.C. area. In addition, to address the unique needs of children with deployed parents, we developed individualized, age-appropriate handbooks to help State Department children understand and cope with the stress of having a parent serving on an unaccompanied tour. The Department recognizes the sacrifices of these children and therefore created a special ―medal that is presented to each child along with a certificate of recognition.

REQUISITE TRAINING AND MEDICAL SUPPORT FOR WORKING IN THE HIGH STRESS ENVIRONMENTS
Training is a prerequisite for all employees serving overseas. Through training offered at the Department’s National Foreign Affairs Training Center and elsewhere, we ensure that our employees have the cultural awareness and necessary knowledge to perform in all overseas environments. In particular, we emphasize this training requirement for civilians serving in combat zones. The existing mandatory training for all U.S. government civilians assigned to Afghanistan is extensive. In addition to a one-week mandatory security training course, we provide a one-week Afghanistan Familiarization course for all Federal government civilians from 10 agencies assigned to Afghanistan. All civilians who will work outside Kabul in the provinces, districts, or regional platforms, and those who will support them from our embassy in Kabul, are required to take two additional weeks of training, a field-work focused “Provincial Reconstruction Team Orientation” course for all civilians plus integrated civilian-military field training at the the Department of Defense’s Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Indiana. This integrated civilian-military training ensures that civilians are prepared to work with their military counterparts in Afghanistan from the first day they arrive in-country. And, training waivers are rare.

Civilians serving in combat zones are exposed to stress levels comparable, at times, to those experienced by military personnel. To facilitate the capacity of our employees to recognize and handle the inherent stress of working in these types of environments, all employees assigned to Afghanistan and Iraq attend mandatory pre-departure sessions designed specifically to familiarize them with security issues unique to combat zone assignments, alert them to the causes and the signs of stress-related conditions, and provide them with techniques for managing the stress of being in a combat zone. In addition, they receive information about resources available that can provide needed support and assistance while they are in the field. Following any high stress assignment—including, but not limited to, those in Afghanistan and Iraq — our training operation, supported by the Office of Medical Services, conducts a mandatory ―High Stress Outbrief‖ program intended specifically to assist employees in recognizing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Employees who cannot attend the course in Washington, can arrange to receive this outbrief through our health units at our Embassies abroad. We also offers over an INTRANET links a distance learning course to help those who are managing employees who previously worked at high-stress posts.

Recognizing the need for additional support services, the Office of Medical Services (MED) established a Deployment Stress Management Program (DSMP) with a board-certified psychiatrist serving as the Director supported by two social workers. It provides information, referrals, initial assessment, and brief treatment for all stress-related problems, including PTSD. It also provides resiliency training as an important element of our overall training for all deploying civilians under the Ambassador’s authority. This medical support unit is not working alone. Additional mental health practitioners are assigned to the Health Units in Kabul and Baghdad and supported by our regional psychiatrists in Amman, New Delhi, and Washington, D.C. They are tasked to provide strategies for stress management, PTSD screening, and initial treatment for all personnel under the Ambassador.

Employees who are identified as possibly suffering from stress-related disorders and who require treatment that is not locally available can return to Washington, D.C. for a six- to seven-week program of treatment. The goal of this program is to enable the majority of participants to return to full-duty and so far all five employees treated within the program have returned to work. Employees who incur work-related medical conditions are eligible for a wide variety of benefits under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act, including medical and wage loss benefits. To facilitate continued monitoring, there is a follow-up PTSD screening initiative for Department of State employees who have served in combat zones since 2002 and we are in the process of establishing a personnel tracking mechanism for civilians deployed to Iraq and/or Afghanistan.

Read his full testimony here.

Read the witness testimonies here:

Talk to AFSA. Talk to your congressional representatives. We need to get that post-deployment medical screening in place. I don’t think calling for this makes me a red-haired child running around with my hair on fire — um, okay you can call me that, too.  But what  if you or your spouse/partner develop severe respiratory problems 2-3 years after service in the warzones.  How would you know where you pick that up? Or know for sure, that these two are related?  “Health is wealth” — except that we do not fully recognize this until we’re in poor health.
 

 


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Quickie: Unwed FS Couples Want Benefits, Too

Seal of the United States Department of State.Image via Wikipedia

Paul Richter writes in today’s issue of the LA Times: Benefits for gays? Us too, say the unwed. He reports that opposite-sex partners in the Foreign Service say they should be treated the same and that at least one FS couple has threatened to challenge the rules in court as discriminatory.

I don’t know what the numbers is for the Foreign Service but according to this report census data show that unwed heterosexual couples in the United States comprise about 10% of opposite-sex couples living together. I though think that this issue, because it has to do with people and benefits has the potential to get rather messy. Quick excerpts below:



Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton won praise in June after pushing to extend many federal benefits traditionally provided to diplomats’ spouses to gay and lesbian partners.

Since then, unmarried heterosexual couples have been lining up to ask for benefits too. They have approached the State Department’s personnel office and the diplomats’ union, arguing that they are entitled to equal treatment. At least one couple has threatened to challenge the rules in court as discriminatory.
[…]
The family benefits, although a small part of diplomats’ overall benefit package, are important to Foreign Service officers. Benefits include paid travel for the partner to and from overseas posts; visas and diplomatic passports; emergency medical treatment; shipment of household possessions; emergency evacuation in times of danger; and education benefits for minor children. Health insurance is not included for gay partners, although spouses are covered.
[…]
The American Foreign Service Assn., the diplomats’ union, has not yet taken a position, said spokesman Tom Switzer, but it “has heard from a number of members who believe that the same benefits should be extended to opposite-sex, unmarried partners as well.”

Read the whole thing here.

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FECA Death Gratuity Goes Up to 100K

{{en|}} Aftermath of the 1998 U.S. embassy bom...Image via Wikipedia

The Interim final rule and request for comments on the Death Gratuity Under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) has been posted in the Federal Register.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, Public Law 110-181, was enacted on January 28, 2008. Section 1105 of Public Law 110-181 amended the FECA, creating a new section 8102a. The section establishes a new FECA benefit for eligible survivors of Federal employees and NAFI (non-appropriated fund instrumentality employees) who die of injuries incurred in connection with service with an Armed Force in a contingency operation.

“Section 8102a was effective upon enactment of Public Law 110-181, on January 28, 2008. It states that the United States will pay the death gratuity of up to $100,000 to the eligible survivors “immediately upon receiving official notification” of an employee’s death. The section also contains a retroactive payment provision, stating that the death gratuity will be paid for employees of certain agencies who died on or after October 7, 2001, due to injuries incurred in connection with service with an Armed Force in the theater of operations of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Both the immediate payment provision and the retroactive payment provision strongly suggest that the Department act as quickly as possible to implement section 8102a.” (links added)

Read the whole thing here.


Comments are solicited.

Applicability date: This interim final rule applies to all claims filed on or after August 18, 2009. This rule also applies to any claims that are pending before OWCP on August 18, 2009.


Comments:
The Department invites comments on the interim final rule from interested parties. Comments on the interim final rule must be postmarked by October 19, 2009. Written comments on the new information collection requirements in this rule must be postmarked by October 19, 2009.


ADDRESSES
: You may submit comments on the interim final rule, identified by Regulatory Information Number (RIN) 1215-AB66, by any ONE of the following methods:


Federal e-Rulemaking Portal
: The Internet address to submit comments on the rule is http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the Web site instructions for submitting comments. Or you can go directly to the page for sending comments to this specific rule here. The full text of the interim rule is here.


Mail:
Submit written comments to Shelby Hallmark, Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, Employment Standards Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, Room S-3524, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20210. Because of security measures, mail directed to Washington, DC is sometimes delayed. We will only consider comments postmarked by the U.S. Postal Service or other delivery service on or before the deadline for comments.


Instructions:
All comments must include the RIN 1215-AB66 for this rulemaking. Receipt of any comments, whether by mail or Internet, will not be acknowledged. Because DOL continues to experience delays in receiving postal mail in the Washington, DC area, commenters are encouraged to submit any comments by mail early.


Examples provided with the interim final rule.


(1) Example One. An employee’s survivors are entitled to the Foreign Service Act death gratuity; the employee’s spouse received payment in the amount of $80,000 under that Act. A death gratuity is also payable under FECA; the amount of the FECA death gratuity that is payable is a total of $20,000. That employee, using Form CA-40 had designated 50% of the death gratuity under this subpart to be paid to his neighbor John Smith who is still living. So, 50% of the death gratuity will be paid to his spouse and the remaining 50% of the death gratuity paid under this subpart would be paid to John Smith. This means the surviving spouse will receive $10,000 and John Smith will receive $10,000.

(2) Example Two. Employee dies in circumstances that would qualify her for payment of the gratuity under this subpart; her agency has paid the $10,000 death gratuity pursuant to Public Law 104-208. The employee had not completed any designation form. The FECA death gratuity is reduced by the $10,000 death gratuity and employee’s spouse receives $90,000.

(3) Example Three. An employee of the Foreign Service whose annual salary is $75,000 dies in circumstances that would qualify for payment of both the Foreign Service Act death gratuity and the death gratuity under this subpart. Before his death, the employee designated that 40% of the death gratuity under this subpart be paid to his cousin Jane Smith, pursuant to the alternate beneficiary designation provision at section 10.908 and that 10% be paid to his uncle John Doe who has since died. At the time of his death, the employee had no surviving spouse, children, parents, or siblings. Therefore, the Foreign Service Act death gratuity will not be paid, because no eligible survivors according to the Foreign Service Act provision exist. The death gratuity under this subpart would equal $100,000, because no other death gratuity has been paid, and Jane would receive $40,000 according to the employee’s designation. As John Doe is deceased, no death gratuity may be paid pursuant to the designation of a share of the death gratuity to him.


Data on Injuries and Death since 2004 in Iraq:

The Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) has been tracking federal civilian injuries and deaths resulting from incidents or exposures arising in Iraq since March 2004. Through the end of FY 2008, there have been 220 claims accepted for injuries or exposures sustained in Iraq. Of those 220 accepted claims, 14 have been claims arising from the death of the Federal civilian employee.


Data on Injuries and Death since 2007 in Afghanistan:

OWCP also has been tracking Federal civilian injuries and deaths resulting from incidents or exposures arising in Afghanistan, but only since October, 2007. Through the end of FY 2008, there have been 25 claims accepted for injuries or exposures sustained in Afghanistan and only 1 of those claims was for the death of the employee.


OWCP Projects Expenditures:

Based upon these data, OWCP projects about 10 death claims per year as an upper limit estimate. Assuming each claim is paid at the maximum allowable rate, this would result in expenditures of $1 million or less annually. It is important to note, however, that the projection is based on a very limited amount of data and that a single significant event could result in substantially higher than projected expenditures.


Some Questions:

#1. The rule says that “DOL has determined for equitable reasons that every death gratuity will be paid in the amount of $100,000. (The $100,000 gratuity is offset by other death gratuities that have been paid for the same death.)” But how did Labor come up with that figure is what I’d like to know. What went into that calculation?

#2. This rule specifically addresses the death gratuity for Federal employees who “die of injuries incurred in connection with service with an Armed Force in a contingency operation.” Elsewhere, it talks about “injuries incurred in connection with service with an Armed Force in the theater of operations of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

Okay so — A) What happens to FS employees who die in terrorist attacks outside the theater of operation? Those that are located in places not considered “service with an Armed Force in a contingency operation?” Wouldn’t this result in a two-system gratuity?

B) Operation Enduring Freedom includes operations in Afghanistan, the Philippines, the Horn of Africa (Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia), Trans-Sahara and Kyrgyzstan. USAID officer, John Granville was in Sudan when he was assassinated in 2008; Sudan falling under OEF, his NOK could potentially received retroactive benefit under this new rule. But where does this leave the family of Laurence M. Foley, the US diplomat who was assassinated in Jordan in 2002? Or David Foy who was killed in Pakistan in 2006?

The full text of the interim rule is here. You can also send comments to this rule no later than October 19, 2009; see the comments page here.

* * *


For State, the death benefits for death in the performance of duty under 3 FAM 3650 derives its authority from the following:

(1) Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA), 5 U.S.C. 8101-8152; 20 C.F.R. Parts 1, 10 and 25;

(2) Title VI, Section 651 of Public Law 104-208 (The Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1996), effective September 30, 1996; and

(3) Victims of Terrorism Compensation Act, codified in 5 U.S.C. 5570; Executive Order 12598; 22 C.F.R. Part 192.

State’s Bureau of Human Resources explained this below:


Section 413 of the Foreign Service Act, 22 U.S.C. § 3973
The Secretary of State, the Director of AID and the Secretaries of Agriculture and Commerce may provide for payment of a death gratuity in an amount equal to one year’s salary of the employee at the time of death to the surviving dependents of any Foreign Service employee who dies as a result of injuries sustained in the performance of duty abroad.


3 FAM 3653.1 on Eligibility: A death gratuity may be payable under section 413 of the Foreign Service Act when any member of the Foreign Service or a U.S. representative to an international organization or commission dies as a result of injuries sustained in the performance of duty abroad (outside the United States) provided that a survivor is entitled to elect monthly compensation benefits under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA).


According to
3 FAM 3653 Death Gratuity Under Section 413 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980:

The survivor is eligible for one year’s salary of the employee at the time of death. For purposes of the death gratuity under Section 413 of the Foreign Service Act, one year’s salary includes the employee’s full annual salary (rate of basic pay) or full cash wage, locality pay, and law enforcement availability pay that the employee was receiving at the time of death.


Title VI, Section 651 of Public Law 104-208
Under Title VI, Section 651 of P.L. 104-208 (the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1996), the head of an agency may pay a death gratuity of up to $10,000 to the personal representative of the deceased employee. The legislative history for this provision indicates that the amount is intended to supplement costs for funeral expenses. This payment may not exceed $10,000 inclusive of the amounts identified in paragraphs (2) and (3) under FECA benefits above. Because $ 1,000 for funeral and administrative payments typically is made under FECA, the amount of this death gratuity payment usually is $9,000. Death benefits under this authority are considered taxable income.


Victims of Terrorism Compensation Act, 5 U.S.C. §5570 and 22 CFR 192

This authority provides for the payment of compensation to eligible dependents or parents by Federal agencies where U.S. Government civilian employees or family members of such employees are killed, if the President determines that the death was caused by hostile action and was the result of the individual’s relationship with the Government. Payment authorized under this authority must be reduced by any other amount payable by the U.S. Government in connection with the death or disability (emphasis added).

[NOTE: Because of the other payments authorized above, including FECA and section 413 of the Foreign Service Act authorizing one year’s salary, this benefit rarely is paid because of the offset provision in the law.]

The President’s authority under the Act was delegated to the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Labor. The Department’s regulations at 22 CFR Part 192 implementing 5 U.S.C. §5570 provide that the death benefit payment for either an employee or a family member of an employee is equal to one year’s salary of the principal at the time of death.


* * *

That’s how FSO Howard Kavaler and his two daughters received $65,000 as death gratuity for his wife, Prabhi, a Foreign Service officer who perished in Kenya during the East Africa embassy bombings. Jeff Stein pointed out in this article that “the families of the 1,995 men and women killed in the Sept. 11 attacks were awarded checks averaging nearly $1.5 million each.” 12 Americans were killed in Nairobi. I am jaded; the families of 12 are not enough to move Congress.

H.R. 2410 which passed the House last June did contain a provision (Section 313) that the death gratuity be ‘‘at level II of the Executive Schedule. As of 2009, that amount is at $177,000.00. H.R. 2410 was referred to Senate committee on June 22, 2009. Current bill status: “Received in the Senate, read twice and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.” We’ll keep our eyes on it. But it’s time to write to your representatives in Congress.


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Report on Pay and Benefits of Deployed Civilians in War Zones

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released its report on compensation and medical benefits extended to Federal civilians during deployment in the war zones. Selected excerpts reprinted below:

Summary:

The Department of Defense (DOD) and other executive agencies increasingly deploy civilians in support of contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Prior GAO reports show that the use of deployed civilians has raised questions about the potential for differences in policies on compensation and medical benefits. GAO was asked to compare agency policies and to identify any issues in policy or implementation regarding (1) compensation, (2) medical benefits, and (3) identification and tracking of deployed civilians. GAO reviewed laws and agency policies; interviewed officials responsible for governmentwide guidance at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and for policy at six selected agencies, including DOD and State; reviewed all workers’ compensation claims filed by deployed civilians from January 1, 2006 through April 30, 2008 at the Department of Labor; and conducted a generalizeable survey of civilians deployed from the six agencies during this same period.

Although policies concerning compensation for deployed civilians are generally comparable across agencies, GAO found some issues that affect the amount of compensation–depending on such things as the agency’s pay system or the employee’s grade/band–and the accuracy, timeliness, and completeness of this compensation. For example, two civilian supervisors with comparable salaries who deploy under different pay systems receive different overtime pay because the overtime rate is determined by the employee’s pay system and grade/band level. While a congressional subcommittee asked OPM to develop a benefits package for all deployed civilians to war zones and to recommend enabling legislation, OPM has not yet developed such a package or provided legislation. Also, implementation of some policies may not always be accurate or timely. For example, GAO estimates that approximately 40 percent of the deployed civilians in its survey reported experiencing problems with compensation–including not receiving danger pay–in part because they did not know where to go for assistance. Moreover, in January 2008, Congress gave agency heads discretion to apply the death gratuity provision retroactively for deaths connected with operations in Iraq or Afghanistan on or after October 7, 2001. At the time of GAO’s review, agencies had not yet issued formal policy to implement this benefit.

Although agency policies on medical benefits are similar, GAO found some issues with medical care following deployment, workers’ compensation, and post deployment medical screenings that affect the benefits of deployed civilians. Specifically, while DOD allows its treatment facilities to care for “non-DOD” civilians following deployment in some cases, the circumstances are not clearly identified in guidance and some agencies were unaware of DOD’s policy. Civilians who deploy also may be eligible for medical benefits through worker’s compensation. GAO’s analysis of 188 such claims filed with Labor revealed some significant processing delays resulting in part from lack of clarity about the documentation required to support claims. Without clear information on what documents to submit to support a claim, applicants may continue to experience delays. Further, while DOD requires medical screening before and following deployment for civilians, State requires medical screenings only before deployment. Prior GAO work found that documenting the medical condition of deployed personnel before and following deployment was critical to identifying conditions that may have resulted from deployment. Each agency provided GAO with a list of deployed civilians, but none had fully implemented policies to identify and track these civilians. DOD, for example, had procedures to identify and track deployed civilians but concluded that its guidance was not consistently implemented. While the other agencies had some ability to identify and track civilians, some had to manually search their systems. Thus, agencies may lack critical information on the location and movement of personnel, which may hamper their ability to intervene promptly to address emerging health issues, as GAO has previously reported.


Death Gratuity:

In addition, Congress provided for a death gratuity under FECA of up to $100,000 to be paid to the survivor of a deployed civilian whose death resulted from injuries incurred while deployed in support of a contingency operation. This statute also provided agency heads with the discretion to apply the death gratuity provision retroactively for survivors of civilians who died, on or after October 7, 2001, from injuries incurred in connection with their service with an armed service in the theater of operations during either Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom. This provision became law on January 28, 2008. However, Labor, which is responsible for implementing regulations under FECA, has yet to issue formal implementing policy—although Labor officials told us that they have been working to finalize a policy for over a year. Further, while some agencies have issued memoranda or conducted briefings concerning the death gratuity, according to officials at the agencies included in our review, none has issued formal policy that incorporates these provisions—including the retroactive provision—because they are waiting for implementing guidance from Labor.

In fact, officials from State and USAID said that they cannot move forward on these provisions until Labor issues its guidance. Labor officials told us that because of the recent change in administration, they could not provide us with an anticipated issue date for the final policy; Labor officials stated that the draft policy is currently being reviewed for approval by the Office of Management and Budget. Despite the lack of formal policy, officials at Labor and DOD stated that, at the time of our review, this $100,000 death gratuity had been paid in one instance Civilians’ Eligibility to Receive Care at DOD Medical Facilities Following Deployment Is Not Clear or Conveyed to Other Agencies Despite DOD’s policy to allow “non-DOD” civilians to receive treatment in DOD facilities following deployment, confusion exists within other agencies and DOD regarding non-DOD civilians’ eligibility for this care. For example, officials at several agencies, including State, USAID, and Justice, were unaware that deployed civilians were eligible for care at DOD facilities following deployment, in part because these agencies did not receive the September 2007 memorandum from DOD. Additionally, confusion exists within DOD regarding non-DOD civilians’ eligibility.

Response from the Department of State:

In its written comments in response to a draft of our report, the Department of State concurred with our three recommendations. Specifically, with respect to our recommendation that it develop post-deployment medical screening requirements, State committed to implementing mandatory medical clearance exams for civilian employees upon completion of their assignment in a combat zone, beginning in 2010. With respect to our recommendation that it establish an ombudsman program to help ensure that deployed civilians receive the compensation and medical benefits to which they are entitled, State committed to designating a formal ombudsman to replace its informal existing mechanisms. Finally, with respect to our recommendation that it establish policies and procedures to identify and track deployed civilians, State committed to consulting and coordinating with DOD and other executive agencies to determine the best way to establish policies and procedures to accurately identify and track standardized information on deployed civilians. If properly designed and implemented, these actions should meet the intent of our recommendations.

Response from United States Agency for International Development:

In its written comments in response to a draft of our report, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) generally agreed with our conclusions but did not agree with our recommendations. With respect to our recommendation that USAID establish an ombudsman to help ensure that its deployed civilians receive the compensation and medical benefits to which they are entitled, USAID officials pointed out that the agency already has an ombudsman to support its Critical Priority Countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan. According to USAID, this ombudsman, among other things, helps Foreign Service employees deployed to these countries with a variety of issues, including compensation and medical benefits. We contacted the individual who USAID identified as the ombudsman and asked for documentation related to this position and its origin and responsibilities. This official stated that the position was established in 2006 to assist deployed civilians in obtaining the compensation and medical benefits to which they are entitled, but this official did not provide any supporting documentation. In the absence of documentation, it is unclear to us how USAID’s ombudsman ensures that deployed civilians receive the full compensation and benefits to which they are entitled. Accordingly, we continue to believe our recommendation has merit. With respect to our recommendation to establish policies and procedures to accurately identify and track standardized information on deployed civilians, USAID commented that it believed its current systems to be adequate and additional policies and procedures to be unnecessary at this juncture. We disagree; for example, when asked to develop a list of civilians the agency had deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, USAID officials stated that they had no agencywide system that would provide this information. They relied in part on a manual search of personnel records.

Furthermore, we note that USAID was unable to provide a list of civilians who had deployed for less than 180 days–in part because doing so would have been extremely labor intensive. As we have noted in this report and in prior work, agencies must be able to capture and subsequently retrieve location-specific information on employees, to identify possible exposures to environmental or industrial contaminants during deployment. Such information includes movement within theater and medical treatments while deployed. Without this capability, an agency may be unable to intervene promptly to address any future health problems that employees may develop as a result of deployment in support of contingency operations. USAID’s current capability, which relies in part on manual searches and may require labor intensive efforts to retrieve this information, does not represent a system that meets the intent of our recommendation. Should any deployment-related medical concerns develop in the future, such a system may fail to identify all individuals who may be affected. As a result, we continue to believe that our recommendation is appropriate.

Read the whole thing here including the GAO’s 10-point recommendations.


Related Item:

GAO: Human Capital – Actions Needed to Better Track and Provide Timely and Accurate Compensation and Medical Benefits to Deployed Federal Civilians GAO-09-562 | June 2009 (pdf)


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Filed under Afghanistan, Compensation, Foreign Service, FS Benefits, Govt Reports/Documents, Iraq, State Department, USAID, War