Category Archives: Pay Gap

GAO Looks Into the State Dept’s Overseas Comparability Pay for Congress, Provides No Recommendations

The State Department Human Resources Bureau provided a flawed business case on OCP and retention.  It also failed to provide evidence on the extent to which comparability pay decreases attrition. Excerpts from the GAO report released on June 30:

The Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act (FEPCA) of 1990 established locality pay to achieve pay comparability between federal and nonfederal jobs within the United States.1 Because FEPCA established pay localities only for areas within the United States, federal employees permanently stationed overseas, including members of the Foreign Service, did not receive locality pay. As the Washington, D.C., locality rate grew to over 24 percent in 2010, the pay gap between federal employees who receive locality pay and those who do not widened considerably.

To close this gap, the fiscal year 2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act2 granted the Department of State (State) temporary authority to provide locality pay at the Washington, D.C., rate, also known as Overseas Comparability Pay, to Foreign Service personnel posted overseas.3 State is implementing this pay in three phases.4 Currently, Foreign Service personnel serving overseas receive 16.52 percent comparability pay, approximately twothirds of the Washington, D.C., locality rate. State had planned to implement the third and final phase of comparability pay, raising it to 24.22 percent, in August 2011. However, these plans have been delayed by the administration’s freeze on federal salaries and the passage of the Department of Defense and Full Year Continuing Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2011, which prohibited State from using funds to implement the final phase.5 In December 2010, the National Commission of Fiscal Responsibility and Reform identified comparability pay as a potential source of cost savings. Without a continuation of authority, State cannot continue to provide comparability pay with funds appropriated after fiscal year 2011.

State’s Rationale

State has offered several reasons for requesting overseas comparability pay: to establish equity in pay and retirement benefits between Foreign Service personnel stationed in Washington, D.C., and those assigned overseas; to recruit competitively for top candidates; and to retain current Foreign Service personnel (see slides 8-12). However, our analysis found mixed evidentiary support for State’s rationale.

§ Pay equity: According to State, comparability pay would eliminate an inequity between Foreign Service personnel serving in Washington, D.C., and those in overseas assignments. State has argued that the lack of comparability pay results in a cut in basic pay when officers move from Washington, D.C., to an overseas post, creating a disincentive for overseas service. The Washington, D.C., locality rate increased from 4.23 percent in 1994, when locality pay was first implemented, to a cumulative 24.22 percent of base pay in 2011 (see slide 9). However, as discussed later in this correspondence, Foreign Service personnel assigned to overseas posts are eligible for allowances and differentials that they do not receive in Washington, D.C. While these allowances and differentials are not intended to compensate for the lack of comparability pay, we found that they nevertheless result in higher compensation, on average, for overseas staff.

§ Retirement equity: State has noted that agency contributions to Foreign Service personnel retirement decrease when personnel move overseas from Washington, D.C. In general, retirement benefits for members of the Foreign Service comprise three components: Social Security, annuities, and the Thrift Savings Plan. Our analysis shows that without comparability pay, agency contributions to two of these components—Social Security and the Thrift Savings Plan—would be lower, because they are calculated as a percentage of base pay plus locality/comparability pay.9 Thus, future retirement benefits for Foreign Service personnel are lower without comparability pay. See slide 10 for more detail on comparability pay’s impact on retirement contributions.

§ Recruitment: According to State, the lack of comparability pay hinders its ability to compete for top candidates seeking overseas careers in the federal government. Specifically, according to State’s Under Secretary for Management, State’s primary competitor for candidates seeking overseas foreign affairs careers is the Central Intelligence Agency, which provides locality pay to its staff posted overseas. However, State has not provided any data or analysis to demonstrate that State’s recruitment has been negatively affected by a lack of comparability pay.

§ Retention: State’s 2009 business case for comparability pay estimated that providing comparability pay would save the department about $47 million by preventing increased attrition among midlevel Foreign Service personnel. While the business case highlights important issues, such as the cost of attrition and the potential negative effects of midlevel staffing gaps, it has several limitations. For example, State’s business case assumed an attrition rate for mid-level officers that is significantly higher than historical rates.10 In addition, its estimate of the cost to replace a midlevel officer includes items such as salary and post assignment travel that State would incur regardless of the officer’s tenure. Slide 12 discusses State’s business case in more detail.4

Foreign Service personnel from all foreign affairs agencies currently receive comparability pay while serving overseas. Civilians from other agencies on permanent change of station overseas, excluding the Central Intelligence Agency, generally do not (see slides 18-19).13 However, when civilian employees are posted overseas on temporary duty status (TDY), they generally receive the full locality pay of their home duty station. Of the agencies included in our review, the percentage of staff on overseas TDY status varies. For example, nearly 25 percent of Federal Bureau of Investigation employees stationed overseas were on TDY status in April/May 2011, compared with about 15 percent of Department of Homeland Security employees stationed overseas.

Concluding Observations

Prior GAO work has highlighted human capital challenges at State, such as staffing gaps at hardship posts, which put U.S. diplomatic readiness at risk. As State prepares for an expanded diplomatic footprint in Iraq while continuing to reposition staff to emerging powers such as China, these challenges may become more pronounced. In this context, Congress authorized State in 2009 to provide comparability pay in order to close a widening pay gap between overseas and Washington, D.C.-based positions. While the challenges State faces remain, today’s budget environment has caused Congress to take a fresh look for ways to economize. CBO has estimated that fully implementing comparability pay for State and other agencies would cost about $2 billion through 2015, and the National Commission of Fiscal Responsibility and Reform identified this pay as a potential source of cost savings.

Our assessment shows that the case for continuing to provide comparability pay to ForeignService personnel abroad has mixed evidentiary support. The gap in basic pay betweenfederal employees who receive locality/comparability pay and those who do not has widened considerably, leading to lower retirement contributions in the long term. However, our analysis shows that even without comparability pay, compensation for Foreign Service personnel overseas is still higher, on average, than it would be in Washington, D.C., when allowances and differentials are considered. Furthermore, State has no evidence to support its claim that the department would be unable to compete for talent without comparability pay. Nevertheless, despite flaws in State’s business case regarding retention, and the lack of evidence on the extent to which comparability pay decreases attrition, we acknowledge that any significant loss of Foreign Service personnel, especially at the midlevel, could be detrimental to diplomatic readiness.

As a result, in light of current budgetary constraints, it remains unclear whether State needsacross-the-board comparability pay to recruit and retain a highly qualified cadre of Foreign Service personnel.

We are not making any recommendations in this report.

Agency Comments

After reviewing a draft of this product, State officials said the department would not provide a formal response. However, State provided technical comments that have been incorporated as appropriate in this correspondence.

Read in full – GAO: Department of State Overseas Comparability Pay | June 30, 2011

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Final CR for FY 2011 has $8.4 Billion Cuts for State Dept Request, Tire Tracks Almost Everywhere Except DOD Gets $5 Billion More

Here’s the press statement from the House Appropriations chairman on April 12:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The final Continuing Resolution (CR) legislation for fiscal year 2011 unveiled today by House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers contains historic spending cuts of nearly $40 billion, and will provide funding to keep the federal government operating for the remainder of the fiscal year. The passage of the bill in the House and Senate will mark the end of an arduous and long-overdue budget process initiated by the failure of the previous Democrat-controlled Congress to pass a budget or enact a single one of the 12 annual Appropriations bills last year.                   

“Never before has any Congress made dramatic cuts such as those that are in this final legislation. The near $40 billion reduction in non-defense spending is nearly five times larger than any other cut in history, and is the result of this new Republican majority’s commitment to bring about real change in the way Washington spends the people’s money,” Chairman Rogers said.

“My committee went line-by-line through agency budgets this weekend to negotiate and craft deep but responsible reductions in virtually all areas of government. Our bill targets wasteful and duplicative spending, makes strides to rein in out-of-control federal bureaucracies, and will help bring our nation one step closer to eliminating our job-crushing level of debt.” Chairman Rogers continued.


The House has put out a summary of the final cuts. And this is just the start.

Overall Spending Limit: The final CR will include a total of $1.049 trillion in funding, a nearly $40 billion reduction from last year’s (fiscal year 2010) levels. This includes the $12 billion in reductions previously approved by Congress and signed into law under the previous three continuing resolutions, as well as nearly $28 billion in additional new spending cuts.

Apparently, the White House has agreed to reduce the State Department and foreign operations budgets for the rest of fiscal year 2011 by $8.4 billion as part of the deal that avoided the government shutdown last week.

State and Foreign Operations: The funding level for the State Department and Foreign Operations in the CR is a total of $48.3 billion – a $504 million reduction from last year’s level and an $8.4 billion reduction from the President’s fiscal year 2011 request.

This section of the legislation includes a prohibition on pay raises for foreign services officers, a $377 million cut to U.S. contributions to the United Nations and international organizations, and a $130 million cut to international banks and financial institutions. In addition, the bill reduces family planning activities by $73 million – and includes a reduction in the UN Population Fund to fiscal year 2008 levels. The bill also maintains pro-life policy provisions carried in fiscal year 2010.

Family planning! Oh, why am I not surprised by that?

Look at the DOD, DOS and USAID funding and tell me this is not going to bust the myth of that three-legged stool of American foreign policy.  Perhaps now we can stop talking about the 3Ds as if it means anything? Defense matter. Diplomacy and Development, sometimes also matter, but not so much during wartime, and not so much when there’s a peace dividend.  But like I said, this is not even the main event, yet.

The Cable’s Josh Rogin
notes today that House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), called for the elimination of over a dozen State Department and foreign aid programs. She also pledged to “fight “locality pay” increases for Foreign Service officers and recommended cutting off assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces, the West Bank and Gaza, the Asia Foundation, the U.S. Institute of Peace, and the East-West Center.” 

It looks like she may get her wishes and some this week …

If you read through the program list here, you will see the cuts compared to the enacted amounts in FY2010 and cuts compared to the FY2011 requests.  Minuses run wild, and this was the small fight. I’ve also read through the text of the final CR but have not been able to find the exact language of the “prohibition on pay raises” included in that summary.  Since the HFAC chairwoman consider the OCP a pay increase, that may well be what is referred to here. Or it could refer to step increases or something altogether different, I can’t say. You’ll have to wait for AFSA’s folks to interpret this.    
 

To view the text of the Final Continuing Resolution, read here.

Below is a summary on DOD and DHS funding:

Defense Funding: The Department of Defense is funded at $513 billion in the CR – approximately $5 billion above last year – providing the necessary resources for the safety of our troops and the success of our nation’s military actions. The bill also includes an additional $157.8 billion for overseas contingency operations (emergency funding) to advance our missions abroad.

The Defense section of this legislation includes $126.7 billion for military personnel, providing for 1,432,400 active duty and 846,200 reserve troops. In addition, the bill contains a total of $165.6 billion for operations and maintenance, $102.1 billion for procurement, $75 billion for research and development, and $31.4 billion for Defense health programs. This legislation eliminates all Defense earmark account funding, a cut of $4.2 billion from last year’s level.

Homeland Security: A total of $41.8 billion in discretionary funding is provided for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for fiscal year 2011. This is $784 million, or 2%, below FY 2010, and $1.9 billion, or 4%, below the President’s fiscal year 2011 request. All critical frontline operations for DHS – including Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Transportation Security Agency, the Coast Guard, and the Secret Service are sufficiently funded to meet mission requirements and sustain staffing levels.

This includes funding for 21,370 Border Patrol agents, 33,400 ICE detention beds, and military pay and allowances for the U.S. Coast Guard. The bill reduces CBP’s Border Security Fencing, Infrastructure, and Technology (BSFIT) account to the President’s request, reduces FEMA first responder grants by $786 million, eliminates $264 million in funding that was previously targeted to earmarks, and rescinds $557 million in unobligated and lapsed balances from prior year funds. The bill also caps the amount of TSA screener personnel at 46,000. The bill also includes $1.05 billion in additional discretionary funding (for a total of $2.65 billion, including current funds) for the costs of existing and expected disasters for fiscal year 2011.

Congress still has to pass this bill, but it is almost certain to pass given that they have shook hands on this.

Say, just curious — how much are we going to save if we bring home the troops from Germany? The Cold War is done, what exactly are we still doing in Europe? Japan? I sometimes wonder if we have anyone left in Congress with carbon steel balls to actually trim the runaway military budget?  Oh, but we’re in the middle of three wars, and two unnamed ones. It would have been political hara kiri to say out loud any significant DOD cuts in the past ten years.

Betcha in 2025, it would still be like jumping off the political high bridge to talk of cuts from any defense spending. The more things change, the more things stay the same …. now I understand why Charlie is popular.

  

Related items:

4.12.11 Summary – Final FY 2011 CR  Document

4.12.11 Program Cuts List – Final FY 2011… Document

 

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Filed under Budget, Congress, Defense Department, Federal Agencies, Pay Gap, State Department

The Afghan Plan: Dakota on Pay Cuts and Thoughts of Moving On

One of my favorite bloggers who happen to be deep in the sands of Afghanistan but currently on R&R in Africa has posted the item below sometime back. I have added this to my Love Letters to Congress collection but should have posted this here, too.  Well, here is the intrepid Dakota who luckily survived the visit to the god damn kill box (officially known as Farah prison) before departing for his R&R:    

I’ve committed to giving up two years of my life to live in Afghanistan. I’m not looking for thank-yous for it: I knew what I was getting in to when I signed up for this, and State has certainly incentivized my coming here. But to have Congress come back and say that giving up two years of my life to this place is worth 16 percent less than last year has weighed on me. A 16 percent pay cut is just the opposite of a thank-you; it’s a direct statement that the work you do is not valued. It’s hard to take it any other way, and it’s particularly difficult to take when you’re living on the edge of a rocky desert, 40 kilometers from combat operations and a thousand miles from nowhere.

Others in the Service are outraged about it, and there’s been a flurry of well-written responses. My favorite, which I’ve re-read a thousand times, came from a friend of mine in Jordan. There’s a movement to blanket congress with letters (I wrote mine, though not nearly as eloquently as others), though the Foreign Service undoubtedly lacks the numbers to make a difference. Even writing my Congresswoman felt futile, since I live in DC and my Representative in Congress has no vote.

My response has not been outrage so much as a lingering sadness; the entire ordeal (including some of the ugly, you’re-probably-overpaid/stop-your-whining/if-you-complain-you’re-not-a-patriot rhetoric it’s stirred up) has made me question what I’m doing here. I had assumed upon signing up for this job that I’d have lots of these moments — that I’d find myself questioning U.S. policy, or that we’d take repeated, terrifying incoming and I’d be unwilling to leave the base because of it, or that I’d miserable in the wake of casualties and question the logic of continuing on. But that none of that ever happened — I’ve never wavered in my desire to be here or in my commitment to this place. At least until now, when the House voted to cut my pay. It really isn’t the money (the bill is ambiguous and almost certainly won’t pass the Senate or the President) — it’s the sentiment that goes along with it.

People have said that we’re taking a pay cut because we enjoy our work too much, but that seems ridiculous — like they should only pay people for working a job if it makes them miserable. The same cuts were recommended by the White House’s Bipartisan Fiscal Commission, though budgetarily speaking, cutting 16 percent of 7,500 people’s salary is not a significant figure, and it certainly doesn’t explain why we alone were singled out. Moreover, the commission noted that even with the pay cuts, the Foreign Service will remain a highly competitive and sought after: some 25,000 people apply for 300 to 900 jobs annually. But I find that rationale to be wildly offensive — that they can cut our pay with impunity because of how imminently replaceable we are.

I’m going on leave in a week, if the military can fix our runway so my plane can land. It’s definitely time: we’ve been running ragged implementing a thousand different programs and hosting visitor after visitor, and an ugly internal fight with the maneuver unit over our housing has left all the civilians on edge; it will be good to get away for a few weeks. But it will also be good to get away and take a deep breath and re-examine all of this.

I like living in Farah and I love working with the military, and I don’t feel like I’m done with my experience here. But the pay cut has engendered in me a significant homesickness, and made me focus on what I’m missing instead of what I’m gaining from this experience. I toyed briefly with leaving — Afghanistan is what the Foreign Service calls a “no-fault curtail” posting, so you can cut your posting short at any time without any negative financial or career impacts — but I think that impulse has passed and I’m back to committed.

I have been questioning, though, if instead of eking out time to study Pashto during the day, I should be eking out time to study for the GRE — if it isn’t time to reconsider this career and begin taking more concrete steps towards quitting and getting my PhD. I’ve heard others in the Foreign Service say similar things about moving on. I doubt that Congress’s intention with this pay cut was to push us towards the door, but that may very well be what ends up happening.

Read the whole thing here.

By the time Dakota moves on to his next gig, a second year in Afghanistan based in Kabul, he would have spent two of his four tours in a war zone. His first two assignments were also at hardship posts in Pakistan and China.  Not one of his years in service so far had been spent in a “normal” post, where people are nice and not threatening to kill you or actively spying on you.

People who entered the service the last several years probably have similar career patterns. More than half all posts in the Foreign Service are now considered hardship assignments, then there are two war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the “almost” war zones of Pakistan and Mexico. I call them “almost” because they have not been officially declared as such despite evidence to the contrary.      

Meanwhile, I’ve seen folks who have had the language training but for some reason managed to successfully glue themselves at a desk in Foggy Bottom and skipped Assignment Iraq. And some (don’t know what languages they speak) who even snagged ambassadorships after a perilous tour at Human Resources. Of course, service in the war zones is all-voluntary.  State do not want to send anybody there who don’t want to be there.       

But if you start losing folks who run towards the fire, then Foggy B., you are in a pretty hot kimchi.   


 

 


 


 


 


 

 


 


 

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

Via AFSA:

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. [
Action: STATE/HR, EMB, FSO/EFM]

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

H.R. 2346: Overseas Pay Gap: Gone, Gone, Gone …

Well, not forever gone yet. The President released a brief statement after signing H.R. 2346 in the Oval Office on June 24. 2009:

“I want to thank the Members of Congress who put politics aside and stood up to support a bill that will provide for the safety of our troops and the American people. This legislation will make available the funding necessary to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end, defeat terrorist networks in Afghanistan, and further prepare our nation in the event of a continued outbreak of the H1N1 pandemic flu.”

Now it’s done. This one.

Here is what AFSA said about the overseas comparability pay implementation earlier, which is part of H.R. 2346.

Today AFSA has more via AFSANet:

[…] We have succeeded in achieving the first phase of our members number-one objective of getting Congress and the Administration to correct the historical injustice of excluding Foreign Service members posted overseas from the locality pay that all other federal employees assigned domestically receive. The Department of State and other foreign affairs agencies should now move quickly to close the first roughly ONE-THIRD tranche of that 23.1 percent pay gap in the current fiscal year. This should translate into a base salary increase in the vicinity of 7.7 percent, by October 1, for all Foreign Service members FS-01 and below assigned overseas. Ideally, this adjustment will be followed by similar measures in FY2010 and FY2011 to address the second and third tranches of the pay disparity. AFSA will work hard to make sure that happens.

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H.R. 2346: Overseas Comparability Pay, Almost Here

I was not paying much attention to this; the CRS summary from May 2009 did not even include the OCP adjustment in its text. But it looks like H.R. 2346: Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2009 “Making supplemental appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2009, and for other purposes” is going to be the vehicle that would finally close the overseas comparability gap in the Foreign Service.

H.R. 2346 passed the House on May 14, 2009 and passed the Senate on May 21, 2009. The differences were resolved on Jun 16, 2009 and the bill was cleared for the WH on Jun 18, 2009. Having passed in identical form in both the House and Senate, this bill now awaits the signature of the President before becoming law.


See H.R. 2346 page in govtrack here. Click here for the final text of the enrolled bill (scroll down for Title XI).


Title XI: Department of State
(relevant sections on OCP, reemployment of annuitants and incentives for critical posts reprinted in full below).

Overseas Comparability Pay Adjustment
Sec. 1113.
(a) Subject to such regulations prescribed by the Secretary of State, including with respect to phase-in schedule and treatment as basic pay, and notwithstanding any other provision of law, funds appropriated for this fiscal year in this or any other Act may be used to pay an eligible member of the Foreign Service as defined in subsection (b) of this section a locality-based comparability payment (stated as a percentage) up to the amount of the locality-based comparability payment (stated as a percentage) that would be payable to such member under section 5304 of title 5, United States Code if such member’s official duty station were in the District of Columbia.

(b) A member of the Service shall be eligible for a payment under this section only if the member is designated class 1 or below for purposes of section 403 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (22 U.S.C. 3963) and the member’s official duty station is not in the continental United States or in a non-foreign area, as defined in section 591.205 of title 5, Code of Federal Regulations.

(c) The amount of any locality-based comparability payment that is paid to a member of the Foreign Service under this section shall be subject to any limitations on pay applicable to locality-based comparability payments under section 5304 of title 5, United States Code.


Technical and Other Provisions
Sec. 1115.
(a) Modification- Title III of division H of Public Law 111-8 is amended under the heading ‘Economic Support Fund’ in the second proviso by striking ‘up to $20,000,000’ and inserting ‘not less than $20,000,000’.

(b) Notification Requirement- Funds appropriated by this Act that are transferred to the Department of State or the United States Agency for International Development from any other Federal department or agency shall be subject to the regular notification procedures of the Committees on Appropriations, notwithstanding any other provision of law.

(c) Reemployment of Annuitants-

(1) Section 824 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (22 U.S.C. 4064) is amended in subsection (g)(1) by inserting ‘, Pakistan,’ after ‘Iraq’ each place it appears; and, in subsection (g)(2) by striking ‘2009’ and inserting instead ‘2010’.

(2) Section 61 of the State Department Basic Authorities Act of 1956 (22 U.S.C. 2733) is amended in subsection (a)(1) by adding ‘, Pakistan,’ after ‘Iraq’ each place it appears; and, in subsection (a)(2) by striking ‘2008’ and inserting instead ‘2010’.

(3) Section 625 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2385) is amended in subsection (j)(1)(A) by adding ‘, Pakistan,’ after ‘Iraq’ each place it appears; and, in subsection (j)(1)(B) by striking ‘2008’ and inserting instead ‘2010’.

(d) Incentives for Critical Posts- Notwithstanding sections 5753(a)(2)(A) and 5754(a)(2)(A) of title 5, United States Code, appropriations made available by this or any other Act may be used to pay recruitment, relocation, and retention bonuses under chapter 57 of title 5, United States Code to members of the Foreign Service, other than chiefs of mission and ambassadors at large, who are on official duty in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan. This authority shall terminate on October 1, 2010.

(e) Of the funds appropriated under the heading ‘Foreign Military Financing Program’ in Public Law 110-161 that are available for assistance for Colombia, $500,000 may be transferred to, and merged with, funds appropriated under the heading ‘International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement’ to provide medical and rehabilitation assistance for members of Colombian security forces who have suffered severe injuries.

There — are you smiling yet? This is turning out to be a memorable June. If I don’t catch the news when POTUS sign this into law, please zap me an email.

Related Item: (updated 6/22/09)
AFSANet on Closing the Overseas Pay Gap

Updated: 6/22/09 @10:29 pm:

Thomas indicates that H.R. 2346 was cleared for the White House on 6/18/2009 and presented to the President on 6/19/2009. The following describes the enactment into law following approval by both houses. Read the whole thing here.

Article I, Section 7, of the Constitution outlines the procedure for presidential judgment of legislation. The president has four options: sign the bill, which makes it law; VETO the bill and return it to Congress; refuse to take any action, in which case, after ten days, the bill becomes law without the president’s signature; or, if less than ten days are left in the congressional term, “pocket veto” the bill by not signing it (because Congress has no time to take up the bill, the pocket veto kills the bill).

There should be a final word on this between now and July 3.


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Filed under AFSA, Congress, Foreign Service, Pay Gap, State Department, Updates

Foreign Service Overseas Pay Equity Act of 2009

On July 16, 2008, the AFSA-supported “Foreign Service Overseas Pay Equity Act of 2008″ (H.R. 3202 which was originally offered by Rep. Christopher Smith [R-NJ]) was approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) on a voice vote with bipartisan support and no opposition. Congressman Smith wrote a letter to his colleagues regarding this issue last year. On September 23, 2008, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) passed an almost identical version of the House bill (assigned Senate bill number S. 3426 when offered by Senator John Kerry (D-MA)) on a voice vote with bi-partisan support and no opposition.

Then Congress adjourned without moving the bill to final passage.

AFSA was nonetheless pleased that the bill went that far saying that these actions were “a result of expanding awareness on Capitol Hill that the large and growing cut in base pay imposed on the junior and mid-level Foreign Service is a serious disincentive to recruitment, retention, and overseas service.”

Thanks to Diplopundit reader, Stephanie for the tip on the whereabouts of this bill – it is still in Committee.


Rep. Christopher Smith [R-NJ]
re-introduced the bill as H.R. 370: Foreign Service Overseas Pay Equity Act of 2009 in the 111st Congress on January 9th. It currently has one sponsor, Rep. Donald Payne [D-NJ] and has been referred to House Oversight and Government Reform and the Committee on Foreign Affairs. This bill is once more, in the first step in the legislative process. Introduced bills and resolutions first go to committees that deliberate, investigate, and revise them before they go to general debate.

Would this go further this congressional year? In this severe budget crunch? Don’t know — it’s all guess work right now.

The Foreign Service Overseas Pay Equity Act of 2009, like its previous version seeks to amend the Foreign Service Act of 1980 to extend comparability pay adjustments to members of the Foreign Service assigned to posts abroad, and to amend the provision relating to the death gratuity payable to surviving dependents of Foreign Service employees who die as a result of injuries sustained in the performance of duty abroad. Read the whole text of the bill here.

A lot of talk on the pay gap already, so I’ll look at Section 3 of this bill which reads: SEC. 3. DEATH GRATUITY.

The first sentence of section 413(a) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (22 U.S.C. 3973(a)) is amended by striking `at the time of death’ and inserting `at level II of the Executive Schedule under section 5313 of title 5, United States Code, at the time of death, except that for employees compensated under local compensation plans established under section 408, the amount shall be equal to the greater of 1 year’s salary at the time of death or 1 year’s salary at the highest step of the highest grade on the local compensation plan from which the employee was being paid at the time of death’.

The CRS folks who did a report on this last year writes that the Foreign Service Act of 1980 currently authorizes the Secretary of State to provide, at the Secretary’s discretion, a death gratuity to the survivors of any Foreign Service employee who dies as a result of injuries sustained in the performance of the employee’s duty abroad. The amount of the death gratuity is equal to the employee’s annual salary at the time of death.

The death gratuity section amends the current death gratuity provision in two ways:

#1. The death gratuity is increased for Foreign Service employees who die as a result of injuries sustained in the performance of his/her duty from the equivalent of one year’s salary to the salary of a level II of the Executive Schedule (As of January 2009, Level II pay in the Executive Schedule is $177,000). If an entry level FSO is killed, his/her surviving dependents would get a death gratuity of $177,000 instead of his/her one year salary of approximately 38K in the 2009 pay schedule).

#2. A death gratuity is authorized for employees compensated under local compensation plans. The amount of the death gratuity for the individual is equal to the greater of one year’s salary at the time of death, or one year’s salary at the highest step of the highest grade on the local compensation plan that the employee was under at the time of death.

The local compensation plans vary from country to country based on prevailing rates, normally paid in local currency, unless the economy has been dolarized but — my understanding on this is if an employee is an FSN 6/2, and he/she is killed his/her death gratuity would be the greater amount between his/her annual salary at the time of death or one year salary at the highest step of the highest grade in his/her local plan (FSN 12/step 12 is the highest grade and step, I think). In the US Embassy Nairobi bombing in 1998, 12 American USG employees and family members, and 32 Kenyan local employees of the U.S. government were killed. This type of provision would have authorized giving the survivors of the Kenyan local employees a death gratuity.

U.S. diplomat Howard Kavaler according to this report received $68,000 as death gratuity for his FSO wife’s horrific death in Nairobi. I have no idea how much the local employees’ survivors were compensated in that incident under the Secretary of State’s discretion.

The 2008 CRS report here interprets the second portion of this section as a reference to Civil Service employees detailed to an embassy. I thought — what? It must have been 30 years ago when local employees at U.S. missions overseas were moved away from Civil Service, so the argument used in this report is not accurate, I think. Also, this bill uses the specific language of “employees compensated under local compensation plans;” I don’t think you would lump Civil Servants under any local plan.

I’m not a lawyer, so if you have a different reading of this bill, please feel free to comment below.

Then there’s this piece on death and forgetfulness in the Foreign Service that is heartbreaking. You can help by contacting your senators and representative in the 111th Congress here.


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Filed under AFSA, Congress, Foreign Service, FS Benefits, Pay Gap, Realities of the FS, Reform

Foreign Service Overseas Pay Equity Act of 2009

On July 16, 2008, the AFSA-supported “Foreign Service Overseas Pay Equity Act of 2008″ (H.R. 3202 which was originally offered by Rep. Christopher Smith [R-NJ]) was approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) on a voice vote with bipartisan support and no opposition. Congressman Smith wrote a letter to his colleagues regarding this issue last year. On September 23, 2008, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) passed an almost identical version of the House bill (assigned Senate bill number S. 3426 when offered by Senator John Kerry (D-MA)) on a voice vote with bi-partisan support and no opposition.

Then Congress adjourned without moving the bill to final passage.

AFSA was nonetheless pleased that the bill went that far saying that these actions were “a result of expanding awareness on Capitol Hill that the large and growing cut in base pay imposed on the junior and mid-level Foreign Service is a serious disincentive to recruitment, retention, and overseas service.”

Thanks to Diplopundit reader, Stephanie for the tip on the whereabouts of this bill – it is still in Committee.


Rep. Christopher Smith [R-NJ]
re-introduced the bill as H.R. 370: Foreign Service Overseas Pay Equity Act of 2009 in the 111st Congress on January 9th. It currently has one sponsor, Rep. Donald Payne [D-NJ] and has been referred to House Oversight and Government Reform and the Committee on Foreign Affairs. This bill is once more, in the first step in the legislative process. Introduced bills and resolutions first go to committees that deliberate, investigate, and revise them before they go to general debate.

Would this go further this congressional year? In this severe budget crunch? Don’t know — it’s all guess work right now.

The Foreign Service Overseas Pay Equity Act of 2009, like its previous version seeks to amend the Foreign Service Act of 1980 to extend comparability pay adjustments to members of the Foreign Service assigned to posts abroad, and to amend the provision relating to the death gratuity payable to surviving dependents of Foreign Service employees who die as a result of injuries sustained in the performance of duty abroad. Read the whole text of the bill here.

A lot of talk on the pay gap already, so I’ll look at Section 3 of this bill which reads: SEC. 3. DEATH GRATUITY.

The first sentence of section 413(a) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (22 U.S.C. 3973(a)) is amended by striking `at the time of death’ and inserting `at level II of the Executive Schedule under section 5313 of title 5, United States Code, at the time of death, except that for employees compensated under local compensation plans established under section 408, the amount shall be equal to the greater of 1 year’s salary at the time of death or 1 year’s salary at the highest step of the highest grade on the local compensation plan from which the employee was being paid at the time of death’.

The CRS folks who did a report on this last year writes that the Foreign Service Act of 1980 currently authorizes the Secretary of State to provide, at the Secretary’s discretion, a death gratuity to the survivors of any Foreign Service employee who dies as a result of injuries sustained in the performance of the employee’s duty abroad. The amount of the death gratuity is equal to the employee’s annual salary at the time of death.

The death gratuity section amends the current death gratuity provision in two ways:

#1. The death gratuity is increased for Foreign Service employees who die as a result of injuries sustained in the performance of his/her duty from the equivalent of one year’s salary to the salary of a level II of the Executive Schedule (As of January 2009, Level II pay in the Executive Schedule is $177,000). If an entry level FSO is killed, his/her surviving dependents would get a death gratuity of $177,000 instead of his/her one year salary of approximately 38K in the 2009 pay schedule).

#2. A death gratuity is authorized for employees compensated under local compensation plans. The amount of the death gratuity for the individual is equal to the greater of one year’s salary at the time of death, or one year’s salary at the highest step of the highest grade on the local compensation plan that the employee was under at the time of death.

The local compensation plans vary from country to country based on prevailing rates, normally paid in local currency, unless the economy has been dolarized but — my understanding on this is if an employee is an FSN 6/2, and he/she is killed his/her death gratuity would be the greater amount between his/her annual salary at the time of death or one year salary at the highest step of the highest grade in his/her local plan (FSN 12/step 12 is the highest grade and step, I think). In the US Embassy Nairobi bombing in 1998, 12 American USG employees and family members, and 32 Kenyan local employees of the U.S. government were killed. This type of provision would have authorized giving the survivors of the Kenyan local employees a death gratuity.

U.S. diplomat Howard Kavaler according to this report received $68,000 as death gratuity for his FSO wife’s horrific death in Nairobi. I have no idea how much the local employees’ survivors were compensated in that incident under the Secretary of State’s discretion.

The 2008 CRS report here interprets the second portion of this section as a reference to Civil Service employees detailed to an embassy. I thought — what? It must have been 30 years ago when local employees at U.S. missions overseas were moved away from Civil Service, so the argument used in this report is not accurate, I think. Also, this bill uses the specific language of “employees compensated under local compensation plans;” I don’t think you would lump Civil Servants under any local plan.

I’m not a lawyer, so if you have a different reading of this bill, please feel free to comment below.

Then there’s this piece on death and forgetfulness in the Foreign Service that is heartbreaking. You can help by contacting your senators and representative in the 111th Congress here.


Related items:

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Filed under AFSA, Congress, Foreign Service, FS Benefits, Pay Gap, Realities of the FS, Reform

Fair Pay Act of 2009 – About Time, Too!

President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 into law today! Yay!

In my other life, I did work as a software analyst for a tech company. As I was considering whether to stay in the company or not, I learned that I was paid significantly less than my colleagues even as we were doing exactly the same work. At that time, I had yet to complete my graduate degree. My project manager told me, they were paid more because they had advanced degrees. I still remember feeling crappy about it but it also made my decision to leave easier. No, I did not take my employer to court; I went back to school to complete my degree.

The new law amends title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and modify the operation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, to clarify that a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice that is unlawful under such Acts occurs each time compensation is paid pursuant to the discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, and for other purposes.

So President Obama’s first piece of legislation signed into law has real meaning for me. I’ve been there, they’ve done that. The Court ruled that employees subject to pay discrimination like Lilly Ledbetter must file a claim within 180 days of the employer’s original decision to pay them less. The new law means that complaints can now be filed 180 days after any discriminatory paycheck. I won’t recover anything from my former employer since gone bankrupt but this would make employers think twice before pulling these kind of tricks on others.

More info here and here. The blog post here also includes links to the SCOTUS’ majority and minority opinions.

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Overseas Pay Gap: Illustrated

© Jupiter Images from clipart.com


John Doe, a Foreign Service officer, and Mary, his wife, a primary school teacher, are assigned to Washington, D.C. John was recently informed that he will be assigned to Libya as a diplomat. In D.C., John earns a base salary of $52,221 (FS-4 rank) and a 23.10-percent D.C. locality payment (worth $12,063) for a total of $64,284. Mary earns $48,000 as a teacher. Their total family income is $112,284.

When the Doe family arrives in Tripoli they will no longer receive locality pay ($12,063) but will receive a 20 percent hardship differential ($10,444). While John will take a small pay cut to serve overseas, Mary will most likely not be able to find employment in Libya so she will lose her entire salary ($48,000). Thus, despite John’s hardship differential, the Doe family’s total income will drop from $112,284 to $62,665. That is a drop of $49,619 or nearly 45 percent from what they were earning in the Washington, D.C. area.

In addition, while in Libya, the Doe family will likely face significant out-of-pocket costs such as needing to fly back to the United States for a family member’s wedding, a sister’s life threatening illness, a beloved relative’s funeral, or for other important occasions not covered by government-funded emergency visitation travel.

Finally, in the event that John is killed in Tripoli, Mary would receive 23.10 percent less in death benefits than would the family of a TDY visitor from Washington. This is because Foreign Service death benefits are calculated on base pay, excluding allowances and differentials, and John’s salary is 23.10 percent less than it would be back in the States.


Read more here: http://www.afsa.org/congress/paygap09.pdf

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Filed under Foreign Service, Pay Gap, Realities of the FS