AFSA Issues “Update on Danger Pay” to Members

Posted: 3:51 pm EDT


On September 14, we posted about the new State Department’s danger pay posts (New Danger Pay Differential Posts: See Gainers, Plus Losers Include One Post on Evacuation Status). Previously, we’ve written about these upcoming changes including potential fallout to bidding, student loan repayment, security funding allocation, EFM employment, and FAST officers onward assignments (see Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay).

Today, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) sent an update to its members on danger pay:

By now, most members have seen the Department’s cable (15 STATE 104596) announcing changes to Danger Pay and Hardship Differential for several posts. AFSA fought hard against the imposition of these changes, but by law, we were not allowed to negotiate the amounts adjusted or the posts affected.

Despite AFSA’s proposal to delay implementation until January 1, 2016, the Department chose to institute the changes last week. That said, we were able to bargain successfully regarding certain aspects of the impact of these changes.

The list below provides a more detailed summary of AFSA‘s proposals as well as the results of our bargaining efforts:

  • Fair Share Bidding: The Department accepted AFSA’s proposal that employees already assigned to a post which, as a result of the new designations, drops below the 15 percent threshold, will nonetheless be credited for their service at the post and not be considered Fair Share bidders when they bid on their next assignment.

  • 6/8 Eligibility: The Department has agreed to AFSA’s proposal that if the TOD for a post increases due to a change in allowances resulting from the new danger pay designations, employees will be allowed to serve the tour of duty that was in effect when they were assigned to that post and still meet the 6/8 eligibility requirements.

  • 2014 Bidders: The Department has agreed to AFSA’s proposal to extend Fair Share and 6/8 provisions to all employees assigned in 2014 who have not yet arrived at post (though they, like all others at post, would be subject to the updated danger and hardship rates).

  • Grandfathering Allowances: Because allowances are a component of the Standardized Regulations and cover all civilian employees overseas, the Department was precluded from accepting AFSA’s proposal to grandfather Foreign Service employees at their current rates of pay in cases where they are no longer able to receive Danger Pay.

  • Student Loan Repayment Program (SLRP): The Department was not able to accept AFSA’s proposal to “grandfather” employees participating in this program since benefits are disbursed pursuant to a 12-month term and eligibility of positions is subject to change on a yearly basis. Therefore, current recipients will receive benefits under existing terms of the program and receive payment in the fall of 2015. Employees wishing to receive benefits should apply in the summer of 2016.

AFSA would like to thank all of the members who shared their concerns regarding how this proposed change would affect them, not only in financial terms, but also in terms of morale. We fully share the sentiment expressed by many serving at dangerous posts that this change has taken place at a time when it has never seemed more challenging to carry out our mission.

Please let us know if you have any questions on this issue. You may email us at, or call (202) 647-8160.


Dear AFSA, please check your mailbox. We’ve sent at least three emails in July and September inquiring about this and also about the applicability of the Foreign Affairs Manual to noncareer appointees. To-date, we haven’t heard from AFSA’s elected reps; we’re starting to think …. yeah? really? but … but …




New Danger Pay Differential Posts: See Gainers, Plus Losers Include One Post on Evacuation Status

Posted: 3:11 pm EDT
Updated: 811:33 pm PDT


In February 2015, we blogged about the proposed changes to the State Department’s danger pay incentives (see Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay). In February, a total of 26 countries with 45 posts/locations were eligible to receive danger pay allowance according to the publicly available data from the State Department’s Office of Allowances. As of September 6, 2015, employees in a total of 28 countries with 47 named post and locations, plus 20 undesignated posts labeled as “other” are eligible to receive danger pay differential.  Note that “other” is a place which is not listed individually in Section 920 of the Department of State Standardized Regulations (DSSR) but which is located in a country or area which has been so designated by the Secretary of State, e.g. Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan.

Danger Pay allowance provides additional compensation for employees serving at designated danger pay posts. It is paid as a percentage of basic compensation in 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 and 35% increments. In addition to being paid to permanently-assigned personnel, danger pay may also be paid to employees on temporary duty or detail to the post.

According to the State Department,  the danger pay allowance is in lieu of that part of the hardship post  differential rate (Chapter 500) at a post which is attributable to  political violence.  Consequently, the rate of post differential may be reduced while danger pay allowance is in effect to avoid dual crediting  for political violence.

Under circumstances defined by the Secretary of State, a danger pay  allowance may also be granted to civilian employees who accompany U.S. military forces designated by the Secretary of Defense as eligible for imminent danger pay.  The Secretary of State will define the area of  application for civilian employees and the amount of danger pay shall  be the same flat rate amount paid to uniformed military personnel  as imminent danger pay.  Danger pay authorized under this subparagraph  will not be paid for periods of time that the employee either receives  danger pay authorized under subparagraph “f” or post differential that would duplicate political violence credit.

Danger Pay authorized under DSSR 652(g), unofficially referred to as “hazardous duty” or “imminent danger pay,” is paid at a flat monthly rate (currently $225). Employees cannot receive Post Hardship Differential and Danger Pay under DSSR 652(g) for the same periods of time, nor can employees receive Danger Pay under DSSR 652(f) and 652(g) at the same time. Imminent Danger Pay under DSSR 652(g) is established for designated areas for U.S.G. civilian employees accompanying uniformed military for whom the Secretary of Defense has established a similar benefit. No review of the Post Hardship Differential is conducted when establishing Imminent Danger Pay under DSSR 652(g) so employees cannot receive both allowances since they are being provided for duplicate conditions.

Plus Posts

The total number of countries (26 to 28) and locations (45 to 47) under the changed designations do not tell the details. Let’s start with countries which gained danger pay differentials under the new designations.

  • Kenya: The capital city of Nairobi retained its 15% danger pay differential and nine new locations are now designated at 15% as well (Kihara, Wangige, Kahawa, Kikuyu, Kiambu, Ruiru, Kibichiku, Thogoto, Other). We’d appreciate it if  somebody can help us understand why we have this nine new entries? Who or what do we have in these places? Contact us here.  Embassy Nairobi is the largest U.S. embassy in Africa with a staff of more than 1,300 (including local employees and more than 400 U.S. direct hires) among 19 federal agency offices.  The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in Kenya includes four U.S. Government agencies as implementers of the program: USAID, CDC, the U.S. Army Walter Reed Medical Research Unit, and the Peace Corps. In terms of staffing, USAID is the second largest component in the mission next to the State Department, with DOD and CDC as the third and fourth largest components respectively. (Thanks J.) 
  • Colombia: The capital city of Bogota lost its 15% pay differential but seven new locations, namely, Baranquilla, Buenaventura, Cali, Medellin, San Andres, San Marta, Other are now designated at 15% danger pay. DEA has the second largest representation (next to the State Department) among agencies at U.S. Mission Colombia, so we conclude that this new designation covers DEA employees and contractors, as well as military personnel operating outside the capital city.
  • Haiti: The capital city of Port-au-Prince, as well as Petitionville and all Other locations are newly designated at 15%.
  • Turkey: Gaziantep is newly designated at 25%.  The city is located in the southeastern Anatolia, some 185 kilometres east of Adana and 97 kilometres north of Aleppo, Syria.
  • In Tunisia, Carthage has been added at 25%.

All posts in Afghanistan, CAR, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan (except Quetta), Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen are  now at the top bracket at 35%.

Back in February, we’ve asked why Erbil and the Erbil Diplomatic Support Center in Iraq did not have the same danger pay rates.  Under the new designation, the Erbil Diplomatic Support Center (EDSC) and Basrah have both been bumped up to 35% (they were previously at 25% and 30% respectively). The State Department has not totally ditched the seven danger pay brackets but with very few exceptions, it has narrowed the danger pay posts into tighter bundles at the 15%, 25% and 35% pay brackets.

Screen Shot 2015-09-14

click image to view the full list

Minus Posts

There are also losers under the new designation. All the locations are diplomatic/consular posts where we have permanently stationed employees.

  • Mexico: Back in February, Nogales was at 10%, Ciudad Juarez, Matamoros and Tijuana were at 15%, and Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo were both at 20%. As of September 6, the only post in Mexico with danger pay is Ciudad Juarez at 15%.
  • Saudi Arabia:  Riyadh, Jeddah and Dharan were all at the 15% danger pay bracket in February 2015. Under the new designation, all these posts no longer have danger pay differential. The only location in Saudi Arabia currently designated at 15% is “Other.”
  • Algeria lost its 15% for Algiers but retains 25% for Other.
  • Burundi lost its 5% for Bujumbura but retains 5% for Other.  We should note that US Embassy Bujumbura went on “ordered departure” for non-emergency personnel and family members on May 15, 2015. There is a Travel Warning against all travel to Burundi and recommends that U.S. citizens currently in Burundi depart as soon as it is feasible to do so.”  The evacuation status for post—either authorized or ordered—has a 180-day clock  (by law, an evacuation cannot last longer than 180 days). Has that evacuation lifted? If not, isn’t it odd that post currently on evacuation status does not have “danger pay” for the emergency personnel remaining at post? Does that make sense? Yes, there are hardship and COLA differentials, but the embassy was not evacuated due to hardship, was it?
  • Israel and Jerusalem both lost their 15%.
  • Nigeria lost its 10% danger pay designation for Lagos.

We understand that at U.S. Mission Saudi Arabia where Riyadh, Jeddah and Dhahran have lost their 15% danger pay, “M” had increased the hardship differential at all three posts from 15% to 25%. So the net loss of pay to officers/specialists is at 5%. But as we’ve also previously noted here, Eligible Family Members (EFMs) receive danger pay while working in embassies but do not receive any other differentials. All EFMs in posts that lost their danger pay designation will suffer a pay cut and will not receive any hardship pay in lieu of the danger pay lost. The few dual-income families in Mexico and Saudi Arabia, will actually have a pay cut of at least 20%.

We’ve posted potential fallouts to these changes back in February. We understand that these are among the questions that still remained unanswered from Foggy Bottom.

One source says that his/her post “have asked AFSA for updates on what they are doing and recommending” but that post  is only “getting radio silence so no kudos to AFSA either.”

Danger Pay, like Post Hardship Differential, and Difficult-to-Staff Incentive Differential (also known as Service-Needs Differential) are all considered recruitment and retention incentives. These allowances are designed to recruit employees to posts where living conditions may be difficult or dangerous. The State Department has been criticized for its inability to evaluate and measure the effectiveness of its incentive program, specifically its danger and hardship programs. The GAO had also previously complained that State did not comply with a congressional mandate to evaluate its increases in hardship and danger pay.   We don’t know if these new changes now include an evaluation of the effectiveness of these incentives.


Danger Pay- September 2015 Diplopundit




HOGR Hearing: Violence on the Border, Keeping U.S. Personnel Safe

Posted: 2:47 pm EDT


The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on September 9, to examine the efforts to ensure the safety of U.S. personnel and assets in northern Mexico and along the U.S.-Mexican border. The Committee notes on its introduction the risks posed to U.S. personnel and the public by the criminal violence in northern Mexico are numerous including:

  • February 2015the U.S. Consulate in Matamoros reported 227 separate security incidents in the U.S. border region.
  • May 2015two government buildings in Matamoros were struck by bomb attacks. 
  • June 2015a gunman on the Mexican side of the border fired multiple shots at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter. 
  • June 2015a U.S.-contracted vehicle was hijacked by armed criminals which resulted in the theft of over 11,500 Border Crossing Cards.

The video is available here. The witnesses include three officials from the State Department (DS, OBO, WHA), an official from DHS/CBP, and a representative from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).  There is no representative from the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) in this hearing.

Screen Shot 2015-09-09

U.S. Mission Mexico | Border Posts

William H. Moser Deputy Director, Bureau of Overseas Building Operations U.S. Department of State Document
Gregory B. Starr Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Diplomatic Security U.S. Department of State Document
Sue Saarnio Deputy Assistant Secretary, Western Hemisphere Affairs U.S. Department of State Document
Robert L. Harris Director, Joint Task Force – West U.S. Customs and Border Protection Document
Brandon Judd President, National Border Patrol Council American Federation of Government Employees Document

The hearing is also available here via C-SPAN.


Holy Mother of FAM!!! Oh, Mr. Toner, What Have You Done?

Posted: 2:39 am PDT


On August 31, the State Department’s deputy spox was asked if the Secretary of State is bound by the rules of the Foreign Affairs Manual or not? (see Question of the Day: Is the Secretary of State bound by the rules of the Foreign Affairs Manual or not?). On September 1, the question was asked again and Mr. Toner promised to get an answer.

On September 3, the question was revisited for the third time, and here is the delightful exchange:

QUESTION: I have a – I’d asked you a question the other day and you said you’d get me an answer to it —

MR TONER: Did I? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: — and the question was whether the Foreign Affairs Manual applies to secretaries of state? Does it?

MR TONER: So – (laughter) – yeah. So I did do some research into this, as did others. It is – the Foreign Affairs Manual is – it is not comprehensive in, nor is it a bible for all Foreign Service officers or civil servants. So – and what do I mean by that? I mean it’s not – for example, there’s things in there about reimbursement of the use of your private vehicle. Certainly, that doesn’t apply to the Secretary of State or many people within the State Department.

So it’s – what’s contained in the Foreign Affairs Manual – and this is – I apologize but this is a kind of an in-the-weeds question – all of that is not necessarily relevant to, for example, ambassadors or secretaries of state or senior Department officials. I mean, if I can say what I think the essence of your question was, and I’m sorry if this is presumptive, but was whether they are bound by the responsibility to protect classified information. That certainly is true, that any Secretary of State, any senior State Department official is bound by that. And I spoke to this the other day, is that any individual, whether you’re the Secretary of State on down, takes that responsibility seriously.

QUESTION: But my question —


QUESTION: I mean, I really – I was not asking whether they were bound by every aspect of it, including those that are not relevant to them. It was whether they’re bound – basically whether they’re bound by the things that are relevant to them.

So to take the one that you raised, which is not whether they’re bound to protect classified information or to take seriously the responsibility to protect classified information, the question would be then, since you raised that as a specific: Are they bound – are secretaries of state bound by the rules in the Foreign Affairs Manual with regard to the handling of classified information?

MR TONER: I would say, as they are pertinent to the – and again, I don’t have the Foreign Affairs Manual in front of me – but as they are pertinent to the responsibility to protect and safeguard classified information, and we’ve talked about this, frankly, ad nauseum about the gradations and how we classify stuff and how we look at it. But as those rules – they apply to everyone in the State Department, including, for example, politically appointed ambassadors, and certainly by a secretary of state who is appointed by the President and, frankly, serves at the pleasure of the President and is not a Foreign Service officer in that regard or a civil servant.

QUESTION: So insofar as the regulations of the Foreign Affairs Manual touch on the protection of classified information, they apply to everyone, including the Secretary of State?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t have it in front of me but – and I’m not trying to parse this, but in a sense I am. Insofar as those regulations apply to the protection and safeguarding of classified information, yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we go back —

QUESTION: That didn’t seem like a parse to me.


Selective application, amirite?

First, Mr. Toner says, “So I did do some research into this…” Excuse me, why the heck is he doing the research on this? What’s the use of the Office of Legal Adviser, if you can’t get them to issue a formal opinion on this matter?

Then he says, “the Foreign Affairs Manual is – it is not comprehensive in, nor is it a bible for all Foreign Service officers or civil servants.”

Oh dear. Quick! If you’re in a disciplinary process, tell your lawyers.

Saying “again, I don’t have the Foreign Affairs Manual in front of me” might be a trick in the PA playbook but it’s not cute, okay?  This question has been asked since August 31st. The FAM is online, and easily retrievable.

He did say that “Insofar as those regulations apply to the protection and safeguarding of classified information, yes,” when asked if  the protection of classified information apply to everyone, including the Secretary of State per FAM.

Hey, did you know that “reimbursement of the use of your private vehicle doesn’t apply to the Secretary of State or many people within the State Department?”

Makes you wonder, for all the stuff where the FAM doesn’t cover the Secretary of State and many other people within the State Department, what alternate rules and regulations govern their workplace, and conduct on and off their jobs?  We’d like to know in case we’re tapped by  President Julian Navarro to find a successor for the libidinous Secretary Larson.

But seriously.

Per 2 FAM 1111.1 the Department of State articulates official guidance, including procedures and policies, on matters relating to Department management and personnel, known collectively as “directives,” in the Foreign Affairs Manual and Handbook Series. Directives include Department administrative organization policies and procedures. These directives derive their authority from statutes, Executive orders, other legal authorities, and Presidential directives, such as OMB circulars, and Department policies.

Per 2 FAM 1115.5-1 the Foreign Affairs Handbook (FAH) series is a supplemental series providing guidelines and procedures for implementing policies and directives contained in the FAM. Materials published in the FAH has the same force and effect as materials published in the FAM.

These directives apply to the Department of State and its operations worldwide (2 FAM 1111.3)

These directives apply to all Department of State and other relevant personnel worldwide (2 FAM 1111.4)

Note that 2. FAM 1111.4 does not make a distinction whether an employee is a career employee or a political appointee who is employed by the State Department.  Also, every time the FAM is updated, a Change Transmittal documents it.  All transmittals includes the following reminder:

Officers are reminded that Department-issued materials not codified in the Foreign Affairs Manual or its supplemental Foreign Affairs Handbook series generally have no regulatory validity (see 2 FAM 1115.2).

Pardon me?  Between 1-10, how confusing is all this? Sigh…

By the way, AFSA did ask a similar question earlier this year concerning this (see AFSA Politely Asks the State Dept: Is Adherence to the Foreign Affairs Manual Optional For Some?). We understand that the State Department had issued a response in the waning days of the previously elected AFSA Governing Board. As far as we are aware, that response has not been released to the AFSA membership. And we have not been able to get a response to two questions we sent to the newly elected president and VP of AFSA.




Insider Quote: “If there were more of us willing to speak up about issues that matter …”

Posted: 12:02 am EDT


Amelia Shaw joined the Foreign Service (public diplomacy cone) in 2014 after careers in journalism and public health. She is currently doing consular work in Tijuana, her first post. She is the 2015 recipient of the W. Averell Harriman Award for Constructive Dissent. Below is an excerpt from Deconstructing Dissent, FSJ | September 2015:

“I am proud that I found a constructive way to take a stand on an issue that matters to me. But I can’t help wondering what the department would look like if there were more of us willing to speak up about issues that matter, large and small, regardless of whether or not we think we can actually change anything. Or as one senior officer pointed out to me, we dissent every day—but the difference is whom we dissent to and how far we are willing to go with it. At heart, it’s a question of integrity. Sometimes just adding your voice is enough.”

— Amelia Shaw
Foreign Service Officer



What if Congress grants the State Dept the Suspension Without Pay (SWOP) hammer?

Posted: 1:44  pm EDT


According to the Foreign Affairs Manual, the Act of August 26, 1950 (64 Stat. 476), codified at 5 U.S.C. 7532, “confers upon the Secretary of State the authority, in the Secretary’s absolute discretion, to suspend without pay any civilian officer or employee of the Department (including the Foreign Service of the United States) when deemed necessary in the interest of the national security (see 12 FAM 235.2).”

So when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the Fiscal Year 2016 Department of State Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act which contains a similar language on security clearance suspension without work and no pay for Foreign Service employees, we were wondering what’s up with that (see S.1635: DOS Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act, Fiscal Year 2016 – Security Clearance).

Section 610 (2)(c)(1) of S.1635 says that in order to promote the efficiency of the Service, the Secretary may suspend a member of the Service without pay when—

(A) the member’s security clearance is suspended; or

(B) there is reasonable cause to believe that the member has committed a crime for which a sentence of imprisonment may be imposed.

The new language indicates suspension without pay (SWOP) whenever the security clearance is suspended for whatever reason. Not just for national security reasons anymore, folks.

The most widely reported FSO with a suspended clearance in recent memory is Peter Van Buren whose TS clearance was suspended for about a year. Under this proposed bill, PVB would not have been assigned to a telework position or paid for the duration of his fight with the State Department. Which means he and others like him would have to quit and find a paying job or starve unless he/she has a savings account that can sustain the investigation for a year or years.

Any FS employee who might dissent or engage in whistleblowing activity, any perceived troublemaker for that matter, can be put on SWOP, and that would be it.  An FSO who experienced first hand the suspension of a security clearance put this in very stark terms:

In practical terms they can remove the employee instantly, without telling anyone why until much later, by which time the employee will have resigned unless they can afford to go for months or years without a salary. And once the employee has resigned, the case is closed, the former employee loses their clearance because they resigned, and with it any right to know the reasons for the suspension. If the employee quits, the Department does not have to justify itself to anyone, and if the Department doesn’t have to pay them, 99.9 percent will quit.

We want to look at the numbers of suspension and revocation, unfortunately, this is something that is not publicly available from Diplomatic Security.  A source speaking on background put the numbers very low at less than 30 suspensions a year and of those probably less than 5 are revocations. Another source long familiar with this issue guesstimate the number as closer to 70-80 suspension per year, and the number of revocations probably at15-20 per year. We are unable to verify these numbers independently.  The higher numbers may be due to greater hiring, as well as to the use of “Scattered Castles,” a computer database that lists all prior security clearance determinations by other agencies which may prompt a suspension and re-investigation of the clearance.  But even if we take the higher numbers of 80 suspensions, that is still a small number compared to the total FS workforce.

A source not authorized to speak on this subject told us that the bulk of security clearance suspensions and revocations involve personal behavior issues ranging from alleged sexual misconduct to alcohol abuse, to failure to report on time a relationship that should be reported. Very few security clearance cases involve a matter that is criminal, so very few result in prosecution.

The question then becomes why? Why would Congress want this? And just as important, why does the State Department support this?

The long history of this section of the bill reportedly dates back to Condoleezza Rice’s term at the State Department. It was allegedly intended to create parity between Foreign Service (FS) and Civil Service (CS) employees.

State can indeed put CS employees on SWOP as soon as clearance is suspended, but the rules also gives CS employees appeal rights to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). We understand that MSPB records and procedures are public and that it is specifically granted authority to review security clearance cases. The FS employees do not have the same protection with the Foreign Service Grievance Board. The final review adjudicative body, the Security Appeals Panel, not part of FSGB, allegedly does not even keep records of its deliberative process or set precedent for future cases. Currently, the rules on the FAM says: “If the individual is represented by counsel or other representative, the representative does not have a right to have access to or to review any material. However, to the extent authorized by the individual and the Department, the representative may review material that the individual has access to pursuant to subsection (b) above if he or she is properly cleared.”

The numbers of suspension/revocation are low but Congress doesn’t have to talk about the numbers. The members can talk about getting rid of bad apples in the government, which is always popular. In doing so, Congress can look tough on security, tough on the State Department and tough on keeping tabs on government money.

This is not a good idea. If only a quarter of all suspensions end in revocation, isn’t the USG throwing money and lives away? In addition to our concern that this could be use by the State Department to shut-up dissenters or potential whistleblowers, we also have the following concerns:

  • Costs in hiring/training

The USG has a lengthy hiring process for FS employees and typically trains them before sending them to posts overseas. The cost of that investment does not come cheap. Members of the FS also go through language training and spends most of their careers in overseas assignments.The length of time to replace/train/deploy an FS employee is significantly longer than the time to replace a CS employee.

  • FS family logistics

FS members overseas with suspended clearance are normally sent home to a desk job that does not require a clearance or their expertise. Not all FS members have houses to come home to in the WashDC area. They’ll have to pull kids out of schools, and move their entire household. What happens to them in DC if the employee is without work and without pay under this proposal? A suspension in this case would technically be a firing as the FS employee will be forced to find an alternate job that pays. So what happens when the case is resolved without a revocation, will the employee be able to come back? Since the investigation ends when the employee leaves, there is no win here for the employee.

  • Prime targets of hostile intel service

FS employees spends most of their career overseas. By virtue of their positions, they are prime targets of any hostile intel service. They can be subject of a security investigation though no fault of their own.  This is even more concerning with the OPM hack purportedly conducted by a foreign government.  If true that a foreign government now has the personal details of over 20 million security clearance holders, including those in the State Department who used OPM’s e-Qip system, how does one even protect oneself from the potential misuse of that information that can lead to a clearance suspension?

What can you do?

As we have posted earlier, the State Authorization bill was offered as an amendment when the NDAA was debated in the Senate in June but it was not voted on when the NDAA passed on June 18 (That would be H.R. 1735 which passed 215 (71-25)  We understand that both chambers are now starting the process to bring the bill to conference in order to resolve differences.  The State Authorization bill, we are told, will not be part of those discussions.  In order for this to move forward, it will either need to be brought to the floor as a stand alone vote or Corker/Cardin could try again to attach it to another piece of legislation. Given that this is the first authorization bill passed by the SFRC in 5 years, and made it through the committee with bi-partisan support, we suspect that this might not be the end of this bill.

We’re hoping that employees’ fundamental rights and due process do not become casualties particularly in gaining concessions from Congress on the overseas comparability pay (CP) fight. That would be a terrible bargain.  Educate your elected representative on the consequences of this section of the bill. See that AFSA is tracking this matter and talking to Congress.



Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct: Is it only the little people who are taken to task?

Posted: 12:48 am EDT
Updated: 3:07 pm EDT


In March 2012, AFSA’s General Counsel Sharon Papp reported about a State Department proposal related to the “state of affairs” in the Foreign Service ….no, the other kind of affairs:

In 2011, the State Department proposed disciplinary action against a handful of employees for off-duty conduct that it had not sought to regulate in the past (i.e., extramarital affairs between consenting adults). 

When we reviewed several sex-related grievance cases in 2012, we came to the conclusion that from the agency’s view, widespread notoriety is not required to demonstrate an adverse effect on the efficiency of the Service. Further, the potential for embarrassment and damaged to U.S. interests seems as weighty as actual embarrassment and damage. See: Sex, Lies, and No Videotapes, Just Cases for the Grievance Board

We recently received the following in our mailbox (edited to remove the most identifying details):

The married DCM at the embassy of a major Middle East ally slept with a married ELO whose husband worked for him. He blamed his alcoholism. As “punishment,” he was assigned as DCM at a significant high risk/high threat post. Next up? One of the top jobs at an embassy located in a Western European country.  Where’s the accountability at State? Is it only the little people that are taken to task? 

Well, that is an excellent question given another allegation we’ve received about another front office occupant involved in domestic violence overseas (another story we hope to write another day).

Extra-marital affairs, of course, are not mentioned anywhere in the Foreign Affairs Manual but below is what the regs say on sexual activity (pdf) and what constitutes, “notoriously disgraceful conduct.” Both sections were last updated in 2012, and applies to Foreign Service employees at State and USAID:

3 FAM 4139.1 Sexual Activity
(CT:PER-673; 04-27-2012) (Uniform State/USAID) (Applies to Foreign Service Employees) 

The agencies recognize that, in our society, there are considerable differences of opinion in matters of sexual conduct, and that there are some matters which are of no concern to the U.S. Government. However, serious suitability concerns are raised by sexual activity by an individual which reasonably may be expected to hamper the effective fulfillment by the agencies of any of their duties and responsibilities, or which may impair the individual’s position performance by reason of, for example, the possibility of blackmail, coercion, or improper influence. The standards of conduct enumerated in 3 FAM 4138 are of particular relevance in determining whether the conduct in question threatens the mission of the employing agency or the individual’s effectiveness.

3 FAM 4139.14 Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct
(CT:PER-673; 04-27-2012) (Uniform State/USAID) (Applies to Foreign Service Employees) 

Notoriously disgraceful conduct is that conduct which, were it to become widely known, would embarrass, discredit, or subject to opprobrium the perpetrator, the Foreign Service, and the United States. Examples of such conduct include but are not limited to the frequenting of prostitutes, engaging in public or promiscuous sexual relations, spousal abuse, neglect or abuse of children, manufacturing or distributing pornography, entering into debts the employee could not pay, or making use of one’s position or immunity to profit or to provide favor to another (see also 5 CFR 2635) or to create the impression of gaining or giving improper favor. Disqualification of a candidate or discipline of an employee, including separation for cause, is warranted when the potential for opprobrium or contempt should the conduct become public knowledge could be reasonably expected to affect adversely the person’s ability to perform his or her own job or the agency’s ability to carry out its responsibilities. Evaluators must be careful to avoid letting personal disapproval of such conduct influence their decisions.

One might argue that an extra-marital affair between two consenting adults is a private matter.  And in most cases, it is; who wants to be the sex police?  But. If the allegations are true, can you really consider it private, particularly in a case that involves the second highest ranking public official at an embassy and an entry level officer (ELO) assigned under his command? Even if the DCM is not the ELO’s rating or reviewing officer —  how does this not affect the proper functioning of the mission? Can anyone exclude undue influence, potential favoritism or preferential treatment?  Which section chief would give a bad performance review to a junior officer who slept with the section chief’s own reviewing officer? Even if not widely known outside the Foreign Service, can anyone make a case that this is not disgraceful or notorious?  For real life consequences when a junior officer has a “special relationship” and “unrestricted access” to an embassy’s front office occupant, read the walking calamity illustrated in this case FSGBNo.2004-061 (pdf).

Look … if widespread notoriety is not required to demonstrate an adverse effect on the efficiency of the Service for the lower ranks, why should it be a requirement for the upper ranks?  It’s not? Well, how else can we explain a good number of senior officials who allegedly looked the other way?

Can’t you see I’m busy? Besides I did not/did not see anything!


We went and looked up the Foreign Service Grievance Board cases related extra-marital affairs or related to notoriously disgraceful conduct. Here are some quick summaries.

  • In 2011, the State Department handed down a 30-day suspension to a junior officer for “off-color and offensive emails about women he dated, which were widely disseminated” after his private email account was hacked.  State said this constituted “notoriously disgraceful conduct.” (pdf)
  • Another case in 2011 involves an FSO who was told by the State Department: “Given the nature of Foreign Service life, you are aware that you are on duty 24/7. These multiple extramarital affairs involving sexual relations with an estimated 13 women during two separate assignments overseas without your spouse’s knowledge show poor judgment for a Foreign Service Officer.” (pdf) (note: two separate assignments could mean 4-6 years; untenured tours at 2 years, tenured tours typically at 3 years).
  • A Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Agent was suspended for three days for Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct arising from a domestic violence incident with his spouse. (pdf)
  • A married FP-04 Information Management Specialist (IMS), received a 20-day suspension, subsequently reduced to 10 days, for improper personal conduct and failure to follow regulations. The employee served at a critical threat post, and admitted having an extramarital relationship with a local embassy employee as well as engaging in sexual relations with two “massage techs.” (pdf)
  • An untenured FP-04 Diplomatic Security (DS) agent was disciplined for poor judgment and improper personal conduct. The employee brought a  woman to his hotel room and engaged in sex with her. Although the employee voluntarily disclosed the incident and asserted that the woman was not a prostitute, the Department contends that the incident at a minimum gave the appearance of engaging in prostitution and as such violated 3 FAM 4139.14 or Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct. (pdf)
  • A married FS-02 Information Management Officer (IMO) with seventeen years in the Department, with numerous awards and no disciplinary record, was found in his personal vehicle that was parked in an isolated area, and in a dazed condition with injuries suggesting he had been assaulted. He stated that during the prior night he had picked up a woman unknown to him, shared wine with her while driving, pulled over to the side of the road and then had no recollection of what followed, presumably because she had introduced a substance into his drink. During the ensuing investigation, the employee revealed he had picked up four or five women on previous occasions over a four-month period and had sex with them without the knowledge of his wife.  As a result, the Department proposed a ten-day suspension based on the charges of Poor Judgment and Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct. (pdf)
  • An FP-04 Diplomatic Security (DS) agent was given a five-day suspension without pay on the charge of Improper Personal Conduct. The charge is based on an incident in a criterion country in which employee (an unmarried person) engaged in consensual sex with a local woman and gave her $60.00 after the sexual activity had concluded. There was no evidence that the woman was a prostitute and there were no witnesses to their encounter. The employee self-reported the incident immediately to his supervisors, who took no disciplinary action. Eighteen months later, the Department opened an investigation and eventually suspended the employee. The deciding official concluded that employee’s conduct had violated two regulations governing behavior subject to discipline: 3 FAM 4139.1 (Sexual Activity) and 3 FAM 4139.14 (Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct). (pdf)

So —

We have so far been unable to locate FSGB cases of “notoriously disgraceful conduct” involving senior Foreign Service officials; certainly nothing at the DCM or COM level. It could be that 1) our search function is broken; 2) the folks are so risk-aversed and discreet that there are no cases involving a single one of them, or 3) potential such cases were swept under the rug, nothing makes it to the public records of the Foreign Service Grievance Board.

Which.Is.It? Will accept breadcrumbs …


OPM to Charge Agencies for Credit Monitoring Offered to Federal Employees

Posted: 2:32 am EDT


The latest update from “M” on the OPM breach dated July 15, notes that “The State Department never transferred personnel records to the OPM facility. However, if you had other U.S. Government service prior to joining State, you may have had records that were involved.” On the background information breach, it says that “State Department employees’ SF-85 and SF-86 forms (depending on the appointment) were in the OPM system and thus were impacted. However, other background investigation material was not.”

If you have additional questions email DG DIRECT [DGDIRECT@STATE.GOV] or OPM’s new email:

AFSA’s latest update to its membership is dated July 10 and available to read here.

Some developments on the fallout from the data breach:














Amb. Charles Ray: America Needs a Professional Foreign Service (via FSJ)

Posted: 12:18 am EDT

Charles A. Ray retired from the Foreign Service in 2012 after a 30-year career that included ambassadorships to Cambodia and Zimbabwe. Ambassador Ray also served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for prisoners of war/missing personnel affairs, deputy chief of mission in Freetown and consul general in Ho Chi Minh City, among many other assignments. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Amb. Ray spent 20 years in the U.S. Army. He was the first chair of AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics, and does freelance writing and speaking. He blogs at; his Amazon author page is here. Below is an excerpt from FSJ:

Via Speaking Out, Foreign Service Journal, July/August 2015:

If the Foreign Service is to adequately serve the American people now and in the future, it is imperative that it become the professional service intended by legislation over the past 91 years. This is not an easy task. It requires political will from elected leadership to provide the necessary direction and resources. It also requires action on the part of every member of the Foreign Service.

Here are some of the actions I believe are necessary.

Establish a system of professional education for the Foreign Service. Develop a long-term academic training program in diplomacy—either at the Foreign Service Institute or through a cooperative agreement with a university or universities in the Washington, D.C., area—designed to prepare members of the Foreign Service for senior diplomatic responsibilities.

There should be training opportunities post-tenuring and at the mid-level designed to increase individual skills in primary career tracks, while also offering education in diplomacy and leadership.

Every member of the Foreign Service should be required to complete a year of academic study relevant to his or her career track before being eligible for promotion to the Senior Foreign Service.

The department should create a true “training float” of 10 to 15 percent above the level required to staff all authorized positions, to allow Foreign Service personnel to take long-term training without posts and bureaus having to suffer long gaps. This will require a commitment by the department’s leadership not to use these positions to meet future manpower requirements—a practice that consumed the two previous authorizations.

Ensure opportunities for professional development through assignments. In coordination with the White House, the department should ensure that an adequate number of senior positions (assistant secretary, ambassador, deputy assistant secretary, etc.) are designated to be filled by Foreign Service personnel.

Priority should also be given to assignment of Foreign Service personnel to lower-level positions, such as regional office directors and desk officers, as much as possible.

Reconcile the differences between Foreign Service and Civil Service personnel systems. The department must recognize that while both are essential to the success of our mission, the Foreign Service and Civil Service personnel systems are inherently different.

Attempts to obliterate the differences benefit neither, and do not contribute to national security in any meaningful way. Action needs to be taken to improve career prospects within both systems.

Consideration should be given to creating a position of Director of Human Resources responsible for Civil Service personnel, and having the Director General of the Foreign Service responsible only for Foreign Service personnel, as envisioned by the 1946 Act that created the position.

In addition, the Director General should be given more authority over discipline and career development of Foreign Service personnel.

Establish a formal code of ethics for the Foreign Service. An essential element of any career personnel system is a mechanism to provide basic standards and rules and to protect it from political abuse.

The American Foreign Service Association established a Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics in 2012 with the primary mission to develop such a code. I had the honor of being the first chair of the PEC and am happy to report that significant progress has been made on this during the past three years.

Working with the Institute of Global Ethics, the PEC conducted a worldwide survey of Foreign Service personnel and then began creating a draft code. Information on the PEC’s work can be found on AFSA’s website at Details on the results of the survey on professionalism and ethics can be found at

Read in full here.


New AFSA Governing Board For 2015-2017 Takes Office

Posted: 2:21 pm EDT


AFSA’s new 29-member Governing Board headed by Ambassador Barbara Stephenson takes office today. Click here for the GB members’ biographies and contact emails.

Strong Diplomacy Slate

#StrongDiplomacy gathered this past weekend to re-focus on the important work ahead. But first we savored the sweeping electoral victory that brought every member of the Strong Diplomacy slate onto the AFSA Governing Board. Here’s to you, our supporters—the AFSA voters who made this win possible. (via FB)

The AFSA Governing Board is elected by the membership every two years and is composed of representatives from each AFSA constituency. The entire membership elects three officers – President, Treasurer, and Secretary. Each constituency then casts votes for its agency or retiree Vice President and representative positions. Currently, the board has 29 members – in addition to the three officers, there are five Vice Presidents (State, USAID, FAS, FCS, and retiree), eleven State representatives, two USAID representatives, one representative each for FAS, FCS, BBG and APHIS, and four retiree representatives. See the complete list here.