Burn Bag: When you’re only worthy of 20 of the 40 home leave days earned

Via Burn Bag:

“If leadership at one bigass consular post decides that ELOs can take no more than 20 days of home leave and cannot leave the standard 30 days before/after the estimated departure date from post, does HR flinch? Is this enough critical mass for AFSA to respond to our inquiries? My spouse has served his 24 months in a danger pay post but is only worthy of 20 of the 40 home leave days he has earned.”

idontgetitatall

 

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Burn Bag: The new norm is four years of consular work until …

Via Burn Bag:

“My second tour bid list now confirms the old bait and switch is indeed true. I joined to do one job and will be confined to consular work for five years of my life. We are told it is all good for  professional development. In our large embassy consular section in Asia, only consular officers are invested in for CA trainings. No time is available for professional development and I hear third tour bidding won’t even promise us the chance to do what we joined the service to do. All we are told is to wait…five years…to do that job. We often question what it was that we joined the department to do in the first place. In the meantime old private sector friends have joined the Department in much higher and more interesting jobs than our own. Our promotions have slowed down and yet we are managed by mid-level officers who became managers overnight. AFSA, if they answer your email, claims they cannot address every issue at the Department. The new norm is four years of consular work, until the new norm is no longer four years of consular work.”

via Doctor Who Tumblr

via Doctor Who Tumblr

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Via careers.state.gov about Foreign Service assignments:

After you complete orientation and training in Washington, D.C., as a newly hired Foreign Service Officer, you will typically be assigned overseas, although at this time a few officers begin with a domestic assignment. Typically, the first two overseas tours (usually two years each) are designed to develop your talents in different working environments and ensure that you attain foreign language skills. You will hold a variety of positions within a probationary period (up to five years) in order to demonstrate your qualifications for tenure as a career Foreign Service Officer and to see if the Foreign Service is the right fit. As part of this process, you will perform two to three years on average of consular work, and should expect an assignment to at least one hardship post.

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How many people should be put through a wringer before, oh you know ….

Posted: 3:48 am EDT

 

We’ve previously blogged about Foreign Service assignments to international organizations. FSOs who take up assignments in some of these organizations are excluded from promotion consideration in the Foreign Service (see Secondments to international organizations and promotions? Here comes the boo!).

We’ve been able to locate the FSGB case here (PDF), and the appeal case here (PDF).

Grievant filed his initial grievance with the Department on August 7, 2012,1 claiming that he was improperly excluded from promotion consideration by the 2008-2012 Selection Boards, during which time he was encumbering a position at the REDACTED. His assignment to REDACTED was effected by separation/transfer (“secondment,” according to Department usage) in the spring of 2007, and he exercised re-employment rights to return to agency rolls in 2012. Grievant claimed he believed he would remain eligible for promotion consideration during the REDACTED assignment, based on information contained in the Information Sheet that accompanied his Separation Agreement and on alleged assurances he received from Department Human Resources (HR) personnel. He claimed that shortly after he took the REDACTED assignment, he became aware that the Promotion Precepts exclude from review employees who have been separated/transferred to international organizations. Nonetheless, he claimed that the official notification of his assignment (SF-50 Personnel Action) assigned him to a status (the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai (MFO)) that specifically permits officers so assigned to remain eligible for promotion  consideration. He argued that instead of using the separation/transfer mechanism, the Department should have detailed him to REDACTED leaving him on Department rolls and eligible for promotion consideration during the assignment. Grievant argued that Department errors in documentation of his assignment, and its different explanations of its own regulations, amount to bad faith on the part of the Department.

The Department acknowledged inaccuracies in the original Department documentation and in its decision on grievant’s appeal, in which it claimed that grievant’s separation/transfer instead of a detail was “standard protocol” for cases such as grievant’s. […] Notwithstanding the inaccuracies in documentation, the Department argued that separating/transferring grievant to the was not a clear violation of agency policy in effect at the time, and there was no impediment to taking that action.[…] The agency argued, therefore, that its actions were not contrary to law, regulation or collective bargaining agreement, and that neither the SF-50 errors, nor the errors contained in the Information Sheet, alter grievant’s status. Finally, the agency claimed it is an established fact that grievant did not serve in the Sinai in the MFO, and he is not entitled to benefits afforded to officers who serve there.

The FSGB ruled that “Regardless of the reason(s) why an “incorrect” SF-50 was issued in the first place, the preponderance of the evidence supports the conclusion that the only SF-50 in the record was issued containing several errors, not the least of which is that grievant was assigned to the MFO in the Sinai – where we know he did not serve. We fail to see the manifest injustice based on grievant’s arguments in this respect that would constitute grounds for reconsideration of our March 19, 2014, decision.”

We understand that this grievant was actually assigned to OSCE but his SF-50 says he was assigned to MFO. No, the grievant did not prepare his own SF-50, silly :-).  Wondering why the SF-50 says MFO, and was never corrected. Was it intended as a work-around? If not, why was it never corrected the entire time the FSO was on assignment at an organization that was obviously not the MFO in the Sinai?

Standard Form 50, is the official form the government uses to calculate your retirement. Your SF-50s determine your retirement eligibility, your federal pension, and in this case, it also impacts promotion eligibility.

In any case, this is an expanding case not just in the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB), but also with the  Office of Special Counsel and now in federal court.

The individual would not discuss his ongoing court case but here is what we got:

“I decided to raise this issue with the new AFSA Board, which came into office with much fanfare as the “Strong Diplomacy” slate. After more than a month of non-response, I finally received the following this morning from an AFSA Board member:

“With limited resources, AFSA is unable to pursue each and every dispute with management and must focus on those issues that have the greatest impact on our membership and most benefit the Foreign Service as a whole. I understand you have already pursued this issue with private counsel through the grievance process. Given other competing priorities, this is not an issue AFSA is going to pursue with management.”

In other words, although AFSA is aware of an ongoing and systematic violation of federal law on the part of Department management, it is choosing not to pursue the issue with management due to more pressing priorities, thus leaving dues-paying members to fend for themselves in the courts, at their own expense.”

It’s worth noting that the promotion precepts are negotiated and agreed annually between the State Department and AFSA. We’re not sure what to make of this. If an employee is not able to rely on its union for disputes like this, who can he/she rely on? Is there a threshold on how many people should be put through the wringer before AFSA takes it up with management?

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@State Dept’s Danger Pay: All Through With Promises, Promises Now?

Posted: 3:10 am 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 first and second tour (FAST) officers’ onward assignments (see Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay). Click here for AFSA’s update to its members regarding the changes in danger pay.

This is the first time the State Department had updated its danger pay process and designation from best we could tell. Of the forty or so danger pay posts, about half lost their designation, including Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo which lost 20%, and all Saudi Arabian posts which lost 15%. Wouldn’t better planning with a longer roll out have been better for everyone? Why was there such a short fuse on this project? Was Congress snapping at somebody’s heels?

One group particularly affected (without any mitigation in place) are Eligible Family Members (EFMs) who receive danger pay but do not receive any other differentials. All EFMs in posts that lost their danger pay designation have suffered a pay cut and will not receive any hardship pay in lieu of the danger pay lost. The dual-income Foreign Service families particularly in Saudi Arabia and some in Mexico had a pay cut of at least 20%.

The changes in the danger pay designation also affected employees who went to some difficult posts to qualify for the student loan program (SLRP).  Student Loan Repayment Program (SLRP) is a recruitment and retention tool used by the Department to attract and retain Civil Service and Foreign Service employees applying for or encumbering specific positions.  The loan repayment is linked to danger/hardship only, and is for posts designated at 20% or greater. We understand that some who qualified for SLRP this year, will not qualify next year if they’re seeing danger/hardship under 20%. Despite that fact that the SLRP was used to “lure” officers to some of these challenging posts.  That section of the FAM updated in May this year, notes that “Posts may be added to or eliminated from this list as differential and danger pay rates change.”

We understand that entry level officers (ELOs, we don’t know how many) felt particularly short-changed by these changes.  These officers typically go out on their first two overseas tours on directed assignments. They go where they’re sent by the State Department. They get equity points based on danger pay and hardship differentials that help determine their next assignment.  We should add that super high equity posts  (like Iraq/Afghanistan, etc.) are not available to first tour officers. A large number of first tour officers end up in visa mill posts in Mexico, China, India, Brazil and posts in Africa. Which means that a 5-10% change in equity in the pecking order is noticeable.

Via reactiongif.com

Via reactiongif.com

I wonder if their CDOs say if you take Promisestan now with 15% danger pay and 20% hardship, you get bidding priority for say Buenos Aires or Madrid when you bid next time. Did the CDOs blink when they said that?  By the time the ELOs bid, Promisestan had been downgraded to zero danger pay with hardship still at 20%.  So ELOs who said yes to 35%, now had to make do with their 20%.

“A claim of fairness and transparency does not make it so,” one writes.

A senior government official had apparently told employees earlier that “this is not going to be such a big deal.” But for a number of employees just starting off on their careers at State, this is going to be a big deal. Somebody made them a promise, an inherent tradeoff when they started, and now they’re told they just have to suck it. We understand that despite efforts by AFSA, FSOs, and some posts themselves argued against danger pay changes or for mitigation — specifically including entry level bidding should these changes be imposed — management apparently had not been responsive.

We sent the following to DGHR on Twitter but he, too, has not been responsive.

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We estimate that this affects the bidding of a small range of A-100 classes, perhaps some members in the 174th-180th classes. And perhaps that’s the problem? A small number of entry level FSOs, though no fault of their own, are negatively impacted in their bidding options by these changes. And the somebodies at the State Department — from M, DGHR, DS, CDA, PRI — have decided that the negative impact to these newbies are acceptable.

Say — isn’t this kind of like going on a cross country A-Z train with the fares changing midway through the trip? Suddenly, here comes the conductor asking for additional fares somewhere at the P stop, even if you’ve originally paid up to get to the Z stop.

The Yoda conductor delivers the bad news:

So sorry, just doing the job, I am.  P stop not as good as Z stop. But F stop, it is not.

If throw up, you must, use bucket under coach seat, please.

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Ambassador Chas Freeman on Diplomatic Amateurism and Its Consequences

Posted: 3:02 am EDT

 

Ambassador Chas Freeman did a speech on Diplomatic Amateurism and Its Consequences at Foggy Bottom’s Ralph Bunche Library earlier this month. He also recently spoke about America’s Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East.  We need more people like Ambassador Freeman telling it like it is; unfortunately that often puts people like him in the outs with people who do not want to hear what needs to be said. More often than not, the top ranks have large rooms for obedient groupies and not much room for anyone else.

Below is an excerpt from his diplomatic amateurism speech:

In other countries, diplomacy is a prestigious career in which one spends a lifetime, culminating in senior positions commensurate with one’s talents as one has demonstrated them over the years.  But, in the United States, these days more than ever, the upper reaches of diplomacy are reserved for wealthy dilettantes and celebrities with no prior experience in the conduct of relations with foreign states and peoples, national security policy, or the limitations of the use of force.  Policy positions in our government dealing with such issues are now largely staffed by individuals selected for their interest-group affiliation, identity, or sizable campaign contributions.  These diplomatic neophytes are appointed for the good of the political party with which they are affiliated and to reward their loyal service during political campaigns, not for their ability to do the jobs they are given.  It is assumed that they can learn on the job, then move on after a while to give others a chance at government employment.  But whatever they learn, they take with them when they leave, adding nothing to the diplomatic capacity of our government.

If you tried to staff and run a business or a sports team like this, you’d get creamed by the competition.  If you organized our armed forces this way, you’d be courting certain defeat.  You can judge for yourself how staffing and running a foreign policy establishment through the spoils system is working out for our country now that our margin for error has been reduced by “the rise of the rest” since the end of the Cold War.  Staffing national security policy positions and ambassadorships with people whose ambition greatly outstrips their knowledge and experience is a bit like putting teenagers in charge of risk management while entrusting lifeguard positions to people with no proven ability to swim.  Hit and run statecraft and diplomacy were never wise, but they didn’t matter much when America was isolated from the world or so powerful that it could succeed without really trying.  Neither is the case anymore

The United States is now the only great power not to have professionalized our diplomatic service.  As the trove of diplomatic reporting spewed out by WikiLeaks shows, our career people remain very bright and able. But their supervisors are less prepared to carry out their duties than their counterparts in the diplomatic services of other great and lesser powers.  One of the 20th century’s greatest diplomats, Abba Eban put it this way

“The word ‘ambassador’ would normally have a professional connotation but for the American tradition of ‘political appointees.’ The bizarre notion that any citizen, especially if he is rich, is fit for the representation of his country abroad has taken some hard blows through empirical evidence, but it has not been discarded, nor should the idea of diluting a rigid professionalism with manpower from less detached sectors of society be dismissed out of hand. Nevertheless, when the strongest nation in the world appoints a tycoon or a wealthy hostess to head an embassy, the discredit and frustration is spread throughout the entire diplomatic corps in the country concerned.”

That was in 1983. Quite a bit before that, about 130 years before that, demonstrating that this is indeed a lengthy American tradition, the New York Herald Tribune observed, “Diplomacy is the sewer through which flows the scum and refuse of the political puddle. A man not fit to stay at home is just the man to send abroad.”

These American observations, or observations about American diplomacy, contrast quite strikingly with the views expressed by the classic writer on diplomatic practice, François de Callières. Writing now almost exactly three centuries ago, in 1716, he said:

“Diplomacy is a profession by itself, which deserves the same preparation and assiduity of attention that men give to other recognized professions. The qualities of the diplomatist and the knowledge necessary to him cannot indeed all be acquired. The diplomatic genius is born, not made. But there are many qualities which may be developed with practice, and the greater part of the necessary knowledge can only be acquired by constant application to the subject.

“In this sense, diplomacy is certainly a profession, itself capable of occupying a man’s whole career, and those who think to embark upon a diplomatic mission as a pleasant diversion from their common task only prepare disappointment for themselves and disaster for the cause that they serve. The veriest fool would not entrust the command of an army to a man whose sole badge of merit was his eloquence in a court of law or his adroit practice of the courtier’s art in the palace. All are agreed that military command must be earned by long service in the army. In the same manner, it must be regarded as folly to entrust the conduct of negotiations to an untrained amateur.”

There is indeed every reason for diplomacy to be a learned profession in the United States, like the law, medicine, or the military.  But it isn’t.  When top positions are reserved for people who have not come up through the ranks, it’s difficult to sustain diplomacy as a career, let alone establish and nurture it as a profession.  Professions are human memory banks.  They are composed of individuals who profess a unique combination of specialized knowledge, experience, and technique.  They distill their expertise into doctrine – constantly refreshed – based on what their experience has taught them about what works and what doesn’t.  Their skills are inculcated through case studies, periodic training, and on-the-job mentoring.  This professional knowledge is constantly improved by the critical introspection inherent in after-action reviews.

In the course of one’s time as a foreign service officer, one acquires languages and a hodgepodge of other skills relevant to the conduct of foreign relations.  If one is inclined to reflect on one’s experience, one begins to understand the principles that undergird effective diplomacy, that is the arts of persuading others to do things our way, and to get steadily better at practicing these arts.  But, in the U.S. foreign service, by contrast with – let’s say – the military, there is no systematic professional development process, no education in grand strategy or history, no training in tactics or operational technique derived from experience, no habit of reviewing successes and failures to improve future performance, no literature devoted to the development of operational doctrine and technique, and no real program or commitment to the mentoring of new entrants to the career.  If one’s lucky, one is called to participate in the making of history.  If one is not, there is yet a great deal to learn from the success or failure of the diplomatic tasks to which one is assigned.

As an aside, I also don’t believe that, as an institution, the Department of State now understands the difference between bureaucrats and professionals.  (I’m not sure it ever did.)   Both have their place in foreign affairs but the two are quite different.  Bureaucrats are trained to assure uniform decisions and predictable outcomes through the consistent interpretation and application of laws, regulations, and administrative procedures.  Professionals, by contrast, are educated to exercise individual, ad hoc judgments, take actions, and seek outcomes autonomously on the basis of principles and canons of behavior derived from experience.  They are expected to be creative, not consistent, in their approach to the matters in their charge.

[…]

There is an obvious alternative to this bleak scenario.  That is that the secretary of state – this secretary of state, who is the son of a foreign service office and who has personally demonstrated the power of diplomacy to solve problems bequeathed to him by his predecessors – will recognize the need for the U.S. diplomatic service to match our military in professionalism and seek to make this his legacy.  In the end, this would demand enlisting the support of Congress but much could be done internally.

Read in full here:  http://chasfreeman.net/diplomatic-amateurism-and-its-consequences/

AFSA’s media digest failed to include Ambassador Freeman’s event in its daily digest for members. But AFSA members got a nice treat with the inclusion of Taylor Swift: America’s Best Public Diplomat? as reading fare.

 

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Related posts:

Too Quick on the Draw: Militarism and the Malpractice of Diplomacy in America

Lessons from America’s Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East

 

Whoa! The Next Consul General in Istanbul Will Be a Political Appointee?

Posted: 3:49 am EDT

 

File this under #rumint.  Some küçük dedikodu we’re hearing is that the next Consul General in Istanbul will be a political appointee.

Güzel degil, arkadaslarim.

The incumbent in Istanbul is senior career diplomat Chuck Hunter. He assumed his duties as Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul, Turkey, in September 2013. Per typical rotation in the FS, he’d be scheduled to leave post in the  summer or fall of 2016. Whoever is angling for this position will have to put in the request this year.  Is this position showing up on FSBid?

Somebody told us, “I thought only ambassadorships could go to political appointees overseas.”   Traditionally, only ambassadorships have gone to political appointees. But that may not be quite true anymore. We are starting to see chiefs of staff, for noncareer ambassadors “joined” the Foreign Service as Schedule C employees. We understand that there are approximately about a dozen of such positions currently in place. There was one at the US Embassy in Beijing at one point.  And there is one at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo who apparently runs the mission together with the DCM (see State/OIG Inspects US Mission Japan: Oh, Heck, Where Do We Start?).

The State Department apparently made a previous attempt to appoint a senior executive service HR DAS as Consul General in Melbourne, a case resisted at that time by AFSA, according to one source. A side note, in October last year, we blogged about the rumored Iran Watcher London position potentially being eyed for a staffer in the office of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs (see Is This Iran Watcher London Position Not Bidlisted About to Go to a “P” Staffer?). After a fuss was raised, the job apparently went to a qualified Foreign Service officer who was thrilled to go to London with her family. An Iran Watcher job was then created in Amsterdam. Except that there was an Iran Watcher already on language training slated to go to Erbil, Iraq and when that position was eliminated, the individual was reassigned to Amsterdam.

It is not clear to us if the rumored candidate for the CG Istanbul position is a Civil Service employe or a political appointee of the bundler kind.

Istanbul_bridge

Istanbul (photo by USCG Istanbul/FB)

ConGen Istanbul is one of our oldest posts. The United States established diplomatic relations with the Ottoman Empire in 1831, establishiing the U.S. Legation in Constantinople (Istanbul). The legation was raised to embassy status in 1906. The two states broke diplomatic ties during World War I. Relations were reestablished in 1927 after the founding of the modern Turkish state in 1923. In the 1930s the Embassy gradually transferred to Ankara, Turkey’s new capital, leaving behind a consulate general located at the Palazzo Corpi in Istanbul. Construction of a new consulate compound in İstinye was completed in 2003.

Istanbul is rated high for political violence and rated critical for terrorism. If that’s not enough to make you sit up, the conflict in neighboring Syria has become extremely dangerous for Turkey.

So … whose dimbulb idea is this?

By coincidence, the State Department had just published its final rule on the Appointment of Foreign Service Officers. Read the full text (PDF) of the final rule document. It is formally published on Oct 23, 2015 in the Federal Register. The final rule says in part:

Other than a minor amendment in 2002 (see 67 FR 46108), part 11 has remained as it was drafted 31 years ago; whereas, the relevant provisions of the FAM were updated in 2013. This rulemaking harmonizes the two authorities. The Department believes that a revised part 11, together with the FAM, provide comprehensive guidance for both internal stakeholders and interested members of the general public on the appointment of Foreign Service Officers. The Department’s revision of part 11 is part of its Retrospective Review conducted pursuant to Executive Order 13563.

Below is the relevant section which doesn’t look new:

§ 11.60 Limited non-career appointments.

Consistent with section 303 of the Act (22 U.S.C. 3943), the Secretary of State may also appoint Civil Service employees and other individuals to the Foreign Service, and, consistent with section 309 of the Act (22 U.S.C. 3949), such appointments may include limited non-career appointments (LNAs). After meeting the job specific requirements, candidates must meet applicable medical, security, and suitability requirements. Limited non- career appointments are covered under 3 FAM 2290.

3 FAM 2290 (pdf) states that “seven categories in 3 FAM 2293, subparagraphs b(1) through b(7), are the only categories by which a Civil Service employee or other individual from outside the Foreign Service may be appointed to the Foreign Service pursuant to an LNA under Section 303 of the Foreign Service Act. The Department’s procedures for appointing Civil Service employees and other individuals from outside the Foreign Service as LNAs outside these categories are subject to negotiations between the Department and the Foreign Service’s exclusive representative, prior to institution of further categories.”

3 FAM 2293 TYPES OF LIMITED NONCAREER APPOINTMENTS UNDER SECTION 303 OF THE FOREIGN SERVICE ACT
(CT:PER-726; 04-18-2014) (State Only) (Applies to Foreign Service and Civil Service employees) 

a. Consistent with Section 502 of the Foreign Service Act (22 U.S.C. 3982), the Department’s goal is to ensure that positions designated as Foreign Service positions are filled by assignment of career and career-conditional members of the Foreign Service.

b. Pursuant to Sections 303 and 309 of the Foreign Service Act, the Department appoints Civil Service employees and other individuals from outside the Foreign Service to LNAs as:

(1) Hard-to-Fill (HTF) Candidates: Positions that have not attracted sufficient bidders through the Foreign Service assignments process and thus may be filled by Department Civil Service employees. The procedures and eligibility requirements applicable to HTF positions as well as the scope and frequency of available positions may vary from year to year. Each HTF program will be announced by an ALDAC after consultation with the Foreign Service’s exclusive representative;

(2) Expert Candidates: For these positions, bureaus are to request temporary FTE from the Office of Resource Management (HR/RMA) before presenting an Action Memorandum to the Director, HR/CDA. For example, expert LNAs include, but are not limited to, positions that cannot normally be filled with Foreign Service personnel, such as certain attorney positions at embassies and missions that are filled by lawyers from the Office of the Legal Adviser, and a nuclear physicist position that was temporarily required in Japan.

(3) Developmental Assignment Candidates: These assignments provide experience and exposure to Foreign Service operations for Civil Service personnel through two methods–bureau candidate only advertised positions, for example, A Bureau positions at ELSO and Overseas Development Program positions advertised via CS merit promotion announcements.

(4) Volunteer Cable Candidates: Volunteer cables are sent, as agreed annually with the exclusive representative in the Bidding Instructions, when there are no qualified bidders for a vacancy that has been advertised. The regional bureaus initiate the volunteer cable exercise as a request to HR/CDA to send such a cable based on Foreign Service need. If a Civil Service candidate is selected, the Director General must prepare a Certificate of Need in accordance with 3 FAM 2295 (see also 3 FAM Exhibit 2295 for an example of this certificate);

(5) Schedule C and Other Outside-Hire Candidates: These appointments include, but are not limited to, chief-of-mission office management specialists, eligible family members, and other outside hires;

(6) Exceptional Circumstance Candidates: The Department’s Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources (Director General) may designate certain positions to be filled under an “exceptional circumstance” category (see 3 FAM 2294 below).

(7) Urgent, Limited Need: These limited non-career appointments support specific or exceptional mission-critical needs that existing Foreign Service personnel cannot meet. These needs are considered to be of limited duration, not justifying the creation of a new category of a career Foreign Service employee. HR/RMA will authorize the FTE for these positions. Every two years, the Director General or designee will review each category of LNA falling under this paragraph in consultation with the Foreign Service’s exclusive representative, to determine whether the specific need still exists and existing Foreign Service personnel cannot meet the need.

We’ve got great memories of Istanbul.  We’re interested to hear more about this rumored candidate. Is this all smoke or is there fire?

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Related posts:

State Dept’s Conduct and Disciplinary FAM Regulations — Still as Clear as Mud?

Posted: 3:54 pm EDT

 

On March 17, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) wrote to Arnold Chacon, the Director General of the Foreign Service and the State Department’s top HR official requesting clarity on the applicability of 3 FAM to career and political/non-career employees of the oldest executive agency in the union. (see AFSA Politely Asks the State Dept: Is Adherence to the Foreign Affairs Manual Optional For Some?NewsFlash: “The FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations.” Hurry, DECLINE button over there!).

A long time Foreign Service hand told us that the practice has usually been that if a politically appointed State Department official or ambassador violates the Foreign Affairs Manual conduct and disciplinary regulation, that matter is generally raised with the sponsor of the non-career appointee.  Which typically means, the White House.  The infraction is then reportedly handled outside of the State Department system.  In rare cases, the Office of Inspector General is called in with the approval of the secretary of state. This is, apparently not the practice at DOD where political appointees are warned that DOD regulations and enforcement system apply to them equally.

We know that DGHR did respond to AFSA’s inquiry towards the end of Bob Silverman’s tenure but we were told to wait for the incoming elected officials to release the response. Last month, we sent a follow-up email to new AFSA president Barbara Stephenson asking if AFSA can share the DGHR’s clarification on the applicability of the FAM to non-career appointees.  To-date we have received only radio silence from AFSA’s Barbara Stephenson and her VP. We can appreciate why some official correspondence between AFSA and DGHR under special circumstances should be under wraps but what good reason is there not to respond to a solicitation for information on this matter?

A source on background did provide us what DGHR sent to AFSA in response to its March 17 inquiry.

AFSA was seeking clarity as to the provisions in 3 FAM.  In his response, the Director General of the Foreign Service (DGHR) specifically mentions 3 FAM 4300 and 3 FAM 4500 regarding conduct and disciplinary standards and how they might be applied to non-career appointees as opposed to career employees.

DGHR Arnold Chacon writes with an assurance, “From the outset let me assure you that 3 FAM regulations are much more than “guidelines.” They are derived from law and for govemment-wide regulation and are directives to State Department personnel. As you are aware, 3 FAM governs all pertinent personnel policies, practices and matters affecting conditions of employment, most if not all of which as it pertains to Foreign Service is negotiated as appropriate with AFSA.”

DGHR Chacon further writes, “Regarding conduct and discipline of non-career appointees, I can say with confidence that all forms of misconduct are taken seriously by the Department and will be dealt with accordingly. The FAM, by its terms, applies to Schedule A and B appointees. lf a Schedule C or other political appointee were to allegedly commit misconduct, then the State Department and the White House would work in concert to review the situation, take action to prevent abuses, and, if appropriate,  remove the employee. You can be assured that misconduct will always be addressed and dealt with in a fair, thorough and responsive manner, while respecting the right of due process and adherence to the tenet of like penalties for similar offenses.”

Last month, the question of the applicability of the FAM, related to the secretary of state also surfaced during a Daily Press Briefing (see Question of the Day: Is the Secretary of State bound by the rules of the Foreign Affairs Manual or not?). We note the following in a blog post:

The January 2015 OIG report, Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (pdf) includes the following:

[The] Office of the Legal Adviser staff told OIG that the FAM’s disciplinary provisions do not apply to Ambassadors who, as in this instance, are political appointees and are not members of the Foreign Service or the Civil Service.

According to the OIG report, the Under Secretary for Management disagrees with this interpretation:

[T]he Under Secretary of State for Management advised OIG that he disagrees with the Office of the Legal Adviser interpretation, citing the provisions in the Foreign Service Act of 1980 which designate Chiefs of Mission appointed by the President as members of the Foreign Service. See Foreign Service Act of 1980, §§ 103(1) & 302(a)(1) (22 USC §§ 3903(1) & 3942(a)(1)).

So to sum up, the Office of the Legal Adviser has the opinion that the FAM’s disciplinary provisions do not apply to Ambassadors and other political appointees because they are not members of the Foreign Service or the Civil Service. “M” disagreed with that interpretation.  DGHR, an office reporting to “M” has the opinion that the FAM’s disciplinary provisions do/do apply to Schedule A and B appointees.  But note the careful wording in the DGHR’s response as he makes a distinction about Schedule C/political  appointees. He could have said straight up that the FAM applies to Schedule A, B, and C appointees, he did not.

So, there you have it, still as clear as mud?

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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 afsa@state.gov, or call (202) 647-8160.

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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 …

via tumblr.com

via tumblr.com

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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.

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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

3 FAM 3270 DANGER PAY ALLOWANCE (pdf)

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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.

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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.

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