Deputy Secretary of State Antony “Tony” Blinken meets with junior officers at the U.S. Embassy in London, United Kingdom, on March 4, 2015. To the left of the Deputy Secretary is Embassy London’s Deputy Chief of Mission Elizabeth Dibble. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]
Deputy Secretary of State Antony “Tony” Blinken speaks with junior officers at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France, on March 2, 2015. Also pictured to the left of the Deputy Secretary is Embassy Paris Deputy Chief of Mission Uzra Zeya. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]
Deputy Secretary of State Antony “Tony” Blinken, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea Mark Lippert, and Special Representative for North Korea Policy Sung Kim meet with junior officers at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, on February 9, 2015. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]
Another train ride gave me the chance to speak with more fantastic 1st and 2nd tour officers in Beijing & Tianjin. pic.twitter.com/BrMn034302
The “cost-of-living” allowance or COLA is officially called “post allowance” in the State Department. It is an allowance based on a percentage of “spendable income,” i.e. money you can really put your hands on to spend on goods and services. The allowance is calculated by comparing costs for goods and services in multiple categories – including food (consumed at home or in restaurants), tobacco/alcohol, clothing, personal care items, furnishings, household goods, medical services, recreation, public transportation, or vehicle-related expenses – to the cost of those same goods and services in Washington, D.C.
The State Department’s Office of Allowances determines a ratio between the average cost of goods and services at the foreign post to costs in Washington, D.C. It then evaluate expenditure patterns between the foreign location and Washington, D.C. to establish an overall cost index, which may be adjusted biweekly for exchange rate fluctuations. If the overall cost of goods and services at a foreign post, taking into account expenditure patterns, is at least 3% above the cost of the same goods and services in the Washington, D.C. area, the office establish a post allowance. See DSSR section 220 for more information.
According to state.gov, this allowance is a balancing factor designed to permit employees to spend the same portion of their basic compensation for current living as they would in Washington, D.C., without incurring a reduction in their standard of living because of higher costs of goods and services at the post. The amount varies depending on salary level and family size.
We put together a list of countries and posts with the highest State Department COLA rate as of January 2015. Posts in Europe (EUR), Africa (AF), East Asia Pacific (EAP) and the Western Hemisphere (WHA) are represented. No posts from South Central Asia (SCA) and Near East Asia (NEA) made it to this top list. The traditionally expected expensive posts like Tokyo, Vienna, Hong Kong, Sydney and Rome are all in the 35% COLA rate and are not included in this list (we chopped the list at 42%; representative posts in France at the 42% rate are included).
Note that we added a couple of columns for the cost of a McDonald’s meal (or equivalent) and cost of a regular cappuccino from numbeo.com, a crowdsourcing site for cost of goods and services around the world. For another snapshot on most expensive cities for expat employees, click here with data from the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Worldwide Cost of Living ranking (costs compared to NYC) and Mercer’s Cost of Living surveys from 2014.
DOS | Most Expensive Assignments in the World (February 8, 2015)
Corrected the spelling for Ediburgh. Also the Allowances Bi-Weekly Updates dated February 8, 2015 indicate several changes on the COLA table, so we updated it to reflect that newest data. Switzerland went from 90% to 100% in this latest update. Shanghai, Copenhagen, Auckland and Wellington went from 50% to 42% COLA posts. Helsinki, Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Versailles and Oslo were all downgraded from 42% to 35%, so we took them off this table. It is conceivable that the rankings in allowances will change again in a couple of weeks or in a few months. The bi-weekly updates are located here. The original list we did based on end of January data is located here.
“Why are we still downplaying the enormous health impact to officers and their families serving in China? Why are State MED officers saying ‘off the record’ that it is irresponsible to send anyone with children to China and yet no one will speak up via official channels?
Hello AFSA …. EAP …. HR… Anyone? And the band played on …. ”
Grim: A quarter of a million people in major cities could die prematurely because of China’s pollution http://t.co/TiHC4MDQEL
In FY2012, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) had an appropriation of $106.79 million available for expenditure. U.S. taxpayers fund the CRS, a “think tank” that provides reports and briefs to members of Congress on a variety of topics. However,there is no easily accessible depository for all these reports and U.S. citizens who want them have to request the reports from their member of congress.
On its annual report for FY2012, CRS indicated that it prepared 534 new reports, and 2,702 report updates. Some CRS reports are available through the Federation of American Scientists, the University of North Texas, and Open CRS. Also check out CRS on Open Congress; it includes links on the discussion of direct public access of these CRS reports. The reports made publicly available through the State Department are available below. We will routinely republish them here. Note that some documents are web-accessible but most are in pdf formats.
The video below was produced by the Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs in March 2014. Speakers include Max Baucus and his wife, Melodee Hanes.
“Former Senator from Montana, Max Baucus, returns to China as the U.S. ambassador with his wife, Melodee Hanes. While in China, the ambassador is very interested in working on a number of issues and seeing many different places. In this video he will tell you all about it. His wife will also tell you a little bit about the ambassador and just where you may find him running around – literally!”
Last year, they had a snake looking for food. (see USCG Hong Kong & Macau: Lunar New Year Greeting for Year of the Snake) This year, a different animal is up at the consulate — a horse, looking for a job. Consul General Clifford A. Hart, Jr., the staff of the U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong & Macau, and a “new Consulate employee” wish you a happy and healthy Year of the Horse in this new video:
The Shanghaiist gave this a thumbs down, calling it “weird” — “The U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau has released a ‘2014 Lunar New Year Greetings’ video, and something has gone catastrophically wrong. Remembering that there’s a woman hiding under the desk in each shot, with her hand crammed up a horse-sock, doesn’t exactly help.” It also called last year’s lunar greeting video, “freaking terrifying.” The Shanghaiist is one of China’s most popular English-language blog/portals, founded by American writer Dan Washburn in 2005.
USCG HK’s lunar video, published last week has been eyeballed 69,577 as of this writing. That’s more than the views of its lunar video greetings from 2013, 2012, and 2011 combined. The use of Cantonese seems appreciated by the locals, “[Y]ou speaks Cantonese in this video that means you and your team are respect to HK people and the local culture…” A majority of commenters appear to give it a thumbs up, despite being well, weird. But then, someone pleaded, “Please bring the US army here to eliminate the locusts coming from China.” We thought, locusts, what locusts? It turns out in Hong Kong, “locust” is a derogatory term for immigrants and tourists from China. The anti-China sentiment is playing out in the comments section of USCG HK’s page.
In December last year, Hindustan Times reported on how air and water pollution plagued Indian cities:
One in three people in India live in critically-polluted areas that have noxious levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and lung-clogging particulate matter larger than 10 micron (PM10) in size. Of the 180 cities monitored by India’s Central Pollution Control Board in 2012, only two — Malapuram and Pathanamthitta in Kerala — meet the criteria of low air pollution (50% below the standard).
The NYT also reported in February last year that “The thick haze of outdoor air pollution common in India today is the nation’s fifth-largest killer.”
NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response Photo from January 11, 2013 (click on image to read more)
The State/OIG report from 2011 says that the health environment for US Embassy employees in India is “challenging, punctuated by frequent respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses.” That’s putting it mildly. Reports about the air pollution in India is nothing new but has not been as widely reported as the “fog” in China. That’s probably because we have @BeijingAir monitoring crazy bad air in China and no @DelhiAir to report on India’s bad air. NYT reported this week that “The United States does not release similar readings from its New Delhi Embassy, saying the Indian government releases its own figures.” Click here to see NYT’s follow-up report why.
The Times of India notes that “Lately, a very bad air day in Beijing is about an average one in New Delhi” and cites disturbing comparative numbers between the two cities:
Clean Air Asia, an advocacy group, found that another common measure of pollution known as PM10, for particulate matter less than 10 micrometers in diameter, averaged 117 in Beijing in a six-month period in 2011. In New Delhi, the Center for Science and Environment used government data and found that an average measure of PM10 in 2011 was 281, nearly two-and-a-half times higher.
Of course, FS folks have been living and hearing about this for years. Haven’t you heard — “If you have asthma or other breathing issues, think long and hard before committing to New Delhi?” Last year, an FS member said, “Very unhealthy, especially for young children, during winter when dung, garbage, and everything else is burnt for warmth, and smog traps it within Delhi.” In 2010, somebody assigned to New Delhi warned that “Asthma and skin disorders are on the rise.”
We understand that you don’t get to see the blue sky for a couple of months. In 2011, somebody called it, “the worst in the world.”
This past weekend, Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network released its 2014 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland. The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranks how well countries perform on high-priority environmental issues in two broad policy areas: protection of human health from environmental harm and protection of ecosystems.
The announcement made special mention of improvement in India’s overall performance but cites dramatic declines on air quality. The announcement notes that “India’s air quality is among the worst in the world, tying China in terms of the proportion of the population exposed to average air pollution levels exceeding World Health Organization thresholds.
India ranks 155th out of 178 countries in its efforts to address environmental challenges, according to the 2014 Environmental Performance Index (EPI). India performs the worst among other emerging economies including, China, which ranks 118th, Brazil, at 77th, Russia, at 73rd, and South Africa at 72nd.
In particular, India’s air quality is among the worst in the world, tying China in terms of the proportion of the population exposed to average air pollution levels exceeding World Health Organization thresholds.
“Although India is an ‘emerging market’ alongside China, Brazil, Russia, and South Africa, its environment severely lags behind these others,” said Angel Hsu of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and lead author of the report.“ Very low GDP per capita coupled with the second highest population in the world means India’s environmental challenge is more formidable than that faced by other emerging economies.”
This is not a health hazard that just showed up yesterday. So we were surprised to hear that at a town hall meeting at Embassy New Delhi, a medical professional reportedly said that none of the government issued embassy purifiers at the mission do the fine particles.
Wait, the US Embassy in New Delhi issued air purifiers that do not work for the finest particles — the particles that do the most damage?
How did that happen?
Some folks apparently are now buying their own air purifiers. A mission member reportedly spent $1600 for purifiers to allow a breath of clean air inside the house.
Dear US Embassy India, we would have liked an official comment, but your public affairs ninja ignores email inquiries. Call me, maybe — we’d like to know which smart dolt spent all that money for decorative air purifiers.
On a related note, early this month, China Daily reported that in December last year, the US Embassy in Beijing ordered 2,000 air purifiers for its employees in the country from Blueair, a Swedish manufacturer:
The cheapest model from Blueair, the Blueair 203, costs 3,590 yuan ($591) from Torana Clean Air, Blueair’s official seller in Beijing, while it sells for $329 on the Best Buy and Amazon websites in the US. The order placed for air purifiers by the US embassy was handled by the Swedish company’s American supplier, and the unit price was not disclosed.
We don’t know what types of purifiers were issued at US Embassy India. Popular brands like Blueair, Panasonic, Daikin, Sharp, Yadu, Honeywell are compared here as used in China via myhealthbeijing. There is also a review of air purifiers by the Consumer Reportthat should be worth looking into; the report is only available to subscribers. Or check with MED which should have this information available.
* * *
Updated 1/31 12:25PM PST for clarity and additional links.