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 …




Republicans got mad, mad, mad about danger pay, local guards, violence; calls for closures of consulates in Mexico

Posted: 3:37 am EDT



Gregory Starr, State’s assistant secretary at the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, said in towns like Nuevo Laredo, Mexico — which borders Laredo, Texas — danger pay is not warranted. While U.S. federal employees are prohibited from leaving consulate grounds in the town that recently did away with its local police force, Starr said the workers can easily “walk across the border and be in a Walmart or a Dairy Queen.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the committee’s chairman, said that convenience would do little to appease family members of Foreign Service officers stationed in the town.

“Shame on you for saying that,” Chaffetz said. “It’s so dangerous they can’t even go outside.” He added employees facing decreased pay should not blame Republicans or funding shortfalls: “You can look at the Obama administration.”

Chaffetz said the cuts were “not useful” and would damage morale, noting the problem fell with State’s management. Starr maintained the department was “not having trouble staffing” the positions in the Mexican towns, and noted employees in some areas of the country would receive a pay bump.

Danger pay is generally used for areas with “civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism or wartime conditions which threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well-being of an employee,” according to federal statute.

There are about 2,800 State employees in Mexico, but the number involved in areas with crime is “minimal,” according to the department’s Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Sue Saarino. She said in some areas employees are told to stay off the street at night, but “we think it’s manageable.”

The HOGR Hearing: Violence on the Border, Keeping U.S. Personnel Safe was held on September 9.

The video is here, if you have the interest to watch it:

Back in February, we blogged about the expected changes in danger pay (see Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay). We were under the impression that congressional interest was driving these changes.

Danger Pay

During the hearing, we learned that the State Department has indeed changed its danger and hardship pay incentives. The example cited during the hearing is Matamoros which reportedly gets a 5% bump in danger pay, with Tijuana and Nueno Laredo seeing a reduction of 5% respectively.  DS Starr said that Nuevo Laredo is more safe now than it has been and that the violence in the Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo are not directed at our people. Also those assigned in Mexico can cross into the United States, whereas those assigned in Mali or Chad, for instance, do not have that option.

In fact, according to the State Department’s Allowances Office, only Ciudad Juarez has been able to keep its danger pay differential, currently at 15% as of the September 6 update.  When we last posted about this in February, Nogales was at 10%, Matamoros and Tijuana were at 15% and Nuevo Laredo and Monterrey were at 20%.  With the exception of Ciudad Juaraez, all have lost their danger pay differential.  The representative from WHA says that the staff knew what they were getting into, knew the dangers, and that the allowances can change anytime.

Staffing MX posts

DS says that the incentives are generally reviewed once a year, and that State has had no problem staffing the Mexican posts.  Is that true? Of course, he did not say that part of the reason there is no problem with staffing the Mexican posts is that most jobs there are filled by entry level officers whose assignments are “directed” by State. They do not have the option to decline those assignments. How about the mid-level and senior staffing, any gaps there? How many excursion tours  are offered to Civil Servants to fill those gaps?

Security and Local Guards

DS A/S Starr in response to a query also admitted that there were six times more security incidents in Matamoros in February than the previous month.

Mr. Chaffetz railed that State is talking about training the police force but that there is no police force in Nuevo Laredo.  DS acknowledged that the local police is not functioning but that it cooperates with federal and state authorities in Mexico.

The same congressman was not happy that the local guards are only paid $316/month. DS explained that this is the prevailing wage. The congressman still wasn’t happy. We get the sense that if those local guards were paid 3x the Mexican prevailing wage, the congressman would be railing that the guards are overpaid. This has an easy fix, of course. One, Congress could allow the State Department to issue the local guard contracts base on best value instead of lowest price. That means the guards protecting our U.S. mission overseas are paid good wages not based on the lowest price the contractors can get away with.  Or, if that’s not acceptable, Congress could fund U.S. citizen private security guards to protect all our 275 missions overseas. But that won’t come cheap and we suspect Congress would  not be up for that.

Close the Consulates

Another congressman, Mr. Mica, called for closing all our consulates in Mexico.  We laughed out loud watching the video. No one else laughed.

“There has to be consequences. How many consulates do we have? I count about nine in Mexico. Is that right? I think we should close every one of those consulates immediately. Put the properties up for sale,” Mica said. “I think you have to have consequences for actions. The place is out of control.”

Mr. Cartwright picked-up Mr. Mica’s idea and asked the DHS/CBP and AFGE representatives how would closure of these consulates cut down the violence.  The witnesses were restrained in their response.

Travel Warnings

Mr. Hurd, the former undercover CIA officer who is now representing Texas’s 23rd congressional district complained that Mexico is treated like one place and it’s not. He said that 80% of violence occurs in 20% of the country and wanted to see the Travel Warning reflective of that. Mr. Hurd did talk a lot but he is probably the only one in that panel who previously served with members of the Foreign Service overseas.

I got as far as Mr. Hurd, then I finally had to give up. Did I miss a lot?

Our congressional representatives appeared to be easily distracted and jumped from one topic to the next. In most cases, they seemed to enjoy hearing themselves talk rather than listen to their witnesses. Which makes me wonder if they were really interested in the answers … why bother with hearings if minds are already made up?


Burn Bag: A weekend on lockdown, whataboutyou?

Posted: 12:01 pm  EDT

Via Burn Bag:

While the Danger Pay Working Group contemplates denying Danger Pay to Mexico border posts, consulate staff in Guadalajara spent the weekend on lockdown and the narco violence related security incidents in Matamoros have gone up fourfold.

Screen Shot 2015-05-05


Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay

 Posted: 15:15 EST


No, the world is not getting less dangerous but according to our sources, the State Department is eyeing changes in danger pay that could result in the loss of danger pay for a number of posts worldwide.

A group inside the State Department called the Danger Pay Working Group reportedly noted that the current practice of awarding Danger Pay has “veered from the original legislative language” which narrowly awards the additional compensation for a few extreme circumstances such as active civil unrest and war. Under the proposed changes, the definition of Danger Pay would reportedly revert to — you guess it, “the original legislative language”  which would result in a probable loss of Danger Pay for a number of posts worldwide.

The State Department is also revising its Hardship Differential Pay. The idea appears to involve moving some of the factors which previously resulted in Danger Pay into the Hardship calculation.  The number crunchers estimate that this may not result in equivalent levels of pay but apparently, the hope is “to compensate employees to some degree for these factors.”


Let’s back up a bit here — the Danger Pay allowance is the additional compensation of up to 35 percent over basic compensation granted to employees (Section 031 and 040i) for service at designated danger pay posts, pursuant to Section 5928, Title 5, United States Code (Section 2311, Foreign Service Act of 1980).

Here is the full language of 5 U.S. Code § 5928 (via Cornell Law)

An employee serving in a foreign area may be granted a danger pay allowance on the basis of civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism, or wartime conditions which threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well-being of the employee. A danger pay allowance may not exceed 35 percent of the basic pay of the employee, except that if an employee is granted an additional differential under section 5925 (b) of this title with respect to an assignment, the sum of that additional differential and any danger pay allowance granted to the employee with respect to that assignment may not exceed 35 percent of the basic pay of the employee. The presence of nonessential personnel or dependents shall not preclude payment of an allowance under this section. In each instance where an allowance under this section is initiated or terminated, the Secretary of State shall inform the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate of the action taken and the circumstances justifying it.  [Section effective Feb. 15, 1981, except as otherwise provided, see section 2403 of Pub. L. 96–465, set out as a note under section 3901 of Title 22, Foreign Relations and Intercourse].

In 1983—Pub. L. 98–164 inserted provision that presence of nonessential personnel or dependents shall not preclude payment of an allowance under this section, and that each instance where an allowance under this section is initiated or terminated, the Secretary of State shall inform the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate of action taken and circumstances justifying it.

In 1984 — Pub. L. 98–533, title III, § 304,Oct. 19, 1984, 98 Stat. 2711, provided that: “In recognition of the current epidemic of worldwide terrorist activity and the courage and sacrifice of employees of United States agencies overseas, civilian as well as military, it is the sense of Congress that the provisions of section 5928 of title 5, United States Code, relating to the payment of danger pay allowance, should be more extensively utilized at United States missions abroad.”

We note that specific provision added in 1983 but it appears that in 2005, the State Department amended the Foreign Affairs Manual (3 FAM 3275-pdf) to say this:

Danger pay may be authorized at posts where civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism, or wartime conditions threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well being of employees. It will normally be granted at posts where the evacuation of family members and/or nonessential personnel has been authorized or ordered, or at posts at which family members are not permitted.

The Global Terrorism Database indicates that there were 3,421 terrorist incidents in 1984, the year when Congress recognized that danger pay allowance should be more extensively utilized at U.S. missions overseas. The same database indicates that there were 11,952 terrorist incidents in 2013. Hard to argue that the world has become less dangerous in the intervening years.

Below is a list of posts with danger pay based on the latest data from the State Department or see snapshot here:

DOS | Top Danger Post Assignments | Feb 2015

DOS | Top Danger Post Assignments | Feb 2015 (click on image for larger view)


Post Hardship Differential, Danger Pay, 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.


Continue reading

Snapshot: The State Department’s Danger Pay Locations (as of February 2015)

 Posted: 11:53 EST


Danger pay allowance is authorized for service in foreign areas where there exist conditions of civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism, or wartime conditions that threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well being of an employee. To establish danger pay, a post must submit the danger pay factors form (DS578, see pdf) that enumerates specific conditions that justify danger pay. Allowances specialists who prepare assessments that assign points using a standard methodology then review the forms. A Danger Pay Working Group is responsible for reviewing danger pay factors forms to ascertain whether conditions exist to justify payment of the danger pay allowance.

As of this month, a total of 26 countries with 45 posts are eligible to receive danger pay allowance according to the publicly available data from the State Department’s Office of Allowances. We only have a virtual presence post in Somalia, and embassy operations in Damascus, Tripoli and Sana’a have all been temporarily suspended as of this writing.  Note that “other” indicate locations within specific countries not specifically identified, e.g. Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan. (Learn more, see DSSR 650).

DOS | Top Danger Post Assignments | Feb 2015

DOS | Top Danger Post Assignments | Feb 2015



US Mission Iraq: War Over, Danger Pay and Hardship Pay Go Down, Oh, But It’s Confusing

According to the State Department’s allowances website, all State Department posts in Iraq have been designated 35% danger pay and 35% post (hardship) differential pay posts.  The US mission in Iraq designation at the top 35% danger/35% hardship pay bracket has been in effect since March 5, 2006.  All of 2004 and 2005 it was at 25%/25%.  All of 2003, it was between 20%-25%.

We recently learned that the State Department has nudged four Iraq regions down for both danger and hardship pay:

Danger/Hardship Pay, February 2012

Danger/Hardship Pay, February 2012

Our understanding is that these new rates are now in effect but the Allowances website has yet to catch up.  This would be the first time in almost 7 years that US Mission Iraq is not at the top danger/hardship differential bracket.  This would also leave just the posts in two countries at the top danger rate bracket of 35%, one officially a war zone, while the other is not:

  •  Afghanistan: Kabul, Others
  •  Pakistan: Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Rawalpindi (except Quetta which remains at 25%)

The State Department’s Office of Allowances does say on its website that “since conditions at Danger Pay posts are reviewed periodically to ensure that the Danger Pay continues only during the existence of conditions justifying such payment, it is possible for the Danger Pay designation to be removed or modified at any time.”

The when of that is what is curious.

We have previously blogged about the perplexities with State’s danger pay designation (see Where dangerous conditions are not/not created equal … and  State Dept’s New High Threat Posts Are Not All Danger Posts).

Below is a table of Iraq casualties between 2003-2012

Iraq Body Count (2003-2012)

Iraq Body Count (2003-2012)

Danger Pay Rate

2003   3004  2005   2006   2007   2008   2009   2010   2011   2012

20%     25%     25%     35%     35%       35%     35%     35%      35%     35%

We understand that State has its own danger pay factors and since we have no access to that, we’ll have to make do with publicly available information on just how dangerous Iraq was since 2003 based on casualties.  Note that when casualties in Iraq started going up in 2003, the danger pay rate was between 20-25%.  It remained at 25% the entire year of 2005.  It went up to the maximum rate of 35% in March 2006 and remained at the top bracket until this year. The U.S. military pulled out of Iraq in December 2011.  The casualties that year and 2012 remained above 4,000 but below the 12,000 casualties at the beginning of the war. The danger rate stayed at 35%.

Screen Shot 2013-02-24

While the casualties have gone down, the country remains dangerous.  Here is what the embassy’s  2012 Crime and Security Report had to say about Iraq:

Iraq is rated as a critical threat for terrorism and political violence by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Despite the general decline in terrorist-related violence, the security situation in Iraq remains fluid. In December 2011, U.S. forces completely withdrew from Iraq. Terrorists and insurgent groups continue to conduct large-scale, lethal attacks that often target personnel and facilities associated with both American organizations and the Government of Iraq.  Insurgents also continue to carry out effective small-scale attacks throughout Iraq that cause fewer casualties but hinder free movement and influence public opinion regarding safety and security.
While total attacks against U.S. personnel have decreased over the last three months, the threat of kidnapping, rocket attack, and small arms fire against U.S. interests in Iraq remains high and subject to flux based on domestic political, regional, and international developments.
Since the U.S. military has withdrawn from Iraq, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Iraq have an extremely limited ability to assist Americans in the event of an emergency. Many services which many existed in the past, such as U.S. military-provided medevacs, transportation, convoy support, lodging, Quick Reaction Forces response to incidents, and monitoring of Personnel Security Details, are not generally available via the U.S. Embassy or Consulates.

In August 2012 IRIN/UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had this to say about the situation in Iraq:

Assessments of security trends in Iraq vary wildly depending on who you speak to, how you count the statistics, and which period of time you study. But one thing is clear: bomb blasts, targeted killings or improvised explosive devices are still a daily occurrence in Iraq.

Last week’s coordinated attacks – leaving more than 100 people dead – set a record for the highest number of deaths in a single day in more than two years, displaying the continued ability of insurgent groups to strike. A double bombing in the capital yesterday brought July’s death toll to 245, according to a count by Associated Press.

While the US and the Iraqi government insist that security gains have been made in recent years, UN and independent analysts characterize the situation as having stabilized at an unacceptably high level of violence, albeit now concentrated in more specific areas.

One might argue that the departure of the U.S. military has made working in Iraq more challenging, thus justifying keeping the mission at 35% in 2011 and 2012. But the U.S. military has not returned to Iraq in 2013, so what has changed to merit bumping down the rates?

Is the reason the danger rate is a notch lower due to improved security? Really?  Or is this due to the looming sequestration? Whatever it is, it is muddy as heck.

Here is another interesting example — Yemen.

The US Embassy in Sana’a was a 20% danger post in 2006,  2007 and part of 2008.  On September 17, 2008, the embassy was attacked which resulted in 19 deaths and 16 injuries.  According to Wikipedia, six attackers, six Yemeni police and seven civilians were killed.   On October 26, 2008, the embassy’s danger rate went up to 30% where it remained to-date.

We understand that until last year, embassy personnel were driving their own vehicles, traveling around the country, taking taxis, and living in their own apartments.  For security reasons, they now  live in the old Sheraton Hotel Sanaa (apparently also known as the New Green Zone Sanaa) which has been leased by the US Embassy reportedly until January 2018.  The staff is not allowed to travel anywhere with one exception and only with armored vehicles.  Of course, the embassy lost a good number of its armored vehicles during the mob attack.  Unlike the US Embassy Tunisia where there were publicly available photographic evidence of the damages, the US Embassy Sanaa reportedly kept a tight lid on photos of the embassy damages in the aftermath of the attack.  For what reason, we do not know.  Perhaps they did not want to upset the host country?  In the meantime, the U.S. ambassador and American soldiers at post have a bounty on their heads until June 2013 (see US Embassy Yemen: AQAP Offers Gold Bounty for Ambassador Feierstein). And the danger rate remains at 30%.

Can somebody please grab the tail on what’s going on here? People need to understand the whys of this process. Whether they volunteered or were voluntold, they deserve a good explanation. C’mon guys, don’t make this rocket science.

Also we’re hearing that the priority bidding season for Afghanistan/Iraq/Pakistan or AIP is about to expand to include Libya and Yemen. One of our blog sources wondered out loud if the new bidding season might be called iPLAY.


State Dept’s New High Threat Posts Are Not All Danger Posts

We posted yesterday about a brand new office within Diplomatic Security with a new Deputy Assistant Secretary responsible for “evaluating, managing, and mitigating the security threats, as well as the direction of resource requirements at high threat diplomatic missions.”

The news report from the National Review dated Nov 30 listed the 17 high threat missions as the diplomatic facilities in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Libya, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen. The list of posts includes Syria but not Algeria. It also includes Nigeria, not Niger.  The more recent CBS News report dated December 8 includes 17 diplomatic missions with Algeria, but not Syria; and Niger not Nigeria. The same CBS report cited a senior State Department official saying that “no congressional approval was required for the bureaucratic shift and no new funds were involved.”

We were curious how these new list of high threat posts square with posts currently receiving danger pay designation. Danger pay is additional compensation given to State employees above basic compensation for service at designated danger pay posts “where civil insurrection, terrorism, or war conditions threaten physical harm or imminent danger to all U.S. Government civilian employees.”

As of December 2, six of the 17 reported new high threat posts have zero danger pay: Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Kenya, Mauritania, Niger.  We’re listing Niger below since that’s from the later report dated December 8. If the list does include Nigeria as mentioned in the National Review report, then that’s the only mission on the list designated at 10% danger pay.

Hi-Threat Posts -

Data extracted from

Also several posts with comparable danger pay are not on this reported high threat list.

Syria is a 25% danger post. It is not on the list presumably since the U.S. Embassy in Damascus suspended its operations in February 2012.

Algiers, which is on one list but not the other is a 15% danger post with posts outside the capital city designated at 25%.

Lebanon is a 20% danger post as well as a Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo, both in Mexico. The West Bank in Jerusalem and Karmi’el in Israel both also get 20% danger pay.

Other posts designated danger pay posts at the 5, 10, 15% differential level are listed here.

The question we have is — if these 17 posts are considered high threat missions, how come six of these missions are not even designated danger pay posts?

Is it possible to be a high threat mission and not be a dangerous mission? How does that work?

On the other hand, how is it that 20% danger posts in Lebanon, Mexico, Jerusalem and Israel are not included on this high threat list?

And while Jordan, a 15% danger pay post made it to the high threat list, there are a good number of 15% danger posts that did not make the list. For instance, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, a couple posts in Mexico and several posts in Africa.

What then are the basis for the high threat designation?  Are there secret factors not identified in the Danger Pay Factors Form (FS-578) that are required prior to the high threat designation?   Are these two totally unrelated? And if they are, does that make sense?

domani spero sig

Updated 8:06 PST:  Added distinction between Niger and Nigeria from the available reports.