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#ThrowbackThursday: Secretary of State Holds Town Hall With @StateDept Employees

Posted: 1:36 pm ET

The photograph below was taken on May 30, 2013, about four months into Secretary John Kerry’s tenure as the 68th Secretary of State.  Secretary Rex Tillerson assumed office on February 1, 2017 as the 69th Secretary of State. So we’re going to start our watch on when Secretary Tillerson will actually hold his first town hall and answer questions from his demoralized employees. Or is that though terrifying to Mr. Tillerson’s handlers?

Via state.gov:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry responds to a question from a Department employee during a town hall meeting at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 30, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

 Meanwhile, the current Secretary of State apparently has big plans for the State Department but his employees first learned about it from the New York Times instead of hearing it directly from their new boss.  Now we’re hearing that a wave of consultants have descended down USS Foggy Bottom to map out eeeeeverything!

“The first step was to find out where the Titanic was, and then it was to map out where everything else is,” Mr. Hammond said, likening the department’s organizational structure to a sunken ocean liner and its seabed surroundings. “I think we’re still in the process of mapping out the entire ocean floor so that we understand the full picture.” 

 

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US Embassy Kenya’s Local Guards Stage a Demonstration Over “Poor Pay”

Posted: 2:21 am ET

 

Kenya’s local media reports that a couple hundred local guards contracted to guard the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya staged a demonstration on Thursday over “poor pay.”  The guards citing the high cost of living in the country reportedly refused to go home after their night duty and demanded that the Aegis/KK Security Kenya’s East Africa Managing Director Nick Arnold address their grievances. Capita FM News said that the guards are asking for a pay increase from their current basic salary of Sh17,000 to Sh38,000 (about $164 to $367 in online forex converter) which they say has not been reviewed for more than a decade.

We understand that the local guard force has between 900-1000 members, and that this dispute has been going on since last month. This contract #SAQMMA17C0012 for a local guard program at US Embassy Nairobi is valued at KES3,837,264,329.27 (or $37M USD) and was awarded on November 23, 2016 to Aegis-KK Security.

The Contractor shall provide the organizational structure, management, and qualified staff at levels adequate to meet or exceed the requirement contained in the Performance Work Statement. The Contractor shall be required to provide services in a manner that prevent loss or injury to U.S. personnel, dependents, property; destruction of assets; to prevent unauthorized access; and deter potential terrorist attacks. Anticipated period of performance is one base year and four one-year options (to be exercised at the sole discretion of the Government).

We should add that in 2016, Canadian security firm GardaWorld International acquired African based KK Security, and incorporated it into its global network. Via Business Daily Africa:

GardaWorld has appointed Nick Arnold as the MD for East Africa. He brings over 20 years experience in Africa and wider Emerging Markets and has held senior management positions in the security industry.  Mr Arnold said GardaWorld’s seeks to grow presence in Africa by extending “our world-class security and protective services to international clients with growing presence on the continent.”

GovConWire notes that Aegis holds positions on DoD’s Reconstruction Security Support Services and the State Department’s potential $10 billion Worldwide Protective Services contract vehicles.

We asked the State Department about the reported new contract with Aegis/Garda, as we were told that the guards think the salary offered them are “peanuts.” We requested the DS bureau for comment and asked what the bureau is doing to ensure security for the mission during the ongoing dispute.

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security politely acknowledged our inquiry but later responded with “Thank you for your query. We are unable to offer any additional comments on this.‎”

This is not the first time that the guards have staged a demonstration or threatened to strike over pay.

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Foggy Bottom Rambles: Remaining resilient in the face of uncertainty

Posted: 1:06 am ET

The following is from the Center of Excellence in Foreign Affairs Resilience posted on the Foggy Bottom Rambles, the blog for unaccompanied tours (UT) employees and family members:

These are uncertain times for foreign affairs professionals. Much of our foreign policy is unclear or changing dramatically. There is a hiring freeze across the federal government impacting family member employment and making it harder to get the job done in understaffed offices and overseas posts. We face potentially severe budget cuts. The more resilient we are, the easier it is to be flexible and adaptable in times of uncertainty and stress. We are more likely to collaborate with others to find innovative solutions to the problems uncertainty brings to the workplace. This is why it is critically important to focus on building or maintaining high resilience during these uncertain times. Here are some tips on how you can enhance your resilience during this challenging period.

The Man and the Expanding Universe Fountain, by Marshall Fredericks, inside the South Court of the Department of State Headquarters (Harry S. Truman Building), Washington, D.C. (Photo by G0T0, Wikimedia Commons)

Take care of yourself: Prioritize taking care of yourself and carve out time on your calendar for recovery, whether it’s taking a 10 minute walk every afternoon, joining friends for lunch, or cooking yourself a healthy meal after work. Resist the temptation to just work longer and harder since this will actually reduce productivity in the long run. Minimize alcohol and ensure you get 7-8 hours of sleep.

Focus on what you can control: Identify what you can control, influence, and not control. Use active problem solving to take more control over important issues. For example, if you feel like you cannot control your work load, practice saying no and setting boundaries to give yourself more control. Develop strategies to influence issues that are important to you and try to stop thinking about concerns outside of your control.

Maintain meaning and purpose: Remind yourself why you work in foreign affairs and explore what you need to stay passionate and committed to the work you do. Look for meaning and purpose outside of work through volunteerism, hobbies, family, and spirituality. Explore your alternatives if you no longer find meaning and purpose at work.

Practice reframing: Look for the positive aspects of challenges you face. If your budget is cut, what are the potential positive outcomes? If you have fewer staff, how can you turn this challenge into an opportunity?

Seek social support: One of the most important ways we enhance our resilience is to spend time with other people. Invite colleagues to lunch and commit to spending more time with family and friends.

Laugh: Watch more funny movies and television shows, listen to funny podcasts, spend more time with friends and colleagues who make you laugh.

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Trump Administration Plans @StateDept-@USAID Merger and Deep Program Cuts

Posted: 2:49 am ET

 

The FP exclusive says that the Trump administration is planning to merge USAID into the State Department, and imposed deep cuts on USAID programs.  Apparently, senior USAID officials have “told staff that the agency is attempting to cope with the steep cuts by prioritizing its field offices abroad over its offices in Washington. Nonetheless, the agency still anticipates that the budget proposal will necessitate eliminating 30 to 35 of its field missions while cutting its regional bureaus by roughly 65 percent. USAID currently operates in about 100 countries.” Also this:

“That will end the technical expertise of USAID, and in my view, it will be an unmitigated disaster for the longer term,” said Andrew Natsios, the former USAID Administrator under President George W. Bush. “I predict we will pay the price. We will pay the price for the poorly thought out and ill-considered organization changes that we’re making, and cuts in spending as well.”

The article talks about reorganization but does not talk about a reduction in force, which we think is inevitable if this budget is approved.  If this administration slashes in half or eliminate entire USAID programs, what is there left to do for staffers?  In the 1990’s when State and USAID went through similar cuts, USAID lost about 2,000 jobs. By 1996, WaPo reported that USAID’s overall work force “has been reduced from 11,500 to 8,700 and is heading down to 8,000.” The number did not include a breakdown but we are presuming that this overall number included local employees overseas. See The Last Time @StateDept Had a 27% Budget Cut, Congress Killed ACDA and USIA.

A white paper submitted to the then Obama-Biden Transition in 2008 noted the staffing woes with USAID:

The number of employees at USAID has dropped from 4,300 in 1975, to 3,600 in 1985, to 3,000 in 1995. As of September 2007, USAID was staffed with 2,417 direct hire staff (1,324 foreign service officers and 1,093 civil servants) and 908 staff with limited appointments (628 personal services contractors and 280 Pasas, Rasas, and others). In addition, the agency employed 4,557 Foreign Service nationals at missions overseas. While staffing levels have declined, program responsibility has increased from approximately $8 billion in 1995 to approximately $13 billion in 2007 (in 2005 dollars). USAID has set a target of a contracting officer managing a range of $10-14 million per year, but the current level is at an average of $57 million.

There are inadequate numbers of experienced career officers; as a result, management oversight of programs is at risk. Fifty percent of Foreign Service officers were hired in the last 7 years. One hundred percent of Senior Foreign Service officers will be eligible to retire in 2009. Of 12 Career Ministers, six will reach the mandatory retirement age of 65 in 2010. Mid-career Foreign Service officers in their mid-40s have less than 12 years of service. Until 2007, 70-80 members of the Foreign Service would leave the service annually, 85% for retirement; that rate has fallen to 45-55%. Of 122 new hires in 2007, only 10% were experienced mid-career hires.
[…]
DOD maintains a 10% float (for training and placing staff in other agencies and organizations). AID has float of 1⁄2 of a percent, little training, and is unable to take opportunities for placing staff in other agencies and organizations.

In 2016, the USAID workforce composition is as follows:

[T]he Agency’s mission was supported by 3,893 U.S. direct hire employees, of which 1,896 are Foreign Service Officers and 253 are Foreign Service Limited, and 1,744 are in the Civil Service. Additional support came from 4,600 Foreign Service Nationals, and 1,104 other non-direct hire employees (not counting institutional support contractors). Of these employees, 3,163 are based in Washington, D.C., and 6,434 are deployed overseas. These totals include employees from the Office of Inspector General.*

Folding USAID into State would most likely require congressional approval, but the work to get there is most probably already underway.  When USIA was folded into State, a new PD cone was created; does this mean a Development cone will soon be added to the Foreign Service career tracks?  Will the USAID development professionals move to State or will they find they find their way elsewhere?  The already stressful transfer season this summer just got tons harder.

Also see Former Director of Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) Jeremy Konyndyk Twitter thread below on why this is such a short-sighted idea.

FY18 Budget Control Levels via Adam Griffiths, Foreign Policy:

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How are you dealing with Foggy Bottom’s bad jujus?

Posted: 2:45 am ET

 

How are you dealing with the bad vibes, and negative energy in the Foggiest Bottom these days?  We don’t care what a billionaire says, but health is wealth, so guard it fiercely and faithfully. Will the Deployment Stress Management Program soon include employees on domestic assignments? That is, until that gets gutted, too.  Sigh! If you have coping strategies you want to share, contact us via our Foggy Bottom nightingale line.

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@StateDept’s Canned Article on Mar-a-Lago Roils Twitter, Hold On to Your Hats!

Posted: 6:55 pm ET

 

The State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs runs ShareAmerica, the agency’s platform “for sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics like democracy, freedom of expression, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, and the role of civil society.”  It provides content for U.S. embassies and consulates in “more than 140 countries to engage with people around the globe on U.S. foreign policy and American society.”

One of its recent canned articles is Mar-a-Lago: The winter White House written by Leigh Hartman and posted on the Share America website on April 4, 2017. The writer has also penned other pieces like Trump holds first meeting with China’s XiWatch Trump’s grandchildren sing for China’s Xi First lady honors courageous women from around the worldArab-American women: Making their mark and sharing their storiesNew coin honors Frederick Douglass and about the New York restaurant named best in the world.

U.S. embassies and consulates overseas do not hire writers for their websites, and do not have the people nor the money to generate their own content.  Share America’s writers generate the canned content that can be shared through the embassies/consulates social media platforms. That’s what happened when the US Embassy in London used the  Mar-a-Lago: The winter White House article on its website.  As can be expected, Embassy London is not the only website that carries the article on its website.

Moira Whelan, the former Deputy Secretary of State for Public Affairs took to Twitter to explain that “Share America is meant to explain America to the world. A group of staff writers explain Americana to the world.” She writes that “In a large office the staff are trusted to make decisions and I can see how “let’s tell the backstory of Mar-a-lago” seemed like a good idea.” She added that “It was an error in judgement, but the White House has done much more to create this as “normal” than one writer at .” She urged that attention is important “but more important is not to assign malicious intent to what may just be an error.”

One reporter said on Twitter that “the State Dept. spokesman says he doesn’t know why the State Dept. posted this about Trump’s for-profit business.”  Yes, because that spokesman works at the Bureau of Public Affairs (PA), while the content creators for Share America work for the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP), the foreign public facing arm of the State Department.  The Share America articles are intended for a foreign audience.

I called the piece a “snafu” but corrected myself, maybe poor choice. Given the controversies surrounding Mar-a-Lago, this is probably not the best pick for shared content particularly since the article is also available for domestic consumption. But the writer/s probably also did not think through the political angle and the domestic audience.  Since IIP’s role is to explain America to the world, perhaps  can write a follow-up post explaining this controversy in our current environment.

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Shortly after this post went up, we saw this:

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Heather Nauert: From Fox News Channel to State Department Spokesperson


Posted: 2:26 pm ET

 

Today, the State Department announced the appointment of Heather Nauert (@HeatherNauert) as the new State Department Spokesperson. This job does not require Senate confirmation, and appears to be, once more, separate from the Assistant Secretary (A/S) position that heads the Bureau of Public Affairs. Previous assistant secretaries who were also the official spokespersons for the State Department includes Richard A. Boucher (2001–2005), Sean McCormack (2005–2009), Philip J. Crowley (2009–2011) and most recently, Admiral John F. Kirby (2015-2017). Previous assistant secretaries Michael A. Hammer (2012–2013) and Douglas Frantz (2013–2015) did not function as official spokespersons during their tenures as Assistant Secretaries for Public Affairs.  Career diplomat Toria Nuland was spokesperson from 2011-2013 during the Hammer tenure, and Frantz’ tenure from 2013-2015 brought us  Jen Psaki and Marie Harf.

The State Department released the following statement on Ms. Nauert’s appointment:

The Department of State is pleased to welcome Heather Nauert as the new State Department Spokesperson. Nauert comes to the Department with more than 15 years of experience as an anchor and correspondent covering both foreign and domestic news and events, including the 9-11 terror attacks, the war in Iraq, and the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. Heather’s media experience and long interest in international affairs will be invaluable as she conveys the Administration’s foreign policy priorities to the American people and the world.

Prior to joining the State Department, Nauert was a New York-based Fox News Channel anchor and correspondent. On the top-rated morning cable news show, “Fox and Friends,” she was responsible for reporting breaking news. In addition, she regularly solo and co-anchored programs on Fox News and contributed to every news platform, including radio, satellite radio and internet.

Nauert joined Fox after graduating from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Domestically, Nauert reported on the past four presidential elections, including filing reports from battleground states, Republican and Democrat conventions and the inauguration. She also anchored coverage of the terror attacks in Orlando, San Bernardino, and Boston, as well as the 2008 financial crisis. Prior to joining Fox News, Nauert served as a network correspondent for ABC News, where she traveled extensively for breaking news stories in the United States and abroad. At ABC News, her in-depth piece on teenage girls in Iraq during the war was nominated for an Emmy. Before working in news, she was an advisor in the health care industry. She is a graduate of Mount Vernon College in Washington D.C.

Clips:

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Trump to Nominate Ex-Senator Scott Brown as Ambassador to New Zealand

Posted: 3:38 am ET

 

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No thaw in sight for @StateDept hiring freeze until reorganization plan is “fully developed”

Posted: 4:17 pm ET

 

Via the Daily Press Briefing | April 13, 2017:

QUESTION: There is an internal memo that went around as well as something that was updated online that even though the OMB lifted the hiring freeze, the federal hiring freeze, that the Secretary Tillerson, that the State Department was going to maintain its hiring freeze. Do you know what led to that decision?

MR TONER: Sure. So OMB —

QUESTION: And what is it about?

MR TONER: Okay. So the OMB on Wednesday announced the lifting of the hiring freeze, as you noted, and provided also extensive further guidance to all the various federal agencies on the implementation of and requirements pursuant to the OMB memorandum which is called, I think, Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce, which is a mouthful. I apologize.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR TONER: And this document, this memo, provides guidance on new requirements on the presidential memorandum that was initially issued on January 23rd.

QUESTION: Correct.

MR TONER: This was the one that issued the hiring freeze, as well as the executive order issued on March 13th that required a comprehensive plan to reorganize all the executive branch departments and agencies.

So as part of that process, the department and this Secretary are going to be undertaking a reorganization later in the year, and the decision was taken that the hiring freeze will continue until that plan is fully developed and agreement is reached on its implementation.

And this is just part of prudent planning. We can’t be onboarding people when we don’t know what our reorganization is ultimately going to look at – look like. But until then – and this is an important point – the Secretary does retain authority to waive the ruling – or the hiring freeze and will do so in instances where national security interests and the department’s core mission and responsibilities require. So he does —

QUESTION: So it doesn’t break any federal law that he’s done this?

MR TONER: It does not. It’s his decision to maintain this hiring freeze.

QUESTION: Even though that – even though the Congress has – the appropriations has approved money for it, or even if the Congress has said that that’s fine to lift it. So there is a law, a federal law, that if appropriations has moved on some kind of spending or whatever —

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: — and he says, “No, I’m not going to touch that,” isn’t that against a law?

MR TONER: My understanding is that he has the jurisdiction to – basically to keep this freeze in place as we go about this presidentially mandated reorganization.

QUESTION: Are we talking about Civil and Foreign Service officers, political appointees? What —

MR TONER: Across the board.

QUESTION: So he’s – wait a minute. So he’s not going to hire any political appointees —

MR TONER: I —

QUESTION: — before the reorg?

MR TONER: I believe it’s a hiring freeze across the board. I don’t know about political appointees. I’ll check on that.

QUESTION: Could you check on that? So what are you – yeah, I mean —

MR TONER: I can check on that.

QUESTION: That would – essentially, if that’s true, what you’re saying, that there’s a hiring freeze across the board, that you would not be hiring any assistant secretaries —

MR TONER: I will check on political appointments. I’m not sure about political appointments.

QUESTION: — under secretaries, a deputy secretary of state.

MR TONER: Yeah, I’m not sure about political appointments.

QUESTION: That can’t be right.

MR TONER: Yeah, I’ll check on that.

QUESTION: So effectively he’s put this on, the freeze, until he’s done the reorganization. Have those plans actually started? And how are they going to be fleshed out? Does —

MR TONER: I believe they have started. As to how they’re going to be fleshed out, I don’t have any more details.

QUESTION: I mean, it’s going to go on for the rest of the year?

MR TONER: I don’t know if there’s a time, date. I don’t have any kind of timeframe for you. If I get one, I’ll let you know.

QUESTION: And I gather that he would have got White House or congressional approval for this?

MR TONER: Yes, I would imagine he would.

QUESTION: I just want to point out something that —

MR TONER: On the political appointees, though, it’s a good question.

QUESTION: Yeah, no, because I mean Foreign Minister Lavrov even said yesterday that – I mean, we can consider the source, but other diplomats from other —

MR TONER: No, I’m not responding, I’m just —

QUESTION: I understand, but other diplomats from other countries have also said that the lack of staff at the State Department has become an impediment to having interlocutors to deal with, whether it’s long-term foreign policy cooperation, short-term foreign policy crises. So I mean, I would really like some clarification on that. Because if you’re saying that there’s a hiring freeze across the board, I really would say that suggests that that will continue to be a problem.

MR TONER: It’s a fair question.

QUESTION: Related to this, though, Mark, you said that he has the – he retains authority to waive it, right?

MR TONER: Yeah, authority. Thank you. Yes, he does. Yeah. In instances where national security interests and the department’s core mission —

QUESTION: Has he?

MR TONER: — responsibilities – I would assume that political appointees in high positions would fall under the department’s core mission responsibilities.

QUESTION: Do you think that would apply to the – do you think that would apply to the newly nominated deputy? You think he’d get away with it?

MR TONER: I would think that would apply.

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Related posts:

Are #EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under #Tillerson’s watch?

Posted: 3:20 am ET
Updated: April 22, 2:13 pm ET

 

On April 12, 2017, the State Department posted a statement indicating that the current hiring freeze guidance remains in effect particularly as it affects the hiring of Foreign Service family members.

At this time, the Department’s current hiring freeze guidance remains in effect, including with respect to hiring under a Family Member Appointment (FMA) or Temporary Appointment. The Family Liaison Office will continue to distribute any updates on the hiring freeze as soon as it receives them. FLO shares family member concerns regarding the current situation and communicates to Department of State management the many helpful suggestions and insights that it receives from the field. In the meantime, please be assured that FLO continues to actively represent the interests and concerns of family members.

The current guidance says that “hiring activities may resume for positions that are or most recently have been filled by employees on Personal Services Agreements (PSAs).”  This authority to hire apparently does NOT extend to any locally employed staff, Family Member or Temporary Appointments as those are still subject to the hiring freeze. “Positions that are or become vacant that have been most recently filled using a mechanism other than a PSA may not be filled at this time.”  Also that “Circumventing the hiring freeze by using a PSA to employ family members who would normally be hired on an FMA is not permitted.” 

Available now, contract jobs with no USG service credit!

PSAs are typically designed for a non-U.S. citizen spouse on the travel orders of a Foreign Service, Civil Service employee, or uniformed service member assigned to a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. This is also the hiring mechanism for Members of Household (MOH) overseas who are not on the employee’s travel orders.

Most notable, PSAs are subject to government contracting authorities and do not/do not confer retirement benefits or USG service credit.

Eligible Family Members (EFMs) may apply for jobs, but no job offers 

“Eligible family members may continue to apply for any advertised position for which they feel they are qualified and the hiring preference will be applied during the process. However, Appointment Eligible Family Members (AEFM) cannot be offered a position at this time due to the freeze on use of FMA and temporary appointments. Any position where an AEFM would have been selected absent the hiring freeze must be referred to the Office of Overseas Employment (HR/OE) in Washington at  HR-OE-Freeze@state.gov.”

With the summer transfer season just months away, this means that FS family members who currently have jobs, will be jobless once more when they transfer to their new posts. And because there is a hiring freeze, they will be able to apply for jobs at their next posts, but they won’t be hired into new jobs even if they have current security clearances and even if their new posts need them. Think of mailroom jobs, security escorts, facility escorts, admin assistants, community liaison officers to name a few.

EFMs who work in Civil Service positions (via)

Due to the federal civilian hiring freeze, EFMs who are working in Civil Service (CS) positions and who are planning to accompany their sponsoring employee abroad may not join the Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC) at this time. The processing of a CS employee into the FSFRC requires the issuance of a new Family Member Appointment (FMA). Unless an exemption has been granted, all direct hire appointments (including Family Member Appointments) are currently subject to the federal civilian hiring freeze.

EFMs may request Leave Without Pay (LWOP) status, but Uncle Sam may still say “nooooooo!”  (via)

EFMs who are currently working in Civil Service positions, who are preparing to join their sponsoring employee abroad may want to request consideration of being placed into Leave without Pay (LWOP) status when they finish working in their CS position. LWOP is a temporary non-pay status and approved absence from duty that may be granted at the discretion of the Bureau’s Executive Director. (Please note that a Bureau’s Executive Director may not be able to approve LWOP requests based on a variety of factors.)

Holymoly macaroni! They won’t even let you stay on the rolls even on non-pay status?  The notice did not include the “variety of factors” what would cause the disapproval of a LWOP request.  We should note that 3 FAM3500 is clear that the authorization of LWOP is a matter of “administrative discretion.” Which means that an employee cannot demand leave without pay as a matter of right except as provided by 3 FAM 35303 FAM 35123 FAH-1 H-3513, and 3 FAH-1 H-3514.  Which makes us wonder — if a family member is a Civil Service employee accompanying his/her FS spouse overseas but is not allowed to join the FSFRC and could not be granted LWOP status, what option is there for the employee short of going AWOL or quitting his/her job?

What happens to the Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC)?

Remember in mid-2016 when the State Department launched the Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC) “to more quickly mobilize family members to fill available positions in missions overseas?”  At that time, the State Department notes that the FSFRC will become the exclusive hiring program for Appointment Eligible Family Members (AEFM) into Family Member Appointments (FMA). Its FAQ says that “After open enrollment commences, which we estimate to be 18 to 24 months from now, the Department will announce the initiation of a new hiring preference.” The Department estimated that in excess of 5,000 family members are eligible to apply to join the Reserve Corps (see @StateDept Launches Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC)).

Last year, the State Department said that “at full implementation (by 2018), the FSFRC will improve efficiency in the hiring process for Appointment Eligible Family Members (AEFMs).”

But what happens if/when there are no jobs?

Foreign Service Family Member Employment

Jobs for diplomatic spouses are supposed to enhance quality of life overseas, and is an important part of the agency’s effort to recruit and retain Foreign Service employees who, like the rest of America, have come increasingly from two-profession households.

The creation of the Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC) is part of that effort, as well as various programs and initiatives through the years like EPAP, GEI, SNAP, Professional Associates program, etc. In 2003, there was even a proposed three-year pilot program to establish a Family Member Cost Equalization Fund, which the Office of Overseas Employment was to manage. With funds in place, posts would have been able to make specific requests to fund the salary gap when a qualified EFM was selected to fill a job previously filled by a locally employed staff (LES). The 2006 OIG report says that “Despite the apparent support for the concept, in the course of three successive years the Department has not funded the initiative.” It further states that if no funding is available, that “Department management may need to acknowledge that it cannot give a high enough priority to this particular program.”  The OIG noted then that “Maintaining rhetoric on the program in communications with posts overseas and in briefings of incoming officer classes creates expectations that, when not met, negatively affect morale and retention of entry-level officers.”

11 years on, and the 50% target remains beyond reach

One of the agency’s performance goals in FY 2005 was a 50%  increase in the percentage of family members employed overseas.  The State Department previously noted that the 50% “was not intended to be a one-year goal but rather a multi-year goal.” The target was developed with the expectation that “the Department would steadily work towards the 50 percent spousal employment rate.” Its justification was that this contributes to increased retention rates of Foreign Service and Civil Service employees.

According to state.gov, statistics from an earlier survey from the Family Liaison Office indicate that even though 83 percent of Foreign Service family members have college degrees (29 percent have advanced degrees), the majority of positions they fill while serving abroad are clerical in nature.  These jobs typically pay in the low to mid-$30Ks.

As of November 2016, there are 11,841 total adult family members serving overseas with their FS employees. About 3,500 or 30% works inside an embassy or consulate, about 1,650 or 14% works outside the U.S. mission, while more than half — 6,688 or 56% are not working.

So 11 years on, and that 50% target is still beyond reach. And it looks like things are about to get harder not better.

Rumor #1: EFM Hiring Freeze Till 2018?

Internal State Department circles are ripe with rumors about the future of eligible family member (EFM) positions. There are talks that the EFM hiring freeze may last until 2018. Or beyond. No one is sure. No one is authorized to discuss it. You will find nothing about it anywhere online. Not on a FLO website or anywhere else, for that matter.

The State Department is clear that EFM positions are affected by the Federal hiring freeze.  However, if this becomes a permanent directive, it will have sobering repercussions not only in the operation of over 280 posts overseas, but also in the retention of FS employees.  Note that the last time the State Department had a hiring freeze and the agency was hiring at 50% below attrition, diplomatic spouses ended up getting hired because the Department could not hire direct-hire USG employees. We still don’t know what will happen to the September FS classes, but IF it turns out that State will not be able to hire FSOs and specialists even at attrition, and also won’t be able to hire EFMs, then embassies and consulates overseas will be in a real pickle (also see  @StateDept Gets Exemption From Trump Federal Hiring Freeze, March Classes Are On).

Rumor #2: Locally Employed Staff for EFM Positions?

One of the few times when the State Department was forced to hire family members and US contractors for local jobs was in Moscow back in the 1980’s when 260 Soviet employees were withdrawn from the embassy.

Now, rumors are circulating that locally employed (LE) staff could replace EFM positions at our overseas posts.  While this might be cheaper in some countries, it will be more expensive in others.  For example, at the US Embassy in Japan,  the public affairs section allocated 68 percent of its FY 2014 budget of $8.5 million to LE staff salaries.  And in Germany, LE procurement agent salaries in Frankfurt are among the highest in the world at $74,700.  So hey, you can probably hire two EFMs for the price of one LE staffer in Frankfurt, unless you want to hire local staff in Asia or in Africa. But then, of course, since you want to save money on housing and travel of local nationals working at U.S. embassies, you need to teleport them to the various posts that requires their services. Good luck with that teleportation scheme with Captain Kirk.

So right now, apparently, many are wondering – if Locally Employed Staff members replace EFMs, will this replacement be permanent? Are EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under Secretary Tillerson’s watch?

“Hire American” except at US Embassies?

Somebody should really ask the new State Department management how this would work with Trump’s new “Hire American” policy.

The Foreign Service Act of 1980 (FSA) ties LE staff salaries to prevailing wages and compensation practices for corresponding types of positions in the host country. The OIG review of local compensation back in 2009 notes that the FSA does not require that wage adjustments be associated with inflation and cost of living changes, and the Department does not link LE staff compensation adjustments to variations in inflation or cost of living. This has its own problems and issues due to persistent underfunding. The 2015 OIG report on US Mission Japan indicates that the LE staff there received their last pay increase in 1995. Yup. 1995. (see State Dept on Embassy Workers Unionization: Yo! Could Put U.S. National Security at Risk).

Local compensation plans are, of course, not created equal.  Some plans like the one in Germany authorizes a year of maternity leave and 6 weeks of annual leave a year. Separation costs in Western Europe are also very high, often exceeding 2.5 years of salary for long-term employees. But we also need to add that a 2009 OIG report cited at least 27 U.S. missions which presented “compelling arguments that their lower grade employees fall short of minimal living standards.” (Don’t look now but about 200 local guards working for a security contractor at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya have staged a demonstration over low wages.  The local guards protecting an embassy that had been bombed previously are reportedly paid “peanuts” according to one guard rep).

Oh, leadership in action! 

We’ve asked the State Department for comments on these reports a week ago.  Following the April Fools’ Day take down sent to this blog, it looks like the um … our friends at the Bureau of Public Affairs no longer acknowledge inquiries from this blog, or bother to actually answer their emails.  Milk cartoons, anyone?

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