Foreign Service "Cushy" Lives: 10 Ways to Help Debunk the Myth in Congress and Elsewhere


HR 1: The House of Representatives did pass a budget proposal for the FY11 budget late last Friday. There was a contentious debate surrounding this legislation in determining where cuts would occur.  The process surrounding this proposal was conducted outside the normal channels for appropriations and budget consideration, something that is highly unusual.  The bill (HR1) went to the floor of the House with significant proposed cuts from the FY11 request for international affairs, including approximately $1.1b for State, $205m in Operating Expenses for USAID, $83m for the Foreign Agriculture Service, and $93m for the International Trade Administration (part of Commerce). As AFSA understands, nearly six hundred amendments were presented and debated.

The Reed Amendment: Of particular concern is an amendment offered by Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY 28th) designed to roll back the hard won progress we have made on overseas comparability pay. The Reed amendment was designed to restrict funds from being used to close the pay gap. Rep. Reed apparently misunderstood and mischaracterized the facts related to OCP. In the end, the Reed amendment was agreed to (without a recorded vote) and included in the final House bill.

Action with the Senate: Reliable sources in the Senate say that the House Bill (including the Reed amendment) is dead on arrival and that it is highly unlikely that there will be any backtracking on the 16% we currently have. However, the budget climate on Capitol Hill does lead us to conclude that it will be extremely difficult to secure funding for the final 8%, although we will still try.  

I have written previously about the proposed pay cut for Foreign Service Officers which passed the House last weekend. See Since you enjoy your jobs so much, Congress wants you to take a pay cut ….

AFSA has a template letter to Congress here.  A reminder if you work for Uncle Sam:

AFSA reminds active duty Foreign Service employees that it is illegal to lobby congress using official time or government resources.  If you write or call your congressional representative, do not use government time or resources (such as a government computer, letter head, telephone, etc).  If you meet in person with a congressional representative, you must take annual leave or schedule the meeting on your lunch hour.  In addition, make clear that you are writing or speaking in your individual capacity as a constituent and not as a representative of your agency.     

Donna of Email From The Embassy, currently in Jordan has a great blog post on the Foreign Service pay cut. A finger right on the button on this issue. She writes:    

Now, all you FSOs out there, are you ready for this? Here’s what I think: This is all your fault.

Seriously. Your. Fault.

And she proceeds to describe what goes into a CODEL visit and why Important Politicians think FSOs have cushy lives.

Read Current Events (Or Why We Deserve This Pay Cut).

At the end of that post, she asks, “How can we change this?”

The truth of the matter is, as one writer puts it, even informed, engaged Americans know diddly squat about the State Department or what diplomats do overseas.  Read Ben Casnocha’s post here.

DiploPundit offers the following magnifique suggestions (tongue clearly in cheek) that you may or may not like.

Foreign Service “Cushy” Lives: 10 Ways to Help Debunk the Myth  

1) Next time post gets a CODEL, reception should be at the apartment of a first-tour officer not at the Ambassador’s villa with a pool. That will help them get a feel of real life in the service that is foreign to them. [Action: STATE/H; EMB] 

2) Since Congress wants to save money, every CODEL visitor should travel by commercial air, economy fare  even for trips beyond 14 hours (not military jets), and be offered accommodations in FSO govt-housing. EFMs may not appreciate this but pizza for dinner and CODEL guests pitch in with housework. If not possible, the TDY or Interns’ quarters would do just as well.  No maid service and no wake up call. Just like life from middle class America. [Action: CONGRESS, STATE/H, EMB, FSO/EFM]

3) Every CODEL should be offered participation in “duck and cover” exercise at every diplomatic mission they visit. [Action: STATE/H; EMB] 

4) Congressional folks should be offered participation in Crisis Management Training exercise to all the hotspots. Start with posts in the Middle East and North Africa because the chances of the exercise becoming real is quite high. If they’re in town for a real evacuation, so much the better. First attendees will get lots of press clips. [Action: STATE/H, FSI, CA, EMB]

5) State has always called its FSOs smart; logic follows, they are smart enough to know what not to blog.  Take the gag off FSOs.  Allow them to blog about their lives in vivid, true colors, warts and all without the threat of a career penalty. Not in DipNote, silly [Action: STATE All hands; FSO]
6) Educate bureau and post management that every quietly shuttered blog is one less advocate for the Foreign Service. [

7) Educate the public on the challenges of personal and official expenses and how the twine sometimes meet in the service of diplomacy.  Uncle Sam’s money is all Uncle Sam’s, but the FSO’s personal funds oftentimes also covers Uncle Sam’s shorts. [Action: STATE/A; FSO/EFM].

8) Keeping a stiff upper lip as part of the old culture is just that. Old and sooo 19th century. You can be the change you want to see, but for that — folks need to speak up. Or blog about it [Action: FSO/EFM] 

9) Connect with the American public about real life in the Foreign Service.  As long as the misconception remains that the Foreign Service is an exclusive, elitist institution full of rich people rolling around in the galaxy, there won’t be any sympathy for pay cuts or for any other issue. [Action: STATE: All hands; FSO/EFM]    

10) Advocate for the official change of name for the U.S. Foreign Service to the United States Diplomatic Service. That will stop getting diplomatic folks confused with the other USFS – the Forest Service. [Action: STATE/H, FSO/EFM]  

A note on the acronyms: “H” is the legislative bureau of the State Department and works with Congress; “CODEL” stands for congressional delegation when members of Congress makes trips overseas, “A” is the administration bureau, “FSO” is Foreign Service Officer, “EFM” stands for eligible family member, normally spouses and under 18 year old dependents of diplomats. 


Most items on my list above only works in a parallel universe.  Feel free to  come up with your own list this side of the universe. Whatever you do, you need a better plan because things will not get any better or any easier.