Posted: 1:01 am EDT
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The Daily Press Briefing of March 11 toppled me off my chair when I heard the official spokesperson of the State Department, Jennifer Psaki said from the podium, “The FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations.” (see NewsFlash: “The FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations.” Hurry, DECLINE button over there!).
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.
We would be grateful if you could help us understand if there is, in practice or by law, any difference in how these standards apply to and are enforced for non-career appointees as opposed to career employees, both Foreign Service and Civil Service.
AFSA noted the March 10 press briefing, where “Spokesperson Jen Psaki referred to 3 FAM as “guidelines” as distinguished from “law”:
As the Foreign Service, we have always understood the FAM to consist of regulations to which we must adhere. AFSA would like to ask if non-career appointees are formally subject to all of the rules and regulations in 3 FAM.
3 FAM is the section of the Foreign Affairs Manual that covers personnel:
This volume of the FAM sets forth the policies and regulations governing the administration of the personnel system applicable to the Department of State. Regulations adopted jointly by the Department of State and other agencies (e.g. Broadcasting Board of Governors, USAID, Commerce, Agriculture, Peace Corps,) are so identified wherever they appear in this volume. (see pdf)
Volume 3 of the FAM is organized around eight major personnel topics, each of which is assigned a series of nine chapters of 89 subchapters. In so far as is practicable, each subchapter is restricted to a single topic. Since some topics relate to both Foreign Service and Civil Service employees, while others relate to employees of only one of the services, subchapters, or parts thereof, contain a legend, which indicates coverage.
☞Chapters in the 1000 series contain general information on the organization of the FAM and general policies and regulations relating to all Civil Service and/or Foreign Service employees.
☞Chapters in the 2000 series contain regulations and policies, which govern the day-to-day operations of the Foreign Service and Civil Service personnel systems.
☞Chapters in the 3000 series contain regulations and policies which govern Civil Service and Foreign Service pay, leave administration, benefits (e.g. Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB), Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI), Office of Worker’s Compensation Program (OWCP), Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE), Reasonable Accommodations), allowances and travel. In addition, Chapters in the 3000 series contains special program regulations and policies such as Transit Subsidy Program, Student Loan Repayment Program (SLRP), and Professional Liability Insurance (PLI).
☞Chapters in the 4000 series contain regulations and policies which govern the conduct of Foreign Service and Civil Service employees; provide penalties for misconduct; establish grievance and appeals procedures; and provide for awards for outstanding performance.
☞Chapters in the 5000 series contain regulations and policies, which govern labor management relations in the Department.
☞Chapters in the 6000 series contain regulations and policies, which govern the administration of the retirement program for Civil Service and Foreign Service employees.
☞Chapters in the 7000 series contain regulations and policies, which govern the administration of the Foreign Service National personnel system for Overseas Employees.
☞Chapters in the 8000 series contain regulations and policies, which govern the administration of the various overseas employment programs administered by the Office of Overseas Employment (HR/OE).
If it comes from the podium, it is official.
So it is, of course, understandable that AFSA is concerned when she calls the FAM “guidelines.” But equally troubling to hear her say from the official podium that the FAM is not regulations but recommendations, as if somehow adherence to it is voluntary and optional. We’ve asked state.gov for a comment and the nice person there told us they’re consulting with their subject matter experts and hopefully will have something for us.
Anyone has an in with the folks at the Office of the Legal Adviser? Would you kindly please ask them to wade in on this?