New Danger Pay Differential Posts: See Gainers, Plus Losers Include One Post on Evacuation Status

Posted: 3:11 pm EDT
Updated: 811:33 pm PDT
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In February 2015, we blogged about the proposed changes to the State Department’s danger pay incentives (see Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay). In February, a total of 26 countries with 45 posts/locations were eligible to receive danger pay allowance according to the publicly available data from the State Department’s Office of Allowances. As of September 6, 2015, employees in a total of 28 countries with 47 named post and locations, plus 20 undesignated posts labeled as “other” are eligible to receive danger pay differential.  Note that “other” is a place which is not listed individually in Section 920 of the Department of State Standardized Regulations (DSSR) but which is located in a country or area which has been so designated by the Secretary of State, e.g. Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan.

Danger Pay allowance provides additional compensation for employees serving at designated danger pay posts. It is paid as a percentage of basic compensation in 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 and 35% increments. In addition to being paid to permanently-assigned personnel, danger pay may also be paid to employees on temporary duty or detail to the post.

According to the State Department,  the danger pay allowance is in lieu of that part of the hardship post  differential rate (Chapter 500) at a post which is attributable to  political violence.  Consequently, the rate of post differential may be reduced while danger pay allowance is in effect to avoid dual crediting  for political violence.

Under circumstances defined by the Secretary of State, a danger pay  allowance may also be granted to civilian employees who accompany U.S. military forces designated by the Secretary of Defense as eligible for imminent danger pay.  The Secretary of State will define the area of  application for civilian employees and the amount of danger pay shall  be the same flat rate amount paid to uniformed military personnel  as imminent danger pay.  Danger pay authorized under this subparagraph  will not be paid for periods of time that the employee either receives  danger pay authorized under subparagraph “f” or post differential that would duplicate political violence credit.

Danger Pay authorized under DSSR 652(g), unofficially referred to as “hazardous duty” or “imminent danger pay,” is paid at a flat monthly rate (currently $225). Employees cannot receive Post Hardship Differential and Danger Pay under DSSR 652(g) for the same periods of time, nor can employees receive Danger Pay under DSSR 652(f) and 652(g) at the same time. Imminent Danger Pay under DSSR 652(g) is established for designated areas for U.S.G. civilian employees accompanying uniformed military for whom the Secretary of Defense has established a similar benefit. No review of the Post Hardship Differential is conducted when establishing Imminent Danger Pay under DSSR 652(g) so employees cannot receive both allowances since they are being provided for duplicate conditions.

Plus Posts

The total number of countries (26 to 28) and locations (45 to 47) under the changed designations do not tell the details. Let’s start with countries which gained danger pay differentials under the new designations.

  • Kenya: The capital city of Nairobi retained its 15% danger pay differential and nine new locations are now designated at 15% as well (Kihara, Wangige, Kahawa, Kikuyu, Kiambu, Ruiru, Kibichiku, Thogoto, Other). We’d appreciate it if  somebody can help us understand why we have this nine new entries? Who or what do we have in these places? Contact us here.  Embassy Nairobi is the largest U.S. embassy in Africa with a staff of more than 1,300 (including local employees and more than 400 U.S. direct hires) among 19 federal agency offices.  The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in Kenya includes four U.S. Government agencies as implementers of the program: USAID, CDC, the U.S. Army Walter Reed Medical Research Unit, and the Peace Corps. In terms of staffing, USAID is the second largest component in the mission next to the State Department, with DOD and CDC as the third and fourth largest components respectively. (Thanks J.) 
  • Colombia: The capital city of Bogota lost its 15% pay differential but seven new locations, namely, Baranquilla, Buenaventura, Cali, Medellin, San Andres, San Marta, Other are now designated at 15% danger pay. DEA has the second largest representation (next to the State Department) among agencies at U.S. Mission Colombia, so we conclude that this new designation covers DEA employees and contractors, as well as military personnel operating outside the capital city.
  • Haiti: The capital city of Port-au-Prince, as well as Petitionville and all Other locations are newly designated at 15%.
  • Turkey: Gaziantep is newly designated at 25%.  The city is located in the southeastern Anatolia, some 185 kilometres east of Adana and 97 kilometres north of Aleppo, Syria.
  • In Tunisia, Carthage has been added at 25%.

All posts in Afghanistan, CAR, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan (except Quetta), Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen are  now at the top bracket at 35%.

Back in February, we’ve asked why Erbil and the Erbil Diplomatic Support Center in Iraq did not have the same danger pay rates.  Under the new designation, the Erbil Diplomatic Support Center (EDSC) and Basrah have both been bumped up to 35% (they were previously at 25% and 30% respectively). The State Department has not totally ditched the seven danger pay brackets but with very few exceptions, it has narrowed the danger pay posts into tighter bundles at the 15%, 25% and 35% pay brackets.

Screen Shot 2015-09-14

click image to view the full list

Minus Posts

There are also losers under the new designation. All the locations are diplomatic/consular posts where we have permanently stationed employees.

  • Mexico: Back in February, Nogales was at 10%, Ciudad Juarez, Matamoros and Tijuana were at 15%, and Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo were both at 20%. As of September 6, the only post in Mexico with danger pay is Ciudad Juarez at 15%.
  • Saudi Arabia:  Riyadh, Jeddah and Dharan were all at the 15% danger pay bracket in February 2015. Under the new designation, all these posts no longer have danger pay differential. The only location in Saudi Arabia currently designated at 15% is “Other.”
  • Algeria lost its 15% for Algiers but retains 25% for Other.
  • Burundi lost its 5% for Bujumbura but retains 5% for Other.  We should note that US Embassy Bujumbura went on “ordered departure” for non-emergency personnel and family members on May 15, 2015. There is a Travel Warning against all travel to Burundi and recommends that U.S. citizens currently in Burundi depart as soon as it is feasible to do so.”  The evacuation status for post—either authorized or ordered—has a 180-day clock  (by law, an evacuation cannot last longer than 180 days). Has that evacuation lifted? If not, isn’t it odd that post currently on evacuation status does not have “danger pay” for the emergency personnel remaining at post? Does that make sense? Yes, there are hardship and COLA differentials, but the embassy was not evacuated due to hardship, was it?
  • Israel and Jerusalem both lost their 15%.
  • Nigeria lost its 10% danger pay designation for Lagos.

We understand that at U.S. Mission Saudi Arabia where Riyadh, Jeddah and Dhahran have lost their 15% danger pay, “M” had increased the hardship differential at all three posts from 15% to 25%. So the net loss of pay to officers/specialists is at 5%. But as we’ve also previously noted here, Eligible Family Members (EFMs) receive danger pay while working in embassies but do not receive any other differentials. All EFMs in posts that lost their danger pay designation will suffer a pay cut and will not receive any hardship pay in lieu of the danger pay lost. The few dual-income families in Mexico and Saudi Arabia, will actually have a pay cut of at least 20%.

We’ve posted potential fallouts to these changes back in February. We understand that these are among the questions that still remained unanswered from Foggy Bottom.

One source says that his/her post “have asked AFSA for updates on what they are doing and recommending” but that post  is only “getting radio silence so no kudos to AFSA either.”

Danger Pay, like Post Hardship Differential, 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. The State Department has been criticized for its inability to evaluate and measure the effectiveness of its incentive program, specifically its danger and hardship programs. The GAO had also previously complained that State did not comply with a congressional mandate to evaluate its increases in hardship and danger pay.   We don’t know if these new changes now include an evaluation of the effectiveness of these incentives.

 

Danger Pay- September 2015 Diplopundit

3 FAM 3270 DANGER PAY ALLOWANCE (pdf)

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

Posted: 3:37 am EDT
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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?

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