AFSA Issues Update on Danger Pay to Members

Posted: 3:51 pm EDT
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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 afsa@state.gov, or call (202) 647-8160.

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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 …

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State Dept Updates 3 FAM 4140 Guidelines For USG Personnel Taken Hostage

Posted: 1:49 pm EDT
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We’ve previously blogged about the Iran hostages here (see Supremes Say No to Appeal from US Embassy Iran HostagesJanuary 20, 1981: The Iran Hostages – 30 Years LaterNovember 4, 1979: Iranian Mob Attacks US Embassy Tehran; Hostages Compensated $50/DayThe Iran Hostages: Long History of Efforts to Obtain Compensation).

In light of the significant shift in hostage taking by terrorists organizations (media reports say that there are roughly 30 Americans held hostage overseas), President Obama directed a comprehensive review of U.S. policy toward overseas hostage-takings last year.  On June 24, 2015, President Obama approved Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) 30, U.S. Nationals Taken Hostage Abroad and Personnel Recovery Efforts and issued an Executive Order on the recovery of U.S. hostages taken abroad, which directs key organizational changes “to ensure that the U.S. Government is doing all that it can to safely recover Americans taken hostage overseas and is being responsive to the needs of their families.”  According to the Fact Sheet, PPD-30 “reaffirms” the U.S. Government’s dedication to achieving the safe recovery of U.S. nationals taken hostage abroad

On August 28, 2015, President Obama announced the appointment of James O’Brien as Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs (see President Obama Appoints James O’Brien as First Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs).

This past June, the State Department also updated its Foreign Affairs Manual related to U.S. Government personnel taken hostage. That affirmation for safe recovery is item one on the updated FAM, a language that had been absent from the rules books for at least 20 years.

Note that per 2 FAH-1 H-115.3, the new version does not comply with the standard FAM colors, which requires that new or revised material be shown in both darkmagenta™ (R139,G0,B139) and in italic. We’ve marked the changes below for easier identification.

3 FAM 4143 GUIDELINES FOR U.S. GOVERNMENT PERSONNEL TAKEN HOSTAGE (pdf via state.gov)

(CT:PER-770; 06-02-2015)
(State/USAID/BBG/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA) (Applies to Foreign Service and Civil Service Employees) 

a. The U.S. Government will make every effort to recover U.S. Government personnel who are victims of a hostage taking incident while serving abroad.

b. Individuals who are taken hostage should be aware that their captors may seek to exploit their knowledge of sensitive information to the detriment of the United States or their fellow hostages. Individuals should be mindful that whatever they say may be used to mislead or punish their colleagues, and that information obtained from one captive may be used when interrogating another. Captured individuals should not divulge classified or sensitive information and should not discuss sensitive aspects of the work of any fellow hostages.

c. Individuals should be aware that active members of the U.S. Armed Services who are taken captive are subject to different legal authorities and organizational policies when they are captured, due to their possible status as Prisoners of War. For additional information please reference Executive Order 10631.

d. If detained with other captives, it is essential to avoid internal conflicts within the group and maintain a unified approach to the captors (e.g., group agrees not to discuss religion, politics or the economy with the captors).

e. While awaiting rescue, individuals taken hostage should make an effort to:

(1) Eat and drink to preserve their health and seek opportunities to remain mentally active;

(2) Circumstances permitting, build rapport with their captors by humanizing themselves;

(3) Leave evidence of their presence in each location (such as strands of hair, fingerprints, blood, bits of fingernails, etc.); and

(4) Maintain faith in their individual beliefs and have confidence in the efforts of their family and the U.S. Government to obtain their release.

f. If asked to produce evidence of proof of life, such as a photo or a video, it is advisable to do so as it confirms the individual’s continued survival to family and possibly the U.S. Government entities working on your release, and aids in the negotiation process.

g. The decision to attempt escape rests with the individuals concerned based on their judgment, environment, and level of threat. However, the decision should be consistent with the considerations set forth above.

h. In the event of a recovery operation, individuals awaiting rescue should drop to the ground, ensure their hands and face are visible, and identify themselves as American citizens.

i. For more information, Department personnel can follow this link to the High Threat Security Overseas Seminar: Abduction: Prevention, Preparation and Response for Individuals.

j. Hard and fast rules are not always helpful and the U.S. Government recognizes that the ability of individuals to resist extreme pressure differs. But, to the extent possible, one must help one’s colleagues and avoid exploitation. Sound judgment is essential.

Below is the old 3 FAM 4143 guidelines that took effect on November 8, 1995; we have not been able to find a version in effect after 1995 and before it was superseded by the June 2, 2015 version (pdf via the Internet Archive):

3 FAM 4143 GUIDELINES FOR U.S. GOVERNMENT PERSONNEL TAKEN HOSTAGE
(TL:PER-303; 11-08-1995)
(Uniform State/USAID/USIA/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA) (Applies to Foreign Service and Civil Service Employees)

a. U.S. Government personnel serving abroad are expected to be mature, responsible, and patriotic individuals for whom the concept of service has a real and personal meaning.

b. Individuals who are taken hostage should be aware that their captors may seek to exploit them. Their captors may be seeking information to be used to the detriment of the United States or of their fellow hostages, and are likely to use information obtained from one captive when interrogating another. Individuals should consequently be guided by the knowledge that whatever they say may be used to mislead or punish their colleagues and that their actions may result in reprisals.

c. Captured individuals should not discuss sensitive aspects of the work of their fellow hostages. They should not divulge classified or sensitive information. They should not sign or make statements or take action which they believe might bring discredit to the United States.

d. The decision to attempt escape rests with the individual concerned. However, the decision should be consistent with the considerations set forth above.

e. Hard and fast rules are not always helpful and the U.S. Government recognizes that the ability of individuals to resist extreme pressure differs. But, to the extent possible, one must help one’s colleagues and avoid exploitation. Sound judgment is essential.

Here is also quick guidance per 2 FAH-1 H-112.3 on how to tell if employees have discretion to deviate from the instructions in the Foreign Affairs  Manual. The Foreign Affairs Handbook instructs FAM drafters that “information must be clear, and the discretion of the reader to deviate from instructions must be clear.” Level of discretion is to be described by the use of three auxiliary verbs: “must,” “should,” and “may.”

(1) Mandatory:  “Must” is used to advise the reader that he or she has no discretion to deviate from the instructions. In some cases, the reader will have no discretion, but another person or entity can grant authority to deviate from the instruction. If that’s the case, the person with authority and the circumstances under which the authority may be exercised is identified (by title) or office (by name/symbol);

(2) Recommended: “Should” is used to advise the reader that the instruction is the Department’s preferred approach. However, the word “should” permits the reader to deviate if the reader can accomplish the objective in another way. FAM drafters are told to “clearly specify how much discretion the reader has, and advise the reader if he or she must justify any deviations. Use the term “recommended” if you believe the word “should” will not convey these points adequately in the context of the sentence. Either define the word “should” or hyperlink to this definition at the beginning of subchapters in which the word appears.”

(3) Advisory:  “May” is used to advise the reader that he or she has the option to pursue alternative courses of action. “May” is used when neither law, regulation, nor management policy dictates which of several options to follow.

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Reading Tips: Recent Reports From State/OIG, USAID/OIG, SIGAR, GAO, CRS

Posted: 12:40 pm EDT
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State/OIG

Management Assistance Report: Action Still Needed to Update the Department’s Standards of Conduct as They Relate to Trafficking in Persons and to Comply with a Related Recommendation Posted On: September 17, 2015

Audit of Selected Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund Management Control Posted On: September 14, 2015

Audit of Department of State Management and Oversight of Non-Lethal Assistance Provided for the Syrian Crisis Posted On: September 14, 2015

 

USAID/OIG

09/16/2015Management Letter Regarding Environmental Concerns Identified During the Survey of Selected USAID/Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance Programs in Iraq

09/15/20158-OPC-15-002-P Audit of Overseas Private Investment Corporation Projects in Jordan and Turkey

09/11/2015A-IAF-15-008-P Audit of the Inter-American Foundation’s Fiscal Year 2015 Compliance with the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002, as Amended

09/10/20159-000-15-004-P Audit of USAID’s Evaluation Policy Implementation

09/03/20155-482-15-007-P | Audit of USAID/Burma’s Shae THOT (The Way Forward) Program

09/01/2015 4-000-15-001-S | Survey of USAID’s Development Leadership Initiative in Southern and Eastern Africa

 

SIGAR

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by Special Inspector General John F. Sopko at Georgetown University, Washington, DC Thursday, September 10, 2015

Afghan Refugees and Returnees: Corruption and Lack of Afghan Ministerial Capacity Have Prevented Implementation of a Long-term Refugee Strategy Thursday, August 27, 2015

Power Grid Project at the Counter Narcotics Strip Mall in Kabul: Construction Met Contract Requirements but Electrical System Was Not Deemed Operable Until More Than 18 Months After Project Completion Monday, August 3, 2015

 

GAO

Diplomatic Security: Options for Locating a Consolidated Training Facility  GAO-15-808R: Published: Sep 9, 2015. Publicly Released: Sep 16, 2015.

Regionally Aligned Forces: DOD Could Enhance Army Brigades’ Efforts in Africa by Improving Activity Coordination and Mission-Specific Preparation  GAO-15-568: Published: Aug 26, 2015. Publicly Released: Aug 26, 2015.

SEC Conflict Minerals Rule: Initial Disclosures Indicate Most Companies Were Unable to Determine the Source of Their Conflict Minerals  GAO-15-561: Published: Aug 18, 2015. Publicly Released: Aug 18, 2015.

International Food Assistance: USAID Should Systematically Assess the Effectiveness of Key Conditional Food Aid Activities  GAO-15-732: Published: Sep 10, 2015. Publicly Released: Sep 10, 2015.

 

CRS Reports via Steven Aftergood/Secrecy News

The FY2014 Government Shutdown: Economic Effects, updated September 11, 2015

Procedures for Congressional Action in Relation to a Nuclear Agreement with Iran: In Brief, Updated September 11, 2015

The United Arab Emirates (UAE): Issues for U.S. Policy, Updated September 14, 2015

Syrian Refugee Admissions to the United StatesCRS Insight, September 10, 2015

Cyprus: Reunification Proving Elusive, Updated September 10, 2015

Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations, Updated September 8, 2015

Jordan: Background and U.S. Relations, Updated September 10, 2015

Iran Nuclear Agreement, Updated September 9, 2015

Statutory Qualifications for Executive Branch Positions, Updated September 9, 2015

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USAID/OIG on Development Leadership Initiative: Some Good News, Some Problems

Posted: 2:24 am EDT
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USAID’s Regional Inspector General/Pretoria recently released its survey  of USAID’s Development Leadership Initiative  (DLI) in Southern and Eastern Africa (Survey Report No. 4-000-15-001-S).  Junior officer DLIs are the focus of the survey and are referred to simply as DLIs.  USAID’s southern and eastern Africa missions with DLIs were Angola, East Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Southern Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. South Sudan received only mid-career DLIs and was not included in the survey.

The report delivered some good news: “Survey results showed that DLI had some successes; 92 percent of the DLIs who responded said they received assignments in their designated backstops, and 99percent reported receiving their second administrative promotion on time.”

Survey results also found the following problems.

Some new hires did not use the foreign languages they were taught.

Some DLIs raised concerns with the requirement to attend the Foreign Service Institute because the courses there were tailored for State Department employees working in diplomacy, not USAID employees working in development. The curriculums did not teach the vocabulary they needed for development work, they explained.

DLI respondents who filled positions at English- speaking posts asked why they could not postpone the training until it could be matched with an overseas assignment. Moreover, DLI respondents who could not use the languages they were taught immediately said they needed to get the training again to regain fluency.

 Since USAID employees constitute a small percentage of students at the institute, the officials said they did not have much influence over the curriculum. They tried to address this problem in the past by offering translated copies of key Agency documents in the USAID library, but few people used them. USAID pays approximately $1,520 per week of training at the Foreign Service Institute, and students generally attend for 24 to 30 weeks.

Supervisors did not always help DLIs prepare for future assignments.

Some said they were assigned supervisors who were not FSOs or U.S. direct hires, which meant that they could not provide insight on overseas assignments or Agency policies and procedures.

USAID/HR officials acknowledged that they did not formally monitor the quality of supervision provided to DLIs and said DLIs were responsible for reporting any concerns they had to mission managers.

USAID/HR officials said one of the consequences of the Agency’s staffing shortage was that there were not enough experienced supervisors for the number of new junior officers.

Some DLIs did not find coaches and mentors helpful.

USAID/HR officials said a DLI who remained in contact with his or her coach after going overseas would be a good indication of the program’s success. However, 69 percent of the DLIs who responded to the survey said they rarely or never made contact with their coach after leaving Washington. DLIs explained that their coaches were too busy to meet with them, too far retired from the Agency to help with current processes, or from a different backstop and thus unable to provide the technical guidance the DLIs needed.

Nearly half of the DLIs who responded to the survey said they were not assigned a mentor at their mission. Moreover, many said they did not realize that mentoring was part of the program overseas.

Some perceived that USAID overlooked Foreign Service nationals (FSNs).

While some FSNs said their office directors told them that employees called “DLIs” would be joining their team, nobody explained what the initiative was, what the role of the DLIs would be, or how they would fit into the mission’s existing framework. It also was not clear how work assignments would be shared among FSNs and DLIs.

FSNs said the lack of understanding negatively affected DLIs’ reception at post. It also led to the common misconception that USAID hired DLIs to replace FSNs. In fact, many missions created additional FSN positions to support the additional hires. DLIs commented that their relationships with FSNs were sometimes awkward or hostile because of unclear roles and responsibilities. DLIs and FSNs also reported problems from perceived and real inequalities for training and professional development.

Hiring practices changed midway through the initiative.

When the initiative began, USAID/HR recruited junior officers at the FS-06 level for all backstops and mid-career officers at the FS-03 to -02 levels for certain backstops. Midway through, however, the division began to appoint junior officers at the FS-05 level. This meant that people with fewer qualifications came in at a higher grade and for backstops that were not offered previously.

Survey respondents said this fact might affect retention. In addition, by starting the majority of DLIs at the FS-06 level, USAID has a large pool of similarly graded officers bidding for a limited number of assignments. Half of the DLI respondents who reported not receiving assignments in their designated backstops explained this was because opportunities within their areas of expertise were limited. While USAID/HR officials estimated attrition at about 10 percent, survey respondents said they expected to see a surge of DLIs resign from the Agency after their second tours unless USAID provides adequate opportunities for professional development.

Training was not always relevant.

DLIs who completed formal training and rotations were away from their offices so frequently that their supervisors found it difficult to assign them substantive work. This limited the amount of on-the-job training DLIs received. Conversely, DLIs who had substantive work assignments had to forego other opportunities for formal training and rotations.

Some DLIs explained that the value of formal training was diminished because they could not apply everything they learned in a timely manner. For example, they completed required training for agreement and contracting officers’ representatives yet they were not assigned to these jobs during the 2 years of their first overseas assignment. DLIs also completed a supervision seminar when they were not supervisors.

Some DLIs said the training and orientation they completed in Washington, D.C., before leaving for post lacked critical information on the realities of working in an overseas mission or in other cultures.

When asked about course content, USAID/HR officials said they relied heavily on contractors to provide formal training because Agency employees were not available consistently to provide it. The officials said requiring contract trainers to have USAID experience would be too expensive.

Here is a quick background of this initiative and its cost:

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that USAID’s workforce declined 2.7 percent from 2004 to 2009, while program funding almost doubled to $17.9 billion in the same period.1 At the time, USAID faced critical staffing shortages—especially in high-priority countries like Afghanistan and Iraq—and a high percentage of Foreign Service officers (FSOs) nearing retirement. All of these factors affected USAID’s ability to work directly with foreign governments and local partners, and increased its reliance on contractors and outside organizations to carry out its mandate for development.

USAID launched the Development Leadership Initiative (DLI) on May 24, 2008, to address diminished staff levels. Managed by USAID’s Office of Human Resources (USAID/HR), the initiative aimed to double the number of FSOs from 1,200 to 2,400 by fiscal year (FY) 2012 and targeted both junior and mid-career officers, referred to as “DLIs.”

The initiative aimed to prepare junior-officer DLIs2 for careers as FSOs through an intensive multiyear training program. DLIs spent between 4 and 12 months in the Agency’s Washington, D.C., headquarters to complete mandatory orientation, rotations, and formal training. Many also spent 6 to 9 months studying a foreign language. DLIs continued their learning during their first overseas assignment, which typically lasted for 2 years. There, they completed additional training and rotations, and gained hands-on experience in their area of expertise or “backstops.”3

The last class of 23 DLIs entered the Agency on September 23, 2012. At that time, USAID had hired 820 DLIs above attrition—approximately 68.3 percent of the number initially targeted. USAID/HR officials said congressional funding limitations prevented them from hiring the full number. As of January 31, 2014, obligations and disbursements for the initiative were approximately $640 million and $540 million, respectively.

Approximately 21 percent of DLIs were deployed to 16 missions in southern and eastern Africa for their first overseas assignments. Obligations and disbursements for these groups as of January 31, 2014, were $116.7 million and $95.3 million, respectively.

Read the full report here (pdf).

In October 2012, DLI had transitioned to the Career Candidate Corps (C3) program. According to management’s comments to this report, USAID plans to deploy C3s overseas as regular employees within newly established First Tour Officer positions. C3s will reportedly be also given credit for language skill proficiency during the recruitment process in an effort to increase the number of FSOs entering the Agency with tenure level proficiency in a Foreign language thus focusing more resources on language training for Language Designated Positions.

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