Posted: 3:10 am EDT
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 first and second tour (FAST) officers’ onward assignments (see Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay). Click here for AFSA’s update to its members regarding the changes in danger pay.
This is the first time the State Department had updated its danger pay process and designation from best we could tell. Of the forty or so danger pay posts, about half lost their designation, including Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo which lost 20%, and all Saudi Arabian posts which lost 15%. Wouldn’t better planning with a longer roll out have been better for everyone? Why was there such a short fuse on this project? Was Congress snapping at somebody’s heels?
One group particularly affected (without any mitigation in place) are Eligible Family Members (EFMs) who receive danger pay but do not receive any other differentials. All EFMs in posts that lost their danger pay designation have suffered a pay cut and will not receive any hardship pay in lieu of the danger pay lost. The dual-income Foreign Service families particularly in Saudi Arabia and some in Mexico had a pay cut of at least 20%.
The changes in the danger pay designation also affected employees who went to some difficult posts to qualify for the student loan program (SLRP). Student Loan Repayment Program (SLRP) is a recruitment and retention tool used by the Department to attract and retain Civil Service and Foreign Service employees applying for or encumbering specific positions. The loan repayment is linked to danger/hardship only, and is for posts designated at 20% or greater. We understand that some who qualified for SLRP this year, will not qualify next year if they’re seeing danger/hardship under 20%. Despite that fact that the SLRP was used to “lure” officers to some of these challenging posts. That section of the FAM updated in May this year, notes that “Posts may be added to or eliminated from this list as differential and danger pay rates change.”
We understand that entry level officers (ELOs, we don’t know how many) felt particularly short-changed by these changes. These officers typically go out on their first two overseas tours on directed assignments. They go where they’re sent by the State Department. They get equity points based on danger pay and hardship differentials that help determine their next assignment. We should add that super high equity posts (like Iraq/Afghanistan, etc.) are not available to first tour officers. A large number of first tour officers end up in visa mill posts in Mexico, China, India, Brazil and posts in Africa. Which means that a 5-10% change in equity in the pecking order is noticeable.
I wonder if their CDOs say if you take Promisestan now with 15% danger pay and 20% hardship, you get bidding priority for say Buenos Aires or Madrid when you bid next time. Did the CDOs blink when they said that? By the time the ELOs bid, Promisestan had been downgraded to zero danger pay with hardship still at 20%. So ELOs who said yes to 35%, now had to make do with their 20%.
“A claim of fairness and transparency does not make it so,” one writes.
A senior government official had apparently told employees earlier that “this is not going to be such a big deal.” But for a number of employees just starting off on their careers at State, this is going to be a big deal. Somebody made them a promise, an inherent tradeoff when they started, and now they’re told they just have to suck it. We understand that despite efforts by AFSA, FSOs, and some posts themselves argued against danger pay changes or for mitigation — specifically including entry level bidding should these changes be imposed — management apparently had not been responsive.
We sent the following to DGHR on Twitter but he, too, has not been responsive.
— Diplopundit (@Diplopundit) October 20, 2015
We estimate that this affects the bidding of a small range of A-100 classes, perhaps some members in the 174th-180th classes. And perhaps that’s the problem? A small number of entry level FSOs, though no fault of their own, are negatively impacted in their bidding options by these changes. And the somebodies at the State Department — from M, DGHR, DS, CDA, PRI — have decided that the negative impact to these newbies are acceptable.
Say — isn’t this kind of like going on a cross country A-Z train with the fares changing midway through the trip? Suddenly, here comes the conductor asking for additional fares somewhere at the P stop, even if you’ve originally paid up to get to the Z stop.
The Yoda conductor delivers the bad news:
So sorry, just doing the job, I am. P stop not as good as Z stop. But F stop, it is not.
If throw up, you must, use bucket under coach seat, please.