Are #EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under #Tillerson’s watch?

Posted: 3:20 am ET
Updated: April 22, 2:13 pm ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’]

 

On April 12, 2017, the State Department posted a statement indicating that the current hiring freeze guidance remains in effect particularly as it affects the hiring of Foreign Service family members.

At this time, the Department’s current hiring freeze guidance remains in effect, including with respect to hiring under a Family Member Appointment (FMA) or Temporary Appointment. The Family Liaison Office will continue to distribute any updates on the hiring freeze as soon as it receives them. FLO shares family member concerns regarding the current situation and communicates to Department of State management the many helpful suggestions and insights that it receives from the field. In the meantime, please be assured that FLO continues to actively represent the interests and concerns of family members.

The current guidance says that “hiring activities may resume for positions that are or most recently have been filled by employees on Personal Services Agreements (PSAs).”  This authority to hire apparently does NOT extend to any locally employed staff, Family Member or Temporary Appointments as those are still subject to the hiring freeze. “Positions that are or become vacant that have been most recently filled using a mechanism other than a PSA may not be filled at this time.”  Also that “Circumventing the hiring freeze by using a PSA to employ family members who would normally be hired on an FMA is not permitted.” 

Available now, contract jobs with no USG service credit!

PSAs are typically designed for a non-U.S. citizen spouse on the travel orders of a Foreign Service, Civil Service employee, or uniformed service member assigned to a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. This is also the hiring mechanism for Members of Household (MOH) overseas who are not on the employee’s travel orders.

Most notable, PSAs are subject to government contracting authorities and do not/do not confer retirement benefits or USG service credit.

Eligible Family Members (EFMs) may apply for jobs, but no job offers 

“Eligible family members may continue to apply for any advertised position for which they feel they are qualified and the hiring preference will be applied during the process. However, Appointment Eligible Family Members (AEFM) cannot be offered a position at this time due to the freeze on use of FMA and temporary appointments. Any position where an AEFM would have been selected absent the hiring freeze must be referred to the Office of Overseas Employment (HR/OE) in Washington at  HR-OE-Freeze@state.gov.”

With the summer transfer season just months away, this means that FS family members who currently have jobs, will be jobless once more when they transfer to their new posts. And because there is a hiring freeze, they will be able to apply for jobs at their next posts, but they won’t be hired into new jobs even if they have current security clearances and even if their new posts need them. Think of mailroom jobs, security escorts, facility escorts, admin assistants, community liaison officers to name a few.

EFMs who work in Civil Service positions (via)

Due to the federal civilian hiring freeze, EFMs who are working in Civil Service (CS) positions and who are planning to accompany their sponsoring employee abroad may not join the Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC) at this time. The processing of a CS employee into the FSFRC requires the issuance of a new Family Member Appointment (FMA). Unless an exemption has been granted, all direct hire appointments (including Family Member Appointments) are currently subject to the federal civilian hiring freeze.

EFMs may request Leave Without Pay (LWOP) status, but Uncle Sam may still say “nooooooo!”  (via)

EFMs who are currently working in Civil Service positions, who are preparing to join their sponsoring employee abroad may want to request consideration of being placed into Leave without Pay (LWOP) status when they finish working in their CS position. LWOP is a temporary non-pay status and approved absence from duty that may be granted at the discretion of the Bureau’s Executive Director. (Please note that a Bureau’s Executive Director may not be able to approve LWOP requests based on a variety of factors.)

Holymoly macaroni! They won’t even let you stay on the rolls even on non-pay status?  The notice did not include the “variety of factors” what would cause the disapproval of a LWOP request.  We should note that 3 FAM3500 is clear that the authorization of LWOP is a matter of “administrative discretion.” Which means that an employee cannot demand leave without pay as a matter of right except as provided by 3 FAM 35303 FAM 35123 FAH-1 H-3513, and 3 FAH-1 H-3514.  Which makes us wonder — if a family member is a Civil Service employee accompanying his/her FS spouse overseas but is not allowed to join the FSFRC and could not be granted LWOP status, what option is there for the employee short of going AWOL or quitting his/her job?

What happens to the Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC)?

Remember in mid-2016 when the State Department launched the Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC) “to more quickly mobilize family members to fill available positions in missions overseas?”  At that time, the State Department notes that the FSFRC will become the exclusive hiring program for Appointment Eligible Family Members (AEFM) into Family Member Appointments (FMA). Its FAQ says that “After open enrollment commences, which we estimate to be 18 to 24 months from now, the Department will announce the initiation of a new hiring preference.” The Department estimated that in excess of 5,000 family members are eligible to apply to join the Reserve Corps (see @StateDept Launches Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC)).

Last year, the State Department said that “at full implementation (by 2018), the FSFRC will improve efficiency in the hiring process for Appointment Eligible Family Members (AEFMs).”

But what happens if/when there are no jobs?

Foreign Service Family Member Employment

Jobs for diplomatic spouses are supposed to enhance quality of life overseas, and is an important part of the agency’s effort to recruit and retain Foreign Service employees who, like the rest of America, have come increasingly from two-profession households.

The creation of the Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC) is part of that effort, as well as various programs and initiatives through the years like EPAP, GEI, SNAP, Professional Associates program, etc. In 2003, there was even a proposed three-year pilot program to establish a Family Member Cost Equalization Fund, which the Office of Overseas Employment was to manage. With funds in place, posts would have been able to make specific requests to fund the salary gap when a qualified EFM was selected to fill a job previously filled by a locally employed staff (LES). The 2006 OIG report says that “Despite the apparent support for the concept, in the course of three successive years the Department has not funded the initiative.” It further states that if no funding is available, that “Department management may need to acknowledge that it cannot give a high enough priority to this particular program.”  The OIG noted then that “Maintaining rhetoric on the program in communications with posts overseas and in briefings of incoming officer classes creates expectations that, when not met, negatively affect morale and retention of entry-level officers.”

11 years on, and the 50% target remains beyond reach

One of the agency’s performance goals in FY 2005 was a 50%  increase in the percentage of family members employed overseas.  The State Department previously noted that the 50% “was not intended to be a one-year goal but rather a multi-year goal.” The target was developed with the expectation that “the Department would steadily work towards the 50 percent spousal employment rate.” Its justification was that this contributes to increased retention rates of Foreign Service and Civil Service employees.

According to state.gov, statistics from an earlier survey from the Family Liaison Office indicate that even though 83 percent of Foreign Service family members have college degrees (29 percent have advanced degrees), the majority of positions they fill while serving abroad are clerical in nature.  These jobs typically pay in the low to mid-$30Ks.

As of November 2016, there are 11,841 total adult family members serving overseas with their FS employees. About 3,500 or 30% works inside an embassy or consulate, about 1,650 or 14% works outside the U.S. mission, while more than half — 6,688 or 56% are not working.

So 11 years on, and that 50% target is still beyond reach. And it looks like things are about to get harder not better.

Rumor #1: EFM Hiring Freeze Till 2018?

Internal State Department circles are ripe with rumors about the future of eligible family member (EFM) positions. There are talks that the EFM hiring freeze may last until 2018. Or beyond. No one is sure. No one is authorized to discuss it. You will find nothing about it anywhere online. Not on a FLO website or anywhere else, for that matter.

The State Department is clear that EFM positions are affected by the Federal hiring freeze.  However, if this becomes a permanent directive, it will have sobering repercussions not only in the operation of over 280 posts overseas, but also in the retention of FS employees.  Note that the last time the State Department had a hiring freeze and the agency was hiring at 50% below attrition, diplomatic spouses ended up getting hired because the Department could not hire direct-hire USG employees. We still don’t know what will happen to the September FS classes, but IF it turns out that State will not be able to hire FSOs and specialists even at attrition, and also won’t be able to hire EFMs, then embassies and consulates overseas will be in a real pickle (also see  @StateDept Gets Exemption From Trump Federal Hiring Freeze, March Classes Are On).

Rumor #2: Locally Employed Staff for EFM Positions?

One of the few times when the State Department was forced to hire family members and US contractors for local jobs was in Moscow back in the 1980’s when 260 Soviet employees were withdrawn from the embassy.

Now, rumors are circulating that locally employed (LE) staff could replace EFM positions at our overseas posts.  While this might be cheaper in some countries, it will be more expensive in others.  For example, at the US Embassy in Japan,  the public affairs section allocated 68 percent of its FY 2014 budget of $8.5 million to LE staff salaries.  And in Germany, LE procurement agent salaries in Frankfurt are among the highest in the world at $74,700.  So hey, you can probably hire two EFMs for the price of one LE staffer in Frankfurt, unless you want to hire local staff in Asia or in Africa. But then, of course, since you want to save money on housing and travel of local nationals working at U.S. embassies, you need to teleport them to the various posts that requires their services. Good luck with that teleportation scheme with Captain Kirk.

So right now, apparently, many are wondering – if Locally Employed Staff members replace EFMs, will this replacement be permanent? Are EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under Secretary Tillerson’s watch?

“Hire American” except at US Embassies?

Somebody should really ask the new State Department management how this would work with Trump’s new “Hire American” policy.

The Foreign Service Act of 1980 (FSA) ties LE staff salaries to prevailing wages and compensation practices for corresponding types of positions in the host country. The OIG review of local compensation back in 2009 notes that the FSA does not require that wage adjustments be associated with inflation and cost of living changes, and the Department does not link LE staff compensation adjustments to variations in inflation or cost of living. This has its own problems and issues due to persistent underfunding. The 2015 OIG report on US Mission Japan indicates that the LE staff there received their last pay increase in 1995. Yup. 1995. (see State Dept on Embassy Workers Unionization: Yo! Could Put U.S. National Security at Risk).

Local compensation plans are, of course, not created equal.  Some plans like the one in Germany authorizes a year of maternity leave and 6 weeks of annual leave a year. Separation costs in Western Europe are also very high, often exceeding 2.5 years of salary for long-term employees. But we also need to add that a 2009 OIG report cited at least 27 U.S. missions which presented “compelling arguments that their lower grade employees fall short of minimal living standards.” (Don’t look now but about 200 local guards working for a security contractor at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya have staged a demonstration over low wages.  The local guards protecting an embassy that had been bombed previously are reportedly paid “peanuts” according to one guard rep).

Oh, leadership in action! 

We’ve asked the State Department for comments on these reports a week ago.  Following the April Fools’ Day take down sent to this blog, it looks like the um … our friends at the Bureau of Public Affairs no longer acknowledge inquiries from this blog, or bother to actually answer their emails.  Milk cartoons, anyone?

#

%d bloggers like this: