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Back in February 2015, we blogged about the State Department then considering changes to its danger pay allowance (see Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay). In September 2015, we updated that post as new danger pay designation came into effect (see New Danger Pay Differential Posts: See Gainers, Plus Losers Include One Post on Evacuation Status.)
More recently, the Government Accountability Office was asked by the House Oversight and Government Reform (HOGR) Committee to review the State Department’s administration of hardship and danger pay for its employees. The GAO report examines the following:
(1) State’s spending at overseas posts for hardship and danger pay in fiscal years 2011-2016
(2) the extent to which State has followed its process for determining hardship and danger pay rates at overseas posts
(3) the procedures State uses to implement its policies for stopping and starting hardship and danger pay when employees temporarily leave their assigned overseas posts
(4) the extent to which State has identified improper payments related to hardship and danger pay.
The GAO made the following conclusions:
It also offers the following recommendations for the following offices:
Director of Allowance/ALS — should clearly document how the conditions at relevant posts meet the criteria for Director Points to ensure that hardship pay rates for overseas posts are consistently determined across posts and tenures of ALS Directors.
Undersecretary of Management — should assess the cost- effectiveness of State’s policies and procedures for stopping and starting hardship pay for employees who temporarily leave their assigned overseas posts. (Recommendation 2)
Department’s Comptroller/CGFS — should analyze available diplomatic cable data from overseas posts to identify posts at risk of improper payments for hardship pay, identify any improper payments, and take steps to recover and prevent them. (Recommendation 3)
FOUR POSTS: The GAO conducted fieldwork at four posts that receive hardship or danger pay: Islamabad, Pakistan; Mexico City, Mexico; New Delhi, India; and Tunis, Tunisia.
THREE-QUARTERS OF FS WORKFORCE: According to State data, about three-quarters of the department’s Foreign Service overseas work force, as of September 30, 2016, was based at a post designated for hardship pay.
HARDSHIP PAY: As of February 5, 2017, State offered hardship pay at 188 of its 273 overseas posts (about 69 percent).
DANGER PAY: As of February 5, 2017, State had provided danger pay at 25 of its 273 overseas posts (about 9 percent).
SIX POSTS: As of February 5, 2017, 21 overseas posts were eligible for both hardship and danger allowances, and 6 posts were receiving the maximum 70 percent combined rate for hardship and danger pay: Bangui, Central African Republic; Basrah, Iraq; Kabul, Afghanistan; Mogadishu, Somalia; Peshawar, Pakistan; and Tripoli, Libya.
AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ: State spent about $138 million on hardship pay in Afghanistan and Iraq in fiscal years 2011 through 2016— about 19 percent of its total spending on hardship pay. State spent about $125 million on danger pay in these two countries over the same period, almost half of its worldwide danger pay spending.
1 BILLION (FY2011-2015) : State spent about $1 billion for hardship and danger pay in fiscal years 2011 through 2016, including $732 million for State employees serving in locations designated for hardship pay and $266 million for employees serving in locations designated for danger pay.
STOP/START PAYMENTS: According to CGFS data, overseas posts sent diplomatic cables requiring CGFS to make more than 10,000 manual adjustments to temporarily stop and start employees’ hardship pay in both 2015 and 2016.
IMPROPER PAYMENTS: CGFS identified a total of about $2.9 million in improper payments for hardship and danger pay in fiscal years 2015 and 2016. As of March 2017, CGFS had recovered almost $2.7 million, or about 92 percent, of the improper payments it identified in 2015 and 2016 related to hardship and danger pay. According to CGFS officials, the bureau was continuing efforts to recover the remaining 8 percent.
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There was a shooting incident outside the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya on October 27 after a knife-wielding assailant attacked an armed Kenyan police officer guarding an entrance to the embassy. This is one more reminder that local law enforcement employed by host countries and local embassy guards are in the front line of protecting our missions overseas. The US Embassy said that no Embassy personnel were involved and no U.S. citizens are known to have been affected by this incident. The Embassy closed to the public on October 28 for routine consular services but emergency consular services for U.S. citizens remained available. In its Security Message to U.S. citizens, Embassy Nairobi writes, “We are grateful for the ongoing protection provided by the Kenyan police. We are cooperating with Kenyan authorities on the investigation of the incident on Thursday, October 27 and refer all questions about the investigation to them. We will be open to the public for normal operations on Monday, October 31, 2016.”
A quick look at the State Department’s Office of Allowances website indicates that Kenya had zero danger pay in September 2013, when the Westgate mall attack occurred. The website indicates that Kenya has been designated as a 15% danger differential post since June 29, 2014 until October 30, 2016 when the latest data is available online.
However, we understand that Embassy Nairobi has recently been downgraded in threat designation for terrorism which eliminates danger pay. We were reminded that it took 9 months after the Westgate Shopping Mall Attack before any danger pay differential kicked in for U.S. Embassy Nairobi; and this happened while reportedly about a third of the country including several neighborhoods in Nairobi remain red no-go zones for employees posted in Kenya. The allowances website does not reflect the downgraded status as of yet so we’ll have to wait and see what happens to the mid-November update.
The sad reality is these attacks could happen anywhere. There were 1,475 attacks in 2016 alone involving 12,897 fatalities around the world.