Must Read: Divorce and Foreign Service Retirement Benefits

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Via UNCLASSIFIED CABLE: 19 STATE 53266 Date/DTG: May 20, 2019 / 201659Z MAY 19 available via afsa.org:

1. Divorce can impact the division of Foreign Service retirement benefits. This message from the Bureau of Human Resources Office of Retirement outlines the key rules that apply under the Foreign Service Retirement and Disability System (FSRDS) and the Foreign Service Pension System (FSPS).

2. Please note that the guidance outlined in this message does not apply to Civil Service employees. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) reviews and administers civil service court-ordered benefits. For more information, Civil Service employees should download Pamphlet RI 84-1 titled “Court Ordered Benefits for Former Spouses” from OPM’s website (https://www.opm.gov/retirement-services/publications-forms/pamphlets/ri84-1.pdf) or view OPM’s presentation on Court Ordered Benefits (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZIaRfUtQB4).

Default Statutory Entitlement

3. The Foreign Service Act provides a statutory entitlement, also referred to as a default entitlement, when a former spouse is a qualified former spouse. A former spouse is a qualified former spouse if the following criteria are met: a) was married to a Foreign Service retirement plan participant for at least 10 years of his/her creditable federal service, b) at least 5 of those 10 years occurred while the participant was a member of the Foreign Service, and c) the former spouse must not have remarried prior to the commencement of any benefits and while under the age of 55 (age 60 for remarriages prior to November 8, 1984, for benefits under FSRDS). If the above criteria are met, and the former spouse is qualified, the statutory default entitlement applies regardless of the employee’s wishes, unless a spousal agreement or court order otherwise governs the disposition of benefits.

4. Under the default statutory entitlement, a qualified former spouse is entitled to a pro rata (marital) share of 50 percent of the employee’s annuity and a pro rata share of the maximum survivor benefit. The pro rata share is a fraction: the numerator is the total length of time of marriage during which the annuity was earned and the denominator is the retiree’s total creditable service. For example, if a couple was married for 14 years during the participant’s creditable service and the participant retired with 20 years of creditable service, then the pro rata share would be 14/20, or 70 percent. The former spouse would therefore receive 35 percent of the participant’s retired pay (which is half of the 70 percent pro rata share) while the participant would receive the remaining 65 percent.

Deviating From Statutory Entitlement

5. The Foreign Service default statutory entitlement may be altered through a valid court order or notarized spousal agreement. For example, a valid court order or spousal agreement can provide an express waiver of the former spouse’s statutory entitlement or provide that the former spouse’s entitlement be based on a different calculation method than the default calculation provided for by statute. Additionally, a valid court order or spousal agreement can award benefits even if the former spouse was not married to the retiree during his/her creditable Foreign Service or even if the marriage lasted fewer than 10 years. For a court order to be given effect for a former spouse, the order must be issued within two years of any divorce or annulment becoming final.

6. Any spousal agreement or court order that claims to alter or waive retirement benefits that are due under the Foreign Service Act to a former spouse must do so expressly in order for the alteration or waiver to be effective. To expressly waive or alter benefits under the Foreign Service Act, any spousal agreement or court order must specifically refer to Foreign Service retirement benefits. Merely mentioning generic retirement benefits or erroneously referring to retirement benefits under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) is insufficient to constitute a valid waiver or alteration of benefits. For example, to constitute an express waiver or alteration, the parties may specify that the relevant language in the agreement or order pertains to survivor annuities or pensions under the Foreign Service Act, under the Foreign Service Retirement and Disability System if the annuitant is a FSRDS participant, or under the Foreign Service Pension System if the annuitant is a FSPS participant.

7. In cases where the Department determines that a spousal agreement or court order language is insufficient, the parties may negotiate a new agreement or, in certain circumstances, return to court to correct the problem. A notarized spousal agreement may change the amount of the pension paid to the former spouse at any time. A court order can adjust the amount of a survivor annuity to a former spouse provided it is issued before the death of an employee/annuitant.

Submit Your Divorce Documents For Review

8. Foreign Service members must submit all relevant divorce documentation to the Bureau of Human Resources Office of Retirement (HR/RET) prior to retirement. HR/RET strongly encourages employees to do so prior to, or at the time of divorce, or no later than one year before retirement. In cases where years have passed since the divorce, it sometimes takes time to locate the former spouse. In other cases, state court orders may fail to meet federal standards or one party contends that the order has a different meaning than the Department’s interpretation. Thus, the parties sometimes must return to court to correct the problem. That process can take time.

9. To check in advance for such problems, Foreign Service employees should e-mail a certified copy of the entire court order and all attachments to the HR Service Center at HRSC@state.gov or e-mail that address asking for mailing instructions. HR/RET will review the documentation and provide the employee and their former spouse with a divorce determination letter addressing what, if any, retirement benefits a former spouse is entitled to.

Changes In Marital Status After Retirement

10. Foreign Service annuitants (retirees, their survivors, and former spouses) must report all changes in marital status (divorce, marriage/remarriage, or death of spouse) by notifying the HR Service Center and providing the relevant documentation.

11. Delays by annuitants in reporting a marriage/remarriage occurring after the participant’s retirement can permanently prevent a survivor election. A retiree who remarries after retirement has a limited period of time within which they may be eligible to make a survivor election for the new spouse. Under FSRDS, a retiree has only one year from the date of marriage/remarriage to elect a survivor annuity for a spouse acquired after retirement. For a FSPS retiree, there is a two-year deadline. When deciding whether to make a survivor election for a spouse acquired after retirement, it is important to consider that in order to remain eligible for FEHB benefits, a retiree’s surviving spouse must be eligible to receive a survivor annuity(whether or not the annuity would be payable in whole or in part to a former spouse).

For More Information

12. We understand this short message cannot address every conceivable situation. Therefore, additional questions may be sent to HRSC@state.gov.

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EUR’s Wess Mitchell Quits, New Acting EUR A/S Millard Reportedly to Retire 2/22

Posted: 1:57 am EST

Big news last week was the soon to be departure of EUR’s Assistant Secretary Wess Mitchell who is leaving his post after some 15 months on the job. A/S Mitchell took office in October 2017 and is resigning from his appointment effective February 15. The State Department announced that the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) Elisabeth Millard will serve as Acting A/S for the European and Eurasian Affairs. We’re not sure how long she will be in that acting capacity as we understand that her paperwork has been submitted to retire on February 22. The bureau appears to have six career DASes, two special envoys (one career, one noncareer), and one vacancy (Coordinator of U.S. Assistance to Europe and Eurasia  – is this a newly created position?). In any case, let us know when you know who will be the next Acting A/S.

@StateDeptPM’s Tina Kaidanow Heads to DOD as Director of International Cooperation

 

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Steve Mull, Last Career Ambassador in Active Service Departs Foggy Bottom

Posted: 1:56 pm PT

 

On July 11, we posted about the nomination of Ambassador David Hale to be the next Under Secretary for Political Affairs (P); also that a second hand source informed us that Ambassador Steve Mull, the acting “P” and the last remaining Career Ambassador in the active Foreign Service is on his way to retirement (see Ambassador David Hale to be @StateDept’s Under Secretary for Political Affairs).

On July 27, Secretary Pompeo held a ceremony for Ambassador Mull. The secretary of state’s schedule only indicated that he was hosting the flag ceremony for Ambassador Stephen D. Mull, at the Department of State at 10:30 a.m. and that the event was “closed press coverage”.

After 36 years in the Foreign Service, Ambassador Mull concluded his diplomatic career this past week with what appears to be a nice official send off from the secretary of state. This is a change from the most recent redesigned practice of pushing senior career diplomats out the airlock of Starship Foggy Bottom.

Secretary Michael R. Pompeo poses with Ambassador Stephen D. Mull and his wife during the flag ceremony, at the Department of State in Washington, D.C., on July 27, 2018. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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Here’s a video from US Embassy Warsaw With Ambassador Mull for our send off:

 

Related posts

 

Ambassador David Hale to be @StateDept’s Under Secretary for Political Affairs

 

On July 10, the WH announced the president’s intent to nominate career diplomat David Hale to be the next Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (State/P). The WH released the following brief bio:

Ambassador David Hale, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career-Minister, is the Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, a position he has held since 2015.  He previously served as the United States Ambassador to the Republic of Lebanon from 2013 to 2015 and as the United States Ambassador to Jordan from 2005 to 2008.  In Washington, D.C., he has served as the Special Envoy and Deputy Special Envoy for Middle East Peace from 2009 to 2013 and as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs from 2008 to 2009.  From 2001 to 2003, Ambassador Hale was Director for Israel-Palestinian Affairs.  He was Executive Assistant to the Secretary of State from 1997 and 1998.  Mr. Hale received a B.S.F.S. from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and he is the recipient of numerous senior State Department awards, including the Distinguished Service Award and the Presidential Rank Award of Meritorious Service.

The Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (State/P) position is currently encumbered by Ambassador Steve Mull in an acting capacity. An unconfirmed second-hand source informed us that Ambassador Mull is registered for the retirement course at the end of August and will be leaving at the end of the fiscal year – that is, on or about September 30, 2018. With the Hale announcement, Mull’s retirement appears inevitable, the second hand info is likely true than not.  Ambassador Mull is the last remaining career ambassador in active service. His departure will signal the first time in recent memory where the Foreign Service has no career ambassador in active service.

As of this writing, Secretary Pompeo has not released a statement about this nomination. If confirmed, Ambassador Hale would succeed Ambassador Tom Shannon as “P”. He will also become the highest ranking career Foreign Service officer at the State Department. Here are his predecessors via history.state.gov:

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What did we miss?

 

Ambassador Steve Mull Back in Foggy Bottom

In June, former Ambassador Steve Mull was appointed Acting Under Secretary for Political Affairs (P) at the State Department. Until this appointment, he was a Resident Senior Fellow at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy.  Props to Secretary Pompeo for bringing him back to Foggy Bottom. Unless.  a new crop of career ambassadors were nominated and confirmed while we were gone, Ambassador Mull is the last remaining career ambassador in active service as of this writing.

EAP’s Susan Thornton to Retire After 27 Years in the Foreign Service

EAP’s Acting Assistant Secretary Susan Thornton is set to retire at the end of July after a 27-year career with the U.S. Foreign Service. The retirement was reported by Reuters on June 30.  (see Career Diplomat Susan A. Thornton to be Asst Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP)Tillerson Signals No Career Nominees For Regional Bureaus? #FoggyBottomBlues). Senator Rubio was reportedly prepared to place a hold on the Thornton nomination.

Still No Nominee for Director General of the Foreign Service?

So hey, it’s now July, and the U.S. Foreign Service still does not have a nominee for Director General. U.S. law dictates the nominee must be a member of the career Foreign Service.

US Ambassador to Estonia James Melville Pens Resignation on FB Over Trump Policies

On June 29, U.S. Ambassador to Estonia, Jim Melville, announced on Facebook his intent to retire from the Foreign Service after 33 years of public service. Ambassador James Desmond Melville, Jr., of New Jersey, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor was nominated by President Obama as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Estonia in the spring of 2015. He was  confirmed by voice vote on August 5, 2015. Prior to his appointment in Estonia, Ambassador Melville was the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, Germany.  Previous to that, he served as Executive Director of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs and the Bureau of International Organization Affairs from 2010 to 2012. Ambassador Melville also served at the U.S. Embassies in London, Moscow, Paris, and at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Brussels.  His earlier positions with the Department of State include service as a Foreign Service Examiner, Senior Watch Officer in the Executive Secretariat Operations Center, and Legislative Management Officer in the Bureau of Legislative Affairs.  Ambassador Melville received a B.A. from Boston University and a J.D. from Rutgers University. He joined the Foreign Service in 1985 during the Reagan Administration. Below via Eesti Ekspress:

 

Confirmations

On June 28, the U.S. Senate confirmed the following nominees:

  • Robin S. Bernstein, of Florida, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Dominican Republic.
  • Joseph N. Mondello, of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
  • Gordon D. Sondland, of Washington, to be Representative of the United States of America to the European Union, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary.
  • Harry B. Harris, Jr., of Florida, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Korea
  • Ronald Gidwitz, of Illinois, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Belgium
  • Brian A. Nichols, of Rhode Island, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Zimbabwe
  • Tibor Peter Nagy, Jr., of Texas, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (African Affairs)
  • Francis R. Fannon, of Virginia, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Energy Resources)

On May 24, U.S. Senate confirmed the following :

  • James Randolph Evans, of Georgia, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Luxembourg
  • Jonathan R. Cohen, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be the Deputy Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, and the Deputy Representative of the United States of America in the Security Council of the United Nations.
  • David B. Cornstein, of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Hungary

On April 26, the U.S. Senate confirmed the following nominees:

  • Andrea L. Thompson, of South Dakota, to be Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security
  • Yleem D. S. Poblete, of Virginia, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Verification and Compliance)
  • Kirsten Dawn Madison, of Florida, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs).
  • Thomas J. Hushek, of Wisconsin, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of South Sudan
  • Richard Grenell, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Federal Republic of Germany.

 

US Embassy Germany: New Ambassador’s Rocky Start

On June 25, Politico Magazine did a lengthy piece on the new U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and his rocky start. “It is hard to overstate just how brashly he has charged onto the Berlin political scene during his first month in town.” Read Letter From Berlin: “‘He Does Not Understand What the Role of an Ambassador Should Be’

 

State/FSI’s Digital Media Administrator Pleads Guilty of Child Pornography Production

On July 2, Skydance MacMahon, 44, of Alexandria, Virginia, pleaded guilty to production of child pornography. During the time he committed these offenses, MacMahon was a Digital Media Administrator at the Foreign Services Institute of the U.S. Department of State in Arlington.  According to court documents, over at least a two year period, MacMahon, 44, conspired with an adult in Canada to produce over a thousand sexually explicit images and videos of minor children in Canada. These images and videos were produced at the direction of MacMahon using Skype and hidden cameras. MacMahon distributed these image and video files to other users and consumers of child pornography by providing access to the files on his cloud storage services and also by directly sending the files to other users.  In addition to the child pornography images and videos MacMahon himself created, he also received and possessed thousands of images and videos of child pornography. See more State Department Employee Pleads Guilty to Producing Child Pornography.

US Embassy London’s Inside the American Embassy Airs on Channel 4

The American Embassy, the previous TV series set at the U.S. Embassy in London in 2002 had six episodes but the show was canceled by Fox after only 4 episodes being broadcast.

It looks like the new show is only up for three episodes. Radio Times reports that Channel 4 has roughly 300 hours of behind-the-scenes footage and says in part: “Perhaps the most surreal part of the documentary comes when the cameras follow various British MPs attempting to garner Johnson’s attention, apparently unaware of the small mic attached to the ambassador’s lapel.” Whatthewhat?!

One TV review says: “Woody’s big problem, like everybody else’s, is the mad badger in the White House”. HIDE EVERYTHING!

US Embassy Costa Rica Sub-Contractor Pleads Guilty to Theft of $2Million Visa Fees

On June 14, a Department of State contractor pleads guilty to theft of government funds after evidence established that he stole more than $2 million of government funds that were supposed to be transferred to a bank account maintained by the Department of State’s Global Financial Services Center in Charleston. Evidence presented at the change of plea hearing established that Mauricio Andulo Hidalgo, age 43, of Costa Rica used his position as President of SafetyPay-Central America to steal over $2,000,000 of government funds.  SafetyPay-Central America had been hired as a subcontractor to handle the processing of visa application fees for the United States Embassy in Costa Rica.  As part of the scheme, Hidalgo diverted the funds from a SafetyPay bank account in Costa Rica to another Costa Rican account under his sole control. See more Department of State Contractor Pleads Guilty to Theft of Government Funds.

 

USCG Guangzhou Security Engineering Officer Mark Lenzi Disputes State Department Statement on Mystery Illness

On June 6, WaPo wrote about Mark Lenzi and his family who  started noticing noises in April 2017 at the U.S. Consulate General in Guangzhou, China. “A few months later, the headaches started — pain that lasted for days at a time. Lenzi and his wife experienced the same symptoms, which soon included chronic sleeplessness as well. Lenzi says he asked his superiors for help but they dismissed his concerns. Consulate doctors prescribed painkillers and Ambien, which did nothing to address the underlying causes of the problem. And then, last month, Lenzi was shocked to learn another neighbor, a fellow Foreign Service officer, had been evacuated from their building and flown back to the United States for a thorough medical assessment, which soon determined that the person in question was suffering from “mild traumatic brain injury.”  

They gave him painkillers and Ambien but medevaced the FSO next door?

The State Department reportedly issued a statement but said it is unaware of any other cases — a point “strongly disputed by Lenzi, who insists he had repeatedly informed both the embassy in Beijing and State Department headquarters in Washington of his family’s predicament.”  Lenzi, who has reportedly called for the resignation of the US Ambassador to Beijing  told WaPo that the State Department “restricted his access to the building where he normally worked after he began to speak up more forcefully about the treatment of his family, essentially neutralizing his capacity to continue his work at the consulate”.

We understand that Mark Lenzi is a specialist who was assigned as a Security Engineering Officer (SEO) in Guangzhou until he and his family were evacuated from post. Given the reported restriction to post access for speaking out about this incident, this is a case that bears watching.

State/ECA Official Pleads Guilty to Theft of Government Funds in Sports Visitors Program

On May 25,  Kelli R. Davis, 48, of Bowie, Maryland, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit theft of public funds and engage in honest services wire fraud before U.S. Senior District Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Eastern District of Virginia.  Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 24.

According to admissions made in connection with her plea, Davis was a Program Specialist for the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Office of Citizen Exchanges.  She also served as the Program Manager and Grants Officer Representative for the Sports Visitors Program, which sponsored foreign exchanges for emerging youth athletes and coaches from various countries.  The exchange program was managed by George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, through a federal grant and cooperative agreement with the State Department.  See State Department Official Pleads Guilty to Honest Services Wire Fraud and Theft of Federal Funds

Forced Repayment of Previously Approved Special Needs Education Allowance (SNEA)?

There were lots of talk some weeks back about people being forced to pay back special needs funding for their children that was already previously authorized and paid.  Folks were wondering if MED’s Office of Child and Family Programs (MED/CFP) previously highlighted by media reporting is responsible in getting this rolling. Anybody got some special insights on the whys and hows of this?

 

Who owns your medical and mental health records?

It has come to our attention that the State Department’s Medical Bureau can deny/restrict employees and family members overseas assignments over erroneous entries in their medical/mental health records. Of particular note is access to mental health records.  Employees can ask for an amendment to their records but how does one go about doing that without access to those records?

Apparently, State’s internal guidance doesn’t say that employees have the right to have inaccurate information removed – just that they can make the request to have it removed: “If you believe that the information we have about you is incorrect or incomplete, you may request an amendment to your protected health information as long as we maintain this information. While we will accept requests for amendment, we are not required to agree to the amendment.”

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Former Ambassador John Feeley’s Parting Shot: Why I could no longer serve this president

Posted: 4:25 am ET

 

Via WaPo:

I never meant for my decision to resign to be a public political statement. Sadly, it became one.

The details of how that happened are less important than the demoralizing take-away: When career public servants take an oath to communicate dissent only in protected channels, Trump administration officials do not protect that promise of privacy.

Leaking is not new in Washington. But leaking a sitting ambassador’s personal resignation letter to the president, as mine was, is something else. This was a painful indication that the current administration has little respect for those who have served the nation apolitically for decades. […] A part of my resignation letter that has not been quoted publicly reads: “I now return home, with no rank or title other than citizen, to continue my American journey.” What this means for me is still evolving.

As the grandson of migrant stock from New York City, an Eagle Scout, a Marine Corps veteran and someone who has spent his diplomatic career in Latin America, I am convinced that the president’s policies regarding migration are not only foolish and delusional but also anti-American.

Read in full below:

Here are a couple of goodbye videos from Panama:

 

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@StateDept Ex-Employees Get Comedy Central’s The Opposition Treatment

Posted: 2:08 am ET

 

We’re late on this but a couple weeks back, Comedy Central’s Jordan Klepper sat down with former members of the State Department to discuss President Trump’s proposed budget cuts and his approach to diplomacy. Well, this is supposed to be funny but we’re crying, and not from laughing our heads off.

The former employees include two former press officers (Meaghan Monfort and Sri Kulkarni who is running for Congress in Texas and just advanced to the runoffs), David Rank (most recently CDA in Beijing), Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley (f0rmer U.S. Ambassador to Malta), Tom Countryman (former U/Secretary of State), and Michele Bond (former A/S for Consular Affairs).

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U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobson to Retire After 31 Years of Service

Posted: 3:53 am ET

 

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Special Rep for North Korea Policy Joseph Yun to Retire This Week

Posted: 2:55 am ET

 

Another senior FSO, a member of the shrinking minister-counselor ranks of the Foreign Service is heading for the exit. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Joseph Yun is stepping down later this week, a decision that he told reporters, “is really my decision.” NBC News says that Yun has “decided to retire for personal reasons,” according to a State Department spokesperson.

Ambassador Yun who was previously U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia (2013-2016) was appointed Special Representative for North Korea Policy and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Korea and Japan in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (State/EAO) in October 2016.

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