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Notable Details From Tillerson’s Congressional Appearances on FY18 Budget Request

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Posted: 2:55 am ET

 

Secretary Tillerson appeared on the Hill for hearings on the FY2018 State Department Budget Request, the first under the Trump Administration. On June 13, he appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (see video here), and later that same day, he was before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (see video here). On June 14, Secretary Tillerson also appeared before the full House Foreign Relations Committee (HFAC) to talk about the Trump budget request for the State Department.  During the HFAC hearing, Representative Eliot Engel told Secretary Tillerson that “a member of your staff informed my staff that the reorganization you’re planning  of the State Department will require statutory changes ….”

Should be interesting to find out what kind of changes Tillerson is seeking from Congress in restructuring the agency.  Are we going to see the merging of some functional bureaus? Geographical bureaus realigned to mirror DOD’s combatant commands? Post closures? A new under secretary position swapped for a different one? A brand new mascot to improve morale?

Below are some details from Mr. Tillerson’s testimonies (all in quotation marks) with a few comments of our own.

#1. Reorganization Objective

“I think when this is all said and done, our objective is to enable the people – our Foreign Service officers, our civil servants, our people in our missions, foreign nationals – to deliver on mission with greater efficiency and effectiveness. And in effect, we’re going to get an uplift in effort delivered to the mission.”
— June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee

#2. Themes and Organizational Boxes

“…Several themes emerged, and I think the overarching theme, obviously though, is the extraordinary dedication and patriotism of the men and women in the State Department and USAID and why they undertake a career like this. And that is a strength that we will build upon. What we heard from a number of people is they are dedicated to this broad mission of representing America’s interests around the world, but from time to time – not just now, but historically as well – there have been mixed messages within the department, between the department and USAID, between the State Department and embassies, missions themselves. So a greater clarity around how the mission is defined and how direction is given.”
–June 13, SFRC

“So most of the themes have to do with – and this was the nature, though, of what we wanted to engage people with – is not, “Is this the right objective or are these the right organizational boxes?” Tell us how you get your work done, and tell us what gets in the way of you getting your work done, and what frustrates you, because that translates to inefficiency and ineffectiveness. As I said, we have no preconceived notions going in. It would have been very easy to approach this, take the organization chart, start collapsing boxes, start making it flatter in an uninformed way. I don’t have any number in mind as to what the efficiency will be, whether it is going to be 10 percent, whether it’s going to be 25, 30; we’re going to let the redesign drive what those efficiencies will be. That’s my experience in doing this in very large organizations both in the private sector and in the nonprofit sector where I’ve taken a similar approach. At the end of it, we capture significant efficiencies, but let’s let the work of the redesign drive that, not go in and say, “I’m looking for 20 percent.” Because those generally are not sustainable changes then.”
–June 13, SFRC

#3. Performance and Accountability

“We also heard a theme that they do not feel that people are held accountable for their work at the State Department, that poor performers are not dealt with. And the people in the State Department know who is getting the work done and who is not getting the work done, and it’s demoralizing to them when they see that we don’t deal with those who are not delivering on their responsibilities. That gets to how we praise performance, how we give people feedback, how we work to improve their performance, so we have a number of human resources processes that we believe can be improved, and a number of leadership areas that need to be addressed.”
–June 13, SFRC

 

#4. Surveys Completed – 35,000 (out of 84,048 overall staffing for State and USAID)

“We have just completed collecting information on our organizational processes and culture through a survey that was made available to every one of our State and USAID colleagues. Over 35,000 surveys were completed, and we also held in-person listening sessions with approximately 300 individuals to obtain their perspective on what we do and how we do it. I met personally with dozens of team members who spoke candidly about their experiences. From this feedback we have been able to get a clearer overall view of our organization. We have no preconceived outcomes, and our discussions of the goals, priorities, and direction of the State Department and USAID are not token exercises.”
–June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee

NOTE: How do we reconcile Tillerson’s “we have no preconceived outcomes” with #10 “by the end of Fiscal ’18, we think we’ll be down about 8 percent overall” before his reorganization study/listening tour is even done?

#5. Eliminating Obstacles

“Well, that’s what the entire redesign exercise is about, is understanding better how the work gets done. What we’ve learned out of this listening exercise is the – our colleagues in the State Department and USAID can already identify a number of obstacles to them getting their work done efficiently and effectively. If we eliminate some of those obstacles, it’s like getting another half a person, because they have their time available now to direct it at delivery on mission, as opposed to managing some internal process that’s not directly delivering on mission. I just use that as an example.”
–June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee

#6. Redesign Timeframe

“I think we will finalize the listening report here in the next few weeks, and we’re going to make that available so people can see that. Out of that report, though, there are about 13 themes that emerged and these were extremely valuable to begin to help us focus on where are the greatest opportunities to remove obstacles for people, because that’s really what this is about, is how do we allow people to get their work done more effectively and more efficiently? And we will be going after the redesign. Some of this is internal processes, some of it is structural, some of it are constraints that, quite frankly, Congress puts on us through some of the appropriation structures. And I understand all well-intended to ensure accountability and oversight, but it ends up adding a lot of layers. So we’re going to be getting at that. We hope to have the way forward, the next step framed here in the kind of August timeframe, so that we can then begin the redesign process itself September. I’m hoping we can have all of that concluded by the end of the calendar year, and then ’18 will be a year of how do we implement this now? How do we effect the change and begin to get that into place?”
–June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee


#7. Implementation in 2018

“I’ll get a final report. I’m interviewing a couple of individuals who will come in and help us now with the next stage, which is the redesign effort itself, which will be – which will involve the colleagues in the State Department and USAID. That effort likely we’ll have that framed over the course of the summer. The effort itself will likely get underway sometime in August, September timeframe when we have our pathway for the process, how we want to engage our colleagues, how we want to get at various elements and themes that emerged from the listening session. Now, some of this is work process, some of it is how we handle people, some of it is how decisions are made. It’s a very broad set of issues which were quite informative. So we’ve got to map out how do we want to get at each of those, but the work itself will start towards the end of the year. Hopefully, we will have some clarity around what that looks like by the end of this year; early next year, we’ll begin implementation.”
–June 13, SFRC

 

#8. Who’s coming to Foggy Bottom?

“… Having done this in the private sector once or twice and in a big nonprofit once, there is a process that I know has delivered for me in the past. So we just concluded this listening effort, which will inform us and shape how we feel we need to now attack the redesign and the way forward. Now, I’ve interviewed a couple of individuals to come in and help me lead that effort.”
–June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee

#9. Institutionalizing Change

“Well, I think that perhaps the difference in how we’re thinking about this, not a – just is what people think about things differently. The effort that we’re undertaking is to institutionalize change so that it stays and we capture, now and forevermore, these efficiencies.”
–June 13, SFRC

#10. State Department Workforce Projected to be ⬇︎8% by End of FY18 — 1:3 Replacement

“We actually are up about 50 Foreign Service officers from the start of the year, about a half a percent. The effect will come later, as what we’re doing is just allowing normal attrition to bring the numbers down. And as we look forward, we know we’ve got to continue to replenish our Foreign Service officer corps, so we are still interviewing people. And as we look ahead, we’ll probably be looking at a one-for-three kind of replacement. But the Foreign Service, if you – if we look further out, and I think we’ve said this publicly – by the end of Fiscal ’18, we think we’ll be down about 8 percent overall on the permanent State Department Foreign Service/Civil Service. Foreign Service is actually only going to be down about 4 percent; civil servants are going to be down about 12. So it’s being managed in a deliberate way, but being very mindful of not diminishing the strength of our Foreign Service officers.”
–June 13, SFRC

NOTE: On May 10, careers.state.gov posted this note in the forum: “The Office of Recruitment, Examination and Employment sent letters to all candidates on the Generalist registers notifying them of the opportunity to join the Consular Fellows Program. This program is a priority initiative for the US Department of State in the coming years and we encourage all of our qualified candidates to consider joining the Foreign Service to fill this important role.”  HR is telling FSO candidates waiting to be called to a class (career tracks) that they can join the Consular Fellow Program (non-career track, 60 months tenure). Why would anyone want to do that?  This tells us that State has hiring authority for the CF program, but may not have one for the career candidates. Also see #14 below.

#11. Staffing the Top Ranks of the State Department

“We’re at about, I would say, the 50 percent mark in terms of undersecretaries/assistant secretaries. In terms of people that have been identified, names are actually being submitted so they can begin to work their way through the White House PPO process, but also, for a lot of people, they have to get this paperwork behind them. And I would tell you that is no small challenge. As I check on the status of various people we have recommended and nominated to the White House, what I’m finding is more o[en than not it’s the paperwork that is slowing them down. In my own case, I had to hire eight people to help me get mine done. Most people can’t afford to hire eight people to help them get their paperwork done, so it takes a very long time. But we’re about 50 percent of the way through, and we have other names that are in process. What we’re doing, we try to get the candidate list of people we think are – would be useful to talk to down to a couple, and then we actually interview them face to face and then make a decision and submit them. So this is a pretty active process. It’s one I sit down with the people that are helping me coordinate it about every 10 days just to see where are we, make decisions on other people. If we’re hearing feedback, we talk to folks, maybe they don’t want to do it after all. So it’s moving, and that’s about where we are within the State Department and the bureaus.”
–June 13, SFRC

RELATED POSTS: 
America’s Cushiest Ambassadorships Will Go Vacant By Inauguration Day;
Who Will Be Acting Secretary of State Pending Rex Tillerson’s Confirmation? (Updated);
Tillerson/Priebus Standoff on Ambassadorships, Plus Rumored Names/Posts (Updated);
Snapshot: @StateDept Presidential Appointee Positions Requiring Senate Confirmation;
Is Foggy Bottom’s T-Rex as Stealthy and Cunning as His Theropod Namesake?;
Rex Tillerson’s Inner Circle Photo Album, Say Cheese Con Quezo!

 

#12. No firing program planned

“We’re not going to have to fire anyone. This is all being done through the hiring freeze, normal attrition, with a very limited, if needed – because we haven’t determined whether we’ll even need it – a very limited buyout program between the end of this year and next. So there is no firing program planned.”
–June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee

Note: The last time the State Department suffered through a 27% budget cut between 1993-1996, the agency trimmed more than 1,100 jobs at the State Department, 600 jobs at  the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), and shuttered consulates in 26 foreign cities. USAID lost about 2,000 jobs and closed 28 aid missions abroad (see The Last Time @StateDept Had a 27% Budget Cut, Congress Killed ACDA and USIA).  We understand that there are plans to close the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah, Iraq, as well as several smaller posts. If those plans are implemented, how can the State Department avoid a firing program? In the case of Basrah, will American employees simply be relocated to other posts, and will local employees simply be absorbed by Baghdad and other posts in the region? (see U.S. Consulate General #Basrah, Iraq: Six-Year Old Diplomatic Outpost Faces Closure).


#13. EFM Hiring Freeze

“State Department family members that are eligible to be hired in mission – we have a waiver process in place for that, and I have approved a number. The freeze does extend, in answer to your question, to all of those. But where we have critical missions, like in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, where we really need these positions filled by family members who are willing to go to those tough locations, I have been providing waivers in those circumstances.”
–June 13, SFRC

NOTE: We’ve blogged previously about the hiring freeze and EFM jobs. According to the November 2016 data, there are about 300 EFM positions in SCA (bureau covers AfghanistanPakistanBangladesh), 560 positions in AF, and almost 400 positions in NEA (bureau covers IraqEgyptLebanon). Back in April, we were hearing that some 70+ EFM waivers were requested. At that time, we understand that Tillerson only granted waivers for 6 EFM positions, and all are for priority posts. Since the State Department’s Public Affairs office refuses to answer routine questions from this blog, we’re hoping that congressional reps will ask follow-up Questions For the Record (QFRs).

If the Secretary of State is only issuing EFM waivers to family members accompanying FS employees to critical missions like Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, he’s basically ignoring the potential fallout of this decision to smaller posts, or posts with high turn-over this transfer season.

Posts typically depend on EFMs to provide support in consular sections, facilities management, security, health unit, vetting, grants, etc. When post has only about a dozen Direct Hire (DH) American employees, this support is just as critical to these mission.  So when these EFMs leave their posts during the ongoing transfer season, these positions will not be filled due to the hiring freeze; and they can’t be hired at their next posts because of the same hiring freeze. When posts are unable to hire EFMs, these jobs still need to be done, so DH employees will need to do their jobs and the EFM jobs. And if there are other gaps in staffing, folks could be wearing three-four hats.  Until when? Potentially until Tillerson lifts the freeze. Which won’t happen until the reorganization plan is “fully developed.” Which may not happen until fall or end of the calendar year. Maybe he’ll wait until early 2018 when the plan is implemented?  Oh, who knows? Does he even care?

READ MORE:
Snapshot: Geographic Distribution of Family Member UnEmployment Overseas;
Oy! That Rumor About Foreign Service Family Member Employment as “Corporate Welfare”;
Are #EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under #Tillerson’s watch?;
No thaw in sight for @StateDept hiring freeze until reorganization plan is “fully developed”

 

#14. Rangel and Pickering Fellows

“I don’t think we’ve frozen the Rangel and Pickering programs in terms of people that are in process. We’re continuing and we’re going to continue to take applicants as well. But let me follow up with you because I don’t think there’s a full freeze in place of those.”
–June 13, SFRC

“There is no freeze. The structure of the program Rangle-Pickering which is very important to us, and we have every intention of continuing it. The obligation and the contract that the young people and others engage with us when we fund their tuition and for their graduate studies is that we confirm that we offer them a position in Consular Affairs. That is confirmed and it’s a five-year commitment on their part to serve. We then say, we will put you on the list for consideration for the next A-100 Foreign Service class.  We are holding the next A-100 Foreign Service class because quite frankly right now our Foreign Service officer staffing were actually up about 50 people from the beginning of the year with our expected manning — which we’re looking at an 8% reduction by the end of fiscal 2018 — in order for us to have time to manage how we want that to occur so that we do not diminish the strength of the Foreign Service corps. We are holding the next A-100 class so nothing has been frozen and we want people to continue to apply and they’re all offered a position in Consular Affairs. And that is no change from the past. There’s never been a guarantee that anyone would have a clearer offer or pathway to the Foreign Service that would be considered for Foreign Service based upon the work they completed but they always have an offer to go to work in Consular Affairs.”
–June 14, HFAC in response to Congressman Meeks

Note: The Charles B. Rangel Fellows and the Thomas R. Pickering Fellows are two of the nine fellowship programs under the State Department’s  Diplomacy Fellows Program (DFP) designed to advance eligible candidates to the Foreign Service Oral Assessment for the competitive selection of entry level Foreign Service Officer Candidates.  The careers.state.gov website states  “We are not currently accepting applications for the Diplomacy Fellows Program.”  Also see the DPB of June 15, 2017.  A total of 31 members signed a letter to Tillerson calling on the Secretary of State to exempt the Rangel and Pickering Fellows from the State Department hiring freeze.

The Secretary told Congress that the State Department is holding the next A-100 class but the classes for July and September have not been confirmed. The next FSO/Generalist class is scheduled to start on July 10.  As of June 8, 2017, careers.state.gov is telling applicants “Still no decision has been taken regarding A-100 classes for Foreign Service Specialist and Generalist candidates this year.” There has been no recent update on start dates as far as we could tell.

Tillerson appears to be saying there’s no assurance for the diplomacy fellows to get a spot in A-100 class (career appointment) but that there was always an offer  for them to go work for Consular Affairs. What? That can’t be right. He did not specifically mentioned Consular Fellows but since he also talked about Consular Affairs and a 5-year commitment, we suspect that this is the program he is talking about.

Consular Fellows are hired via limited non-career appointments (LNAs). The Consular Fellow LNA appointment is for 5 years, but may be terminated at any time based on performance and/or needs of the Service. These are paid, non-career positions. The Consular Fellows program, similar to its predecessor, the Consular Adjudicator Limited Non-Career Appointment (CA LNA) program, is not/not an alternate entry method to the Foreign Service or the U.S. Department of State, i.e. this service does not lead to onward employment at the U.S. Department of State or with the U.S. government.  See more here: https://careers.state.gov/work/foreign-service/consular-fellows.

If the Consular Fellows Program will be the hiring priority initiative this year and in the coming years, before long the Foreign Service will be encumbered by career Foreign Service officers/specialists (1:3 hiring to attrition) and non-career Consular Fellows on a 60 month limited appointment who can only do consular tours.  At some point, unless there is a correction, the Foreign Service will again be divided into career diplomatic employees, and a consular corps with a limited career track that does not go beyond 5 years. That’s the future we’re reading.

HIRING: We’ve blogged previously about this here:
@StateDept Gets Exemption From Trump Federal Hiring Freeze, March Classes Are On;
Snapshot: Historical and Projected Foreign Service Attrition;
With Zero Information From @StateDept, Foreign Service Candidates Remain in Limbo;
OMB Issues Initial Guidance For Federal Civilian Hiring Freeze (Read Memo);
President Trump Freezes Federal Hiring Regardless of Funding Sources (Read Memo);
@StateDept Sends Out Job Offers to Prospective FSOs For March 6 Class But — Will There Be Jobs?

 

#15. Safety as the Highest Priority

“We’ve made the safety of not just our State Department employees but Americans broadly our highest priority, certainly as it relates to our embassy presence, our consular office presence, and our missions around the world. If you examine the security elements of the budget, our budget for Diplomatic Security is actually up 11 percent, year on year. Where we have reductions has to do with some of the construction, the buildings, part of the budget for embassies and other facilities. Part of that we’ll manage with some multiyear commitments across ’17 to ’18, and some of this has to do with just our ability to move projects along promptly. We are clearly committed to the Benghazi ARB recommendations, and I’m monitoring those carefully. We have some gaps we need to close. The OIG has helped us identify some of those. We’re going to stay on top of those. If there were more funds there, we would simply try to step up more activity on some of the building and maintenance issues. So most of the reduction is in building and maintenance efforts, which we believe are manageable, at least through Fiscal Year ’18.”
–June 13, SFRC

#16. Security and Embassy Construction – Back to Standard Design

“The current budget around security, both security services as well as embassy construction will allow us to maintain our program pretty much through 2018. We will begin to have planning difficulties in 19 at this level and we’re in discussions with OMB about that. And I think to your points about the execution against embassy construction, it really is an execution issue and I agree we need to get back to standard designs, fear scope changes, we don’t need to be unique every place. Plus I’m a fit for purpose guy and we ned to build what’s needed first to deliver the mission.”
— June 14, HFAC

#17. Money Spent Not/Not Indicator of U.S. Commitment 

“I am listening to what my people tell me are the challenges facing them and how we can produce a more efficient and effective State Department and USAID. And we will work as a team and with the Congress to improve both organizations. Throughout my career, I have never believed, nor have I experienced, that the level of funding devoted to a goal is the most important factor in achieving it. Our budget will never be determined – will never determine our ability to be effective; our people will.”
–June 13, Appropriations Sub-Committee

“….That long list of challenges on that board over there have been around for a while. The level of spending we’ve been carrying out hasn’t solved them. I go back to my view that I don’t think the money we spend is necessarily an indicator of our commitment. I think how we go about it – and we’ve got to take some new approaches to begin to address some of these very daunting challenges. The aid and the support and what we can bring to the issue is important. I’m not in any way diminishing that. But I don’t – I think if we equate the budget level to somehow some level of commitment or some level of expected success, I think we’re really undercutting and selling short people’s intellectual capacity to bring different approaches to these problems.”
–June 13, Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee

 

#18. Refugees

“I would take exception to the comment that we’re walking away from our responsibilities in that region with all of the men and women in uniform we have fighting and the State Department diplomatic resources we have to get at the reason the refugees are in Jordan. And I would tell you in working with the region, they all understand – Turkey, Jordan, others understand – we’d like the refugees to stay close to their homes so they can go back. Having them come all the way to the United States doesn’t – may not achieve that. So our approach on the significant problem of refugee migration locally is to solve the problem that allows people to go home. We have already seen some success in the liberation of Mosul and other cities. We hope to replicate that kind of success in Syria where we have come behind the military quickly when they liberate an area, create a secure zone, restore power and water, restore hospitals, restore schools. We have close to 40,000 children back in school in East Mosul already. People will come back if we create the conditions. So we really want refugees to return; it’s not the objective to have Jordan have to house those refugees now and forevermore.”
–June 13, SFRC

#19. Russia Sanctions

“I think it is important that we be given sufficient flexibility to achieve the Minsk objectives. It is very possible that the Government of Ukraine and the Government of Russia could to come to a satisfactory resolution through some structure other than Minsk that would achieve the objectives  of Minsk which we’re committed to. So my caution is I would not want ourselves handcuffed to Minsk if it turns out the parties decides to settle this through a different agreement.”
— June 14, HFAC

#20. Russian Dachas and Irritants 

“So we segmented the big issues from this list of what I call the irritants. The dachas are on that list. We have things on the list, such as trying to get the permits for our consular office in St. Petersburg. We’ve got issues with harassment of our embassy employees in Moscow. We have a list of things; they have a list of things. I don’t want to suggest to you this is some kind of a bartering deal. It’s more, let’s start working on some of the smalls and see if we can solve them. As to the dachas, these two properties have been in ownership of the Russians dating back to the Soviet Union – 1971. They’ve owned these properties and have used these properties for a very long time. They were transferred to the Russian Federation Government for $1 at the breakup of the Soviet Union. We have continued to allow them to use these properties, and they have used these properties continuously for all that time. President Obama, in response to the interference with the election, expelled the 35 Russian diplomats and seized these two properties. What we’re working through with them in this conversation is: Under what terms and conditions would we be, would we allow them to access the properties again for recreational purpose? We’ve not taken the properties from them; they still belong to them. So we’re not going to seize properties that are theirs and remove their — but we are talking about under what conditions would we allow you to use them for recreational purposes, which is what they have asked.”
–June 13, SFRC

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@StateDept Targets Umbrella Schools For Homeschooling Foreign Service Families

Posted: 4:18 am ET

 

An umbrella school is an alternative education school which serves to oversee the homeschooling of children to fulfill government educational requirements.  Umbrella or cover schools can provide options that homeschoolers might not have on their own, including field trips, resources, team sports opportunities, and tutoring. They also have widely different requirements regarding curricula, record-keeping, and even religious affiliation.

On May 15, the State Department issued an “Educational Allowance Home Study Payment Guidance” which says “indirect or third party service provider fees, such as umbrella school/cover schools not providing direct instruction, course, or accredited virtual education, are not reimbursable fees or recognized as advisory fees.” Any supplementary or gifted and talented instruction fees are included in this restriction.

The new guidance further states:

An educational provider receiving payment as a result of an education allowance must be providing the course teaching and evaluations directly to the student. The course of study provided by the educational provider may be online, by correspondence, or through other appropriate materials. Indirect or third party service provider fees, such as umbrella school/cover schools not providing direct instruction, course, or accredited virtual education, are not reimbursable fees or recognized as advisory fees (this also applies for any supplementary or gifted and talented instruction). However, a parent can elect to pay them as a personal expense. Third party service providers billing for the direct educational providers’ fees may only be paid directly by the FMO or reimbursed to the officer as described below. Agreements, rules, procedures, or contracts (if completed) between the officer, third party service providers, and/or the school must be made available to Post as part of any claim for reimbursement or request for direct payment.

Prior to this guidance, the State Department pays the homeschooling allowance for the Foreign Service child to the umbrella school. The school can then use it for school items for the child or reimburse parents for the school items they purchased. By restricting the use of umbrella schools, post’s Financial Management Officer (FMO) now becomes the “decider” for the FS child’s homeschool allowance. Foreign Service families can still homeschool but the FMO at post has to okay each and every purchase expenditure. Parents have to take their receipts to the FMO and hope that he/she will reimburse them for that specific math curriculum.

We don’t know how much the State Department is saving by going after umbrella schools. At some posts, homeschooling may be the family’s only educational option. And at other posts, there may not be an FMO and this could become one more collateral duty for the Management Officer.

We should note that Foreign Service families can only choose from three educational methods for their kids: 1) school at post, 2) school away from post, and 3) home study/private instruction. Guess which one is the cheapest.

So a hiring freeze for family members with very few exceptions, and now, we’re asked why the State Department is picking on homeschoolers?  What should we make of this? They’re absolutely not saying parents can’t homeschool their kids.  They’ll just make the process burdensome enough, as a way to rein in the cost?

In late April, Bloomberg reported that “Tillerson was taken aback when he arrived on the job to see how much money the State Department was spending on housing and schooling for the families of diplomats living overseas.”

When we look back at that reporting and then look at this new guidance, we get a sense that this is just the opening salvo in a one sided fight projected to inflict deep cuts at the State Department. This is just the first cut but the axe is out.

 

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MSPB Precedential Case: The Statutory Definition of a “Widow”

Posted: 2:14 am ET

 

This is a precedential case worth noting via the U.S. Merit Service Protection Board:

Petitioner: Amanda E. Becker
Respondent: Office of Personnel Management Tribunal: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit Case Number: 2016-1365
MSPB Docket No. CH-0831-15-0280-I-1
Issuance Date: April 7, 2017

Case Report – April 14, 2017

The appellant filed an application with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) seeking survivor benefits under the Federal Employees’ Retirement System (FERS) based on the Federal service of her late husband. OPM denied her application on the basis of its finding that she did not meet the statutory definition of a “widow” who may receive such benefits, which is defined at 5 U.S.C. § 8441(1) as the surviving wife of an employee who was married to the employee for at least 9 months immediately before his death, or who is the mother of children by that marriage. The appellant appealed OPM’s decision, and the administrative judge affirmed. During the proceedings, the administrative judge denied the appellant’s request for discovery regarding instances in which OPM may have waived the 9-month requirement and regarding whether OPM provided her late husband notice regarding the 9-month requirement. The appellant appealed the decision to the court, arguing that 5 U.S.C. § 8441(1) was unconstitutional and that the administrative judge improperly denied her discovery requests.

Holdings:

(1) The court found that 5 U.S.C. § 8441(1) does not violate the Constitution because there is a rational basis for Congress to use an imprecise set of criteria as a proxy to ensure that the marriage was entered into for reasons other than the desire to shortly acquire benefits.

(2) The court found that the administrative judge did not abuse her discretion in denying the appellant’s discovery requests because: (a) she had no reasonable belief that OPM has previously waived the 9-month requirement and, even if OPM had previously done so, it would still be required to follow the statutory requirements when reviewing the appellant’s application; and (b) there was no dispute that the appellant’s late husband submitted all of the election forms to ensure that she received survivor benefits and, even if he was unfamiliar with the statutory requirements contained in the election forms he signed, such fact would not provide a basis for waiving the requirements.

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Yes or No: EFMs Are Making Their Maximum Contribution 😱 A Picture Book 😭

Posted: 12:38 am ET

 

Part I:  “EFMs are making their maximum contribution!”

Yes, Sir. Yes.

Via giphy.com

Great! Word cloud your maximum contribution.

Note: Eligible Family Members (EFMs) washing their vegetables in Clorox or donating one collapsed lung due to host country pollution are considered normal condition of the service, and do not/not count as contribution.

How many receptions did you host? Did you cook all the meals? Did you massage your diplomat’s tired feet? How do you rate yourself in the perfection scale of a diplomatic hostess?

via reactiongifs.com

See, a perfectly painless exercise!

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Part II: “EFMs are making their maximum contribution.”

No, Sir. No… I mean …

via professionalfangirls.com

So, EFMs are not working as hard as they should in support of the mission.

Via Imgur

No, sir, that’s not what I mean, see … it’s like …

You have an MBA from Wharton and you take any job you can to support the mission, keep your brain from turning into a rusty nail, and keep the bag lady “I’ll live to be 86 with no retirement” nightmare away.

Certainly underpaid, and underemployed but 30.0001% of EFMs are LUCKY if they can get any job. Any  job maybe except as a cheesy hottie in Minsk.

 

But 56.01234% of EFMs do not even have jobs. And see, the 14.0016% who works in the local economy (if there is a bilateral work agreement), may have to give up some of their immunity.

Also if you have to start a business or stick your tongue out, you need permission from the Chief of Mission, who may/may not give it to you.

Then there’s … well, the delicate part.

If your spouse finds a younger model, well, damn, you could be back in the USA looking for a paid job at age 52 with a resume that’s more spotty than, oh lord, a Spotted Trunkfish!

Do you know that …. wait …

 

Too much information? You mean, wouldn’t a “yes” or “no” and a word cloud work just as well?

 

The end? The END!? But … but …. there’s more!

Via reactiongifs.com

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Snapshot: Geographic Distribution of Family Member UnEmployment Overseas #notajobsprogram

Posted: 2:01 am ET

 

Via state.gov/flo

A couple of things we’d like to note here. One, the State Department’s “listening tour” survey only includes “employed family members.” If the survey only includes employment inside/outside U.S. missions, that would include 44% of family members overseas and excludes more than half the family member overseas population. If it only  includes current employment inside U.S. missions, that effectively excludes 70% of family members overseas. Family members may be employed at one post and be unemployed at the next one. A prior job at one embassy is not an assurance that that they will have jobs at the next one.

Two, the regional bureaus where we find the highest number of family members employed at U.S. missions are in areas that are challenging and have traditionally been hard to staff:

1) SCA/South Central Asia (includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh)

2) AF/African Affairs, (oh, where do we start?)

3) NEA/Near Eastern Affairs (includes Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon).

According to the November 2016 data, about 300 positions in SCA, 560 positions in AF, and almost 400 positions in NEA are eligible family member positions.  When these EFMs leave their posts during the upcoming transfer season, these positions will not be filled (with very few exceptions) due to the hiring freeze; and they can’t be hired at their next posts because of the same hiring freeze.

Embassies and consulates will have to make do without their RSO Security Assistant/Escorts (escorts all non-cleared laborers and other service personnel in or adjacent to controlled access areas (CAAs) where classified materials is stored, handled, processes, or discussed), without Mailroom Clerks (who run the unclassified mail and diplomatic pouch facility at post), without Make Ready Coordinators (who prepare vacant housing units for occupancy), and without Residential Security Coordinators (who conducts security surveys, and coordinate/verifies residential security upgrade work is scheduled and completed, and ensures residential security hardware is installed properly and functioning) — to name a few of the jobs that EFMs perform overseas. The jobs will still need to be done but if folks think that the USG will be saving money, then these folks have a lot to learn.

Imagine the Regional Security Officers (RSO) doing the security escort jobs until the hiring freeze is lifted.

Or let’s have the Information Management Officer do mailroom clerk duty until the hiring freeze is done.

Instead of paying $13/hour for an EFM to do the job, the USG will be paying premium pay for a US-direct hire employee to do the same job. And no, you can’t outsource these jobs to Third Country Nationals from Nepal or to an Indian BPO. The end.

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Related posts:

 

 

Burn Bag: What right does this U.S. mission have to prior restraint?

Via Burn Bag:

An eligible family member (EFM) overseas (not employed by a US mission) was recently told she had to submit an article she had written to the Ambassador and the regional bureau for review. The article had nothing to do with policy, the host country, or anything approaching privileged information. Nevertheless, the Ambassador, who had no particular expertise in the subject, sent changes back to the author. The EFM was also instructed that her co-author would also need clearance from her post and bureau.

When is this ridiculous overreach going to stop?

The FAM says nothing about Foreign Service spouses having to seek pre-publication review. Why are they expected to get clearance for their writing even when they are not employed by a U.S. mission and are not working for the U.S. Government?

 

The State Department’s pre-publication review has three purposes per 3 FAM 4170:

The personal capacity public communications review requirement is intended to serve three purposes: 1) to determine whether the communication would disclose classified or other protected information without authorization; 2) to allow the Department to prepare to handle any potential ramifications for its mission or employees that could result from the proposed public communication; or, 3) in rare cases, to identify public communications that are highly likely to result in serious adverse consequences to the mission or efficiency of the Department, such that the Secretary or Deputy Secretary must be afforded the opportunity to decide whether it is necessary to prohibit the communication (see 3 FAM 4176.4).

 

Oy! That Rumor About Foreign Service Family Member Employment as “Corporate Welfare”

Posted: 1:39 am ET

 

We posted recently about the hiring freeze, the jobs for diplomatic spouses, and the worries that these jobs could soon be filled not by the U.S. citizen spouses of USG employees overseas but by locally hired employees (see Are #EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under #Tillerson’s watch?).

We have since learned that the Foreign Service community has been roiled by a rumor that the top diplomat of the United States has allegedly called the employment of Foreign Service family members as “corporate welfare” and allegedly said to one of his deputies that this practice is going to stop.

The secretary of state is surrounded by a small number of inner circle staffers like Margaret Peterlin, Christine Ciccone, Matt Mowers and Bill Ingle but his top deputies are currently nowhere in sight in Foggy Bottom as he has no confirmed deputy. Where did this rumor come from?  Was this overheard in the cafeteria, by the water coolers, in Foggy Bottom’s sparkling bathrooms?  We have not been able to trace the origin of this alleged quote, or locate a first hand account of who heard exactly what when.  But since the rumor has raced like wildfire fire within the State Department, and has a potential deleterious effect on morale, we’ve asked the Bureau of Public Affairs via email, and on Twitter to comment about this alleged quote. Unfortunately, we got crickets; we got no acknowledgement that they even received our multiple inquiries, and we’ve seen no response to-date.

Not even smoke signals! Dear Public Affairs, please blink if you’re being held hostage …

via reactiongifs.com

We’ve also asked the Family Liaison Office (FLO), the institutional advocate for Foreign Service family members. The FLO folks also did not respond to our inquiry. Finally, we’ve asked the Director General of the Foreign Service via email. We got a canned response thanking us for our inquiry and advising us that if a response is required, we’ll hear from DGHR within 10 days. Yippee! The DGHR’s office did bother to set up an auto-response and we’re holding our breath for a real response!

H-e-l-p … g-u-l-p …we’re still holding our breath!

Dual Career Households

Foreign Service spouses have similar challenges to military spouses in maintaining dual careers while following their spouses during assignments — have you ever heard our top generals call the jobs for military spouses  “corporate welfare?” Of course not. Why? Because dual career households have been trending up since 1970.  According to a Pew Research Center analysis of Current Population Survey data in 2015, the share of two-parent households in which both parents work full time now stands at 46%, up from 31% in 1970.  “At the same time, the share with a father who works full time and a mother who doesn’t work outside the home has declined considerably; 26% of two-parent households today fit this description, compared with 46% in 1970.” 

So, we were counting on the State Department to set the record straight on what this secretary of state thinks about the family members who serve overseas with our diplomats.  We are unable to say whether this quote is real or not, whether he said this or not but we can tell you that the rumor is doing the rounds and upsetting a whole lot of people.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that a good number of folks within the organization also believe this to be true.

Rumors Uninterrupted. Why?

Well, there are a few reasons we can think of.  One, the White House has now lifted the hiring freeze, but there is no thaw in sight for the State Department until the reorganization plan is approved (see No thaw in sight for @StateDept hiring freeze until reorganization plan is “fully developed”).  Two, we’re hearing all sorts of news about gutting State and USAID budgets and staffing but we have yet to hear about the Secretary of State actually talking to his people in Foggy Bottom or defending the agency that he now leads. And then there’s this: there are apparently over 70 exceptions to the hiring freeze for EFM jobs that have been requested. Only 6 EFM positions for the Priority Staffing Posts (like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan) were reportedly approved by Secretary Tillerson.  PSPs are important to watch as EFMs can only accompany their employee-spouse if they have a job at post. If State only grants exceptions to EFM jobs at PSP posts on the rarest of cases, will employees break their assignments when their EFMs are unable to accompany them?

These EFM jobs, almost all requiring security clearance range from Community Liaison Officers tasked with morale and family member issues to security escorts, minders for the janitorial or repair staff, to mailroom clerks who process mail and diplomatic pouches, to security clerks who process security badges and do other clerical work.  With few exceptions like consular associates who work in the visa sections and professional associates, most of these EFM jobs are  clerical in nature and require no more than a high school education. Some 80% of diplomatic spouses have college degrees but only 29% works inside U.S. missions overseas, 14% works in the local economy and a whopping 57% are not employed.

Let’s pause here for a moment to note that the 57% for the State Department more than double the Pew Research Center analysis of Current Population Survey data from 2015 for two-parent households where the wife does not work outside the home.

Hard Choices Ahead

If the EFM job freeze becomes indefinite, we anticipate that some families with financial obligations for college tuitions or other family obligations may opt for voluntary separation to enable the EFM to keep her/his Civil Service job or stay stateside to keep her/his private sector job. More senior  spouses may also have particular concerns about having jobs/keeping their jobs so we may see an increase in voluntary unaccompanied tours and family separations. Is that something the State Department really wants to do?

Given that the summer rotation is coming up between June and August, how is the State Department going to remedy the staffing gaps at various locations while the EFM hiring freeze is on?  We’ve also asked the State Department this question, but we did not hear anything back, not even a buzz-buzz.  Do you think there is even a plan?

We should note that not all rotations are created equal.  There are posts that may have a light staff rotation this year, while other posts have larger staff turnovers.  Small posts may be hit particularly hard.  Sections with one FSO supported by a couple of EFMs could potentially lose both EFM staffers and be unable to hire new ones because of the hiring freeze.  Meanwhile, the work requirements including all congressionally mandated reporting go on.

One source told us that the main option for his/her post during rotation is to suck up the extra work, and even temporarily reassign the existing staff to higher priority projects. Which means somethings will not/not get done.  There are already posts where one officer has two-three collateral duties, so those are not going to get any better. Visa officers may need to collect fingerprints as well as conduct visa interviews. Unless their jobs get handed over to DHS (yes, there are rumors on that, too!).   Regional Security Officers may need to process embassy badges, and answer their own phones, as well as attend to mission security, supervise the local guards, review contracts, etc.

An Aside — on Rumors

We once wrote about rumors in a dysfunctional embassy.  It now applies to the State Department.  Rumors express and gratify “the emotional needs of the community.” It occupies the space when that need is not meet, and particularly when there is deficient communication between the front office and the rest of the mission.  In the current environment, the rampant rumors circulating within the State Department is indicative of Mr. Tillerson’s deficient communication with his employees.

If State Really Cares About the Costs

In any case, if the State Department no longer even pretends to care that FS spouses are under-employed or not employed overseas, it still ought to care about costs. These are support employees who already have their security clearances, and require no separate housing. It is estimated that there are about 5,000 EFMs who would qualify for the Foreign Service  Family Reserve Corps. A few years ago, we noted that majority of EFMs employed at US mission, at the minimum, have a “Secret” level clearance. The average cost to process a SECRET clearance has been reported to run from several hundred dollars to $3,000, depending on individual factors. We suspect that the cost is higher for FS members due to overseas travels and multiple relocations.  The average cost to process a TOP SECRET clearance is between $3,000 and about $15,000, depending on individual factors. If State gets rid of EFM jobs (already cheap labor compared to direct-hire), the work will still be there.  Or is it planning on hiring contractors to bridge the gap? If yes, these contractors would all have to get through the security clearance process themselves.  State still has to fund contractors’ travel and housing, etc. How would that be cheaper?  Or … if not, who will do all the work?

Tillerson’s 9% Cut and a Troubling Nugget

The latest news from Bloomberg talks about Tillerson reportedly seeking a 9% cut in State Department staffing with majority of the job cuts, about 1,700, through attrition, while the remaining 600 will be done via buyouts (we’ll have to write about this separately).   Oh, and he’ll be on a “listening tour” sometime soon.  Note that during the slash and burn in the 1990’s, the State Department “trimmed” more than 1,100 jobs at the State Department, 600 jobs at  the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), and had identified for elimination about 2,000 jobs at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The Bloomberg report also has this troubling nugget:

“Tillerson was taken aback when he arrived on the job to see how much money the State Department was spending on housing and schooling for the families of diplomats living overseas, according to one person familiar with his thinking.”

So next, we’re gonna to be talking about those houses with concertina wire on top of 18 foot walls?

Since there may not be EFM jobs for diplomatic spouses, and we could soon be back to the old days when American diplomats are accompanied overseas by stay-at-home spouses who make no demands on having careers of their own, who’s to say when dependents’ schooling will next be upgraded to allow only homeschooling, when travel will be made only by paddle boats,  and diplomatic housing will be reduced to yurts?

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NOTE: There are a few EFMs who are hired in Civil Service positions and allowed to telecommute from their locations overseas once they go abroad with their spouses . They’re officially on DETO status (domestic employee telecommuting overseas).  We understand that last year,  one bureau had “pushed out” its EFM employees on DETO status. The employees either had to resign their CS jobs or return to DC to report to work.  In these DETO cases, the spouses can either stay at post with no jobs, or return to Washington, D.C. and endure the family separation. While this predates Tillerson’s arrival, we’d like to see how many other bureaus have now done away with DETO employees. Email us.

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Foggy Bottom Rambles: Remaining resilient in the face of uncertainty

Posted: 1:06 am ET

The following is from the Center of Excellence in Foreign Affairs Resilience posted on the Foggy Bottom Rambles, the blog for unaccompanied tours (UT) employees and family members:

These are uncertain times for foreign affairs professionals. Much of our foreign policy is unclear or changing dramatically. There is a hiring freeze across the federal government impacting family member employment and making it harder to get the job done in understaffed offices and overseas posts. We face potentially severe budget cuts. The more resilient we are, the easier it is to be flexible and adaptable in times of uncertainty and stress. We are more likely to collaborate with others to find innovative solutions to the problems uncertainty brings to the workplace. This is why it is critically important to focus on building or maintaining high resilience during these uncertain times. Here are some tips on how you can enhance your resilience during this challenging period.

The Man and the Expanding Universe Fountain, by Marshall Fredericks, inside the South Court of the Department of State Headquarters (Harry S. Truman Building), Washington, D.C. (Photo by G0T0, Wikimedia Commons)

Take care of yourself: Prioritize taking care of yourself and carve out time on your calendar for recovery, whether it’s taking a 10 minute walk every afternoon, joining friends for lunch, or cooking yourself a healthy meal after work. Resist the temptation to just work longer and harder since this will actually reduce productivity in the long run. Minimize alcohol and ensure you get 7-8 hours of sleep.

Focus on what you can control: Identify what you can control, influence, and not control. Use active problem solving to take more control over important issues. For example, if you feel like you cannot control your work load, practice saying no and setting boundaries to give yourself more control. Develop strategies to influence issues that are important to you and try to stop thinking about concerns outside of your control.

Maintain meaning and purpose: Remind yourself why you work in foreign affairs and explore what you need to stay passionate and committed to the work you do. Look for meaning and purpose outside of work through volunteerism, hobbies, family, and spirituality. Explore your alternatives if you no longer find meaning and purpose at work.

Practice reframing: Look for the positive aspects of challenges you face. If your budget is cut, what are the potential positive outcomes? If you have fewer staff, how can you turn this challenge into an opportunity?

Seek social support: One of the most important ways we enhance our resilience is to spend time with other people. Invite colleagues to lunch and commit to spending more time with family and friends.

Laugh: Watch more funny movies and television shows, listen to funny podcasts, spend more time with friends and colleagues who make you laugh.

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

Posted: 3:20 am ET
Updated: April 22, 2:13 pm ET

 

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?

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@StateDept Lifts Evacuation Order For Istanbul, Travel Restrictions Remain For SE Turkey

Posted: 2:55 am ET

 

In October 2016, the State Department updated its Travel Warning for Turkey to announce the mandatory departure of family members of employees assigned to the Consulate General in Istanbul (see U.S. Consulate General Istanbul: Post On Evacuation Status With a “No Curtailment” Policy?). On March 28, 2017, the State Department issued a new Travel Warning concerning the increased threats from terrorist groups in the country.  The updated warning also states that the evacuation order for USCG Istanbul family members issued in October had been lifted. That means family members on evacuation status may now return to join the FS employees assigned to Istanbul although there are now restrictions on personal and official travel by USG employees and family members traveling and residing in Istanbul.

Below is an excerpt from the updated Travel Warning:

U.S. citizens are warned of increased threats from terrorist groups in Turkey. Carefully consider the need to travel to Turkey at this time, and avoid travel to southeast Turkey due to the persistent threat of terrorism. On March 27, the Department of State terminated its October 29, 2016, decision to direct family members of employees posted to the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul to depart Turkey temporarily. However, there are restrictions on personal and official travel by U.S. government personnel and their family members travelling to and residing in Istanbul. Restrictions on travel by U.S. government personnel to certain areas in southeast Turkey, including Adana, remain. This replaces the travel warning dated January 25, 2017.

In 2016, numerous terrorist attacks involving shootings, suicide bombings, and vehicle-borne bombings in tourist areas, public spaces, private celebrations, sporting events, and government, police, and military facilities throughout Turkey resulted in hundreds of deaths. The most recent attacks include a mass shooting at the Istanbul Reina nightclub on January 1, 2017, and simultaneous suicide bombings near Istanbul’s Besiktas/Vodafone Soccer Stadium on December 10, 2016. In addition, an increase in anti-American rhetoric has the potential to inspire independent actors to carry out acts of violence against U.S. citizens.

Additional attacks in Turkey could occur at major events, tourist sites, restaurants, nightclubs, commercial centers, places of worship, and transportation hubs, including aviation services, metros, buses, bridges, bus terminals, and sea transport. Foreign and U.S. tourists and expatriates have been explicitly targeted by terrorist organizations in Turkey for kidnapping and assassination. We remind U.S. citizens to review their personal security plans including communications preparedness/connectivity, monitor local news for breaking events, remain vigilant at all times, and check in with loved ones after an attack or security incident.

On January 4, the Turkish government extended the state of emergency through April 18, 2017.  The Turkish government will decide in April whether to extend the state of emergency for another 90 days.  Under the state of emergency, security forces have expanded powers and the government has, at times, restricted internet access and media content.  U.S. citizens have been deported and/or detained and held without access to lawyers or family members under the state of emergency.  Delays or denial of consular access to U.S. citizens detained or arrested by security forces, some of whom also possess Turkish citizenship, have become more common.  U.S. citizen employees of some non-governmental organizations in Turkey have also recently experienced increased scrutiny and denials related to residence permit applications.  The Department continues to monitor the security environment for potential impact on the safety and well-being of U.S. citizens in Turkey and urges U.S. citizens to register in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) on http://www.travel.state.gov to stay informed.

U.S. government personnel and their family members residing in or visiting Istanbul are restricted from congregating or traveling in large groups and are not permitted to visit these Istanbul locations without prior approval from the Consulate:

  • Large, crowded areas such as shopping malls and houses of worship frequented by expatriates, entertainment complexes, nightclubs, public sporting/cultural performance venues, and crowded pedestrian thoroughfares
  • Tourist destinations throughout Istanbul, to include historical sites, monuments, large bazaar markets, and museums.

U.S. government personnel living in or visiting Turkey continue to require approval from the U.S. Embassy  to visit the  southeastern provinces of Hatay, Kilis, Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Sirnak, Diyarbakir, Van, Siirt, Mus, Mardin, Batman, Bingol, Tunceli, Hakkari, Bitlis, and Elazig.  Travel within Adana by U.S. government personnel may also be subject to restriction.  Furthermore, the U.S. Embassy may prohibit movements by its personnel and those of its subordinate Consulates to these areas on short notice for security reasons.  Due to recent acts of violence and the potential for reprisal attacks by terrorist groups due to continued Turkish military activity in Syria, we urge U.S. citizens to defer travel to large urban centers near the Turkish/Syrian border.  U.S. citizens should also be aware that the Government of Turkey has closed its border with Syria.  The Government of Turkey prohibits border crossings from Syria into Turkey, even if the traveler entered Syria from Turkey.  Turkish authorities will consider permitting the passage of individuals seeking emergency medical treatment or safety from immediate danger on a case by case basis.

Read the entire Turkey Travel Warning here.

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