Congratulations to AFSA’s 2019 Awardees for Exemplary Performance

 

Via afsa.org:

 

Award for Achievement and Contributions to the Association:

F. Allen ‘Tex’ Harris
Widely referred to as “Mr. AFSA,” Mr. Harris has made enormous contributions to AFSA over five decades. In 1970, he was instrumental in AFSA’s efforts to become a union. He was a principal drafter of the 1976 legislation that created the Foreign Service grievance system. He served two terms as AFSA president, leading efforts to improve working conditions and to end ethnic, gender and racial discrimination within the State Department.

Nelson B. Delavan Award for an Office Management Specialist:

Katherine Elizabeth Kohler, Embassy Addis Ababa
In addition to her full-time role as an office management specialist, Ms. Koehler simultaneously served as U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa’s de facto full-time staff assistant, and was instrumental in tracking and coordinating multifaceted efforts to support Ethiopia’s reforms. Ms. Koehler led an interagency project to survey Ethiopia’s population to learn how they feel about the U.S. and their country’s reform agenda. As an Equal Employment Opportunity counselor, she trained more than 100 local staff members in EEO rules.

Avis Bohlen Award for an Eligible Family Member:

Laurent Charbonnet, Consulate Frankfurt
Mr. Charbonnet is honored for his “Diplomacy Through Bicycles” program through the consulate community’s Frankfurt Refugee Outreach Committee. Mr. Charbonnet volunteered weekly as a bicycle mechanic at a refugee center in Frankfurt’s Bonames district. This center is home to thousands of recently arrived refugees who rely on volunteers like Mr. Charbonnet to develop survival and self-sufficiency skills.

M. Juanita Guess Award for a Community Liaison Officer:

Michelle Ross, Embassy Caracas
Ms. Ross is recognized for her extraordinary efforts to assist embassy personnel and family members who were evacuated after the Venezuelan government broke diplomatic ties with the United States in January. Ms. Ross, who joined the Caracas Community Liaison Office team in 2018, was a key ally to evacuees during the difficult transition that followed. Ms. Ross worked with all management sections and the Family Liaison Office to facilitate the swift evacuation of 79 Americans and 22 pets.

Mark Palmer Award for the Advancement of Democracy:

Christopher Gooch, Embassy Baghdad and Nora Brito, Embassy Caracas
Two Palmer awards are given this year due to an excellent pool of nominees.

Christopher Gooch is a forceful advocate for U.S. and universal values who made bold and imaginative efforts to expand democracy, freedom, and good governance during assignments in Iraq and Nepal. In Baghdad, he protected women civil society activists, persuaded the Iraqi government to take action to protect trafficking victims, and helped launch an initiative aimed at resolving the Kirkuk dispute. In Nepal, he crafted a transitional justice strategy triggering the first movement on the issue in four years.

Nora Brito created an informal group of 12 young members of the Venezuelan National Assembly. This group included members from all sectors of the Venezuelan opposition. Ms. Brito used her impeccable language ability, strong relationship-building skills and substantive knowledge of Venezuelan politics to build honest, long-lasting relationships with the group. These interactions provided her, Embassy Caracas and Washington a fresh perspective on the Venezuelan political situation.

AFSA Post Representative of the Year Award:

Lawrence Fields, Consulate Frankfurt
Mr. Fields is recognized for his work at one of the largest posts in the world. Frankfurt had gone without a post representative for an extended period. Mr. Fields revived AFSA’s presence and recruited a USAID post representative and a State alternate representative to serve members’ needs. He created an AFSA email group to keep our members informed of developments throughout the year and launched an “AFSA Corner” column in the CLO weekly newsletter. Remarkably, this is Larry’s second time receiving this award.

 

#

Advertisements

New AFSA Governing Board (2019-2021 )Takes Office

 

New AFSA Governing Board (2019-2021). Photo by AFSA/Twitter

The 2019-2021 American Foreign Service Association Governing Board took office on July 15. It will serve a two-year term (Also see 2019-2021 AFSA Governing Board Election Results). Below via AFSA:

Incoming President Ambassador Eric Rubin comes to AFSA from his posting as Ambassador to Bulgaria, where he served from three years. He was previously deputy chief of mission in Moscow, deputy assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, consul general in Chiang Mai, executive assistant to the under secretary of State for political affairs and Rusk Fellow at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy.

Foreign Service Officer Thomas Yazdgerdi, AFSA’s new Vice President of the Department of State constituency, is a 28-year veteran of the State Department. Yazdgerdi is finishing his tenure as Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, but has also served in Kabul, Kirkuk, Baghdad, Pristina, Panama, Bratislava, Tirana and Athens, as well as Director of the Office of South Central European Affairs.

John K. Naland returns as Vice President for the retiree constituency. He has held numerous positions on AFSA’s board, including State Vice President and AFSA President.

Foreign Service Officers Jason SingerJay Carreiro and Michael Riedel will serve as Vice Presidents of the USAID, Foreign Commercial Service and Foreign Agricultural Service constituencies, respectively.

Completing AFSA’s leadership team, retired senior FSO Virginia L. Bennett will serve as Treasurer and Kenneth Kero-Mentz will serve as the organization’s Secretary.

Complete bios for AFSA’s elected leadership, including all officers and constituency representatives, can be found on the AFSA website.

#

2019-2021 AFSA Governing Board Election Results

Help Fund the Blog | Diplopundit 2019 — 60-Day Campaign from June 5, 2019 – August 5, 2019

______________________________________

 

On June 17, AFSA announced the results of the 2019-2021 AFSA Governing Board elections and Bylaw Amendments. A total of 3,291 valid ballots were received (2,420 online and 871 paper). According to AFSA, this represents 20% of the eligible voting membership.  The new Governing Board will take office on Monday, July 15, 2019.

The following AFSA members have been elected (winning candidates are in bold):

President

Secretary

Treasurer

State Vice President

USAID Vice President

  • Jason Singer (27 votes/write-in candidate)

FCS Vice President

  • Jay Carreiro (52 votes)

FAS Vice President

  • To be determined when all write-in votes are processed.

Retiree Vice President

  • John K. Naland (862 votes)
  • Hon. John O’Keefe * (502 votes)

State Representative (6 positions)

  • Kristin Roberts * (1,285 votes)
  • Lillian Wahl-Tuco * (1,246 votes)
  • Holly Kirking Loomis * (1,196 votes)
  • Tamir Waser * (1,168 votes)
  • Joshua C. Archibald * (1,123 votes)
  • Matthew Dolbow (869 votes)
  • Don Jacobson * (764 votes)

USAID Representative

  • To be determined when all write-in votes are processed.

Alternate FCS Representative

  • To be determined when all write-in votes are processed.

Alternate FAS Representative

  • To be determined when all write-in votes are processed.

APHIS Representative

  • To be determined when all write-in votes are processed.

USAGM Representative

  • Steven L. Herman (1 vote)

Retiree Representative (2 positions)

  • Mary Daly * (916 votes)
  • Philip A. Shull * (827 votes)
  • Hilary Olsin-Windecker (508 votes)

 

AFSA Foreign Service Furlough Stories: 10 Days to Get to a Plane for a Medical Evacuation!

Help Fund the Blog Diplopundit 2019 — 60-Day Campaign from June 5, 2019 – August 5, 2019

______________________________________

 

Excerpt via AFSA/StateVP Kenneth Kero-Mentz:

For many of us, the shutdown caused real financial trouble, and even with careful planning, paying bills became a stretch. Some members had already tapped into their “rainy day fund” after being forced to leave Mission Russia last year. Others had to juggle funds to pay tuition expenses or mortgages due in January. Unemployment benefits were not available to many members serving overseas. Single parents and tandem couples were hit particularly hard with the delay of first one paycheck, and then two.

We heard stories of how the shutdown affected our members’ work. For instance, at the National Defense University and other war colleges, Department of State students were locked out of lectures and prohibited from participating in seminars during the shutdown. USAID war college students were designated “excepted,” so they could continue attending class. Students from State should have been “excepted” as well. There’s no reason why the U.S. government’s investment in a yearlong master’s degree program for its future senior leadership cadre should be torn apart midstream.

A mid-level officer at a small post in Africa reported that she was busier than ever, covering for her furloughed colleagues, planning events only to cancel later as the shutdown dragged on. As days turned into weeks, and then surpassed a month, morale plummeted. After all, as she said, who wants to work for an organization that consistently understaffs and overworks its team? She wonders if her enthusiasm for what is increasingly becoming a thankless job will ever rebound.
[…]
At one large mission in Asia, all State Department employees were required to report to work regardless of pay status. These people could not do any public-facing work and could not contact their counterparts at other posts or the department (since they were all furloughed), but were required to report to work in a non-pay status. It did not make sense. As many members noted, furlough decisions should be made in a central and transparent manner. Though none of us expected the shutdown to last so long, better contingency planning could have helped.
[…]
The hardships went well beyond juggling work requirements and paying bills. One second-tour specialist was hospitalized and needed to medevac to the United States immediately. The shutdown delayed the processing of the medevac funding request; due to the shutdown and short staffing, it took 10 days to get the person on a plane.

#

 

AFSA Announces 2019-2021 Governing Board Candidates and Proposed Bylaw Amendments

Posted: 12:02 am EDT

 

Via AFSA:  The AFSA Committee on Elections has approved the following candidates for positions on the ballot for the AFSA Governing Board for the 2019-2021 term. All regular voting members of AFSA who are in good standing as of March 28, 2019 will receive, by email or mail, a ballot, the candidates’ campaign statements, the text of the proposed AFSA Bylaw Amendments, their rationale, and any opposition to the proposals, on or about April 29, 2019. Members can also view the proposed bylaw amendments online here.

Completed ballots must be received by 8:00 a.m. EDT on June 12, 2019, in order to be counted. The new AFSA Governing Board will take office on July 15, 2019.

All AFSA positions are uncontested except the State Department Representatives where there are eight candidates running for six slots, Retiree VP where there are two candidates, and Retired Member Representatives where there are three candidates for two slots. AFSA notes that no eligible candidates came forward for the positions of USAID Vice President, FAS Vice President, FCS Alternate Representative, FAS Alternate Representative and APHIS Representative.

Current State VP Kenneth Kero-Mentz is running as AFSA secretary, current Retiree VP John K. Naland is running for reelection, current State Representatives Don Jacobson and Lillian Wahl-Tuco are also running for reelections.

2019 Governing Board Candidates

Nominee Position
Eric Rubin * President
Kenneth Kero-Mentz Secretary
Virginia L. Bennett * Treasurer
Thomas Yazdgerdi * State VP
John K. Naland Retiree VP
John O’Keefe* Retiree VP
Jay Carreiro FCS VP
Joshua Archibald* State Rep
Matthew Dolbow State Rep
Don Jacobson * State Rep
Holly Kirking Loomis * State Rep
Kristin Roberts * State Rep
Katheryne ‘Kate’ Schilling State Rep
Lillian Wahl-Tuco * State Rep
Tamir Waser * State Rep
Abinet Belachew USAID Rep
Steven L. Herman USAGM Rep
Mary Daly * Retiree Rep
Hilary Olsin-Windecker Retiree Rep
Phillip A. Shull* Retiree Rep

* Member of the Strong Diplomacy slate

A Town Hall meeting has been set for Tuesday, April 2, at 12:00 p.m. in the first floor conference room at the AFSA HQ building, 2101 E Street, NW Washington DC 20037. This event will be taped and available on the AFSA YouTube channel. The candidates’ statements will be posted on the AFSA website on April 1, 2019. Visit the elections webpage to view.

If you have not already done so, please ensure AFSA has your current email and mailing addresses on record. To update your address information, send an email to member@afsa.org.

 

Foreign Service Labor Relations Board Rules For @StateDept in 2014 MSI Case

AFSA has recently informed its members that the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board (FSLRB) has ruled for the State Department in the 2014 Meritorious Service Increase (MSI) dispute. The ruling affects approximately 270 Foreign Service employees: 

AFSA regrets to inform our members that on September 21, 2018, the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board (FSLRB) granted the Department of State’s exceptions (i.e., appeal) and set aside the Foreign Service Grievance Board’s (FSGB) December 8, 2017 Decision, which had found that the Department violated the procedural precepts by not paying Meritorious Service Increases (MSI) to approximately 277 Foreign Service employees who were recommended but not reached for promotion by the 2014 Selection Boards.  AFSA argued that the Department was required to confer MSIs on all eligible employees (up to the 10% limit set forth in the precepts) who were recommended but not reached for promotion.  The Department argued that it had the unilateral discretion to give MSIs to only 5% of employees ranked but not reached for promotion, since 5% was below the 10% limit.

Rather than give substantial deference, as is normally the case, to the FSGB’s interpretation of the parties’ agreement (i.e., the promotion precepts), two of the three FSLRB members (including the Administration’s appointee to the FSLRB) agreed with the Department’s arguments and found that the FSGB had misinterpreted the precepts.  The third member, Retired Ambassador Herman Cohen, dissented from the majority decision.  When a party seeks to establish that an arbitrator (in this case, the Grievance Board) misinterpreted an agreement, the party must provide that the decision “fails to draw its essence from the agreement.”  This is an extremely high burden to meet.  According to the case law, “great deference” is given to the arbitrator’s interpretation of the agreement “because it is the arbitrator’s construction of the agreement for which the parties have bargained.”   In this case, however, the FSLRB chose not to defer to the Grievance Board, ignoring the “great deference” practice.  Unfortunately, the FSLRB’s decision is not subject to judicial review.

AFSA says that it is “extremely disappointed by this decision.” Its notice to members notes that it prevailed in two earlier cases, the 2013 and 2014 MSI disputes. It also informed members that despite this ruling, it plans to proceed with the 2015 and 2016 MSI cases before the Grievance Board.

Excerpt from FSLRB ruling says:

The Grievance Board stated that it was “indisputably true” that, by its plain terms, the phrase “no more than [10%]” in the agreement means that the Agency may award MSIs to “10% or less” of eligible employees.29 As discussed above, the Grievance Board should have ended its analysis there, with the agreement’s plain wording. Instead, the Grievance Board found that, because the parties had different interpretations, the wording was ambiguous.30 But wording that is clear on its face does not become ambiguous simply because the parties disagree as to its meaning.31 Rather, a contract is ambiguous if it is susceptible to two different and plausible interpretations, each of which is consistent with the contract wording. 32 The interpretation adopted by the Grievance Board – that “no more than [10%]” means the Agency must award MSIs to no less than 10% of eligible employees33 – is not consistent with the plain meaning of the agreement’s wording. Consequently, it is not a plausible interpretation of the agreement.

FLRA Chairman Colleen Duffy Kiko who was confirmed by the Senate in November 2017 serves as the Chairperson of the FSLRB. The two other members of the FSLRB are Stephen Ledford, who previously served as the Director of Labor and Employee Relations at the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) and was sworn on his third term with FSLRB in 2015, and Ambassador (ret.) Herman J. Cohen, a career diplomat and specialist in African and European affairs who was appointed to his first term with the FSLRB in October 2015.

In his dissent, Ambassador Cohen writes:

For five years prior to 2014, the year covered by this case, the promotion precepts, negotiated between management and the union, were always the same: MSIs will be awarded to those recommended for promotion at a maximum of ten percent of those on the list, in rank order. With this practice having been followed year after year, it is quite normal that the union had the right to believe that the number would never be less than ten percent pursuant to the negotiated precepts. Ten percent was not part of a sliding scale. It was an agreed amount.

If management had changed that number from year to year, the situation for 2014 would have been totally different. The union would have demanded the right to negotiate that number.

For this reason, management’s decision to unilaterally change the number of MSIs was contrary to the precepts, despite the ambiguous language. Historical practice said that ten percent of those recommended, but not promoted, would receive MSIs. Secondly, management gave a reason for awarding only five percent MSIs in 2014. Management said it was “exercising its budgetary authority” to make the reduction. In other words, the funds were needed elsewhere.
[…]
In the specific year 2014, it appears that the need to save money by reducing MSIs had no relationship to overall budgetary needs. In short, management was saving money on MSIs, and using that “salary money” to pay for 35 sets of ambassadorial furniture, as one possible example. In 2014, management provided no reason to justify this reduction in this highest priority “salary” by higher priority needs elsewhere. Neither, to my knowledge, was there an overall government-wide freeze in MSIs that year.

The case is U.S. State Department v. AFSA. The FSLRB decision is available to read here or see this link: FS-AR-0007Dec 9-21-18

#

2018 Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy Award For Amb. Ronald E. Neumann

On October 10, at 4pm, the American Foreign Service Association will honor Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann with its Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy Award for 2018. Congratulations to Ambassador Neumann!

Ambassador Ronald Neumann delivers remarks at the Economic Leadership Day Ceremony, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on March 29, 2011. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Via afsa.org:

AFSA proudly announces that Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann will receive the association’s 2018 award for Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy in honor of his distinguished career and lifelong devotion to the long-term well-being of a career professional Foreign Service. Past recipients of this award include George H.W. Bush, Thomas Pickering, Ruth Davis, George Shultz, Richard Lugar, Joan Clark, Tom Boyatt, Sam Nunn, Rozanne Ridgway, Nancy Powell and William Harrop. The award will be presented on October 10 at 4:00 p.m. during a ceremony in the Benjamin Franklin Diplomatic Reception Room at the Department of State.

Ambassador Neumann was born in Washington, D.C. but grew up in California. He earned a B.A. in history and an M.A. in political science from the University of California at Riverside and is a graduate of the National War College. He is married to the former M. Elaine Grimm. They have two children.

Neumann served three times as Ambassador: to Algeria, Bahrain and finally to Afghanistan from July 2005 to April 2007. Before Afghanistan, Ambassador Neumann, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, served in Baghdad from February 2004 with the Coalition Provisional Authority and then as Embassy Baghdad’s liaison with the Multinational Command, where he was deeply involved in coordinating the political part of military actions.

Prior to working in Iraq, he was Ambassador in Manama, Bahrain (2001-2004), Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Near East Affairs (1997-2000) with responsibility for North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and Ambassador to Algeria (1994 to 1997). He was Director of the Office of Northern Gulf Affairs (Iran and Iraq; 1991 to 1994). Earlier in his career, he was Deputy Chief of Mission in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and in Sana’a in Yemen, Principal Officer in Tabriz, Iran and Economic/Commercial Officer in Dakar, Senegal. His previous Washington assignments included service as Jordan Desk officer, Staff Assistant in the Middle East (NEA) Bureau, and Political Officer in the Office of Southern European Affairs.

Neumann speaks some Arabic and Dari as well as French. He has received State Department Superior Honor Awards in 1993 and 1990. He was an Army infantry officer in Vietnam and holds a Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal and Combat Infantry Badge. In Baghdad, he was awarded the Army Outstanding Civilian Service Medal. Neumann retired in 2007 and serves as the President of the American Academy of Diplomacy, an organization of former senior U.S. diplomats dedicated to improving American diplomacy. At the Academy he has focused particularly on efforts to maintain adequate State and USAID budgets and staffing to enable these institutions to carry out their responsibilities. Ambassador Neumann is on the Advisory Board of a non-profit girls’ school in Afghanistan, the School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA) and the Advisory Board of Spirit of America. He is on the board of the Middle East Policy Council and the Advisory Council of the World Affairs Councils of America.

 

#

State/OIG and OSC Reportedly Looking Into Political Reprisals @StateDept

Via FP:

The U.S. State Department’s Office of the Inspector General has widened an investigation into alleged political retaliation by Trump administration officials against America’s diplomatic corps. It is probing claims that a political appointee in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs has taken action against career officials deemed insufficiently loyal to President Donald Trump, according to at least 10 current and former State Department officials.

The Office of Special Counsel, an independent watchdog that oversees the federal government, is also investigating whether Trump’s political appointees—including Mari Stull, the aforementioned senior advisor in the international organization bureau—are carrying out political reprisals against career officials, according to two State Department officials familiar with the matter. The inspector general is also investigating allegations that Stull hurled homophobic slurs at a State Department staffer.

“The inspector general is looking into an allegation that Stull blocked the promotion of one career official to a top human rights post because the official had previously been involved in overseeing humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees. The nominee had the backing of the department’s top career officials. But when Stull caught wind of the pending promotion, she convened a meeting with Moley and accused the candidate of having sympathy for Palestinian terrorists. Moley froze the appointment.”

We’ve been away; has AFSA said anything about this? Also if these allegations were true (we should note that allegations of political reprisals and loyalty questions are not limited to IO), we gotta ask – what kind of leadership is there in Foggy Bottom that considers this acceptable behavior? You and I, and all of IO, and Foggy Bottom are looking forward to the results of these investigations. Perhaps, it would also be useful for the oversight committees to look into the turn over and curtailments of career employees specific to IO.

#

AFSA: FSOs Will Now Compete in a “Scavenger Hunt” to Be Considered for Promotion Into the Senior Foreign Service

Posted: 1:07 pm PT

 
AFSA’s State VP Kenneth Kero-Mentz sent out a message today on the new Professional Development Program and new requirements for promotion into the Senior Foreign Service, Promotion Criteria Changed: Opening Your Window. If you have not seen it yet, see below via afsa.org:

 

Over a year ago, the Department informed AFSA that it wanted to change the criteria for those seeking entry into the Senior Foreign Service under the “Professional Development Program.” While AFSA supported many of the changes included in the PDP, we expressed deep concern about the so-called “service needs” proposal. Currently, those FSOs interested in opening their window must have served at least one tour at a 15% or higher hardship post. The Department told us it wanted to mandate that FSOs complete a tour at a 25% or greater hardship differential post from entry into the Foreign Service (or a tour at an unaccompanied post from entry), AND a second tour at a 20% or greater differential post after tenure.

During the extended negotiations, the Department’s justification for this radical shift changed constantly. Initially, the proposed changes were necessary to fill vacant positions at greater hardship posts. AFSA pointed out that the Department’s own data revealed that vacancy rates at 20% and higher differential posts are actually lower than the vacancy rates at 0% and 15% posts. Next, the Department claimed that the real problem was that there were too few and/or subpar bidders at certain hardship posts in Africa and South Central Asia. We countered that the recent changes to Fair Share rules and bidding privileges will drive more bidders to 20% and higher posts, alleviating that possible concern. But then the Department changed its rationale a third time, arguing that FSOs need to be exposed to service in high differential posts to build the leadership skills necessary for promotion into the SFS.

AFSA fought back, and took the dispute all the way to the Foreign Service Impasse Disputes Panel (FSIDP) where we argued strenuously that this move is unnecessary (based on the Department’s own data), directly contradicts the Foreign Service Act of 1980, harms members of the Foreign Service, and is untenable. Implementing this proposal would result in a less diverse SFS, we argued, and it contravenes both Section 101 of the Act (which states that “the members of the Foreign Service should be representative of the American people”) as well as Secretary Tillerson’s stated goal of a more diverse Foreign Service. Unfortunately, the FSIDP sided with the Department.

Our position has remained consistent: if the Department can identify a realproblem, AFSA is committed to working with the Department to solve it. Not only did the Department fail to provide evidence of a genuine problem, its proposed solution to its ever-evolving alleged problem is contrary to the Act’s SFS promotion criteria in that it undermines the legal authority of the Selection Boards. Adoption of the Department’s proposal guts the SFS promotion process by transferring decisions regarding the future leadership of the Department from the Selection Boards to HR. Instead of competing for promotion on the strength of their performance evaluations, FSOs will now compete in a “scavenger hunt” for the limited number of positions at 25% or higher posts to meet an arbitrary criterion to be allowed to open their windows and be considered for promotion into the SFS by the Selection Boards. We are quite certain this change will lead to unforeseen difficulties, not only for FSOs but also for regional bureaus, especially those with many FSO positions to fill at 15% posts.

This change in criteria will have an adverse impact on many Foreign Service employees who will not be able to meet the requirements due to the lack of available positions and their own or their family members’ personal situations, thus, undermining the diversity of the SFS. We argued—and provided concrete examples—that many of the greater hardship posts are even more challenging to serve in for tandem couples, for those with medical concerns, for families with children with special needs, or for LGBT FSOs where privileges and immunitiesmay not be granted to their spouses and families. And what about for those who are consistently promoted at the first opportunity—our “fast risers”—are they expected to focus only on hardship posts as they move up?

Unfortunately, now that the FSIDP has ruled, the Department announced this change on December 29 with the release of 17 STATE 127376. We believe this change is likely to result in numerous grievances from FSOs who bid, year after year, on greater hardship posts but were not assigned to such posts, and so we urge all FSOs to keep records of bidding. The Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) “has long recognized that agencies are responsible for providing Foreign Service Officers with opportunities to advance their careers… [T]his provides a necessary protection in an ‘up or out’ promotion system and is grounded in the FSA and agency regulations.” Further, “a Foreign Service agency has an affirmative obligation to provide each of its officers with fair and reasonable opportunities for development and retention in the Service… [T]he agency cannot simultaneously engage in a process that deprives its officers of those very opportunities…”

AFSA has repeatedly told the Department that it wants to help solve problems in filling FSO positions at greater hardship posts, if they truly exist, but to date the Department has failed to provide any evidence of an actual problem. While AFSA will continue to be collaborative in its labor management relationship with the Department—and we are pleased that our negotiations with the Department yielded many positive changes in the PDP compared with earlier versions—we will not be complicit in the pursuit of a “solution” for which there is no problem. Further, the Department’s changes to the PDP will further complicate bidding simply because there are not enough hardship positions to meet demand. There is no guarantee that talented FSOs, who have to this point progressed quickly through the ranks, will be able to meet these additional requirements to enter the Senior Foreign Service within the prescribed time frame. Those FSOs unable to meet these new requirements—and, given the scarcity of positions available, that will be many FS-01s—will not be allowed to open their windows unless they can convince HR to grant them a waiver.

With the recent FSIDP decision, the Department is now free to implement this radical change through the Professional Development Program. It is AFSA’s intention to approach discussions with the Department with the goal of minimizing adverse impact of this new policy on our members’ careers to the greatest extent possible. Looking toward the future, we urge all members of the Foreign Service to maintain good records of their bidding efforts, and stay tuned as we work with the Department to ensure that the “waiver” portion of its proposal is developed into a robust, transparent, and well-defined system. In accordance with the Department’s ALDAC, those with policy questions should direct their concerns to careerdevhelpdesk@state.gov and feel free to share your concerns with us as well.

Despite our disappointment, we look forward to continuing with our overall collaborative and positive relationship with the Department.

 

#

GOP Tax Plan Includes Major Headaches For Homeowners #CallCongress

Posted: 3:28 am ET
Updated: 2:01 pm PT

 

Update: Tax Reform and the Foreign Service via afsa.org:

Several AFSA members have expressed concern that the House of Representatives version of the pending tax reform bill would impose a capital gains tax that could exceed $35,000 on anyone who sells their primary residence without having physically lived there for five out of the previous eight years. 

The good news is that, after Congress adopted the current two-in-five-year rule in the early 2000s, AFSA joined with groups representing members of the U.S. military in securing passage of a law in 2003 that extended the qualifying period by up to 10 years for a taxpayer who is away from their primary residence on a Foreign Service, military, or intelligence community assignment. The current House bill does not change that special provision. 

If the House provision becomes law, the 10-year extension for Foreign Service members would remain. Thus, the new five-out-of-eight-year rule would be a five-out-of-eighteen-year rule for Foreign Service members serving away from their primary residence.

If you may need to take advantage of this special treatment, please learn more about it in AFSA’s annual Tax Guide which is updated and printed every January in The Foreign Service Journal and on the AFSA website. Additional information is in IRS Publication 523 (page 5 in the current 2016 edition). The actual law is in Section 121 of the IRS code (26 USC 121).

AFSA would like to highlight the role of our then-Director of Congressional Relations Ken Nakamura, who was instrumental in securing the 2003 law affording special treatment for the Foreign Service. Since then, hundreds of AFSA members have each saved tens of thousands of dollars in taxes when they sold their primary residence after an extended period of overseas service. Your AFSA dues make possible victories such as this one.

*

Tax lawyer/lobbyist and friend of a friend who is highly engaged on the Hill on both tax bills asked that we pass on this alert for homeowners:

A provision in the House tax bill (H.R. 1) could cost us $100,000 in capital gains taxes when we sell our houses.  Under current law, a homeowner filing jointly is allowed to exclude the first $500,000 of gain on the sale of a principal residence.  The House bill deletes the current law’s $500,000 exclusion of gain from the sale of a principal residence.  The Senate bill only lengthens the holding period from 5 years to 8 years, but retains the $500,000 exclusion.

The two bills will be reconciled in the next two weeks or so. I urge you to contact House and Senate tax writers asking them to adopt the Senate bill’s approach.  The most important person to contact is your home state Senator and your own Representative in the House.  

U.S. Senators – Get contact information for your Senators in the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Representatives – Find the website and contact information for your Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives

In addition, you can call the office and leaving a message or, in some circumstances, sending emails to the following key decision makers:

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady:  Phone: (202) 225-4901

House Speaker Paul Ryan:  https://paulryan.house.gov/contact/email.htm email him or call his office to leave a message of concern at his Washington office (202) 225-3031.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell:  https://www.mcconnell.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contactform and fill out the form or call his Washington office at (202) 224-2541

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch:  (202) 224-5251 or please call (202-224-4515), fax a letter to (202-228-0554).

Here is a Sample Message:  I oppose the repeal of the $500,000 exclusion for gain from the sale of a principal residence in the House Tax bill (H.R.1).  The $100,000 tax imposed by that repeal is important for my retirement, my family, and my ability to move to a new job in another location.  There is no tax reduction in the bill that will offset that tax cost.  The Senate version is better, and should be substituted for the House repeal.

It takes time and effort, but we understand that calls and emails coming from outside Washington, D.C. play an important role in this process.

You may review the text of H.R. 1 here; use the browser’s find function to see details under SEC. 1302. MORTGAGE INTEREST.

#