FSO Chuck Park: I can no longer justify being a part of Trump’s ‘Complacent State.’ #Resignation

 

 

 

I was 26, newly married and more than a little idealistic when I set off for my first diplomatic assignment almost a decade ago as a member of the 157th class of commissioned U.S. Foreign Service officers.
According to a certain type of right-leaning conspiracy theorist, that would make me part of “The Deep State” — a shadowy government within the government that puts its own interests above the expressed wishes of the electorate. Adherents to this theory believe that thousands of federal workers like me are plotting furiously to subvert the Trump administration at every turn. Many on the left, too, hope that such a resistance is secretly working to save the nation from the worst impulses of President Trump.
They have it all wrong. Your federal bureaucracy under this president? Call it “The Complacent State” instead.
Like many in my cohort, I came into the government inspired by a president who convinced me there was still some truth to the gospel of American exceptionalism. A child of immigrants from South Korea, I also felt a duty to the society that welcomed my parents and allowed me and my siblings to thrive.
Over three tours abroad, I worked to spread what I believed were American values: freedom, fairness and tolerance. But more and more I found myself in a defensive stance, struggling to explain to foreign peoples the blatant contradictions at home.
In Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, I spoke of American openness and friendship at consulate events as my country carried out mass deportations and failed thousands of “dreamers.” I attended celebrations of Black History Month at our embassy in Lisbon as black communities in the United States demanded justice for Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray and the victims of the mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. And in Vancouver, I touted the strength of the United States’ democracy at the consulate’s 2016 election-night party as a man who campaigned on racism, misogyny and wild conspiracy theories became president-elect.
Since then, I have seen Trump assert the moral equivalence of violent white nationalists and those who oppose them, denigrate immigrants from “s******e countries” and separate children from their parents at the border, only to place them in squalid detention centers.
But almost three years since his election, what I have not seen is organized resistance from within. To the contrary, two senior Foreign Service officers admonished me for risking my career when I signed an internal dissent cable against the ban on travelers from several majority-Muslim countries in January 2017. Among my colleagues at the State Department, I have met neither the unsung hero nor the cunning villain of Deep State lore. If the resistance does exist, it should be clear by this point that it has failed.
Instead, I am part of the Complacent State.
The Complacent State sighs when the president blocks travel by Muslim immigrants; shakes its head when he defends Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; averts its gaze from images of children in detention camps. Then it complies with orders.
Every day, we refuse visas based on administration priorities. We recite administration talking points on border security, immigration and trade. We plan travel itineraries, book meetings and literally hold doors open for the appointees who push Trump’s toxic agenda around the world.
So when I read a recent New York Times op-ed calling for the public shaming of the “midlevel functionaries who make the system run,” I squirmed in my seat. We rank-and-file, like the Justice Department lawyer who recently endured public scrutiny for defending the administration’s terrible treatment of detained children, don’t like to be called out. And when we are, we shrink behind a standard argument — that we are career officials serving nonpartisan institutions.
We should be named and shamed. But how should we respond? One thing I agree with the conspiracy theorists about: The Deep State, if it did exist, would be wrong. Ask to read the commission of any Foreign Service officer, and you’ll see that we are hired to serve “during the pleasure of the President of the United States.” That means we must serve this very partisan president.
Or else we should quit.
I’m ashamed of how long it took me to make this decision. My excuse might be disappointing, if familiar to many of my colleagues: I let career perks silence my conscience. I let free housing, the countdown to a pension and the prestige of representing a powerful nation overseas distract me from ideals that once seemed so clear to me. I can’t do that anymore.
My son, born in El Paso on the American side of that same Rio Grande where the bodies of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter were discovered, in the same city where 22 people were just killed by a gunman whose purported “manifesto” echoed the inflammatory language of our president, turned 7 this month. I can no longer justify to him, or to myself, my complicity in the actions of this administration. That’s why I choose to resign.

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(Note: This piece originally appeared on WaPo and was cross-posted on MSN in full here. Chuck Park’s resignation from the Foreign Service is reportedly effective Thursday. A Charles Park of DC was confirmed by the U.S. Senate by voice vote as a “Member of the Foreign Service to be Consular Officers and Secretaries in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America” on March 2, 2011, during the 112th Congress.  During the 114th Congress, a Charles Park of New York was confirmed by voice vote “For appointment as Foreign Service Officer of Class Four, Consular Officer and Secretary in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America” on May 23, 2015).

 

Related posts:

Dec 2018: Jim Mattis Quits in Protest Over Trump’s Chaos Strategery
Oct 2018: Ex-Amb. to Estonia James D. Melville Writes Why He Quit
Feb 2018: Sam Bee’s Rescue Farm for Government Workers With Ex-FSO Elizabeth Shackelford
Jan 2018: U.S. Ambassador to Panama John Feeley Resigns From the Foreign Service Over Trump Policies
Dec 2017: A Foreign Service Officer’s Parting Shot Gets Media Attention
June 2017: Top U.S. Diplomat in China David Rank Resigns Over #ParisAgreement Withdrawal
Mar 2017: Diplomatic Security Agent With 17-Year Service Resigns Over Trump
Nov 2016:Inauguration Day Countdown: Is the prospect of mass resignations a real thing?
Nov 2016: On the Prospect of Mass Resignations: A Veteran FSO Cautions Against Rash Decisions
Mar 2013:Ten Years Ago Today: FSO John Brown Quit the Foreign Service Over Iraq
Jan 2012: An FSO’s ‘Valedictory Dispatch’ — Realities of the Foreign Service
Apr 2009: Insider Quote: Why Didn’t You Quit?
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Trump Announces Sanctions Against Ayatollah Khomeini, One Very Dead Man From Long, Long Ago

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

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On June 24, the White House announced the Executive Order on Imposing Sanctions with Respect to Iran. Here is POTUS making the official announcement.

Pakistan PM Khan Issues Angry Response After Trump’s Swipe Over OBL, Aid, WoT

Trump on Pakistan (full transcript of interview here). Bull. China Shop. Every Damn Place and Time.

WALLACE: Bill McRaven, Retired Admiral, Navy Seal, 37 years, former head of U.S. Special Operations —

TRUMP: Hillary Clinton fan.

WALLACE: Special Operations —

TRUMP: Excuse me, Hillary Clinton fan.

WALLACE: Who led the operations, commanded the operations that took down Saddam Hussein and that killed Osama bin Laden says that your sentiment is the greatest threat to democracy in his lifetime.

TRUMP: OK, he’s a Hilary Clinton, uh, backer and an Obama-backer and frankly —

WALLACE: He was a Navy Seal 37 years —

TRUMP: Wouldn’t it have been nice if we got Osama Bin Laden a lot sooner than that, wouldn’t it have been nice? You know, living – think of this – living in Pakistan, beautifully in Pakistan in what I guess they considered a nice mansion, I don’t know, I’ve seen nicer. But living in Pakistan right next to the military academy, everybody in Pakistan knew he was there. And we give Pakistan $1.3 billion a year and they don’t tell him, they don’t tell him —

WALLACE: You’re not even going to give them credit —

TRUMP: For years —

WALLACE: for taking down Bin Laden?

TRUMP: They took him down but – look, look, there’s news right there, he lived in Pakistan, we’re supporting Pakistan, we’re giving them $1.3 billion a year, which we don’t give them anymore, by the way, I ended it because they don’t do anything for us, they don’t do a damn thing for us.

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Finns and Friends #RakeTheForest For Trump’s California Fire Prevention Moment

 

After you’re done laughing out loud, please consider (if you can) helping the displaced people in California who lost loved ones and homes in the wildfires.  Below are links to a few groups. Thank you!

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Halloween 2018: A Great Day For Scaring Kids, Also a Frightful Time For All Else

 

ALSO IN FRIGHTFUL NEWS: The United States could deploy 7,000 armed troops to the US-Mexican border a week before Election Day. It could go up to 15,000, roughly what we have in Afghanistan and three times what the United States deployed to Iraq. Since Mexico refused to fund that wall, the President of the United States now says “”We have to have a wall of people”. Presumably, our friends to the south are not going to pay for this “wall of people” either, so U.S. taxpayers are already saddled with this tab. And since the deployment to the border number will likely kept growing the next few days, the Pentagon probably should ask how deep is this “wall of people” the Commander-in-Chief is talking about.

Meanwhile in Yemen, people have been dying the last three years. Now 14 million people face starvation as the U.S. government continue its military support of Saudi Arabia’s war (see Secretary Pompeo Saves $2Billion Weapons Sales From Jeopardy). USG is now seeking a cease-fire over there. Why now? Is it because half of Yemen’s population is on the brink of famine? Or is it because the world is finally paying attention to US-support of the war in Yemen after the Khashoggi murder?  Former USNATO Ambassador Robert Hunter writes that “blanket U.S. support for the Saudi air campaign means that it cannot escape its own share of responsibility.”

Also back in 2010, a State/OIG report estimated that the Yemeni-American community in that country was about 55,000. There were no USG-organized evacuations when war broke out. For those covering Yemen, please ask the Secretary of State his department’s estimate on how many Yemeni-Americans were killed in this war.

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USG Sends 5,200 Armed Troops to Border Against Purported Migrant “Invasion” a Week Before Elections

DHS/CIS clearly states that people may only apply for asylum if they are arriving in or already physically present in the United States. To apply for asylum in the United States, foreign nationals may ask for asylum at a port-of-entry (airport, seaport, or border crossing), or, if they are already in the United States, they may file Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal, at the appropriate Service Center. They may apply for asylum regardless of their immigration status, whether they are in the U.S. legally or illegally.

Per 2 FAM 220 on asylum cases, U.S. embassies and consulates may not/may not grant or in any way promise “asylum” to any foreign national:

Although foreign nationals may request “asylum,” posts should be aware that the term has specific meaning in U.S. immigration law. Persons may apply for asylum under U.S. law only if they are physically present in the United States or at a land border or port of entry and may be granted asylum only if they meet the definition of a refugee under U.S. law and are otherwise admissible. The United States does not recognize the granting of asylum at posts abroad. Requests for asylum by persons in the United States are handled by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the immigration courts of the Executive Office for Immigration Review within the Department of Justice. Refer questions relating to such procedures to the Department, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Office of Multilateral and Global Affairs (DRL/MLGA).

On Refugees:

Posts may not in any way promise that an individual will be admitted to the United States as a refugee. A U.S. embassy may refer any individual who appears to meet the definition of a refugee to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for consideration. Embassies may refer someone to ensure protection or provide a durable solution in compelling circumstances. Due to resource constraints and other foreign policy concerns, posts usually refer individuals only because of a significant humanitarian concern; a particular U.S. Government interest; or an especially close link to the United States. Acceptance of a referral by the program does not guarantee that an individual will be admitted to the United States as a refugee.

So when POTUS says “If they want to come into the country, you have to apply, like other people,” that’s what people are actually trying to do: presenting themselves at a U.S. border crossing because U.S. law requires that for people applying for asylum.

AND NOW THIS: “NO ONE IS COMING TO GET YOU”

MEANWHILE, ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD OF LIGHT WHERE FEAR IS NOT A STRIKE ANYWHERE MATCH HEAD:

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@StateDept to Offer Buyouts to First 641 Employees Who Agree to Leave by April 2018 #$25M

Posted: 12:15 am ET
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In case you have not seen this yet, the NYT reported on November 10 that the State Department will soon offer a $25,000 buyout to diplomats and staff members who quit or take early retirements by April. We think the payout number is $40K, see our comment below:

The decision is part of Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson’s continuing effort to cut the ranks of diplomats and Civil Service officers despite bipartisan resistance in Congress. Mr. Tillerson’s goal is to reduce a department of nearly 25,000 full-time American employees by 8 percent, which amounts to 1,982 people.

To reach that number, he has already frozen hiring, reduced promotions, asked some senior employees to perform clerical duties that are normally relegated to lower-level staff members, refused to fill many ambassadorships and senior leadership jobs, and fired top diplomats from coveted posts while offering low-level assignments in their place. Those efforts have crippled morale worl

Still, State Department accountants have told Mr. Tillerson that only about 1,341 people are expected to retire or quit by the end of September 2018, the date by which Mr. Tillerson has promised to complete the first round of cuts.

Indeed, rumors of a buyout have reduced the number of departures expected this year. So $25,000 will be given to the first 641 employees who agree to leave by April, a representative from the State Department confirmed on Friday.
[…]
Asked about the many vacancies at the State Department, Mr. Trump said in an interview with Laura Ingraham of Fox News: “You know, don’t forget, I’m a businessperson and I tell my people, ‘When you don’t need to fill slots, don’t fill them.’ But we have some people that I’m not happy with there.”

Pressed about critical positions like the assistant secretary of state, Mr. Trump responded in a statement that has since reverberated around the State Department. “The one that matters is me,” he said. “I’m the only one that matters because, when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be.”

See the link to the full article below.

As far as we know, this POTUS has never been anywhere near Foggy Bottom since his election. Based on the archive of his tweets, he also tweeted only nine times about the State Department between 2014-2016. So when he said in that Ingraham interview that But we have some people that I’m not happy with there” — we have to wonder who are the “some people” he was referring to, and why was he “not happy.”

Given his lack of direct interactions with the employees of the State Department, we can only point to one incident that happened very early in his administration that may account for this “unhappiness.”  Back in February, we blogged about our concern related to the leaked dissent memo over Trump’s travel ban (see Dissent Channel: Draft Memo Over #MuslimBan Leaks – Now What?).  We wrote then that the leak will probably cause the greatest crisis of confidence between the new President and the Foreign Service since 1971 (see Dissent Channel Leak: Who Gains the Most From Flogging the Laundry Like This?).  In that 1971 case, President Nixon apparently instructed Secretary Rogers to fire all 50 FSOs who signed a letter protesting an anticipated invasion of Cambodia. We are not aware of similar known instruction from this president but watching the news coming out of Foggy Bottom this past several months, one cannot help but wonder what function that leaked dissent memo had in the decision not to staff the agency at its upper ranks, and the reorganization that the new secretary of state has now embarked on (FOIA ninjas, here’s a case for you!).

Trump’s 2018 Budget requested $25.6 billion in base funding for the Department of State and USAID, a $10.1 billion or 28 percent reduction from the 2017 annualized CR level. The Budget also requested $12.0 billion as Overseas Contingency Operations funding for extraordinary costs, primarily in war areas like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, for an agency total of $37.6 billion. Note that the FY18 request under “Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments” include “Section 3523 of Title 5, U.S. Code shall be applied with respect to funds made available by this Act by substituting “$40,000” for “$25,000″ in subsection (b)(3)(B) of such section.”  (Read 5 U.S. Code 3523).

In September this year, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved “a $51.35 billion appropriations bill to strengthen federal programs and operations that support national security and American values abroad.”  The minority announcement notes that the allocation is $10.7 billion above the President’s request as scored by CBO, but it is $1.9 billion below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. We expect this will pass due to bipartisan support.  Despite the reduced request by the Trump Administration, Congress reaffirmed its primary role in appropriating funds and gave the State Department more money than was requested.

And yet, the State Department is going forward with shrinking its American workforce by 8 percent. NYT put the reduction in number at 1,982 employees. The NYT report also says the first 641 employees who agree to leave by April will get $25K. The budget request actually increases the buyout amount to $40K. If our math is right, that means a total payout of about $25.6 million.

See: @StateDept/USAID Staffing Cut and Attrition: A Look at Real Numbers and Projected Attrition, our calculations at 600 missed by 41 employees for the buyout.

We remember reading, in the aftermath of the dissent memo leak that the Democratic Members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs reminded the Trump Administration that State Department personnel who dissent from policy are protected by law and sought assurances that State Department personnel would not be subject to harassment or retribution for offering dissenting viewpoints.

But who’s going to protect an entire agency in what now looks glaringly like collective punishment?

A career ambassador who left the Service the last couple of years told us recently, “Until now, I’ve kept an open mind and a stiff upper lip. But now I’m ready to conclude that they really are working incrementally [to] fuck the traditional Foreign Service.”

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SecState Who Was Called a Dog, Reportedly Called POTUS an “F-ing Moron” #RealLife

Posted: 4:10 am ET
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Less than 48 hours after Secretary Tillerson was called Donald Trump’s dog (see WaPo’s Dana Milbank Goes Scooby-Doo Slap-A-Lympics on Tillerson – Holy Bow Wow!), NBC News was out with a scoop where Secretary Tillerson was reported to have called POTUS a  “moron” this past summer (see Tillerson’s Fury at Trump Required an Intervention From Pence). So then Mr. Tillerson, fourth in line to the throne, excuse me, the presidency, came out to speak to his long lost friends in the media in Foggy Bottom.

He starts with expressing his commitment to the success of President Trump:

There were some news reports this morning that I want to address. First, my commitment to the success of our President and our country is as strong as it was the day I accepted his offer to serve as Secretary of State. President Trump’s “America first” agenda has given voice to millions who felt completely abandoned by the political status quo and who felt their interests came second to those of other countries. President Trump’s foreign policy goals break the mold of what people traditionally think is achievable on behalf of our country.

He spent a paragraph of his remarks addressing the “erroneous” reporting involving the VP though he did not talk about that Nikki Haley part of the report helpfully provided on the record by his comm advisor:

To address a few specifics that have been erroneously reported this morning, the Vice President has never had to persuade me to remain the Secretary of State because I have never considered leaving this post. I value the friendship and the counsel of the Vice President and I admire his leadership within President Trump’s administration to address the many important agendas of President Trump, both from a foreign policy perspective and a diplomatic – I’m sorry, a domestic objective.

This presser is clearly intended for an audience of one. His  speechwriters get points for calling POTUS “smart” and remembering to include the “America First” slogan:

Let me tell you what I’ve learned about this President, whom I did not know before taking this office. He loves his country. He puts Americans and America first. He’s smart. He demands results wherever he goes, and he holds those around him accountable for whether they’ve done the job he’s asked them to do. Accountability is one of the bedrock values the President and I share.

Oops … and this!

While I’m new to Washington, I have learned that there are some who try to sow dissension to advance their own agenda by tearing others apart in an effort to undermine President Trump’s own agenda. I do not and I will not operate that way, and the same applies to everyone on my team here at the State Department.

His full statement is here.

Congrats to Tillerson’s speechwriters. It worked!

Click here for the State Department spox Heather Nauert who officially denied from the podium that the Secretary of State called the President of the United States a “moron.”  For the record, the reporter  said “My source didn’t just say he called him a moron. He said he called him an f-ing moron.” 

We’d like to know what kind of talking points Public Affairs is sending out to the field so our diplomats overseas can respond to their host countries’ inquiries, and whether they’re allowed to wear brown paper bags over their heads.

One reporter asked during the Daily Press Briefing, “Tillerson’s own spokesperson came out and walked back information that he had given to that story that apparently wasn’t accurate. And he said that he spoke out of line about conversations that he was not privy to. So that seems to me that he contributed inaccurate information to that story. On another occasion he denied conversations had happened between the State Department and the White House that multiple sources told us did happen, including a White House source. So how can we believe what the State Department says did or did not happen when Tillerson’s own spokesperson seems to be putting information out there that is not necessarily accurate?”

The spox’s response: “Honesty, being forthright, integrity is something that the Secretary has spoken to often. That is a value that he holds very close and very dear.[…] My colleague issued some tweets in response to that. I think I certainly share his sentiment in that he regrets those. His statement say that he spoke out of line about conversations he wasn’t privy to.”

The reporter pursued the question: “But if he’s giving information to a reporter that is categorically false on what seems to be now two occasions, how does the Secretary feel about his own spokesperson?”

The spox’s response:  “I have not asked the Secretary that question.”

Um … “why not?”

AND NOW THIS —

We all know that this is not going to be the end of this exhausting drama. We’re just gonna stock on this shirt in our bunker so we’ll have a permanently screaming owl on our chest 24/7 from hereon (via Amazon Affiliate).

 

#TrumpChicken Thanks Putin For Kicking Out U.S.Mission Russia Staffers

Posted: 4:19 pm PT
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On August 10, 2017, Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States announced for all the world to hear that he wanted to thank Russian leader Vladimir Putin for slashing the United States own diplomatic staff at U.S. Mission Russia.  He was under the impression that this would result in a smaller payroll.  If he were a little bit more curious about our diplomatic missions, he would know that our career diplomats and their families would be reassigned to other posts. And he would realize that when our diplomats are kicked out from a certain country, it would impact the United States ability to analyze, report, negotiate, and improve bilateral relation with that country.

If he were a little bit more informed, he would know that the reduction in staff — beyond the upheavals it would bring to the lives of mission staffers and their families — would hinder the embassy’s ability to investigate allegations of mistreatment of or discrimination against U.S. investors in Russia. If the U.S. does not have sufficient staff, it would jeopardize cooperation with Russia in addressing pressing global challenges where U.S. core national security interests align:

  • nonproliferation
  • nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) security
  • preventing atrocities and humanitarian crises
  • combatting violent extremism and terrorism

But Mr. Trump is not curious, and he is ill informed, and he has not shown signs that he will improve with age. Unfortunately, this also shows us as clear as day that he sees no usefulness for diplomacy nor appreciation for the people who labors in it.

Frankly, the only way we are actually able to process this latest edition in bonkers news is if we imagine that Trump Chicken delivered this message and the real President of the United States is somehow working, not golfing, with the dedicated personnel at Area 51.

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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
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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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