Tillerson Delivers to @StateDept’s Africa Bureau Its “Most Significant Management Challenge”

Posted: 12:25 am ET
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All Foreign Service posts in Africa receive post hardship differential, that is, an allowance meant to provide “additional compensation of up to 35 percent over basic compensation for the majority of employees officially stationed or detailed to a mission with extraordinarily difficult living conditions, excessive physical hardship, or notably unhealthful conditions.” More than half of all AF posts have been designated “Historically Difficult to Staff” meaning fewer than three at- grade/in-skill-code bids were received in three of the last four summer bidding cycles. Of all AF posts, 47 percent (24 posts) have also been designated ” Service Need Differential” that is, 20 percent hardship differential/standard 2 year tour of duty gets a 15 percent  bump in pay if employees agree to serve a third year.

According to State/OIG, the AF Bureau’s FY2017 staffing includes 1,147 American Direct Hire overseas, 572 local staff, 140 reemployed annuitants (retired Civil Service or Foreign Service employee rehired on an intermittent basis for no more than 1,040 hours during the year), and 14 rover-employees based overseas who go where they are needed. State/OIG also says that the AF bureau relies on 399 eligible family member employees for its overseas staffing. The 399 EFM employees are not specifically excluded from the State/OIG 1,147 count; we calculate that family member employees encumbering direct-hire positions constitute 34 percent, or a third of the bureau’s overseas workforce. If the 399 employes are in addition to the 1,147 count,  the number would be 25 percent, or a quarter of the bureau’s overseas workforce.

To be sure, staffing the AF Bureau’s posts has suffered from longstanding difficulties. Unfortunately for everyone with few exceptions,  the 69th Secretary of State sure made it worse.

On January 23, 2017, President Trump ordered a freeze on the hiring of Federal civilian employees to be applied across the board in the executive branch (see OMB Issues Initial Guidance For Federal Civilian Hiring Freeze (Read Memo); President Trump Freezes Federal Hiring Regardless of Funding Sources (Read Memo).

In April, while the OMB lifted the hiring freeze, the State Department with very few exceptions continued with its self-imposed freeze (see No thaw in sight for @StateDept hiring freeze until reorganization plan is “fully developed”).  On April 12, 2017, the State Department posted a statement indicating that the current hiring freeze guidance remained in effect particularly as it affected the hiring of Foreign Service family members (see Are #EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under #Tillerson’s watch?).

During the first week of August, amidst cascading bad press of his stewardship of the State Department, Secretary Tillerson quietly “approved an exemption to the hiring freeze that will allow the Department to fill a number of priority EFM positions that are currently vacant. This exemption gives posts authority to fill critical vacancies supporting security, safety and health responsibilities.”

The hiring freeze snared folks who transferred between January and July (FLO April data says 743 jobs were pending due to security clearance or hiring freeze). Deputy Secretary Sullivan told members of the press on August 8 that “almost 800 EFMs [that] have been approved since this – the hiring freeze was imposed.” So, that’s like everyone who’s been waiting since January. And we were all so happy to see folks granted the exemptions that we forgot to ask who’s the “bright” bulb who started this mess. And if these EFM jobs were finally filled in August (a month before the end of the fiscal year), these employees could not all show up to work the following week, given all the paperwork needed and security investigations required.

Freezing EFM jobs never made sense. We’re still floored that it lasted that long and no one told S “But that’s nuts!” Despite Mr. Tillerson slip of the tongue (“we’re styling as the redesign of the State Department”), we can’t imagine the “redesign” resulting in zero jobs for diplomatic spouses overseas, not only because EFM jobs  makes sense and help post morale, but also because it is the cheaper option.  Unless, of course, 1) the “employee-led” redesign teams are proposing that embassies hire third country nationals for mailroom, escort, fingerprinting, and all support services for post overseas, too (yes, we heard North Korean labor imports are way cheaper). Or 2) this is part of the strategery to reduce the FS workforce without going through a reduction-in-force, while maintaining a goal of a 3 for 1 in attrition.

In any case, as we’ve pointed out in May, when the EFMs leave posts during the transfer season, their positions would not have been filled (with very few exceptions) due to the hiring freeze; and they could not be hired at their next posts because of the same hiring freeze. And that’s exactly what happened. In the oral history of the State Department, this will be remembered as that time when the Secretary of State created/produced/delivered one bureau its “most significant management challenge.” We don’t think this is limited to just the AF Bureau but it’s the only one reported on by State/OIG at this time.

Via State/OIG (PDF):

Four previous OIG reports over the past 20 years have highlighted challenges in staffing AF’s overseas posts. OIG found that these challenges persist, despite reforms to Foreign Service bidding and career development processes intended to promote service in hardship posts and bolster bureau efforts to improve recruitment. Hardships at AF’s overseas posts include ethnic violence, deteriorating local infrastructure, evacuations, health risks, high crime, limited recreation opportunities, physical isolation, political instability, pollution, poor medical facilities, severe climates, and substandard schools. All 51 AF posts receive post hardship differential, 27 posts were included in the Historically Difficult to Staff program, and 24 were Service Need Differential posts.

AF’s difficulties in filling its overseas positions were profound. For the 2017 summer bidding season, AF attracted, at most, only one Foreign Service bidder on 37 percent of its positions, leaving 143 of 385 total positions potentially unfilled. The bureau used a broad range of alternative and sometimes costly personnel mechanisms to fill vacancies and short-term gaps. It relied on 399 eligible family member employees, a roster of 140 reemployed annuitants, 14 rovers based overseas, and approximately 50 senior locally employed staff members to fill staffing gaps and support essential services. AF also filled about 25 percent of its 2017 positions with entry-level employees. AF overseas management officers who responded to an OIG survey cited concerns about eligible family member employment as their most significant management challenge. Because of the Department-wide hiring freeze, these positions could not be filled as they became vacant. These vacancies are of concern because, as explained by the Government Accountability Office in 2009, staffing and experience gaps place at risk diplomatic readiness, particularly for high-threat environments such as those in which AF operates.

For readers who are not familiar with the Foreign Service and spouse employment — say you and your spouse arrived at a 2-year assignment at a post in Africa in late October 2016. You found an embassy job in December 2016 but was not officially hired prior to January 22, 2017, so you would have been included in the hiring freeze. When the EFM exemptions were granted on August 4, you would have already waited some eight months to start on that embassy job. Wait, but you needed a security clearance or an interim security clearance which could also take a few weeks to 90 days (or longer). By the time you officially start work, you have some 12-14 months to do the job (maybe less). And then you move on to your next  post and do this process all over again. Now, imagine doing this every 2-3 years, that’s the arc of the working life of a diplomatic spouse.

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Meet Newt, Soon to be @StateDept’s Newest Eligible Family Member

Posted: 12:54 am ET
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Via Politico:  Last week, Newt Gingrich sat in a classroom surrounded by 11 women and one other man, furiously jotting notes. In the weeklong intensive, where classes ran from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with only a short cafeteria lunch break in between, the former House speaker and onetime presidential candidate received a crash course in a new role: invisible spouse.  When he moves to Rome with his wife, Callista Gingrich, to become husband of the ambassador to the Holy See, the ubiquitous Fox News talking head will have no official diplomatic role abroad, beyond being generally presentable and essentially not heard from.

When Callista Gingrich is confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Ambassador to the Vatican, Newt Gingrich, the 50th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and Fox News talking head will officially become a diplomatic spouse or an eligible family member (EFM). He has to be listed on Form OF-126, Foreign Service Residence and Dependency Report of the sponsoring employee, and be on Mrs. Gingrich travel orders. If they place their household effects in storage in Hagerstown, we’re fairly sure, it will be in Mrs. Gingrich’s name because she is the employee. Will he need to go to the Community Liaison Office to logon to OpenNet? Will they let him make his own request for house repairs or does the employee have to do that? Who will he need permission from to pursue outside employment?

And for every bureau, post, COM, etc. whoever slapped a diplomatic spouse’s hands or threatened his/her employee-spouse’s career for blogging or writing articles that has nothing to do with policy or privileged information, get ready. This should be interesting, huh?!

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

Posted: 12:38 am ET
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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
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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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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).

 

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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Funding IRAs When One Spouse Is Unemployed #ForeignServiceSpouses

Posted: 2:28 am ET
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There are over 11,000 Foreign Service adult family members overseas. As of April 2016, 57% are not employed (29% works inside the mission, 14% works outside the mission).  Funding an IRA when one spouse is unemployed is something that some FS spouses already do but if you’re not doing it, this is something you may want to talk about with your working spouse.

Via The Street:

Funding an IRA when one spouse is unemployed or taking a sabbatical can occur if the working spouse makes the contribution. The spouse who is earning income can support the contribution of the non-working spouse’s account, said John Bowen, a retail sales supervisor for Equity Institutional, a financial planning firm in Westlake, Ohio. Whether the spouse contributes to a company 401(k) is not relevant. The contribution can be up to $5,500 for people up to the age of 50 and $6,500 if you are 50 or older in 2016.

Read more about Roth IRA here.

 

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U.S. Embassy Bamako: Family Members on ‘Authorized Departure’ From Mali. Again.

Posted: 4:09 am ET
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In December 2015, the U.S. Embassy in Mail went on “authorized departure” for non-emergency staff and family members.

On March 1, 2016, the “authorized departure” order was lifted.

On July 1, 2016, the State Department updated its Travel Warning for Mali with a notice of an FAA NOTAM for Mali and the authorized departure of embassy family members again:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Mali of ongoing terrorist attacks and criminal violence in Mali. The security environment in Mali remains fluid, and the potential for attacks throughout the country, including in Bamako, remains high. Additionally, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has revised its advisory NOTAM for Mali advising U.S. civil aviation to avoid flying below 26,000 ft (FL260) over the airspace of Mali. This Travel Warning is being updated to notify U.S. citizens that on July 1, 2016, the Department of State ordered the departure of eligible family members 21 and younger and authorized the departure of their accompanying adult parents from the U.S. Embassy in Bamako.  This notice replaces the Travel Warning issued on April 21, 2016.

Violent extremist groups targeting foreigners, including al-Qa’ida in the Lands of Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Murabitoun, have claimed responsibility for multiple terrorist attacks in Mali over the past year, as well as kidnappings in Timbuktu and along the border with Burkina Faso.  Furthermore, violent extremist elements continue to target Malian security forces, resulting in attacks on Malian government outposts and base camps for The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

On March 21, 2016, heavily armed assailants attacked the European Union’s Training Mission (EUTM) headquarters and primary residence in the diplomatic enclave in Bamako.  Although no U.S. citizens were affected by the attack and no EUTM staffs were injured, one Malian security officer was shot and required extensive medical care. AQIM claimed responsibility for the attack.

On November 20, 2015, one U.S. citizen and 19 other foreigners were murdered when heavily armed assailants stormed the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako using gunfire and grenades.  AQIM and al-Murabitoun claimed responsibility for the attack.

Following the November 20, 2015 attacks on the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, the government of Mali increased its security presence in Bamako.  Roadblocks and random police checkpoints, especially between sundown and sun-up, are possible. U.S. government personnel are restricted from traveling outside the Bamako region, and may be subject to other restrictions, as security situations warrant.  U.S. citizens should consider taking similar precautions, are reminded to stay vigilant and aware of their surroundings, and exercise caution throughout the country, especially at night.

Read in full here.

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@StateDept Launches Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC)

Posted: 12:04 am ET
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The U.S. Department of State recently launched the Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC) “to more quickly mobilize family members to fill available positions in missions overseas.”  

The FSFRC is a program for family members seeking inside the mission employment opportunities. It will become the exclusive hiring program for Appointment Eligible Family Members (AEFM) into Family Member Appointments (FMA). Starting in 2016, eligible AEFMs will be able to apply for membership in the FSFRC, based on their current employment situation. The 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 as outlined in 16 STATE 49074, paragraph 21.”

The FSFRC is reportedly designed for the majority of family members working in US missions overseas; unfortunately but it will not/not be open to all family members.  An individual who meets all of the following criteria is eligible to apply to join the FSFRC:

(1)  Is a U.S. citizen and

(2)  Is the spouse or domestic partner (as defined in 3 FAM 1610) of a sponsoring employee (i.e., a direct-hire Foreign Service, Civil Service, or uniformed service member) and;

(3) Is either:

(a) listed on the travel orders of a sponsoring employee for a post abroad at a U.S. mission under Chief of Mission authority, or at an office of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), or
(b) listed on an approved Form OF-126, Foreign Service Residence and Dependency Report (or agency equivalent), of a sponsoring employee and resides at the sponsoring employee’s post of assignment abroad, or, as appropriate, an office of the AIT.

(4) Does not receive a U.S. Government retirement annuity or pension from a career in the U.S. Foreign Service or Civil Service; and

(5) Is not a Foreign Service Officer in Leave Without Pay (LWOP) status.

NOTE 1: U.S. citizen spouses/domestic partners of a sponsoring employee who are on approved Voluntary Separate Maintenance Allowance (VSMA) or Involuntary Separate Maintenance Allowance (ISMA) and are temporarily residing apart from the sponsoring employee are also eligible to apply to join the FSFRC in non-paid status. However, they may only begin working in a local assignment when they resume residing with the sponsoring employee.

The State Department estimates that in excess of 5,000 family members are currently eligible to apply to join the Reserve Corps.

Immediate enrollment of everyone who is currently eligible is not possible. Therefore, beginning in 2016, we will start to enroll eligible family members in waves (exact dates TBD) based upon their planned departure date from their current Family Member Appointment (FMA) or TEMP Appointment overseas or based upon the Not To Exceed (NTE) date for family members currently in INWS status.

It does not look like this new program would have an impact on bureau-funded positions or post-funded jobs. It remains to be seen if the FSFRC will expand the job availability for Foreign Service spouses and if it resolves the issue of portability of security clearances for spouses.

For more details, please read the documents below.

Important Documents

 

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DOD to Evacuate 670 Military Dependents, 287 Pets From Turkey — How Many @StateDept Evacuees?

Posted: 2:16 am ET
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Via DPB of March 29, 2016:

QUESTION: All right. Okay. Moving on just to the announcement from you guys on the – and the DOD today on Turkey and the ordered departures. Your colleague at the Pentagon has spent the last several minutes answering – or saying that there was no specific threat that has led to this and that it was just decided out of an abundance of caution that you should go ahead and – my question is: If there was no specific threat, why do it now?

MR KIRBY: That’s a great question. So my colleague is right. The decision to do this, first of all, wasn’t taken lightly. It was done after careful thought and consideration and interagency coordination, I might add. And I think it’s very much a result of our ongoing assessment of security conditions there in Turkey and in recognition of the threat environment in Adana, specifically in southeastern Turkey from a regional perspective. So the why now is I think – when you talk about the now – rather than talk about the now in terms of today or the last few hours, try to keep in mind that this was really a decision that was several weeks in the making in terms of assessing the security situation there, which undoubtedly – and you guys have reported on the terrorism threat that has existed there, the recent attacks. Secretary Kerry alluded to some of these attacks yesterday in the camera spray with the Turkish foreign minister. So this was a decision that, again, was, I think, several weeks in the making.
[…]
QUESTION: And with all that, the brains in this building and the Pentagon decided that today, right in between – right just before a President Erdogan visit, is the day to do something that you could have done last week or the week before or even next week. Does that —

MR KIRBY: We – I – look, I can’t dispute the conspiracy theorists, that they might think that there was more to it than this, that this was some sort of —

QUESTION: I would hope you do want to dispute.

MR KIRBY: I am.

QUESTION: Oh.

MR KIRBY: I mean, I can’t dispute that there are people that think that way.

QUESTION: Will think that. All right.

MR KIRBY: But I certainly can dispute the actual allegation. I can tell you, having watched the process churn now over the last several weeks, that this was done with the – with deep consideration and careful thought, interagency communication. And again, this is not the kind of decision that we take lightly. We take it very seriously. And so therefore want to do it in an appropriate, measured, deliberate fashion, and also do it at what we believe is the right time. And we believe this is the right time to do this.

QUESTION: Last one. The Pentagon was quite specific about the number of people that this was going to affect. Actually, they were even – they were quite specific about the number of pets that it would affect. How many people will this affect in terms of the State Department?

MR KIRBY: It is a small number of family members. I do not have an exact figure, but we can see if we can —

QUESTION: Oh, I know. I know you won’t give them to me. I just want to know why the Pentagon is so willing to talk about this, down to cats and dogs and little bunny rabbits, and you guys, for some reason, have a different – you’re more important, so you don’t have to —

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t —

QUESTION: — you don’t have to give numbers about how many.

MR KIRBY: Now, Matt, I don’t —

QUESTION: That’s – so that’s the – that’s my question. Why?

MR KIRBY: The question or —

QUESTION: No, no. That’s my question. Why won’t the State Department do what the DOD did and give specific numbers?

MR KIRBY: As I understand it – and I’m happy to research this after the briefing. As I understand it, we don’t typically offer —

QUESTION: I know. This is my —

MR KIRBY: — details on the number of dependents and family members —

QUESTION: Yeah, that’s my – that’s my question.

MR KIRBY: — at any given station for security purposes. And we have – I can’t – but having worked in both institutions, I recognize that the State Department has a different threshold for security concerns about dependents and family members.

QUESTION: Why? That’s my question. Why? Why won’t you —

MR KIRBY: Okay. Well, I’ll see what I can do to find a better answer for you on why, but we aren’t going to release an exact number. And I don’t —

QUESTION: Well, I know you’re not. But I’d like just to —

MR KIRBY: And I don’t know that the Pentagon actually said how many bunnies they have.

QUESTION: They said something like 278 pets.

MR KIRBY: Okay.

QUESTION: Okay. Now I don’t know if they broke that down into goldfish or squirrels.

MR KIRBY: Well, your question alluded to hamsters and bunnies, and I just want to make sure that we’re clear on that.

QUESTION: Actually, it just – just bunnies.

MR KIRBY: Just bunnies, okay. (Laughter.) All right.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) discussion. Can I just – (laughter) – I think that should go down in history. (Laughter.) (Inaudible) between the Pentagon and the U.S. on travel alerts. Was that made independent of each other or are they related?

MR KIRBY: The – I’m sorry, the?

QUESTION: The decision by – the announcement by DOD on the drawing down —

MR KIRBY: No, this was a coordinated —

QUESTION: It is a —

MR KIRBY: This was a coordinated decision and a coordinated announcement. We were in lockstep with the Pentagon as we arrived at this decision.

QUESTION: Was there anything that triggered the specific discussions that something needs to be done to take security to the next level?

MR KIRBY: I think, again, without getting into specific intelligence issues, and certainly – and I want to again echo what I said to Matt earlier. I mean, this wasn’t the result of a specific threat to a specific institution or locality or by a specific group. This was based on an analysis over the last several weeks, certainly, of the security situation in Turkey, which undoubtedly – and you guys have covered this yourselves – has become more dangerous, particularly in southeastern Turkey. So it was based on a running analysis of the security threat there, an analysis that we share with the Pentagon about the level of potential danger here. And again, this was a decision made out of an abundance of caution to keep people as safe as possible.

Note that a 2010 OIG report of US Mission Turkey indicates that the U.S. Consulate in Adana is a small post with four direct hire employees.  OIG reported at that time that Adana was getting its first public affairs officer (PAO) in 2010 and its first RSO was to to arrive in 2011 following language training. A lot of regional developments have happened since then so post’s staffing complement of 6 direct hire employees may have already been overtaken by events. There was also local employee hiring for a Branch Office in Gaziantep (located closer to the Syrian border) in 2014, but we don’t have publicly available information regarding that presence at this time.  As for Izmir, the following is a snippet from the 2010 OIG report:

The American presence in Izmir in Western Turkey has changed markedly over the years. An American consulate existed in Izmir from 1803 to 1993. When it was closed for budgetary reasons, a consular agency was established. That agency was closed in 2002, when an American Presence Post was opened. The 2004 OIG in­ spection team recommended that the American Presence Post be closed as it was not clear what the post contributed to mission objectives. The American Presence Post was closed in 2005, and a consular agency was reestablished. What remains in Izmir today is a combination of U.S. Government personnel and activities that achieves the bare minimum of what could be possible in this dynamic port city, the third larg­est in Turkey. A consular agent occupies comfortable leased space in a commercial building. There are no outward signs that identify this facility as belonging to the U.S. Government. The consular workload is modest. Where needed, the able consular agent calls on the aid of the British consul, who has a long history in Izmir.

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