Posted: 3:47 am ET
Updated: 1:03 am ET
Updated: 7:12 pm ET
The most popular topic in the State Department’s career forum right now is Mgt non-authorization of appointment letter? Candidates for appointment into the Foreign Service are roiled at the possibility that the next classes for new officers and specialists will be postponed or cancelled after they have already prepared to move to DC. One commenter writes, “We signed attendance letters and received confirmation that we are in the March class. We signed paperwork with Oakwood for housing.” Another adds, “Have resigned from my job and given my apartment notice of our leaving. I also turned down another job offer in December.” Still another candidate writes, “[A]m about to go from a good, full-time job to being unemployed because of this lack of transparency and foresight. For my family’s sake, I’m trying not to show how terrified I am that we will potentially be without income and a roof over our heads.” And yet another says, “I am not sure how future language and caveats helps those who will soon be unemployed and homeless.”
Last week, we asked the State Department about this issue, requesting some clarity on what is going on regarding the offers that went out, the classes scheduled to start, and whether or not cancellation of classes is a possibility/offers rescinded given the change in administration.
We received a four-word response from State/HR: “We have no comment.”
We tried DGHR Arnold Chacon on Twitter, but it appears he was deaf to our question on this matter.
As best we could tell, in late November-early December, the State Department sent out appointment offers to Foreign Service applicants who have jumped through the hoops to join the incoming 190th A-100 Generalist Class, due to begin March 6. We understand that similar offers went out for the next Specialist Class due to start in March 20.
For the Generalist/FSO class, the job offer recipients were asked to notify the Registrar’s Office of their response to the job offer, via email, no later than noon, Friday, Dec. 2nd. They were also asked to provide documentation of their annual base salary, submission of 90 days’ worth of earnings and leave/salary statements, or a signed letter from your Human Resources Division, on the company’s letterhead, verifying the candidate’s current (base) salary. Candidates who are current federal employees were asked to provide their most recent personnel action (SF-50), in lieu of 90 days’ worth of earnings and leave statements. Candidates transferring from a federal agency, were asked to provide the Registrar’s Office with the name, email address and telephone number of their Human Resources Officer, so that their “transfer and a release date can be coordinated without a break in service.”
Recipients of the offers were informed that they need to provide via fax or email an updated resume with eight specific details including “address, telephone number, email address, eligible family members and confirmation that this is the address from which you are traveling to attend Generalist training; please include your confirmed address, telephone number and current email address on your resume” to the Registrar’s Office.
The candidates were reminded that if they are appointed from 50 miles outside of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, they are eligible to receive per diem to assist in offsetting living expenses incurred while attending training. They were given the per diem rates from March-September 2017. The letter informed the candidates that during the first week of orientation, they will have an opportunity to apply for a Government Travel Card via Citibank. Also that candidates must submit a travel voucher every 30 calendar days to receive reimbursement for their lodging and meals and incidental expenses (M&IE). They were informed that lodging receipts are required. The candidates were further reminded not to purchase their own tickets as they will be issued travel authorizations approximately 30 days prior to the class date.
They were provided information about lodging and information on specific needs such as lactation services:
The Department entered into a contract with housing vendors to provide apartments at various locations in the Washington, D.C. area for eligible employees receiving a travel authorization to attend Generalist training at FSI. Participating employees will not be responsible for paying for housing costs which can result in savings of many thousands of dollars over the course of the training period. Participants will still receive the meals and incidental expense portion of the per diem allowance on the sliding scale listed above. We strongly encourage all new employees to take advantage of this program not only because of the cost savings, but because of the convenience of making reservations, free transportation to and from FSI, and to avoid the many legal and contractual pitfalls encountered when finding your own housing.
If you are a candidate that will require lactation services during the orientation period, please advise as soon as possible so that arrangements can be made.
They were directed what to do/where to go on their first day of processing:
Please note that the first day of Generalist In-Processing will be held in the Harry S. Truman (Main State), 2201 C Street, N.W, Washington, D.C. (Loy Henderson Auditorium, 23rd Street entrance only) and the remainder of the Generalist Orientation, will be held at the George Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center, 4000 Arlington Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia, Room F-2328. (Please enter via the 23rd Street entrance only. Please do not enter via the Department’s 22nd and C Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., Main Entrance. )
They were informed that the priority of the Registrar’s Office is the processing of the January 9th Generalist Class. And that their “patience and understanding are greatly appreciated.”
The appointment offer we reviewed includes links and contact info. It does not include a contingency language about not making “lifestyle changes.” If you receive one of these letters, you probably would also start making arrangements to terminate current employment, leases, etc, in preparation for a new start as an entry level U.S. diplomat in Washington, D.C.
The original forum thread was posted in January 13. After the forum section lit up and multiple inquiries from candidates, HR/REE apparently sent out an email on January 17, as follows:
The Office of Recruitment, Examination and Employment (HR/REE) would like to provide further information concerning your appointment to both the March 6th Generalist and March 20th Specialist hiring classes.
At this time, pending guidance from the incoming administration, the Registrar’s Office is not releasing any official appointment documentation related to the March 2017 hiring classes. This would include the official appointment salary letter and the Enter On-Duty employment forms. Once the Registrar’s Office has received further guidance from Management concerning your appointment, you will be informed immediately.
We recommend that you make no lifestyle changes contingent on employment with the Department until you receive further guidance from us.”
Look, the job offer letters went out after the elections. Unless folks were under a rock, State/HR knew that there will be a new GOP Administration who may have different priorities. In fact, in October 22, 2016, President Trump’s Contract With the American Voters lists “a hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce federal workforce through attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health)” as part of his plan. Perhaps the folks who sent out the job offers made presumptions they shouldn’t have, or perhaps there were transition issues? The thing is we don’t know because HR and DGHR are both non-responsive to inquiries. It is worth noting, however, that the scheduled 189th Class proceeded as planned on January 17. If there were doubts, even slim ones about the next training classes, the State Department could have included a contingency language in the job offer letters it sent out; it did not. Wait, we’ll take that back. Even in the absence of doubts, given that a presidential transition was anticipated after the election, it is malpractice not to include contingency language in these job offers.
We understand that the agency has no control over the priorities or the interest of the incoming administration. However, it has control over how it communicates with its prospective personnel. The State Department demands that its future diplomats demonstrate high qualities of leadership, decisiveness, and communication skills among other things. And yet, it poorly communicates with its incoming career candidates and refuses to account for its action when politely asked for clarity.
CBS News reported on January 20 that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus sent a memo to federal agencies instructing the bureaucracy to cease issuing new regulations and to enact a federal hiring freeze. We were able to locate the regulatory freeze memo but not the memo on the hiring freeze. Government Executive has now reported about the hiring freeze here. Below is the text of the order freezing federal hiring. Or see the more readable version here: President Trump Freezes Federal Hiring Regardless of Funding Sources (Read Memo).