Unemployment Status of @StateDept Family Members Overseas (4/2017) #ThanksTillerson

Posted: 2:01 am ET
Updated: 1:51 pm PT for clarity and a new hashtag
Updated: August 5, 10:17 am PT
Updated: 12:07 pm PT
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Update: August 5, 10:17 am PT: The FLO website now has a new August 4 update that says: “The Secretary 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.” This update has no time stamp but must have come out late on August 4.  

We understand that this change relates to CLO coordinator positions at Community Liaison Offices. Embassies (USG has 170 of them) and some Consulates General have one CLO, or have two individuals sharing the position as co-CLOs. We believed that a certain number of CLO positions, not all, were made vacant in the winter and the current rotation cycle of personnel. What we don’t know yet is if Tillerson’s exemption is specific to CLO vacancies only, and if that’s the case, how many positions are actually affected.” End update.

Update: 12:07 pm PT: We’re hearing some other EFM exemptions including consular positions are also being approved but we don’t have clarity on all exempted positions or how many.  End Update.

 

According to the FLO website, the Department of State’s current hiring freeze guidance “remains in effect, including with respect to hiring under a Family Member Appointment (FMA) or Temporary Appointment.”

It also says that 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 FMA and temporary appointments.

The stats below is from April 2017. It indicates that 6% or 743 EFMs are pending due the clearance process or the hiring freeze.  Even if the security clearance process is done, now that the hiring freeze remains in place, is anyone going anywhere? Of EFMs in South Central Asia, 10% are pending, the highest percentage in the geographic bureaus (SCA includes posts like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India). In terms of actual numbers, EUR and WHA have much larger family member population, and they are at 6% and 5% respectively.

Since the 6% will not be able to work unless the freeze is lifted by Secretary Tillerson or the EFMs are issued waivers, the “Not Employed” Foreign Service family members below is not 56% (6,695) but actually 62% (7,438).

Via State/FLO:

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

Posted: 1:39 am ET
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We posted recently about the hiring freeze, the jobs for diplomatic spouses, and the worries that these jobs could soon be filled not by the U.S. citizen spouses of USG employees overseas but by locally hired employees (see Are #EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under #Tillerson’s watch?).

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

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

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

via reactiongifs.com

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

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

Dual Career Households

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

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

Rumors Uninterrupted. Why?

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

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

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

Hard Choices Ahead

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

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

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

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

An Aside — on Rumors

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

If State Really Cares About the Costs

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

Tillerson’s 9% Cut and a Troubling Nugget

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

The Bloomberg report also has this troubling nugget:

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

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

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

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

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Secretary @JohnKerry Hosts His Last “Diplomacy at Home for the Holidays” For Foreign Service Families

Posted: 3:36 pm PT
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Secretary John Kerry hosted the annual “Diplomacy at Home for the Holidays” today at 2:00 p.m. at the State Department.

“The holiday reception honors the families of U.S. government employees with assignments on which they cannot bring their families, leaving both sides to endure long periods of separation from their loved ones, even at the holidays.”

In partnership with the Kennedy Center, the cast of the Broadway hit Wicked — the untold true story of the Witches of Oz — was scheduled to perform the popular songs “The Wizard and I” and “For Good” during the reception.  This event is made possible through public-private partnerships according to the State Department.

In 2013, the State Department said that about 1,100 U.S. foreign service officers were at posts abroad where they are unaccompanied or where there are limits on who can accompany them – usually no children/adult only dependents.  Reuters reported at that time that this was a five-fold increase in unaccompanied American diplomats over the past decade, and represents about 14 percent of U.S. foreign service officers serving overseas.  Since 2016 is no doubt a harsher year than 2013, we can only surmise that the unaccompanied posts this year is higher than the previous years.

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Snapshot: Foreign Service Family Member Employment by Bureau and Geographic Distribution

Posted: 1:32 am EDT
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Via state.gov/flo (updated as of November 2015)

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Pentagon to Offer Voluntary Relocation to DOD’s Pregnant Family Members in Areas With Zika Virus

Posted: 1:25 am EDT
Updated Feb 3 3:03 pm EDT
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According to Military Times, pregnant family members of active-duty personnel and civilian Defense Department employees assigned to areas affected by the Zika virus will be offered voluntary relocation.

The State Department issued a Zika virus information for travelers based on CDC information. We have yet to hear any update on what happens to pregnant family members of Foreign Service personnel in affected areas and whether the State Department will offer them voluntary relocation.  The Centers for Disease Control on January 15 issued an interim travel guidance related to Zika virus for 14 countries and territories in Central and South America and the Caribbean.  There is apparently an ALDAC that was sent out on January 21st, that says ALL pregnant USG employees or family members covered under the Department of State Medical Program are authorized voluntary medevac from posts affected by Zika, we don’t have the ALDAC number but check with MGT or MED at post, if you are overseas and have not seen it.

The CDC has confirmed active Zika virus transmission in the following 26 foreign countries and territories:

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State/FLO’s Global Employment Initiative — How Effective Is It? Plus a New Survey For EFMs

Posted: 12:20  am EDT
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A few years back, the State Department’s Family Liaison Office established the Global Employment Initiative (GEI) to help Foreign Service family members with career development and exploration of employment opportunities while posted overseas. The program employs Global Employment Advisors (GEAs) reportedly to provide on-site job coaching sessions, training workshops, and career development services at no cost to family members. They also “offer networking assistance, information regarding volunteer projects, and support family members’ efforts to engage in the local economy.”

Our overall experience with this initiative was not at all impressive. A locally hired U.S. citizen got the GEI advisor gig at post and spouses interested in networking and finding jobs got on a meet and greet with a couple American companies operating in the host country.  But not a single EFM ended up with a job at post or a career plan through GEI.

There is, of course, the advantage of hiring a local U.S. citizen as GEI advisor, presuming that the individual already has an existing local network and need not have to build one from scratch. But it also has a disadvantage of hiring someone who has no idea how the system works. And that’s how you get a GEI advisor telling an EFM to make handicrafts for sale on Etsy. Because obviously, if you’re an EFM entrepreneur, the Foreign Affairs Manual does not have anything but lots of recommendations for you!

Blog comment: State’s so-called “global employment initiative” is a complete joke (well, except that nobody’s laughing about it). After two assignments I have *never* heard of someone who got a job through GEI. The only thing our regional GEI person ever said that made any sense was “State Department does not owe you a job.” Of course, I never said it did, but that was irrelevant as she then segued into telling me to start a cooking blog or make hand-woven baskets to sell on Etsy.

Image via FAMER, November 2014 (click for larger view)

Image via FAMER, November 2014 (pdf)
(click for larger view)

 

We wanted to learn more about this initiative, its funding, its results. How effective is it in assisting Foreign Service spouses overseas. How many GEI advisors have been hired to-date since its creation?  How many spouses have been helped by the initiative in finding jobs, starting a business, developing career plans, etc. We also wanted to know what is the annual budget for this initiative, and if the return justify the investment. We’ve reached out to the GEI office at the State Department last week but we have not heard anything back to-date.

If you have a personal experience with the Global Employment Initiative — if you’ve found a job, started a business, created a successful career plan, or able to develop a career through GEI while posted overseas, let us hear from you in the comments section or send us an email.  We will have a follow-up post if we have enough response.

In related news, State/FLO would like to explore ways to connect family members with professional telework opportunities and is  conducting a survey until the end of March to determine the skills, education and experience of family members in the Foreign Service:

The Family Liaison Office (FLO) is investigating ways to connect interested family members with professional telework opportunities.  To do this, we need current statistics on the education, skills, and experience of our Foreign Service family members.  The questions were developed with input from the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW), the non-profit Foreign Service community organization. FLO will use this information to more effectively communicate with companies and organizations about the advantages of hiring talented mobile professionals.  Your responses are anonymous and the survey should take less than 5 minutes to complete.

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/FLOEmployment

We understand that the FLO intends to use this information to “more effectively communicate with companies and organizations about the advantages of hiring talented mobile professionals.”  We wanted to know if this outreach includes hiring managers at the State Department and/or USAID, and other federal agencies for telework opportunities. We’ve asked but have not heard a response to this specific question.

Why were we asking?

Because.

If the State Department is trying to impress “companies and organizations” to take advantage of hiring talented mobile professionals who are Foreign Service members, but the agency itself will not hire them to take advantage of their talent — well, what message does that say?

They’re smashingly great, hire them to telework for you because we won’t?

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State Dept Spouse Employment: “Let’s not pretend that this system is working as advertised”

Posted: 12:07 EST
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One of our favorite FS bloggers is Kelly from Well That Was Different. She has spent the last 25 years living and traveling in Latin America, Africa and Europe with her FSO spouse.  Kelly recently wrote a blogpost on spouse employment in the Foreign Service.  We excerpted the following with her permission.  We should add that she is not/not an employee of the State Department, so hold your bite, you silly tigers. If the somebodies from the alphabet soup offices read this, we suggest full, undivided attention.

Excerpt from Who Are You Calling Eligible?

Any spouse can tell you about jobs that are advertised, but actually “reserved” for the spouse of a certain officer. Or jobs that are not advertised at all, even though they should be, because someone has already been handpicked for the job. Any spouse can tell you about jobs that were assigned to someone who might not even have arrived at post yet, who might even be on their first FS tour, who simply kicked up more of a fuss than others. Any spouse can tell you about positions that were mysteriously created out of thin air for male spouses who “have” to have a job (sorry, but it happens).

So, let’s not pretend that this system is working as advertised. If it did, then frustration probably wouldn’t be as rampant among the EFMs who choose to participate in it. Spouse employment is always named as the number one morale issue in the Foreign Service. There are valid reasons for this—and they can’t all be blamed on shrinking budgets or post 9/11 security requirements.

A good friend who was once an EFM and is now an FSO says that you have to choose. If you are serious about having a “real” career as the spouse of a Foreign Service Officer, the only option is to become an FSO yourself. If you don’t do that, then forget about having a linear, highly remunerative, career. It’s not a popular point of view, but I have to say, based on over 25 years of experience, that I agree with her. Repeatedly having to compete for scraps at every post is just not a satisfying trajectory. I have noticed that it seems to make a lot of spouses pretty unhappy.

Read in full here.

Only 2,736 eligible family members (EFMs) are working within U.S. missions overseas (pdf). As of November 2014, 64% or 7,449 family members overseas — out of a total of 11,620 — are not working.

Family Member Employment, State Department, Nov 2014

Family Member Employment, State Department, Nov 2014 (click image for larger view)

I went and look at the FLO website just now.  Good heavens, the Global Employment Initiative (GEI) is still on!  That exciting program “helps family members explore employment options and opportunities, and provides career development services.” Want to know how effective is that program? Me, too!

 

The State of Foreign Service Family Member Employment 2014 – Which Bureau Tops for Jobs?

— Domani Spero
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Last year, we posted about the  family member employment in the Foreign Service (see The State of Foreign Service Family Member Employment 2013 — Where Are the Jobs?).  We’ve extracted the following from State/FLO’s April 2014 (pdf) numbers and put them next to last year’s numbers. The female/male numbers for overseas family members remain at 78%/22%.  Family members working inside the mission increased from 24% in 2013 to 25% in 2014.  Those working outside the mission increased from 12% to 13%.  Family members who are not working went from 64% in 2013 to 62% in 2014. A pretty slim change with over 7200 family members still not working either by choice or due to severely limited employment opportunities overseas. We should note that  the FLO data is dated November 2013,which is after the summer transfer season and April 2014, which is before the summer rotation.

Family Member Population Overseas

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 11.32.50 PM

fam pop 2013

Employment Status – Overseas Family Members

2014

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2013

FAM 2013

 

Family Member Employment Overseas – Inside the Mission

By Regional Bureau

2014

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2013

fam reg 2013

SCA –  where 63% of family members at post are working

The FLO employment data does not include details of full-time or part-time work or job shares, or the types of jobs inside or outside the mission. But if you want to work, the chance of getting a job is higher in the Bureau of South Central Asian Affairs (SCA) where 50% of family members are employed with the embassy and 13% are employed outside the U.S. mission. At 63%, SCA has the most number of family members working at post, however, the bureau also has the smallest number of family members located at posts. In the AF bureau, 50% of over 1500 family members at post were able to find jobs inside the mission (35%) and outside the mission (15%).

SCA_Bureau_400_1

 

WHA/EUR – where most number of positions located

Posts in the Western Hemisphere and Europe have the most number of approved positions for overseas family members.  These positions more than double the number of positions approved in each of the SCA and NEA bureaus. However, you will also note that only about 1/5 of family members in those respective bureaus (EUR-21%, WHA-22%) are able to  working inside the mission in April 2014. Last year, EUR had 19% while WHA had 23% working inside the mission.  This is not surprising since EUR and WHA have the most number of family members at post. The larger the family member population, the less jobs available to go around.

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 11.33.58 PM

 

Employment Outside the Mission

2014

Where are the jobs?

The FLO’s break down of outside the mission jobs are perhaps too broad to be useful. For instance, 30% of outside the mission jobs are in the field of education but we cannot tell if these are local teaching jobs, online teaching, or something else. There are 199 family members engaged in telework, but we can’t tell in what fields from looking at this graphic.The same goes for working in the local economy, home business and freelancing.  If this is meant to be more than a snapshot of family member employment overseas, to actually help folks plan career-wise when moving overseas, we’d suggest that this annual report be beef up with additional details.

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 11.34.46 PM

 

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