Career Issues

This section deals with issues of interest to Foreign Service professionals, both Foreign Service Officers and Foreign Service Specialists, as well as to Civil Service employees sent on temporary duty (TDY) assignments abroad.  An effort is made to show how specific issues are addressed by the responsible offices of the State Department, by the Foreign Service “union” (i.e., the American Foreign Service Association, or AFSA) and by active duty employees who communicate with one another via the Internet. 

Many of these issues are addressed by Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on the Department of State website (http://careers.state.gov/specialist/faqs.html and http://careers.state.gov/officer/faqs.html), by AFSA through articles and its own reports to members carried in Internet messages and the Foreign Service Journal (http://www.afsa.org/fsj/archives.cfm ) and by the blogs of Foreign Service Officers and their families. The latter can be found through the website of the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) (http://www.aafsw.org/overseas/blogs.htm ).

Three other websites of general interest are:

  • http://www.nicholaskralev.com/WT-FS.html  This site contains an interesting and well-documented series of newspaper articles on the Foreign Service by correspondent Nicholas Kralev that ran in The Washington Times in 2004.
  • www.talesmag.com  On the website of Tales of a Small Planet, this group describes its mission as “to enrich and share the experience of living abroad through literature, humor and the arts, as well as by providing information and education on what it is really like to live in a foreign country and how to cope with the challenges that may come along.”
  • http://www.whirledview.typepad.com This website contains a blog written by retired Foreign Service Officers on a wide variety of subjects, including diplomacy, feminism, public diplomacy, law and human rights, and international affairs.

Overview

Foreign Service professionals, like professionals in other fields, have concerns that are unique to their work.  These include promotions, pay, assignments, family member employment and education, and health.

In a June 2006 letter to Ambassador George Staples, Director General of the Foreign Service, the American Foreign Service Association listed the most important issues raised by its members.  Among the concerns:

  • Open assignment rules that are not always followed
  • The dangers of serving in posts such as Iraq
  • Difficulties related to securing jobs for family members overseas
  • Reductions in Foreign Service promotions
  • Concerns of  family members left behind when FSOs work “unaccompanied” at the 70 posts that do not permit dependents to join them
  • Dissatisfaction with State’s unwillingness to treat unmarried partners as family members
  • Other issues related to security clearances, maternity benefits and overseas housing

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Career Advancement

Many of the career advancement issues of importance to State employees revolve around questions of equitable treatment.  The State Department’s Office of Civil Rights   http://www.state.gov/s/ocr (formerly called the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity) has primary responsibility for dealing with allegations of unfair treatment based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and physical disabilities.  In addition to issues related to women and minorities that have been high on the Foreign Service agenda for decades, the treatment of gays and lesbians, as well persons with disabilities, has received increased attention in more recent years.  Gays and lesbians in committed relationships who serve abroad sought “family member” treatment for their partners, a status that until recently the State Department maintained it was legally unable to permit.  However In June 2009, President Obama declared that many benefits available to spouses of federal employees would be extended to same-sex partners of federal employees and the children of those partners.  Secretary of State Clinton then announced that the full range of legally available benefits and allowances would be extended to unmarried, same-sex partners of Foreign Service personnel assigned abroad as well as to the children of those partners.  These benefits include issuance of diplomatic passports, shipment of household effects, family member preference for employment, use of medical facilities, evacuation and emergency travel and subsistence payments related to that travel, inclusion in calculation of overseas allowances, and availability of training opportunities at the Foreign Service Institute.

Disabled in Foreign Affairs Agencies (DIFAA) is an organization that promotes awareness of and support for the disabled in the State Department work environment.  These and other State Department “affinity groups” are identified on the State Department careers website  http://www.careers.state.gov/general/diversity/affinity.html.  For more detail on the hiring and advancement of women and minorities in the Foreign Service, see the section of this website on “A More Representative Foreign Service.”

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Pay

Concerns about pay include those related to cost of living allowances and benefits for employees living in hardship posts, including such danger zones as Iraq.  A major issue hasbeen the question of “locality pay” for Foreign Service personnel not in the Senior Foreign Service serving abroad. (The salaries of Senior Foreign Service personnel, which are based on a pay-for-performance system, have not been subject to locality pay since late 2002.)  By 2009, the lack of locality pay for employees abroad meant that their salaries were 23% below what they would be in Washington.  However, after years of advocacy by AFSA and the senior leadership of the State Department, in June 2009 Congress enacted, and the president signed, a supplemental appropriationg to begin phasing out this discrepancy.  The intent is to phase out the difference over three years, ending in 2011. This will require additional legislation in 2010 and 2011.    For a moe detailed look at the locality pay issue see: (http://www.afsa.org/usaid/0709vanguard.pdf).   Another important topic is appropriate compensation to Foreign Service personnel assigned to Iraq and Afghanistan:   (http://careers.state.gov/iraq-jobs/compensation.html and http://careers.state.gov/ap-jobs/compensation.html).

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Assignments

Foreign Service Officers commit themselves to serve wherever needed, to be “worldwide available,” but in practice forced or “directed” assignments have rarely been made in recent decades.  However, in 2006 the need to staff hard-to-fill positions in Iraq and some other countries brought this issue to center stage, and the State Department changed the bidding rules for FSOs seeking ongoing assignments, effective with the 2007 assignments cycle. The changes, consistent with the Secretary of State’s concept of Transformational Diplomacy, offer increased incentives and “strong encouragement” for employees to volunteer for the nearly 800 “extreme hardship,” “danger-pay” and unaccompanied overseas positions that must be filled each year.

AFSA, which formally represents FSOs in negotiating State personnel policies, says its members understand the need for changes in Foreign Service personnel practices to meet current critical needs, but has expressed concerns regarding fairness of assignments, treatment of family member issues and equitable promotion opportunities for meritorious performance by FSOs outside danger zones. 

Department of State

American Foreign Service Association

Blogs

Also see “Going It Alone: AAFSW's Guide for Unaccompanied Family Members” (http://www.aafsw.org/una/una_main.htm).  The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) is a nonprofit organization representing Foreign Service spouses, employees and retirees.

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Family Member Employment and Education

Family member morale, a major concern at all U.S. embassies abroad, is the primary focus of the Community Liaison Office (CLO), established within each embassy’s Management Section.  Employment opportunities for family members, whether within or outside the embassy, and access to education are top issues on every CLO’s agenda.  In addition, with conditions in some countries becoming more dangerous, increased attention is being given to helping children cope with such stresses.  See the State Department’s website on “Talking with Youth about War, Crisis and Natural Disasters” http://www.state.gov/m/dghr/flo/c8894.htm.  

A 2006 survey conducted by the State Department’s Family Liaison Office (FLO) http://www.state.gov/m/dghr/flo, which manages the worldwide CLO program, found that, when bidding on a post, State Department employees’ family members said their top concerns are children, security and family member employment.  Nearly 90% of respondents said they planned to seek employment on a future assignment, with nearly 65% expressing a preference for jobs within the mission.  http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/69839.pdf

The State Department’s Office of Overseas Schools (http://www.state.gov/m/a/os) has responsibility for ensuring that appropriate educational opportunities are made available to all Foreign Service families serving abroad.

American Foreign Service Association

Blogs

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Health

A wide spectrum of health issues concerns Foreign Service personnel. Among them are the quality of medical facilities available at hardship posts, issues related to medical evacuations, medical benefits, mental health issues and assignments for those with disabilities.  Frequently asked questions about medical clearances and health benefits are treated on two State Department websites: http://careers.state.gov/officer/faqs.html and http://careers.state.gov/officer/compensation.html.  AFSA has on its website the Department’s “Comprehensive Guide on Pregnancy and Related Issues” http://www.afsa.org/pregnancy.cfm

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