Friday, February 25, 2011

Current Events (Or Why We Deserve This Pay Cut)

My blog pal Shannon, famous across the blogosphere for her homemade ricotta cheese and bug-eating boys, has volunteered to host the RoundUp again. (And can I please get an expert opinion here? Is it "Roundup"? "Round Up"? Or maybe "Round-up"? I'm going with RoundUp for now, but I'm thinking Zoe's background as an editor might give her the authority to make our final decision.)

Anyhoo, Shannon has chosen current events for her theme. She wants us to talk about how current events might be affecting us at post. Connie already wrote about the crazy sonic-boom-thingies that we were hearing here in Amman. I'm pretty sure Amy's got the earthquake covered, and the Sherwoods have a lock on evacuation this week.

Here in Jordan, I'm hearing much talk about the proposed pay cut for Foreign Service Officers, so that's going to have to be my angle.

In a nutshell: our pay is on the line. Life After Jerusalem and several other bloggers covered the details, which amount to this: Foreign Service officers currently have to take a steep pay cut when they move from DC to their overseas posts, due to something called "locality pay." Several years ago, when the powers-that-be were convinced this was a problem (why should I move to Yemen, or Libya, or Beijing, or really anywhere, if I'm going to make 25 cents on the dollar more to stay in DC?), they moved to phase in overseas locality pay so that this disparity would disappear over time. But now, led by Mr. Reed, some of our politicians have decided to call this an "automatic pay raise," and they want to do away with it. Only for State Department employees, mind you: other agencies overseas get this locality pay, and no one's talking about touching it. LAJ, did I get my facts right here?

Now, all you FSOs out there, are you ready for this? Here's what I think: This is all your fault.

Seriously. Your. Fault.

And here's why.

Whenever Mr. or Ms. Important Politician decides to come to post, you all leap to help out. I've seen this happen at every single post where I've lived. You get a cable that Congressperson So-And-So is coming next week. It's probably a national holiday. Or a weekend. But they're coming. They're flying in business class, and when they arrive, you scramble to meet them. With a motorcade. You take them to meetings with other important people at your post. You sit at their fancy dinners at the Foreign Minister's palace so you can take notes. After you drop them off for the night at their fancy hotels downtown, you slog back to the Embassy to write your cables before making the long trek back to your home in the suburbs somewhere. You kiss your sleeping kids, argue with your spouse about why you couldn't come with her to her doctor's appointment (she doesn't speak the language well, but you do). Then you go to bed.

You wake up before dawn so you can get back to the Embassy and pull cables for the congressperson, who needs to be up on the news as she breakfasts in her hotel. And then you set off for another day in motorcades, running from meetings to lunches to parties to concerts, ignoring the calls from your kids' school, because you know your spouse has that covered and you don't even have time to eat.

While you're doing this, someone else at the Embassy is taking the congressperson's spouse shopping for pearls, and then maybe to a fancy lunch at a local hotspot. It could be the CLO; it could be your wife. But someone is out sightseeing with the congressperson's hangers-on. Maybe a quick visit to the Great Wall, or Petra, or the pyramids. This could be a weekday, or it could be a weekend. Either way, whoever is taking these folks out has cobbled together extra childcare and cancelled that dentist appointment in order to be available.

The visit is over, and the motorcade races to the airport, where Important Person waits in the VIP lounge. Even after Important Person takes that business class ticket and boards the plane, you still sit, and wait. You wait until wheels-up, because that's what you do.

You go home. You brush your teeth. If your kids are awake, you apologize for missing their school concert, or their teacher conference, or their birthday. You promise to do better. You eat a bowl of cereal over the sink and you think about all of the catching up you have to do back in the office tomorrow. You know you'll be late at work again, and you don't quite know how to make it up to your spouse. Your feet hurt from standing all day, and your ears hurt from being chewed out by some congressional aide who insisted on carrying classified information back to the hotel and didn't understand why you couldn't let him.

Meanwhile, Important Politician stretches out in his business class seat and listens to his wife talk about the pearls! And the silk scarves! And the amazing food! And IP thinks back to that Foreign Service Officer he just met. And he thinks: what a great life that guy has! He goes to parties at the President's mansion. He drinks fancy wine. He drives around in air conditioned motorcades, with people saluting him as he walks into government buildings. He goes hiking - in the middle of a work day, even! - on the Great Wall. What a cushy life he leads, thinks Important Politician.

So you see, all you Foreign Service Officers out there, it's your fault all of these congresspeople think you deserve a pay cut. They have no idea what work you put into that recent visit. They don't know what you just gave up in order to make sure their visit was a success. They don't understand that your life isn't all cocktail parties interspersed with awesome trips to exotic locations. They don't know that you live in a place where your every move is recorded. Or maybe you live in a place where the locals want you dead. Or you live in a place where your baby has nightmares from the malaria medication. Or your spouse isn't allowed to work because the host government forbids it. Or maybe you're black, and the locals don't like black people. Or maybe you're gay, and that's a punishable offense in your host country. Or you're a woman, so you have to cover up when you walk outside. Or the signs are all in Arabic, so every time you leave the house, you're lost, and you can't ask for directions. Or maybe you went permanently deaf in one ear while you were serving in a country without proper medical care. Important Politician didn't see any of this from the window of the Prime Minister's residence.

And the truth is, maybe you'd do all of this work even if they cut your pay in half, because it's important, and it's challenging, and you love what you do, despite the obstacles. If they had to tighten belts across the board, if they had to reduce everyone's pay, in every single agency, you'd probably accept that, because you want what's best for your country - heck, I think you've proven that already just by being here, in Country X.

But they don't get it, these Important People. They don't know just how hard you work for them, and for your country, because when they show up at your post for a long weekend in December, you work your asses off and not a one of you ever tells them you need to go to your daughter's Christmas pageant, or you need to help your spouse find wrapping paper, or you need to get your sick kid to the doctor. You don't even point out that you're working weekends for these people. You just do the work you're supposed to do, regardless of the weather, the date, the personal sacrifice.

And so they don't know, even when they should, and they just see an easy way to cut some money from the budget that won't impact their constituents. When they make these financial calculations, they don't even see your faces.

How can we change this?

78 comments:

Just US said... [Reply]

Well said my friend! Well said!! If you don't mind, can I link you on my blog?

Nomads By Nature said... [Reply]

Hallelujah!

Add on there, the spouses they pull in to run courier pouches and monitor control rooms just to ease the burden on their overworked spouses despite the extra burdens it puts on them and the family.

Add on that these Important Visitors and entourages have been known to rack up bar bills and leave town without settling their personal accounts leaving the FSO to spend HOURS with the hotels, etc. trying to get the outstanding bills resolved.

Do 800 + people really need to accompany the POTUS?

Then when the shopping and tailors are trying to deliver, can you explain how many spouses and FSO take their time to collect these items, or mail these items, and then reply to various inquiries regarding the speed of mail delivery.

I have seen hotel rooms turned into shopping malls to accommodate the 'retail therapy needs' of visitors. I have been at posts where the CLOs main purpose seems to have been organizing shopping trips and vendors. Only one time have I seen a representative ask to meet any of their state constituents while on their visit/tour.

You've hit a chord, Donna. I really do wish CODELS especially would get the bare facts, bare bones life overseas reality tour at least once. Then maybe they would have some facts from the ground when they are thinking budget needs and cuts.

Connie said... [Reply]

What to do? Short of making foreign service a mandatory prerequisite to political service (to take place after a mandatory military tour of duty), I don't know... perhaps, force them all to read this blog post!

**stands up and claps**

moscow daily photo said... [Reply]

Well done.

Sadie said... [Reply]

Donna - well put. Very well put. Hats off to you. THIS is the letter we should be sending to our representatives, instead of the well-reasoned one AFSA wrote (not that there's anything wrong with it, but I fear it won't get across the humanity that yours does).

EricaJGreen said... [Reply]

Great insight and totally right on! You really captured it. I say this as we prepare for another IP visit. I call myself an IP widow during these times.

mattlesnake said... [Reply]

How do we change it? Everyone should quit.

Becky said... [Reply]

Excellent. You know, we've never had a CODEL here. Wonder why ;)

Sara said... [Reply]

Well said!

Shannon said... [Reply]

Well written as always! See I am doing my part by writing about spiders in the tub and cockroaches in the mosquito nets rather shopping for pearls or going to the ball.

It is time for the Weekly State Department Blog Round Up and you are on it!

It is found here:
http://cyberbones.blogspot.com/2011/02/weekly-fs-blog-roundup-in-news.html

If you would like the links to your site removed (or corrections are needed) please contact me. Thanks!

Jim said... [Reply]

Definitely well written. Of course the best way to avoid those visit is to stay in really garden spots like Nouakchott or Niamey; the fufu is so cheap you don't need the extra money.

SassAndSweet said... [Reply]

WEll said! Thanks for writing the blog..... ...I did my small drop in the bucket part and wrote my Senators for the 1st time ever this week.....

Kristin said... [Reply]

I'm not in the FS. I didn't even know the FS existed until my husband took the job he did in his career. I always thought it was only the military who sacrificed so much, but it's not just the military. I knew their were Embassy's around the world, I knew people worked at them but I didn't know the sacrifice put in. Thank you for this post. I hope you don't mind if I share this.

Digger said... [Reply]

Right on! And yept, you got it right. Only entry and mid-level State eomployees take that pay cut.

EricaJGreen said... [Reply]

have to tell you I shared your link and it is getting lots of shares--clearly a hot topic.
i too blog about all things EFM and more. check it out, if feeling inspired.
http://ericajgreen.wordpress.com/

Becca said... [Reply]

yes! I wrote about the federal budget from the perspective of a US employee. this adds an extra dimension to the issue

Kate said... [Reply]

You forgot to mention that those employees taking Congressional staff sight-seeing are required to pay their own admission to all of those sights. And they've undoubtedly seen every single one of them a thousand times already. And that fancy dinner? You either pay your own way or you don't eat.

I'm at a post where I may be working a POTUS visit during a government shut-down and have been told that I must get every individual hour of overtime pre-approved. It's awesome.

Cazza said... [Reply]

Small point...but why are we assuming that spouses or the CLO are females "if could be your wife'..?

Russell's Travels said... [Reply]

This blog should be sent to every CODEL any of us know!

OF course, the MilAir aspect needs addressing....how much is that costing Taxpayers????(which include US!)

NoDoubleStandards said... [Reply]

Brilliant. Effing brilliant.

Spectrummy said... [Reply]

***Applauds***

Ronnie said... [Reply]

And you might add that the tenured FSOs are not entitled to overtime pay for those hours....they work for free already, what harm could a pay cut do?

Tim said... [Reply]

I left the FS. Part of the reason was because the glaze fell off the glamour. I saw it for what it was and what "the service" did to otherwise wonderful people. I have been stateside for 4 years now and I'm the most relaxed I've ever been. My BP is once again normal...
I would support that IF "they" cut FSO's pay (especially Junior FSO's), that they all just curtail...

Anu said... [Reply]

Thank you!

Holly said... [Reply]

Private sector jobs also have you "wine and dine" the bosses at your expense. Up at 6am to pick up at the airport and get home at 10pm. It's expected. I know many in the private sector who have taken deep pay cuts,50% pay cuts, those that still have work. Many who have been out of work and finally found a job for half of what they wer making. It's the current events we are experiencing, welcome to the club!

Anne said... [Reply]

Perfect!

Rachel said... [Reply]

Indeed ... I'm working Saturday AND Sunday this weekend for a visit.

Your post is dead on. Sad, but very very true.

Connie said... [Reply]

Holly - I know what you're saying. It's a tough economy. Sacrifices need to happen. So, freeze federal pay. Shut down the whole govt! Make cuts ACROSS the board! But why single out FS folks posted overseas for pay cuts? Why are these cuts being made against a very small sub-section of a single federal agency, a group of public servants that just happens to be, as far 'out of sight and out of mind' as possible? Local cuts might make local folk grumpy. That grumpiness might make the local papers. Locals might even demonstrate and use some official's name in vain. I guess that cutting the FS folk scattered overseas is easier. Just a thought.

Sarah Novak said... [Reply]

Wow! Beautifully articulated!

Becky said... [Reply]

I agree with Connie.

Personally, I have zero issues with cuts in general. I am supportive of cuts (including cuts for us) but it needs to be equitable. All federal workers should have the SAME opportunity to contribute to balancing the budget. As should all members of the House and Senate (and their staffers). Cuts aren't the issue. Going after one small group of federal workers overseas (and not even all overseas federal employees) is not very equitable.

As soon as Congress starts cutting their own salaries and perks, I'll be right on board. "Lead by example" and all that. I realize we are spread all over but I still vote and I still pay federal and state taxes. So I still care. And honestly, I don't care what they cut for other federal workers even, it is just a shell game until they cut their own Congressional costs.

Carey said... [Reply]

This is very well written. Love it! Another thing to think about - for those of us with our permanent residence D.C., we have no representation in Congress at all. I have no Senator to call.
Holly - while corporate employees also have to entertain, they likely don't have to live in the places that FS employees live and under the same conditions. It's just not the same.

globalgal said... [Reply]

While I've had an ongoing love-hate relationship with US consul officers for years, (currently now love since they granted my husband a 10 year business visa!), I can't imagine any reason why this pay cut is a good idea. I'm afraid that most Americans, congressmen included, have no idea what FSOs and their families do. Very well said.

Chris said... [Reply]

Well said, except that my agency (non-state) never gave us the virtual locality pay to begin with--so the benefit you're worried about losing is one some of us never got to begin with....just sayin.

Becky said... [Reply]

Chris, I was under the impression that the non-State federal employees overseas received more than their base pay (ie some sort of locality). Is that not the case?

(again I have no issue with fair cuts)

Laura said... [Reply]

Preach it! This was brilliant!

Angelin said... [Reply]

Becky,

Non-State employees overseas DO receive extra pay in the form of COLA (cost of living allowance). (My husband is military stationed at an embassy.) This lovely $1000/mo pay increase followed on the heels of a $2800/mo pay cut. And I gave up a six-figure job to come with my husband. So technically, yes, but not really.

Add to this we're in a place where for the last 7 months my house has smelled like raw sewage (been told this isn't really a problem), I've got no dishwasher, I don't speak the language, you can't brush your teeth with tap water, and vegetables have to be soaked in bleach before you eat them.

I'd be happy to give up my COLA to go back to the States.

Susan Haftel said... [Reply]

Thank you so much for this. I'm sharing it on my FB page so those back home who need to understand, might.

Becky said... [Reply]

Thanks for the clarification.

You sum up the overseas "charms" so well. It's cool to see other places but it can be hard too. I wouldn't trade it for the world ('cause it gives us a chance to be out in the world) but it has hard stuff like you mention. As I said, no problem here with cutting costs as long as it is fair and it isn't with a bunch of rhetoric about posh overseas life. I hope you enjoy your time overseas despite the hard stuff. Thanks again for the explanation.

Debra said... [Reply]

Well Said - but let's not forget to mention that each person in the delegation recieves an extra $50 a day to pay for those misc items and also note that they are being fed by the USG and the Local Govt so most are not spending a dime of the thier meal allowance which we all know is very generous. I too will write my congressman for the first time.

Chandu said... [Reply]

Adding another dimension to the incredulity. After evacuating Americans from Lebanon, rescuing orphans from Haiti, wondering whether that mosquito that just bit you was carrying dengue fever, and hosting ten of these IP visits in eight weeks, you learn that you're not up to the standard for tenure, so they boot you out. Degradation, humiliation, and then they want you to do this for less money. It's a glamorous life.

Teresa said... [Reply]

I wonder how it is that Congress can even travel under a continuing resolution.

Dakota said... [Reply]

This post was brilliantly written. Well done: you're a dizzyingly talented writer, and this one nailed it.

In related news, DiploPundit linked to you as well. That should up your traffic by... a billion percent or so?

Debi said... [Reply]

Excellent...you nailed it! Now, if only the powers that be could be enlightened...

Elizabeth said... [Reply]

Bravo! I've written to my non-voting House Delegate before about this issue, and will do so again, for all the good it will do us D.C. residents.

Heather W. said... [Reply]

Amen! If they're going to cut, make it equitable and and meaningful. So simple, really.

Camille said... [Reply]

You should send this in to the NY Times or the Washington Post or something. Seriously.

Ray Nayler said... [Reply]
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Blaize said... [Reply]

What a crap situation. And, I agree with Cazza: Since so many of the commenters on this piece seem to be women, maybe it would be good to rewrite it so that the spouse isn't always female, leaving the FSO or politician consistently male. I know most politicians ARE male (I don't know the gender mix of FSOs) but that doesn't mean our language can't aspire to be more inclusive.

Bryn said... [Reply]

So glad you wrote that. My husband was involved in the Libyan evacuations...He had a few hours notice before flying to Malta. Then he boarded a ferry that wasn't meant to take long trips, and sailed for over 6 hours to a Tripoli, where people were getting killed left and right. He then helped americans as well as other nationalities, board this ferry and do whatever he could to keep them safe, fed and happy. He slept on a metal floor for 3 days while they were stranded. He didn't get to shower for 4 days. Some days, he only got one meal and at most, 4 hours of sleep...making sure the people aboard the ferry were taken care of. He wasn't able to contact his family to let them know he was okay for 2 days! I was a mess not knowing what was happening to my husband. He is currently still in Malta, working overtime so he can take care of anyone and everyone who needs his help. I personally believe he isn't being paid enough for the crap we've gone through. And now they want to cut that pay even more? Absolute Rubbish. I want those Important Politicians to trade places with Foreign service officers and their families for a week and then try to tell us that they get paid too much!!

Andrew said... [Reply]

When I was in the army, those officers and non-coms who lived off post received a basic housing allowance (BAH) in addition to our take home pay. The rate was pegged to the average cost of housing in the area surround the base. BAH in Fayetteville NC was more than in Lawton OK, etc. One of the reasons us single guys were so flush with cash coming home from deployments is because we continued to receive BAH even though we were not maintaining a household. Naturally our married counterparts had to keep a roof over the head of their family, so they continued spending that money as normal. The point of continuing to pay all of us BAH, even though not all of us needed it for housing, was because the guys with families needed it and it was less of an administrative/morale headache to just keep the spigots flowing for everyone. Us single guys benefited from this policy, and generally considered it an increase in pay, though in truth it was not.
Taking away locality pay is not a pay cut. Its a reversal of the locality pay policy that was implemented a couple of years ago. I'd prefer not to lose the money, but philosophically I can't get incensed over it since the money was meant to offset the higher costs of maintaining a household in DC, and not to increase salary. I think we need to be very careful about making this a major issue. The whole "coddled public sector employee" complaint is going to continue to gathering steam (see any recent issue of the economist) for the foreseeable future. This is a great job, and not one that folks do for the money. We should choose our battles carefully so we don't end up on the wrong end of a populist movement demanding draconian cuts in the future. A smart move would be to suggest that if they repeal locality pay, they waive that repeal for officers and specialists serving in AIP posts. That way we all share the sacrifice and pain, but keep the principle of exporting locality pay alive into a better economy.

sta_ya said... [Reply]

I'm printing a copy of this blog post and "accidentally" mixing it up with the cables I pass onto every CODEL that's coming from now on. For people who go shopping for the pearls, this blog post can be stapled to th receipt (which they will need for the VAT refund).

Noble Glomads said... [Reply]

Well stated.

OpSec said... [Reply]

Just so you know, it's Congressman **Reed**, not Senator **Reid**.

dja98 said... [Reply]

yeah, but ...

don't we get hardship pay overseas ? sometimes 25 percent ? don't we also get danger pay on top of that in some places ? don't we get a combined 70 percent bonus for working in irag/pakistan/afghanistan ?

don't we also get free housing and free utilities overseas ?

don't we also get to claim florida or some other tax-free state while working overseas, no questions asked ? no proof of residency required ? I mean, you're a fool to claim a state with income tax while overseas.

don't we also get local holidays in addition to federal holidays while overseas ? in some countries you have at least one holiday every month.

I'm sure the people working in DC would like to have all these things.

don't we also get subsidized mail, so we can order anything we want from amazon and netgrocer through the pouch or APO ?

don't we also get the virtual locality pay, which boosts our high-3 by the washington locality pay when our retirement annuity is calculated ?


I've met plenty of people who prefer working overseas to working in DC. virginia, maryland and DC income tax is murder. housing costs are astronomical. I had an apartment in albania that I could never afford in the DC area, and it was all free.

don't get me wrong, I like the overseas comparability pay, but I always thought it was hard to justify

Joe G. said... [Reply]

Very well written, however the DC "Locality Pay" that FSO's receive when they are overseas is not the same as other federal. As a DoD civilan employee who has worked overseas, we don't get the same benefit. We receive Living Quarters Allowance (LQA) and Cost-of-Living Allowance (COLA). I understand why DoS has included the DC Locality Pay for overseas assignments, it helps with the "High 3" used to calculate retirement. So, from what I understand, DoS employees receive LQA, COLA AND Locality Pay. That's nice, I wish I could have received that extra money while living overseas. IMHO, you and the rest of us, should receive Locality Pay, but not COLA too. That's just being greedy.

Calypso said... [Reply]

Don't forget the single parent FSOs - they have to find child care and pay for it while they are so busy wining and dining and shopping with these CODELS.

Plus if I remember correctly, CODELS and STAFFDELS both get a higher per diem than we ordinary people to cover the costs of those dinners and admission fees. BUT even with that higher per diem, I cannot count the number of times I have been the one to tip the local drivers or baggage handlers. On more than one occasion I have been the one who buys the locals their lunch while they wait. I have never been reimbursed for any of these expenses.

I have said for years that we ought to make CODELS and STAFFDELS actually stay in our houses, and smell the sewage that seeps up in the only area where toddlers can play in the yard. Or maybe they should also bring their small children with them so their children too can get TB at age 3.5 and have to take carefully calibrated medication for 6 months to a year just as their brains are developing. We won't make them take their toddlers to an area where malaria meds are required, because we are not so heartless!

BTW- i have been in the FS for 20+years and I have never gotten LQA until my current post - and believe me, it comes nowhere near covering the rent and utilities. I am out of pocket every month, meanwhile I am also paying for my house in Virginia. We do transfer in and out of DC so as a single parent I need a home for us. If I had to find a new home every time we moved back, I would have to quit. I still have to buy a new car every transfer, something I would never do if I were not in the FS or in the military transferring around the US.

Don't get me wrong. I accept we need a 2 year freeze. I even accept that perhaps we need to consider eliminating locality pay. BUT let's be fair and apply it to every single agency that has anyone anywhere in the US or overseas. Let's either eliminate it for everyone or apply it to everyone. Everywhere -- from San Francisco to Chicago to Atlanta to Bujumbura. Singling out the families and singles who work in difficult places without any thanks does not seem fair --although it is easy,

Frankly, I don't think the federal budget is going to be balanced the backs of the about 6,000 FS people working overseas.

Chuzai Living said... [Reply]

Thank you for your post and sharing your thoughts. Beautifully put! I don't understand that all other agencies overseas get this locality pay but the State Department. How can this be fair? Becky (Feb 26) made a good point on this. A case in Libya is a prime example of why we need quality officers who can handle situations like Brym's husband faced, but how can officers be motivated to work hard while feeling unappreciated and being disdained under the cut? Kaho

00 said... [Reply]
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Claudia said... [Reply]

But, but, but... You guys don't earn very much in the first place! I say this as the wife of a contractor. We sure envy many parts of the FSO life - pouch, free housing, commissary, free schooling, etc., but the pay has always been bad. I'm sorry to hear that as we have many good friends in the FS.

akp said... [Reply]

I don't have the answers, but 2 years into this experience as the wife of a JO, I can't help but feel grateful for the freebies we DO have: housing. language training. utilities. tax-free status. airfare for R&R. mail service in a country where basic services are laughable and/or unavailable. Sure, we don't have kids or a mortgage back in the states to pay for, but we're doing just fine w/out a large COLA or danger pay b/c we're in a pretty good spot. Of course no one likes the sound of a pay cut. I think we'd rather just be furlowed.

Lynne said... [Reply]

Thank you for writing this! You put it so well. And for the folks quibbling about the gender ... the vast majority (no, not all, just the vast majority) of spouses are female. As are most CLOs. And I can promise you only the female spouses/CLO will be tapped to go pearl shopping. (spoken as a female spouse and a CLO - but, admittedly, a CODEL virgin, hoping to remain so.)

Becky said... [Reply]

I think the "everyone overseas but us gets the other pay" statements need to be clarified. I am still trying to understand what that means and who that applies to. I did think that was the case on 2/26 but I am still trying to understand it and I am not sure it is actually true. Of course blanket statements rarely are.

Also, personally, I have zero issues with cutting overseas comp. pay. I feel like the overseas stuff we do get probably makes up for it. We would choose overseas over DC every time. We like to be out and about interacting with the world more than we like any amount of money.

My issue is cutting overseas comp pay and calling it anything other than a pay cut. The first 16-7% represents a true pay cut, meaning the next pay check would be less. (The 7-8% FSOs don't have would be the "cutting of pay raises" they talk about. No one I know has ever had an issue of losing that last 7-8% in this time of pay freezes.)

I am just fine with a pay cut if:
#1 they call it what it is
#2 people realize most FSOs are middle class pay levels and that a pay would be felt
#3 it is part of a real plan to cut spending across the board in every agency (and in Congress)
#4 the black hole spending of CODELs is addressed

I've lived part of my life under the poverty line and I do think some FSOs and spouses feel entitled too. One tour at a true hardship or danger post tends to fix that though. Some things just stop mattering. I think State can do a better job of reminding its people of the benefits they receive at every post.

I would love to have a CODEL come live at my house and tour around in my car. Not because we want more money but because, as a constituent of a state affected by immigration, I want my reps to really see what is going on in Mexico, good and bad. I want them to have a more nuanced view than the good guy/bad guy; everyone is fine no matter how they got here stuff going on now. A CODEL should be a chance to build bridges with the local gov't and also a chance for the reps to see what is really going on in these countries.

PS We do pay state income taxes in our home state because, to be honest, we had strong connections to a state that requires them. We'd feel dishonest trying to declare another state just to avoid income tax. We now own a home there too so it is definitely our home state.

Daniel M. Hirsch said... [Reply]

Bravo! Well said! I have made some of these suggestions myself.

Adrian Pratt said... [Reply]

Well, well done. I'm delighted you wrote this.

GriffinRozell said... [Reply]

Great post. Have you heard the other "reasoning" behing the pay cut? Because 25K people applied to be FSOs last year, we must be getting paid too much. Nope, not kidding. Keep on preaching.

DiploWhat said... [Reply]

I have a suggestion for all these IP visits. We should publish their schedules for the American Public to judge if the trip was a good use of taxpayer dollars. (Publish after the trip for security reasons, of course.) I've certainly worked on a few "shop/tour dels" but also on some visits with substantive meetings as well. Might as well inform the public of what their Congress really is doing!

Nomads By Nature said... [Reply]

Just wanted to inform you that I linked to your post on my blog.
http://webtexans.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/writing-my-senator/

julia said... [Reply]

I agree with your characterization of the CODELS, but I think you misunderstand locality pay. But more important, I think you're really really missing the big picture.

As a former FS family (who served in Amman, among other places) who switched to the private sector, it's hard to listen to government employees rant about their perks being limited. We understand the rigors of FS life; we were once evacuated with 4 days notice, had our R&R taken away from us because of someone else's bureaucratic bungle and our hardship pay reduced once we'd arrived at post. I well remember communicating with my husband via notes stuck to the bathroom mirror, since we never saw him during crises. I remember my husband being scheduled to work on our pack-out days, and his bosses making him work late the nights we were entertaining. The challenges were enormous, but we knew that when we signed on. And even though it was hard, we never forgot who was paying for it all--for our travel and home leave, free housing (better than we could ever have afforded when we were stateside), free health care overseas, generous sick leave and paid holidays, our kids' private educations, etc. And all those perks came when government employees earned 80% of what private sector employees earn, Now those figures are reversed.

We dreaded CODELS, but that was part of the job. I can tell you that we've found the private sector far more challenging than government service ever was, and no one provides us with benefits of any sort. I'm not terribly impressed with our FSOs or or legislators.

To create some false dichotomy between wasteful legislators and virtuous FSOs is a little sickening. Only government employees, including FSOs, are getting automatic pay increases during a recession. We who don't have these benefits, for whom foreclosure and bankruptcy are real possibilities on the other hand, are the ones paying for them.

Becky said... [Reply]

Julia,
I think you make some good points. I do think some FSOs forget the true value of gov't housing and other things. Personally, I think almost every gov't agency can "trim the fat," State included. We too think of taxpayers every time we spend money. If I was trimming State I'd probably close some posts and then hit overseas comp. pay next. I wish the agencies would all step up with ideas for cuts. Defense did though and the reps wouldn't do some of them even though defense wanted them to.

On the other hand, I also think Donna makes a good point that CODELs are not as useful as they should be. The point is, at the end of the day, everyone in the gov't needs to work together and sacrifice together to make real change.

Becky said... [Reply]

Julia,
I also just wanted to point out that all FSOs and federal employees are under a pay freeze for the next 2 years. No one is getting raises. (And I have yet to meet a federal employee who had an issue with that.) This would be a pay cut for FSOs overseas. I have no problem with a pay cut if it is part of comprehensive reform but the 16-17% being discussed is a pay cut, not a raise. There was a third section of the comp pay scheduled to be added (another 8%) but I don't think anyone expected that to happen with the pay freeze happening. (And I don't think most people are upset either.)

Just curious, why did you move to private sector?

Vanessa said... [Reply]

When you start paying for your housing you can complain about your pay.

Consul-At-Arms said... [Reply]

Great post and summary. Covers all the bases. Well, doesn't mention that the pay gap doesn't apply to members of the Senior Foreign Service; for some reason they never lost out on this.

I've often maintained that we do ourselves a serious disservice by building and maintaining this sort of artificial bubble for our VIP visitors such as congressmen and STAFDELs. It only creates an unrealistic appreciation on their part for our roles, conditions, and capabilities abroad.

You get this.

I've quoted you and linked to you here: http://consul-at-arms2.blogspot.com/2011/02/re-current-events-or-why-we-deserve.html

Connie said... [Reply]

A number of people have mentioned free housing and other perks. You're right. They are a definite benefit! Seriously! But many FS people still pay mortgages. It is hard to 'pop in and out' of the US, esp. the DC area, and manage to find (rent/buy/sell) decent housing without financial loss every 1,2,3 yrs depending on need. Many also have to buy new, not used, vehicles far too often than they like as well. (Have to, not want to).
The BIG expense for me, the one that some people are completely missing here, and one that the 'perks and allowances' will never cover, is the spouse's career. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere in the US where you do not need a double income to pay your necessities, nevermind, you move on... but those who live in DC. Please! Think of the bills you pay, and how much of your spouse's income is required, not 'nice to have' but REQUIRED, in order to cover basic needs, especially if you have kids. Many FS spouses give up well-paying careers of their own to 'trail' around the world. Donna mentioned that often, spouses cannot find good (or any) work at post... and true, that is NOT so important, when you are at post. Eventually though, we come home. What kind of resume can the spouse compete with? "Haven't worked in my field in x-number years." "Have zero % loyalty as spouse may pick up and move us overseas again." etc.

Steve said... [Reply]

Congress needs to do their part to cut down on cost. How much money is spent flying them around the world for a meeting that they can do via VTC. Meetings with members of host govt sounds like a job for the diplomats at post.

Also, i saw on the news over the weekend two of the most worldly travelers in Cairo. Shouldn't the employees who are still left at the embassy be doing something other than baby sitting? Who on earth would they need to be meeting with in Cairo this early after their leader was thrown out of office? The families of the diplomats are not there but don't worry members of Congress are.

Mrs. Miller said... [Reply]
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mrs. Miller said... [Reply]

I don't understand: why doesn't the embassy give congressional delegates an accurate experience in the country, rather than hyped-up luxury tours? They might have more sympathy for your plight.

I would also like to echo the comments from others about life in the US for private sector families. It's no walk in the park right now. There are many people losing their homes, jobless, and who cannot find work.

dvejr said... [Reply]

a) We choose our careers. If the pay is insufficient, or if you could make more elsewhere, quit.

b) FS & CODELS remind me of a streetwalker who complains that men don't respect her.

Louise said... [Reply]

I really appreciate your post and you explain each and every point very well. Thanks for sharing this information.And I’ll love to read your next post too.

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