Update: OCP, Pay Freeze, Possible Government Shutdown, February 24 2011


Dear AFSA Colleagues,

This is a follow up to my message of February 16th to share our take on how the budget process on Capitol Hill may impact the Foreign Service and your compensation and/or work. This process has moved quite rapidly and we wanted to be sure that we had a good feel for various issues before offering our assessment.  My previous report focused on President Obama's FY12 Budget Request and the not yet resolved FY11 budget. I would like to focus this message on the FY11 budget process and how you might engage Congress as part of a broad based, grassroots AFSA effort.

HR 1: The House of Representatives did pass a budget proposal for the FY11 budget late last Friday. There was a contentious debate surrounding this legislation in determining where cuts would occur.  The process surrounding this proposal was conducted outside the normal channels for appropriations and budget consideration, something that is highly unusual.  The bill (HR1) went to the floor of the House with significant proposed cuts from the FY11 request for international affairs, including approximately $1.1b for State, $205m in Operating Expenses for USAID, $83m for the Foreign Agriculture Service, and $93m for the International Trade Administration (part of Commerce). As AFSA understands, nearly six hundred amendments were presented and debated.

The Reed Amendment: Of particular concern is an amendment offered by Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY 28th) designed to roll back the hard won progress we have made on overseas comparability pay. The Reed amendment was designed to restrict funds from being used to close the pay gap. Rep. Reed apparently misunderstood and mischaracterized the facts related to OCP. In the end, the Reed amendment was agreed to (without a recorded vote) and included in the final House bill.  

AFSA has been reaching out to State management and our supporters in the Senate to determine the impact of this amendment on closing the pay gap.  The media has been calling and we have done several interviews (Government Executive, Federal Times, Washington Post, Fox News, Florida radio). We are working to exclude this amendment in the final version of the FY11 budget and could use your help in pursuit of that goal.

Action with the Senate: Of course, the Senate still needs to develop a counter proposal to the House passed version. There still seem to be some question as to whether the amendment affects the 16% of OCP that has already been given or not.   Reliable sources in the Senate say that the House Bill (including the Reed amendment) is dead on arrival and that it is highly unlikely that there will be any backtracking on the 16% we currently have. However, the budget climate on Capitol Hill does lead us to conclude that it will be extremely difficult to secure funding for the final 8%, although we will still try.  

Talk of a Shutdown: The larger backdrop on the budget relates to a possible government shutdown. The government has been operating on a Continuing Resolution, which expires on March 4. The parties are quite far apart on the FY11 budget and a shutdown is not unrealistic. AFSA will keep you informed of any developments in this regard. AFSA will be sending AFSA Post Reps information on how the shutdown was handled in the 1990s but it will be up to federal agencies to handle specific procedures, etc.  The Department is currently working on those details.

Mobilizing our Collective Voice: We encourage you to write to your representatives in the House and Senate to (1) add your own voices to the overseas comparability pay issue, and (2) promote a better understanding of today’s Foreign Service.

How to contact your elected representatives:  Included below is a template that you may use, personalizing it to reflect your Foreign Service experience and agency.  Feel free to add any personal stories of financial hardship resulting from overseas service (for example, decrease in family income due to lack of EFM employment opportunities, or increased cost of X due to being overseas).  We have provided helpful links below the template letter to help you with finding your representatives in Congress.   If you have any follow-up questions, you may contact Susan Johnson on johnson@afsa.org or your agency VPs listed below. 

Keeping AFSA Informed: It is important for us to use our collective voice.  If you do contact your elected representatives on this issue, please let us know so that we can assess response and impact. Please send an email to takeaction@afsa.org.  AFSA is also seeking FS members in Washington D.C, particularly those with recent AIP service, who might be interested in participating in meetings on the Hill, as needed. 

Anti-Lobbying Act: Please note that it is illegal for FS employees to lobby congress while on official time or using government resources (such as a government computer, letter head, telephone, etc).  If you meet in person with a congressional representative, you must take annual leave or schedule the meeting during your lunch hour.  In addition, make clear that you are writing or speaking in your individual capacity as a constituent and not as a representative of your agency.  Please keep your tone respectful and positive.

We will keep you updated with relevant information and possible outcomes. We hope that the Department will issue an ALDAC shortly. As always, please contact us with any questions or suggestions that you may have.

Sincerely,

Susan R. Johnson, President

Daniel M. Hirsch, State Vice President

Francisco Zamora, USAID Vice President

Keith Curtis, Foreign Commercial Service Vice President

Henry Schmick, Foreign Agriculture Service Vice President

TEMPLATE LETTER TO CONGRESS:

AFSA reminds active duty Foreign Service employees that it is illegal to lobby congress using official time or government resources.  If you write or call your congressional representative, do not use government time or resources (such as a government computer, letter head, telephone, etc).  If you meet in person with a congressional representative, you must take annual leave or schedule the meeting on your lunch hour.  In addition, make clear that you are writing or speaking in your individual capacity as a constituent and not as a representative of your agency.      

Dear Rep./Senator XXX

My name is XXXX and I am in the United States Foreign Service.  I have served in XXXX and currently in YYYY.   I am also your constituent. 

I am writing in my individual capacity as a constituent.  I support efforts to eliminate wasteful and unnecessary spending across all our federal agencies as part of the effort to reduce our national deficit.  However, I am concerned by current legislative proposals that call for reversing a carefully considered bi-partisan plan to modernize the pay system of the Foreign Service that is in the process of being implemented.

The Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act of 1990 was adopted as a way to reduce the government-wide disparity between the public and private sectors and is a basic component of salary for all civilian Federal employees, based on annual survey data collected by the Department of Labor.  As a result of this law, every federal government employee working in the United States received “locality pay” as part of their salary.  Until 2009, the only United States government civilian employees who did not receive this part of their salary were Foreign Service personnel serving their country overseas. 

Locality pay for Foreign Service personnel and other federal employees serving in Washington, D.C. is now approximately 25%.  Under the law prior to 2009, Foreign Service personnel serving abroad sacrificed this part of their salaries and took large pay cuts to their base salaries.  As a result, because retirement packages are based upon base pay (including “locality pay”), Foreign Service officers representing their country abroad received smaller retirement packages than their colleagues who stayed in Washington.  This was not sustainable and in 2009 a bi-partisan solution was found to correct this policy problem.  Closing the pay gap is not a pay raise -- it is a correction of a 17-year-old unintended inequity in the worldwide Foreign Service pay schedule—an inequity that grew every year. 

Today thousands of Foreign Service employees serve in hardship assignments around the globe, which now constitute nearly 60% of all posts.  The number of unaccompanied posts has increased more than fivefold in the last decade.  Assignments overseas are increasingly challenging, difficult and in many instances, dangerous.  There has been strong bipartisan recognition that it is time to invest in diplomacy and development. Penalizing Foreign Service employees whose mission is to serve overseas to advance and protect our national interests by cutting their base pay undervalues the importance of their work, widens the gap between those serving in the United States and those facing hardships and sacrifices overseas and creates real disincentives to serving on the front lines of American diplomacy and development. 

I am proud to be a public servant and honored to be a member of our [State Department, USAID, Foreign Commercial Service, Foreign Agricultural Service, IBB] Foreign Service.  I hope that you will support the Foreign Service and help ensure that its members are not penalized for service overseas.

Sincerely,

Here are some helpful links to help you contact your Members of Congress:

http://www.contactingthecongress.org/


http://www.senate.gov/reference/common/faq/How_to_contact_senators.htm

https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml