AFSA Retiree Newsletter - June 2019

In this issue you will find:

  1. Our Summer Happy Hour Is Coming Up
  2. New AFSA Initiative for EFM- and FS Retiree-Owned Businesses
  3. Divorce and Foreign Service Retirement Benefits
  4. New TSP Rules Take Effect in September
  5. Retired and Ready for What’s “Next”?
  6. Upcoming Federal Benefits Programming
  7. Retirement Credit for Prior Federal Service
  8. New Outreach Resources Available
  9. Looking Back on Foreign Service Day
  10. Do You Have a Seasonal Address?
  11. Not-So-Light Summer Reading
  12. Mentoring Program Deemed Successful by Participants
  13. Contacting AFSA
 

Our Summer Happy Hour Is Coming Up

AFSA’s quarterly happy hour will take place on Thursday June 27 from 4:30-6:30 p.m. These happy hours are great occasions to connect with friends and colleagues in a relaxed environment. Entry tickets are $5 and include one free drink; additional beverage tickets are $3. It’s the cheapest happy hour in DC! As always, soft drinks/water and hors d’oeuvres are free of charge. We hope you can join us and participate in a fun event. Click here to register.

Speaking of summertime traditions – don’t forget to get your tickets for the fourth annual Foreign Service Night at Nationals Park! It’s on Friday September 13 at 7:05 p.m. when the Nationals play the Braves. Click here for tickets.

 

New AFSA Initiative for EFM- and FS Retiree-Owned Businesses

We recently launched a new page on our website to help boost the visibility of small and medium-sized businesses owned by Eligible Family Members and retired members of the Foreign Service. Listings on the page are free to all AFSA members and their family members. This page is a terrific resource to not only promote your own business, but to support the businesses of former colleagues and friends.

Not surprisingly, the FS-and EFM-Owned Businesses page demonstrates the diversity of interest and ingenuity within the Foreign Service family. Businesses listed so far offer tutoring, clothing, travel, real estate, consulting, physical fitness, photography, and more.

If you have a business that you would like to list, please send the following information to lau@afsa.org:

  1. Name of business
  2. Website
  3. A high-res version of the company’s logo (if any)
  4. Email/telephone/other contact information
  5. Physical address (if any)
  6. One-paragraph description of the services/products offered.
  7. Category into which the business falls, e.g. education, counseling, real estate, financial, etc.

As a part of this initiative AFSA is also offering big discounts on ads in The Foreign Service Journal. Two 4-color quarter-page ads solely for FS- and EFM-owned small and medium enterprises will be reserved in each issue on a first come, first-served basis. The regular rate for such a placement is $1,530. However, qualified advertisers will be offered the highly reduced rate of $250 for a one-time placement. For more information about this opportunity, please contact Communications and Marketing Manager Allan Saunders at saunders@afsa.org or (202) 719-9712. (Note: The business owner or spouse/parent of the owner must be an AFSA member; the company must also be a new advertiser in the magazine.)

We encourage you to check out this new resource and support FS-and EFM-owned businesses!

 

Divorce and Foreign Service Retirement Benefits

The Foreign Service Act has unique provisions regarding the impact of divorce on retirement benefits about which even some Washington, D.C.-area divorce attorneys are unaware. A State Department summary of the rules is contained in ALDAC cable 19 State 53266 of May 20, 2019 which is posted on the AFSA website. For example, Foreign Service spouses enjoy a default statutory entitlement to benefits if they meet certain requirements. The default entitlements can be altered through a court order or spousal agreement. However, to be valid the order or agreement must specifically refer to Foreign Service benefits.

Divorced Foreign Service employees must submit all relevant divorce documentation to the Office of Retirement (HR/RET) prior to retirement. Email a certified copy of the entire court order and all attachments to the HR Service Center at HRSC@state.gov or email that address asking for mailing instructions. HR/RET will review the documentation and provide a divorce determination letter explaining who gets which retirement benefits.

Retirees should report any change in marital status (divorce, marriage, or death of spouse) by notifying the HR Service Center and providing the relevant documentation. A retiree who remarries has a limited period within which to make a survivor election for the new spouse.

 

New TSP Rules Take Effect in September

The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) governing board announced that the more flexible rules authorized by the 2017 TSP Modernization Act will be implemented on September 15. Details will be provided in AFSA’s August/September Retiree Newsletter, but key changes include:

  • Multiple age-based (for those 59½ or older) partial withdrawals will be allowed for both employees and retirees.
  • Withdrawals may come from your Roth balance, your traditional balance, or a proportional mix of both.
  • Retirees who are receiving monthly payments can switch to quarterly or annual payments and can stop, start, or make changes to those periodic payments at any time (instead of once a year).
  • Retirees no longer must make a full withdrawal election at age 70½ (but still must take required minimum distributions).
 

Retired and Ready for What’s “Next”?

If you are, you might want to check out AFSA’s new “Next Stage” series of panel discussions, which are focused on likely career options—and the skills you need to take advantage of them—after the Foreign Service. AFSA’s most recent offering in the series was entitled “Transitioning to the Private Sector: Parlaying the FS Global Dimension” and was geared to both active-duty and retired AFSA members who are considering global governmental relations work with an accent on business after leaving the Foreign Service. One of the panelists, Stephen M. Liston, found his niche as Vice President for Global Government Relations for Equifax after twenty-five years in the Foreign Service; he emphasized the unique skill set Foreign Service personnel bring to the table, and how to highlight that for business. The speakers on all the panels are generally members of the Foreign Service family writ large who have successfully transitioned to their chosen “Next Stage” and are glad to share their perspectives and experience with those contemplating their career and avocation options post-Foreign Service.

The previous two “Next Stage” events focused on teaching on the tertiary level and writing. Former FSO Jillian Burns, for example, shared the variety of challenges she faced in making the leap into the classroom at The George Washington University, relating in particular the rigors of curriculum development. The Foreign Service Journal’s Associate Editor and family member Donna Gorman, who has published personal essays and articles in Time magazine, the Washington Post and authored the book Am I Going to Starve to Death? A Survival Guide for the Foreign Service Spouse, offered practical advice on how to get your foot in the proverbial door as an author. Writing is something one can do both while in the Foreign Service or after leaving the Foreign Service, which makes it unique in this series.

AFSA Retirement Benefits Counselor and former FSO Dolores Marie Brown organizes and moderates these panels. If you have ideas about themes or the direction of this program, she would be pleased to hear from you at brown@afsa.org or (202) 944-5510. These programs are made possible by our members’ collaboration and support.

 

Upcoming Federal Benefits Programming

We want to draw your attention to two upcoming programs in our popular speaker series on federal benefits. Mark your calendars!

September 4 at 12:00 noon: An Expert’s Take on New Tax Laws and Developments in Federal Benefits: Certified Financial Planner Edward A. Zurndorfer, a recognized expert on federal benefits, retirement and tax planning, will speak on new tax laws and developments in federal benefits. Mr. Zurndorfer is a prolific writer on these subjects on websites such as www.myfederalretirement.com and spoke last year at AFSA on Social Security and Medicare, which you can watch on the AFSA website.

November 19 at 12 noon: Assessing Your Options – Federal Employee Health Benefits Open Season. American Foreign Service Protective Association (AFSPA) Chief Executive Officer and Executive Vice President Paula Jakub walks us through assessing our options during the Federal Employee Health Benefits Open Season. (Note that AFSPA is not connected to AFSA.)

As the time of these events grows closer, AFSA will send out an invitation to members with instructions for registration. And, as always, these events will be videotaped so that our far-flung membership can, if not participate, watch the proceedings.

 

Retirement Credit for Prior Federal Service

Employees who served in the military or Civil Service prior to joining the Foreign Service can boost their Foreign Service pension by getting that prior service time added to their Foreign Service time. However, to do so, they must take one of two proactive steps:

  • Transfer funds: Foreign Service employees who served in the Civil Service paid into the Civil Service retirement fund. For that time to be used to calculate their Foreign Service pension, they must ask the Office of Personnel Management to transfer those funds to the State Department for depositing in the Foreign Service retirement fund. To start the process which can take six or more months, email HRSC@state.gov.
  • Buy back time: Employees who served in the uniformed military did not pay into any retirement fund. For that time to be used to calculate their Foreign Service pension, they must make a deposit to cover the employee retirement contributions (plus interest) that were not made originally. To start the process which can take several months, email HRSC@state.gov.

For more information, see “Retirement Credit for Prior Service” (ALDAC cable 15 State 44466) posted on the AFSA website.

 

New Outreach Resources Available

AFSA has recently updated and expanded the outreach materials available on our website, making it easier for members active in telling the story of the Foreign Service to find resources and information. The page features links to AFSA resources such as our latest Congressional testimony, talking points, information on Inside a U.S. Embassy, our Ambassador tracker, and more. Also featured are two new resources developed from a recent survey of members of the AFSA Speakers Bureau helpful for those getting started with outreach in their community. These include a list of tips and best practices for doing local outreach and talking about the work of the Foreign Service and a list of organizations that often seek out speakers.

The newly expanded Outreach Resources page also includes information produced by the State Department, such as State and USAID fact sheets, and the always-useful “State by State” map, which outlines how the work of the State Department benefits the American people in each state. There are also links to resources produced by AFSA’s strategic partners, such as the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition and the American Academy of Diplomacy.

AFSA’s new three-minute animated video is also available from this page. As part of AFSA’s ongoing Economic Diplomacy Works initiative, intended to connect the work of the Foreign Service with the economic concerns of Americans at home, AFSA recently debuted a short original animated video entitled Economic Diplomacy: What Diplomats Do and Why It Matters. The video reminds Americans of the wider global presence of the Foreign Service in 277 U.S. embassies and consulates abroad and the important work U.S. diplomats do to help American businesses succeed overseas which, in turn, promotes prosperity back home. By accessibly encapsulating aspects of Foreign Service work overseas, the video aims to increase general awareness of U.S. diplomacy.

AFSA invites speakers to incorporate the video in engagements with audiences. It can function as a stand-alone piece for a discussion of Foreign Service economic work or as more of a scene-setter for a speaker’s personal narrative. AFSA has also developed a companion packet which includes talking points, discussion questions, and other materials as a resource for speakers showing this video. It’s available online on the Outreach Resources page.

 

Looking Back on Foreign Service Day

Thank you to all AFSA members who participated in the programs and events hosted by AFSA and the State Department in commemoration of Foreign Service Day May 2 and 3. AFSA welcomed hundreds of members at our headquarters during our Open House on Thursday, May 2. Retired and active duty members alike came to participate in the programs offered and take a free professional headshot. AFSA members from inside and outside the D.C. area participated in our annual letters to the editor campaign with over 50 letters placed (and counting) in local and regional papers demonstrating once again the level of outreach happening by (largely) retired members of the Foreign Service. Active-duty members of the Foreign Service participated in a rolling moment of silence at over 60 U.S. missions across the world to honor colleagues who have given their lives in service abroad. The June and July/August editions of The Foreign Service Journal offer full reports of all the activities commemorating 2019’s Foreign Service Day.

 

Do You Have a Seasonal Address?

AFSA is considering adding a new feature to the AFSA Retiree Directory, which would display the seasonal addresses of those members who have them. Before we embark on this project, we would like to gauge the interest of our members in this option so that we know what to expect in terms of workload and resources. If you would like this feature to be added to the Retiree Directory, please let us know at retiree@afsa.org. (No need to send us an address yet; just let us know whether you would find this useful.)

 

Not-So-Light Summer Reading

In between reading mysteries and magazines on the beach, many members approaching the age of 65 find it useful to read up on Medicare and Medicare Premiums. Below you’ll find links to two publications that are helpful to those nearing that age and also for those who simply wish to review the fundamentals.

 

Mentoring Program Deemed Successful by Participants

In collaboration with the Delta Phi Epsilon Foreign Affairs Council (DPE-FAC), AFSA launched a pilot mentoring program in January to run through the spring semester. Retired and active duty AFSA members made up the majority of twenty-one mentors paired with students and recent graduates of international affairs programs from six different universities.

As with any pilot there were lessons learned along the way, but a survey of participating mentors and students demonstrated overall success with both groups resoundingly endorsing the program. Mentors appreciated the opportunity to share insight into a career in the Foreign Service, discuss different internship and career opportunities, and connect their “mentee” to resources and colleagues based on their interests. Mentors commented on the caliber and enthusiasm of the mentees with one mentor noting that if the student he worked with is representative of those trying to get into the State Department, “our future is bright”.

Mentees appreciated the opportunity to meet with Foreign Service professionals who provided “real world” insight into the profession, the culture, and various career paths within international affairs. Students commented on the patience and generosity of mentors who shared their knowledge, made connections with other professionals, and took time to provide constructive feedback on resumes and cover letters.

The enthusiasm from both mentors and mentees was tangible from the survey with the vast majority of both group noting that they plan to continue the relationship. With the pilot project now complete, AFSA will work with DPE-FAC to incorporate feedback provided by participants into the program design with the goal of launching another mentoring program this fall.

Thank you to all AFSA members who volunteered to be mentors. We were not able to accommodate everyone this time around but will make another call for volunteers later this summer.

 

Contacting AFSA

We are here to help and love hearing from members. For assistance with retirement benefits and related issues, contact Retirement Benefits Counselor Dolores Brown at (202) 944-5510 or brown@afsa.org. For questions about outreach, retiree associations and our speakers bureau, contact Manager of Retiree Outreach and Engagement Christine Miele at (202) 944-5517 or miele@afsa.org. For address updates and obituary notifications, please contact Member Accounts Specialist Ashley Dunn at (202) 338-4045 x525 or dunn@afsa.org. AFSA retiree vice president John Naland is available at naland@afsa.org.