The Foreign Service Journal, March 2019

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MARCH 2019 57 AFSA NEWS STATE VP VOICE | BY KENNETH KERO-MENTZ AFSA NEWS Even During (Another) Shutdown, AFSA Is Here for You Even during the longest-ever government shutdown, when all active-duty AFSA vice presidents were furloughed, our work continued. While AFSA’s focus remained on the shutdown and providing up-to-the- minute updates on the ever-shifting situation, the labor management team in the Harry S Truman building was busy responding to a stream of both furlough- and nonfurlough-related ques- tions. In addition, the daily work of our dedicated team of grievance counselors and attorney advisers continued, even though our counter- parts in the department, and many of our members, were furloughed. AFSA is currently work- ing on nearly 500 individual cases on behalf of our mem- bers, providing technical expertise and assistance based on years of experi- ence. And, indeed, as AFSA’s membership has grown, so too has our workload. The year-on-year figures show a nearly 10 percent increase in requests for assistance from our small team. Many of the cases have to do with problems folks are having with assignment restrictions, some sort of an investigation, an EER complaint or issues with MED (especially, these days, relat- ing to the special needs edu- cation allowance (SNEA)). We’ve had a number of recent victories that help shed light on the breadth and depth of work we do for our members. For instance: SNEA: After AFSA spent months assisting a tandem couple, the Foreign Service Grievance Board found the grievants had established that payment for an edu- cational consultant was required under the Individu- als with Disabilities Education Improvement Act to find their child an appropriate place- ment, and that the depart- ment had no basis to deny authorization of this expense on the grounds that the griev- ants had not yet arrived at post. Though the decision addressed a fairly nar- row question, it contained important language striking down the argument that the department has “unfettered discretion…to grant or deny a SNEA benefit to employees in any way it may see fit. Rather, law and regulation must limit its discretion.” Allegations of Mis- conduct: An FS-1 officer was proposed for a 45-day suspension in connection with allegations of misuse of a government vehicle and failure to follow procedures. The proposal stemmed from alleged misconduct dating as far back as six years. In the more than three Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP. Contact: | (202) 647-8160 I’m proud of the team I’ve had the privilege to work with for the past 20 months, and our members should rest assured we’re here for you. years it took the department to investigate and propose disciplinary action, the FS-1 officer received three con- secutive recommendations for promotion into the Senior Foreign Service; all of which were held in abeyance pend- ing resolution of the matter. Through both written and oral responses, the officer was able to prove that the allegations were without merit and, ultimately, he was not suspended, and was promoted. HHE: After months of work and multiple inter- ventions on our member’s behalf, AFSA was able to get an employee full compen- sation—nearly $50,000 in damages—for HHE that was destroyed by shippers. Political Retribution: For those who have been following the “Vino Vixen” story—in which a political appointee in the Bureau of International Organizations was seen to be applying a loyalty litmus test for employ- ees in the bureau—you may have heard that she has been dismissed from State. We began hearing from members shortly after her arrival, and we kept steady diplomatic pressure on the department to address the problems this appointee was creating for bureau staff. Now that she has departed, the hard work of correcting the damage that was inflicted can begin in earnest. I’m proud of the team I’ve had the privilege to work with for the past 20 months, and our members should rest assured we’re here for you. Through shutdowns, hiring freezes and anything else that comes our way, AFSA’s labor management team is ready to help. n