BY DOLORES BROWN
Send AFSA your personal email address, because your government email address retires with you: email@example.com. Also, please make sure we have your current mailing address.
I can still remember reading a random headline when I was about a decade away from retirement that asserted I would need $1.5 million in IRAs to keep the wolves from the door. That shook me, as I would have nowhere near that amount of money in 10 years, even though I had been consistently putting the maximum in my Thrift Savings Plan. In fact, that headline was patently wrong for me, as it would have been for you, because it was meant for people who would not have a guaranteed federal annuity or pension for life.
Join us for retirement-related programming. A few examples:
Finances and Benefits
Next Stage Programs (to discuss with your FS colleagues how they made successful career transitions)
Moral of the story? It is easy to fall into false assumptions concerning retirement. I did not realize until rather late in my education on the topic that the retirement package for federal employees rests on three pillars. Current Foreign Service members will ultimately have at least three income streams in retirement: an annuity; Social Security benefits; and distributions from the Thrift Savings Plan. There is, in addition, a fourth pillar—namely, government-subsidized Federal Employees Health Benefits, a significant benefit. I’ve come to think of the package as something like a very sturdy kitchen stool.
Regardless of our unique retirement package, it’s crucial to start thinking about positioning yourself for retirement early, even if you plan to retire at the latest possible date or it isn’t in your DNA to think that far ahead. Preparing for a healthy financial retirement is a complicated subject, full of variables that will evolve over time and, at least for me, required repetition and reinforcement to fully understand. The decisions you make early in your career concerning things like how much to save in your TSP and IRAs and whether to invest in a rental property will reverberate either positively or negatively as you get closer to your retirement date.
Staying Aware: The Foreign Service Journal including a regular column from Retiree VP John Naland, AFSA’s curated Media Digest, and topical events such as Ambassador (ret.) Marie Yovanovitch’s presentation on her memoir, Lessons from the Edge, and AFSA President Eric Rubin on the state of the Foreign Service.
Staying Smart: Retirement Newsletter and AFSA’s One-Stop Shop at afsa.org/retirement-services.
Staying Engaged: Directory of Retired Members, Retiree Associations, Speakers Bureau.
Staying Secure: Counselor for Retirees Dolores Brown (firstname.lastname@example.org) is available to offer you and your family personalized support if you run into bureaucratic roadblocks or need advice.
We at AFSA help our members prepare for a successful retirement as a continuum, which starts early in your career and extends beyond retirement. Our Retirement Newsletter, for instance, is sent to all members—active duty and retired—and contains information of interest to people at all points of the continuum.
Our Federal Benefits programs are concise but comprehensive guides to what members should be thinking about, depending on where they are in that continuum. They help to reinforce and crystallize what you will learn from the excellent in-depth courses on retirement at the Foreign Service Institute. Indeed, one of our most popular annual webinars is a Review of Your Retirement Plan, which helps you determine whether a course correction is needed, which is very helpful after retirement.
But successful retirement rests on more than financial stability. AFSA offers support in many other ways as members cross the retirement Rubicon. We established a series of programs, titled “Next Stage” in which colleagues who have successfully transitioned to careers after the Foreign Service share how they did it. After all, the Foreign Service brain trust is unique in the U.S. and formidable, and for those who wish to continue working there are plenty of opportunities.
Six times a year, AFSA publishes the Retirement Newsletter and sends it to all members. Our aim is to provide concise and digestible content to help demystify retirement—from the planning phase through making the most of your benefits. If you are an AFSA member and are not receiving the Retirement Newsletter, please email email@example.com.
And because the Foreign Service is not just a job, but a way of life, AFSA offers community through social media and gatherings that give members the opportunity to meld their past with their present.
Finally, and most practically, once that Rubicon has been crossed and you no longer have access to the intranet and your range of contacts in your agency, AFSA provides you with an advocate to turn to if you hit bureaucratic snags.
For all these reasons and more, we at AFSA consider our members lifelong partners, and we work to make that membership meaningful and beneficial at all stages.
Over the past four years, Counselor for Retirees Dolores Brown has offered her guidance to many AFSA members, helping them access vital information about their retirement benefits and post–Foreign Service work and life.
Hailing from a small town in central New Jersey, Brown studied Russian and art history at Barnard College before earning a master’s degree from Columbia University’s School of International Affairs, with a focus on Soviet affairs.
She joined the Foreign Service as a management officer in 1985. Years later, in her oral history interview with the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, Brown shared her first impressions of A-100: “I could see immediately that this was my tribe. They had a serious intellectual side, a sense of wonder about the world and a sense of adventure. We also believed in the basic idea of the goodness of American values. I didn’t look back.”
Brown’s career has been varied and includes service as director of the watch in the State Department Operations Center, deputy chief of mission in Estonia, management counselor in Cairo and deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations. Brown also was the first State Department officer seconded to the FBI to establish the Terrorist Screening Center after 9/11.
Alongside four Superior Honor Awards and the FBI Director’s Award from Robert Mueller, Brown’s bio contains an unusual accolade: In 2018, she was inducted into hamburger purveyor White Castle’s “Cravers Hall of Fame,” for her work as a diplomat and for her undying loyalty to the fast-food chain’s onion-covered sliders.
In 2018 Brown began working for AFSA. “This job is a purely helping position, and I like that,” Brown says of her role. “I felt I had the right kind of knowledge of the State Department to help solve problems.”
She believes that retired practitioners of diplomacy are a unique brain trust for the United States, and their skill set can easily be parlayed into a second profession.
“The Foreign Service is not a job; it’s a way of life,” she says. “I wanted to support people through their transitions—how can you use this incredible bank of knowledge and this distinctive background after retiring? I deal with bread-and-butter issues in this role, but I also have the ability to help people understand what comes next.”