BY KENNETH KERO-MENTZ
It’s that time of year again when folks across the country—and for those of us in the Foreign Service, around the world—begin planning for Thanksgiving and the December holidays, followed by ringing in the New Year. It’s a great time of year to spend with family, and lately AFSA has been doing a lot of work to raise issues that concern our Foreign Service families.
We met in September with representatives from WiT (Working in Tandem) and the department to discuss WiT’s priorities and to question some changes the department is considering. The State Department recently decided that time spent on a DETO (Domestic Employees Teleworking Overseas) would no longer restart an employee’s 6/8 or fair share clock.
DETO positions help keep tandem families together while achieving department goals, and we question the legal justification for this change. After all, an employee on a DETO is not in the United States and cannot get locality pay; the duty station is the overseas location. This is part of a package of issues affecting tandem couples that we are working on, while at the same time making sure that the results do not adversely affect our members who are not part of a tandem.
With the employee group Balancing Act, we are continuing to advocate for the use of telework, educating supervisors and offices on this valuable tool. We are seeking a victory for those who take leave without pay (LWOP)—the majority of whom are women—that would allow them to get fobs to access the department’s system so they can do things like bid or update their health benefits during their time away from State.
We also continue to push for clearer guidance on pregnancy-related medevac vouchers and parental leave policies so that employees and supervisors are fully informed of the regulations pertaining to the various leave options for the birth and/or adoption of a child.
As bidding season kicked off, we sent a letter to the department urging them to press those countries around the world that refuse to confer privileges and immunities on the same-sex spouses of our diplomats. Working with GLIFAA, the department’s LGBT+ affinity group, AFSA noted that, especially during bidding season, our colleagues deserve to know that when they go abroad to represent the American people, their families will receive the exact same protections as other families. Our diplomats should not have to choose between doing their jobs and ensuring their families are safe.
If you have ideas for changes the department should consider, develop and implement, please send them to us.
AFSA, as you know, has been working tirelessly with the Foreign Service Families Disabilities Alliance to encourage the department, and especially MED/MHS, to stop making life more difficult for families in need of the Special Needs Education Allowance. We’ve written letters (most went unanswered); we’ve raised the issue repeatedly with the Director General and his team; we’ve met with MED; and we’ve participated in a half-dozen or so conference calls with the “SNEA Task Force.”
Sadly, Secretary Pompeo wrote to FSFDA in August stating that no change has occurred in how the SNEA program is being administered. The members of FSFDA and AFSA disagree, and we will continue to fight this issue until families with special needs children again get the procedural clarity and educational assistance they need so they can do their jobs and keep their families together.
Since the sonic harassment incidents in Cuba and China, AFSA has been hearing from affected members, their spouses and other concerned colleagues. We’ve met with the Cuba Accountability Review Board, with MED, the regional bureaus, Diplomatic Security and various offices in the HR family. We have participated in periodic conference calls with the Deputy Secretary, the task force chair and the Cuba cohort, where members share their concerns and hear directly from our senior leaders about the department’s response.
We have pushed for more engagement with affected FCS colleagues in China and have sought briefings with the chair of the task force, as well as MED, asking for—and receiving—assurances from the department that all employees and their family members will receive all necessary treatment.
We all knew the Foreign Service would be a tough job—and perhaps a tougher lifestyle for us and our families—when we joined. But I can’t help wishing the department would do more for us so we can do our jobs and keep our families together. Isn’t that what we all want?
If you have ideas for changes the department should consider, develop and implement, please send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can continue advocating for our Foreign Service family. And whether you’re married, single, dating or engaged, happy holidays!