The Foreign Service Journal, March 2021

74 MARCH 2021 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL AFSA Advocacy: Year in Review In a year of unprecedented challenges for all, including our nation’s Foreign Service, AFSA continued to engage with Congress on the issues most important to our mem- bership. Below is a summary of our congressional advo- cacy outcomes in 2020. Last spring, Congress passed several rounds of emergency relief packages, together containing more than $2.3 billion in fund- ing to support the global response to the coronavirus pandemic. The international affairs funding in these relief pack- ages focused on the efforts of our diplomats to return Americans home and on strengthening disaster- response capabilities in developing countries. Showcasing its sup- port for diplomats in May, the Senate passed its first resolution recognizing For- eign Service Day since the original one in 1996, S. Res. 556. AFSA thanks Senators Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the Senate Foreign Service Caucus co-chairs, for their efforts to introduce and pass this resolution. Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Commit- tee reiterated their appre- ciation by passing another resolution, S. Res. 567, which commends State Depart- ment career professionals for their work to repatri- ate Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. After several months of negotiation, on Dec. 27, both a $1.4 trillion Fiscal Year 2021 omnibus spending bill to fund the government through Sept. 30, 2021, and a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package were signed into law. The FY21 spending bill includes $57.4 billion for the International Affairs Budget, an increase of 1.5 percent above the FY20 enacted level, and an additional $5.3 billion in emergency funds. Combined with strong support for emergency fund- ing to aid the international pandemic response earlier in the year, Congress sent a signal that, on a bipartisan basis, its members support diplomacy and develop- ment—even in times when domestic concerns take center stage. This COVID-19 relief package includes $300 million in emergency aid for consular affairs (necessary due to funding gaps result- ing from reduced worldwide travel during the pandemic), and authorities to move existing funding, as needed. The package also includes direct payment of $600 per individual and qualified child for those earning $75,000 or less; and, in contrast with the earlier CARES Act, eligibil- ity is extended to families in which only one spouse has a valid Social Security number. Regarding the FY21 omnibus, Congress included increased funding above the FY20 enacted level for State/USAID workforce diversity initiatives, along with requirements that spe- cific reports on these initia- tives be made to Congress directly. Once again, Congress also provided language sup- portive of restoring midlevel Foreign Service officer positions overseas, knowing embassies lost Foreign Ser- vice positions to Iraq staffing during the mid-2000s. The law will also allow those affected by the payroll tax deferral to pay back the deferred taxes throughout the entirety of 2021, provid- ing 12 months instead of the original four to repay the previously deferred taxes. Congress remained silent on a federal pay increase in the final omnibus, and the president signed an executive order finalizing a one-percent federal civilian pay raise in the first days of 2021. By overriding a presi- dential veto, Congress was also able to pass the FY21 National Defense Authoriza- tion Act for the 60th year in a row. The final conference report for the FY21 NDAA includes language to expand long-term health care benefits to employees in other foreign affairs agen- cies who were injured in China or Cuba, a benefit that had been limited to State Department employees. In 2021, AFSA’s advo- cacy will push for policies that focus on three general categories: promoting the health of the Foreign Service as an institution; morale and retention in the Foreign Ser- vice career; and parity for the Foreign Service with the military and other govern- ment employees. AFSA looks forward to working with the 117th Con- gress and the Biden admin- istration to accomplish our policy goals. n Congress sent a signal that, on a bipartisan basis, its members support diplomacy and development—even in times when domestic concerns take center stage. AFSA ON THE HILL | BY KIM GREENPLATE