The Foreign Service Journal, March 2024

62 MARCH 2024 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL AFSA ON THE HILL | BY KIM GREENPLATE Third Year of Robust Authorization Acts In late 2023, AFSA celebrated the inclusion of our priorities in the 2023 State Department Authorization Act, which was attached to the Fiscal Year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (FY24 NDAA). For the third year in a row, the State Department Authorization Act was part of this larger authorizing vehicle and became law. AFSA is especially grateful for the lawmakers and congressional staff who prioritized the passage of this annual authorization bill at a time when few bills stand a chance of becoming law. In December 2023, we saw the passage of arguably the most robust State Department Authorization Act yet. Provisions in this bill will affect large and varied segments of the Foreign Service including pet owners, tandems, and those serving in hardship posts. For example, the bill included a Fly America Act exception for FS members traveling with pets. This provision will build on an earlier AFSA advocacy win: a separate allowance for pet travel up to $4,000, which the State Department implemented in spring 2023. The 2023 State Authorization Act also includes a provision requiring the department to provide and pay for internet services on U.S. government owned or leased property in foreign countries where personnel receive a 30 percent hardship post differential. Provisions pushed by AFSA in this year’s bill largely focused on easing life in the Foreign Service and on retention. Thus, members of the Foreign Service have many provisions to celebrate in the latest authorization bill, as well as the continued trend of passing a large-scale authorization bill that includes Foreign Service–related provisions. Throughout a two-year Congress, it is typical for more than 300 bills to become law. In the first year of a two-year Congress, we typically see close to 100 bills become law. In 2023, or the first year of the 118th Congress, just 34 bills or resolutions were signed. The challenging congressional environment of thin partisan margins in both chambers means AFSA must find the few existing opportunities to push our legislative priorities. We are fortunate to have a broad authorization bill that gives us a fighting chance. As a reminder, bills affecting the Foreign Service have been attached to the NDAA since 2021. In the FY22 NDAA, we saw passage of the Foreign Service Families Act separate from the State Department Authorization Act. This bill provides in-state tuition rates at public institutions of higher education in one’s state of domicile to members of the Foreign Service, their spouses, and dependents. It also extends provisions of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to the Foreign Service, including the ability to terminate residential leases, motor vehicle leases, and telephone service contracts without penalty when given orders to serve overseas. We also saw passage of the 2021 State Authorization Act in this same NDAA, which included a provision enabling State employees subjected to an assignment restriction or preclusion to have the same appeal rights as provided by the department when a security clearance is denied or revoked. In December 2022, AFSA saw the passage of another State Department Authorization Act. This one included third-party verification of employment to ease implementation of the leasebreaking provisions in the Foreign Service Families Act, as well as a provision providing members of the Civil Service on DETO (domestic employee teleworking overseas) agreements locality pay or overseas comparability pay (whichever is less). This addition allows more Foreign Service families to move overseas without significant cuts to spousal pay. Moving forward, AFSA hopes to build on its past wins and expand any beneficial provisions that do not apply to all foreign affairs agencies. We can push for adjustment of past legislation where necessary and advocate for changes as new challenges emerge and long-standing problems are exacerbated. AFSA will also continue to advocate for provisions it has sought in past authorization bills, such as per diem for new local Foreign Service hires and the protection of pensions for retirees who are re-employed by the State Department. AFSA’s advocacy centers on passage of this bill each year with the hope that annual State Department authorization bills can continue. n AFSA is especially grateful for the lawmakers and congressional staff who prioritized the passage of this annual authorization bill at a time when few bills stand a chance of becoming law.