The Foreign Service Journal, May 2022

AFSA NEWS 56 MAY 2022 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Locality Pay for Local FS Hires: It’s Time STATE VP VOICE | BY TOM YAZDGERDI AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 647-8160 Locality pay adjusts the base rate of pay to compensate for the pay disparity between federal and nonfederal jobs in a particular geographic area. While each position is assigned to a specific grade and each employee is assigned to a step within that grade, the pay rate varies by location. For the Washington, D.C., area, the 2022 locality pay is 31.53 percent. Joining as a local hire in October 1991, I looked with envy on the per diem and housing that my nonlocal colleagues received but accepted that this was not possible for local hires. Locality pay, which was only instituted in the mid-1990s, was not provided either. Instead of going out to lunches, dinners and happy hours with my newfound A-100 buddies, I had to beg off and watch every penny I spent. Yes, the out-of-towners had moving expenses that I did not have and they had to live in temporary quarters, but didn’t we local hires still pay high D.C.-area rent, food and other costs? I always thought that this part of the on-ramping process was inherently unfair—and still do. Fast forward 30 years and local hires continue to miss out on locality pay. Here are some comments local hires from recent orienta- tion classes have shared with AFSA: • “I understand that as a local hire I am not on TDY and temporary housing and per diem does not apply. … However, I do not understand why we are unable to receive D.C. locality pay from the beginning of A-100. We have the same expenses as any other federal employee in the D.C. area, and in some cases more. Somehow it is consid- ered reasonable to pay local hires at a rate determined to be below the D.C. cost of liv- ing for up to 30 weeks (A-100 plus 24 weeks before D.C. locality pay will be paid).” • “I think I can say for all local hires that we are all thrilled to be starting our journey and have truly enjoyed our training, but it’s difficult to overlook the inequity between local and nonlocal hires. As someone put it, it almost feels like we are being punished for being here already.” • “I find it makes no sense that, as a local hire civil ser- vant, I had locality pay, which I lost upon entry into the Foreign Service. I understand not receiving a more lucra- tive per diem allotment, but I do not see any sense in this current decision.” The State Department’s position. AFSA has raised this inequity repeatedly with department management but has been told that local hires cannot get D.C. locality pay until they complete FS orientation and their length of training has been deter- mined to extend beyond six months. The department points to a 1998 Office of Personnel Management memo, and GAO opinion, as the basis for this position. AFSA strongly disagrees. First, a lot has changed since 1998 that affects the cost of living, salaries and commutes. The OPM memo is also silent on the length of training it is referencing. Therefore, AFSA maintains that there is nothing prevent- ing the department from providing locality pay from the start. There is also little that explains how the department reasons that Foreign Service orientation is not considered training per se , because cur- rent rules and regulations do not envision training before you are formally assigned to a position. Given the impor- tance of FS orientation—the length of which most cur- rent reform efforts want to increase—AFSA believes State’s reasoning makes little sense. By helping vul- nerable local hires, many of whom are at the lower end of the pay scale, changing this policy would demonstrate that the department cares about its employees. There used to be a time when local hires who underwent training for more than six months still did not receive locality pay. But AFSA fought hard to right this injustice, resulting in two favorable Foreign Service Grievance Board decisions. We believe that now is the time for the department to assign new local hires to their training location regard- less of whether the training extends one week or beyond six months, and to provide locality pay from day one. Next steps. As of this writing, AFSA continues to discuss the matter with the Bureau of Global Talent Man- agement, and is considering filing a cohort grievance against the department. We are also weighing alternative dispute resolution mecha- nisms and/or legislative changes. We will keep you informed. The bottom line is that AFSA wants to fix this once and for all. Please let us know what you think at member@afsa. org. n Now is the time for the department to assign new local hires to their training location, and to provide locality pay from day one.