The Foreign Service Journal, May 2023

AFSA NEWS 62 MAY 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL The Dreaded Washington Assignment STATE VP VOICE | BY TOM YAZDGERDI AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 647-8160 that may put them in real jeopardy if an emergency comes along. One member on her first tour back in the department wrote us recently that she could only afford living in an area not served by Metro or bus lines and consequently had to pay for unsubsidized parking near State, which has been a real hardship. What Can Be Done? Parity with the military. Our military colleagues do not have this financial burden when returning stateside. They can live on military bases, where they receive benefits from subsidized goods and services, or sub- sidized housing on the local economy. As the Foreign Service with its up-or-out and per- sonal rank system is pat- terned on the military, is it out of the question to see if there is a subsidy possible for our own people, even if it is partial and based on need? I realize this is a tall order these days, given the parti- sanship around increasing federal spending in Congress. But we have already had suc- cess with the Foreign Service Families Act of 2021, which allows us to break leases and other financial obligations when going abroad on official orders and to receive in-state tuition for our children. On a related matter, AFSA will ask Secretary Blinken to encourage Defense Secretary We have heard from entry- and mid-level colleagues about how difficult it is to come back and work inWash- ington, D.C., after the housing and other benefits (hardship pay, danger pay, COLA) of serving overseas. Even with locality pay, it is hard to make ends meet, especially for members with families. I remember having to watch every penny I spent when I returned to Washing- ton, D.C., in 1996, after the relative financial ease of my first two tours, in Panama City and Bratislava. Don’t get me wrong: I loved the work in Washing- ton from 1996 to 2000, first serving as a staffer in the PolMil Bureau, as Czech desk officer, and finally as Balkans program officer on loan to the National Democratic Institute. And Washington assign- ments are a key means to knowing how the department and the U.S. government decision-making process work. But even though I am very frugal, I was at times close to asking my parents for financial assistance. Back then, locality pay was just beginning to be phased in, so it was not really much help. Fast forward 25 years, and it hasn’t gotten much better. Some of our newest colleagues have told us that they struggle to pay D.C.-area rents or mortgages and have other financial obligations Austin to allow FS members to have PX/Exchange privi- leges not only while abroad, but here in the U.S. Currently, it is only at the discretion of the local commanding officer. Things State could do on its own. It has always rankled me that we must pay market rates when parking to work at the department. This is even true for those who do critical shiftwork in the Ops Center at Main State, although that rate is subsidized. Of course, everyone should be encouraged to use public transportation, for which there is a subsidy, but not everyone can. AFSA has been told that there is nothing the department can do about the parking rule because it is set in legislation. Okay, but even a partial subsidy could be provided for those who can- not benefit from using public transportation. It is good that in 2021 the subsidy for childcare was expanded to include those employees with a total family income of less than $170,000. But what else can the department do to sup- port FS employees, espe- cially those at the lower end of the pay scale, who need access to daycare or other dependent care? One thing State can do right now is to put the provi- sion of Emergency Backup Care on a sound, financial footing. We know that is important to all our mem- bers. We’ve heard that doing this needs to have the proper legal authorities, and that the department must find the funding. Even smaller things like finding ways to bring down the cost of lunch in the cafeterias at Main State and in State annexes should be examined. Making Washington Tours Affordable The bottom line is that Washington assignments should not have to be looked upon with fear by our entry- and mid-level colleagues, as something that should be avoided because they are too expensive. In my own experience, once I had been overseas for several tours after my early Washington assignments and could start saving, I was in a better place. I would be grateful to hear from you all about what else could be done to make these early Washington assign- ments less financially bur- densome. This matters for morale and retention. Please write us at with your ideas. n The bottom line is that Washington assignments should not have to be avoided because they are too expensive.