The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2005

T he Department of State has sought to facilitate operations across its embassies through a number of innovations, including cre- ation of the Eligible Family Member category (6 FAM 111.3-1). In truth, the concept of “EFM” is an umbrella that covers a range of cir- cumstances, varying across the many federal agencies represented at over- seas posts. Some EFMs enjoy annual salaries and generous benefit pack- ages (including service toward pen- sions and step increases). Others, who might be working side-by-side with the first group, are paid by the hour, on a “you-get-paid-if-you work, you-get-nothing-if-you-don’t” basis, with no benefits or pension rights. This article sees the world largely through the eyes of the latter group, most of whom are employed by U.S. government agencies other than the Department of State. In a perfect world, these EFMs would be covered by the same regulations and enjoy the same rights as those employed by the State Department. The benefits of EFMs are clear to the agencies that enjoy a ready supply of motivated and skilled, yet relatively inexpensive, help that can qualify for the all-important security clearance. The budget savings the EFM pro- gram generates are significant, as well, though there is reason to doubt that they are being maximized. The benefits of such employment to the individual Eligible Family Member are also clear, albeit less lav- ish. The dependents (a term now out of favor, but still all too accurate) of U.S. government personnel serving abroad have relatively few options for gainful employment in most coun- tries. Thus, the creation of new opportunities to work should be wel- come, especially in missions that rep- resent a society where the majority of households have two breadwinners. But family members’ appreciation is tempered by the fact that they are vul- nerable to exploitation. Supply vs. Demand The root of the problem is that at most posts, an excessive supply of human widgets eligible to hold clear- ances faces an all-too-finite demand for their services. Unsurprisingly, the hiring agencies treat EFMs as a dis- posable appendage to the U.S. direct- hire employee. The pay is minimal for all EFMs not hired under State’s Family Member Appointment stan- dard ( employment/workspouse.html), a nd their benefits package is non-existent (for example, it lacks pension rights and the ability to receive cash awards). In addition, such employees tend to be “reborn” professionally with every reassignment of the direct- hire employee. And once EFMs are no longer needed, non-State agencies essentially shred their personnel files, frequently leaving no formal record of all they contributed to their employ- ing agency. Clearly, these agencies lit- tle note nor long remember an EFM whose U.S. direct-hire sponsor has moved on, burying any hopes of pro- fessional progress. Yet, how could a present-day embassy function if EFMs did not contribute to its day-to-day activities? Imagine how much lower the quality of life for the direct-hire employees would be if there were no: • Consular Associates; • Community Liaison Office; • Local Guard Coordinator; • Housing Coordinator; • Rover Escorts on call 24/7 to allow FSNs (maintenance, the char force, etc.) to work in classified access areas; • Office Management Specialists; • Rover OMSs on call 24/7 to allow direct-hire OMSs to take sick leave or annual leave, or to cover during staffing gaps, which are especially common in Third World postings; • Army and Fleet Post Office system clerks; and • Part-time nurses. How much would these agencies have to pay to hire contractors to do what EFMs do now? Then add to the calculus the fact that EFMs hired out- side the FMA standard are paid at the lowest grade in the corresponding salary scales, rarely seeing promo- tions. Any EFM’s prospects are indeed bleak. Good jobs are few and far between overseas, particularly at The State Department should shake off its myopia and create a win-win environment for EFMs and itself alike. Making Better Use of Eligible Family Members B Y S COTT D ANAHER J U LY- A U G U S T 2 0 0 5 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 13 S PEAKING O UT w