The Foreign Service Journal, October 2022

AFSA NEWS 54 OCTOBER 2022 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Progress on Equity for Local FS Hires STATE VP VOICE | BY TOM YAZDGERDI AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 647-8160 In May 2022, I wrote that AFSA was intent on chang- ing the long-standing State Department policy that in practice discriminates against those joining the For- eign Service as local hires. AFSA wants to see the policy changed so that both local (D.C. area) and nonlocal hires are treated equitably. We had considered filing a cohort grievance or tak- ing other actions, including using alternative dispute resolution mechanisms or seeking legislative changes. I am happy to report that there has been significant progress on righting this inequity. At our regular monthly meeting in April with Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources (D-MR) Brian McKeon, AFSA President Eric Rubin and I briefed him on the issue and followed up with a letter explaining in detail what we think would be needed to resolve the inequity. We were very grateful to learn shortly thereafter that McKeon sup- ported making this right and the department is now in favor of pushing for legisla- tive action. Help from Congress. In May, the staff of Repre- sentative Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Sub- committee on International Development, reached out to AFSA with proposed legisla- tive language to resolve this problem. For training lasting less than six months (including FS orientation), lodging and per diem would be provided for all new FS employees, regardless of the location of their residence at the time of hire. For training longer than six months, locality pay would be codified for all new hires. AFSA has provided comments and is strongly in favor of this formulation. While prospects on the Senate side are less clear, we have heard that at least one senator is interested in help- ing right this inequity. AFSA will follow up with individual senators and representa- tives, including those who serve on the House Diplo- macy Caucus and the Sen- ate Foreign Service Caucus. Prospects for passage. Most likely, this legislative language would be attached as an amendment to a larger bill, such as the annual National Defense Authoriza- tion Act (NDAA). As of mid-August, the prospects are unclear. Only the House has gone through the floor passage process for its version of the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2023; the Senate still needs to act. Then the final FY2023 NDAA will be negotiated and likely will not become law until near the end of 2022. Further cloud- ing prospects is that 2022 is a mid-term election year, with representatives and senators focused on their races. That said, AFSA remains hopeful that with the depart- ment’s support for making things right for local hires and the existing legislative language, this can still get done—if not in this Con- gress, then in the next one, which will convene on Jan. 3, 2023. Health insurance lag. During recent meetings with new FS orientation classes to encourage them to join AFSA (which can once again be held at AFSA HQ—with lunch!), we have heard complaints about the time it takes for federal health insurance to kick in. One new FS member told me that she would have to wait five to six weeks before her insurance started and was currently unable to afford stop-gap insurance. “I hope I don’t get hit by a bus crossing the street,” she said. Another, who had a family of four and was also waiting and unable to afford tempo- rary insurance, told me that his newborn baby recently had a very high fever. He was about to take his infant to the emergency room when, thankfully, the fever broke. Had he gone to the emer- gency room, he would have been completely responsible for the bill, without hope of repayment, as health insur- ance is not retroactive to the day an employee joins the department. We immediately raised this issue with depart- ment leaders, who told us they agree that this wait is far too long, but that this governmentwide policy is controlled by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). We urged the Bureau of Global Talent Manage- ment to raise it with their OPM counterparts. As of this writing, there is an ongoing dialogue with the aim of changing this policy so that the day you sign on with the department (and throughout the U.S. govern- ment) is the day your health insurance starts, full stop. We will definitely follow up. Please let us know what you think at member@afsa. org or n AFSA wants to see the policy changed so that both local (D.C. area) and nonlocal hires are treated equitably.