The Foreign Service Journal, November 2015

72 NOVEMBER 2015 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL AFSA NEWS Entitlements vs. the Economy My first column stated my view of the three dimensions of my responsibilities to you— retail, wholesale and existen- tial—and discussed the retail challenges of navigating the retirement process. The second, or whole- sale, dimension of AFSA’s responsibilities to retirees is the defense of our statutory retirement benefits—our entitlements. In fact, this imperative applies to all AFSA members and Foreign Ser- vice employees, as virtually all of us will someday reach that magic status of “retired.” Our AFSA board, like its predecessors, is fully com- mitted to preserving the benefits which were, and are, part of the contractual terms and conditions of our employment. That said, none of us should have any doubts about the harsh realities of the cur- rent fiscal environment. The increasing national deficit, largely driven by automatic entitlement increases that can only be changed by law, is simply unsustainable. Every year the discretionary budget shrinks in relative terms, thus enhancing the pressure for entitlement reform. If, or more likely when, a “grand bargain” is finally negotiated, our entitlements will be on the table along with all others, and we will not be exempt from the adjust- ments our fellow citizens will face (e.g., chained cost of living adjustments, higher RETIREE VP VOICE | BY TOM BOYATT AFSA NEWS Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA Retiree VP. Contact: | (703) 759-6658 retirement age, means test- ing and the like). In fact, serious and equi- table entitlement reform is in all of our interests. It will provide a basis for stable economic growth and entitle- ment security going forward. If, however, there is any effort to force federal employees in general, or Foreign Service personnel in particular, to bear a heavier burden than other citizens, AFSA will join our fellow federal unions to fight such efforts, including in the courts. There are more immedi- ate problems, as well. First, there is the possibility that in regular budgetary or seques- ter processes efforts will be made to reduce the Interna- tional Affairs Budget (aka the 150 Account) by, for example, requiring active and retired employees to pay a higher percentage of their health insurance premiums. We will counter any such efforts by mobilizing our resources in the legislative arena, as we have successfully done in the past. Finally, there is a special situation that our lawyers and the board are studying. The Foreign Service Retire- ment System is separate and fully (about 95 per- cent) funded. Other federal programs are not. Social Security’s disability fund is already out of assets and its retirement and Medicare funds will reach the same fate in a few decades. In a deteriorating fiscal environment, the tempta- tions to “raid” our fund or merge it with another in deficit will increase. We need to be prepared on this front. In short, our strategy is to stay informed, accept the shared sacrifice in nation- wide entitlement reform legislation, and fight legisla- tively and legally any efforts to impose special burdens on our retirees. Writing this column has forced me to take a hard- eyed look at our retiree benefits situation. It is what it is, and we will do what we must. n CONT I NU I NG THE CONVERSAT I ON On Sept. 14, American Foreign Service Association President Ambassador Barbara Stephenson participated in a panel discussion, “Is American Diplomacy at Risk?” The event was sponsored by the U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security Program at American University. Amb. Stephenson acknowledged that American diplomacy is at risk, but encouraged A.U. students to pursue their dreams of joining the Foreign Service, promising to do her best as AFSA president to restore a healthy career path for them. From left: Panel moderator and A.U. School of International Service’s Diplomat in Residence Ambassa- dor Anthony Quainton, American Academy of Diplomacy President Ambassador Ronald Neumann, Stephenson and SIS Associate Professor Charles Call. n AFSA/ALLANSAUNDERS Serious and equitable entitlement reform will provide a basis for stable economic growth and entitlement security going forward.