The Foreign Service Journal, December 2021

68 DECEMBER 2021 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Achieving FS Parity in Legislation AFSA ON THE HILL | BY KIM GREENPLATE It’s not difficult to point to laws and policies that do not confer the same treatment or benefits on Foreign Ser- vice members as they do on members of our country’s other deployed services. Because policymakers have been unwilling to provide parity, they have created unfavorable precedents over time. Some omissions are more egregious than others. And some go unnoticed until a member of the Foreign Service is directly affected. For example, the Service- members Civil Relief Act that became law in 2003 gave members of the armed forces reprieve from any penalties for breaking resi- dential leases, vehicle leases and cellphone contracts when given military orders. The Foreign Service has no equivalent civil relief law. Yet breakage fees are frequently listed as a significant financial burden on members of the Foreign Service preparing to serve overseas. AFSA seeks the same reprieve from any penal- ties for those on diplomatic orders. During the 117th Congress, AFSA saw the bipartisan introduction of S.1550, the Foreign Service Families Act, that would pro- vide this relief. We continue to advocate for its immedi- ate passage into law. While the SCRA spot- lights well-known parity concerns, other issues are only just emerging and have a far less obvious effect on the Foreign Service. For example, the American Rescue Plan, passed earlier this year, changed the 2021 qualifiers for the expanded child tax credit, requiring a principal residence in the U.S. for more than six months of the year. The tax code already has a carve-out for those in the military serving over- seas, so they qualify even if their principal residence is outside the United States. There is no such carve-out for the Foreign Service, so those without a principal residence in the U.S., even if serving their country over- seas, are unlikely to qualify for the credit this year. AFSA has asked Con- gress to address this new disparity in any extension of the expanded child tax credit beyond 2021. Parity for the Foreign Service with other federal government employees, especially the military, has been a perennial priority for AFSA. The large disparity between the international affairs budget and the defense budget strains our efforts to seek equivalence. Controlling fewer dollars can sometimes mean being overlooked in major legis- lation; and, thus, achiev- ing significant legislative changes that help the Foreign Service is difficult. By taking a closer look at the process of drafting large-scale bills (e.g., an omnibus package) and mak- ing inroads with those who draft bill text, AFSA has an opportunity to make sure Congress gets it right the first time. This means getting in on the ground floor of draft- ing massive bills, usually thousands of pages long, that may only contain a few pages affecting the Foreign Service. The SCRA and the American Rescue Plan are two examples. When ideas concerning the Foreign Service emerge, AFSA serves as a resource for committee staff. But we must look to influence the process from all angles, not just traditional advocacy with members serving on our committees of jurisdic- tion or key committee staff. In large bills covering multiple jurisdictions, coun- sels outside our key com- mittees of jurisdiction are drafting text that can affect our membership. Not all congressional offices have counsels expert in specific areas of law that the legislators wish to change, so they rely on legal experts provided through the House and Senate Office of Legislative Counsel. Many have never worked with the Foreign Service directly or indirectly and are unaware of the small details that could affect the Foreign Service in a big way. Pearson Fellows are AFSA’s greatest assets on the Hill. Among other things, they are in a unique position to interact with the same staffers who draft bills. Now that law-making is primarily conducted via these massive bills covering broad swaths of jurisdiction, AFSA asks both our champions in Congress and our Pearson Fellows to join us in the effort to educate those who are not familiar with the disparities between the Foreign Service and other federal govern- ment employees. By emphasizing what diplomats do and why it matters when the first drafts of big bills are circulating, we can better ensure that the Foreign Service is not left out of major legislation. n Parity for the Foreign Service with other federal government employees, especially the military, has been a perennial priority for AFSA.