THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | DECEMBER 2023 69 AFSA ON THE HILL | BY KIM GREENPLATE Making Strides in Accommodating Careers Overseas Despite broad recognition by legislatures across the United States of the risks and dangers that American diplomats face on a regular basis while abroad, Foreign Service members do not enjoy the same protections and benefits that are in place for other government employees with careers based mainly overseas. U.S. Foreign Service officers and specialists spend about two-thirds of their careers abroad, often serving at difficult and dangerous posts, and AFSA explains to legislators that to retain talented diplomats it is essential to ease some of the burdens of life overseas. Luckily, the past few years have provided the opportunity to pass provisions into law to do so. AFSA’s most consequential win related to accommodating life overseas is the 2021 Foreign Service Families Act, which was included in the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This bill applies portions of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to members of the Foreign Service, including protection from financial penalties for breaking residential leases, car leases, and telephone contracts when given orders to serve overseas. It also provides members of the Foreign Service, their spouses, and dependents in-state tuition in the member’s state of domicile. Thus, FS members are no longer “stateless” because of their overseas service when it comes to qualifying for instate tuition at institutions of higher education. We have achieved further accommodations related to work overseas through agency-level advocacy, often accompanied by pressure from Congress. For example, a previous NDAA provided members of the military up to $4,000 for the purpose of pet travel. At AFSA’s urging, Congress threatened to mandate this same benefit for FS members in the subsequent NDAA. In spring 2023, the State Department and the other foreign affairs agencies agreed to provide this benefit for all members of the Foreign Service without the need for a congressional mandate. AFSA is proud to have played a role in reducing the cost of transporting pets for our members. AFSA has continued to push for accommodations in subsequent State Department authorization bills, which have all been attached to NDAAs. The 2023 State Department Authorization Act, which AFSA hopes will become law before the end of the year, includes provisions to aid members of the Foreign Service when they first arrive at post. For example, the bill includes a provision granting expenses-paid internet at posts with a 30 percent hardship differential. This ensures members of the Foreign Service, especially those serving in positions that are often harder to fill, can do their jobs immediately with a needed utility. If the bill becomes law, AFSA hopes to expand this provision to more posts overseas. We want to build on our past legislative victories and continue to push for provisions that will make a career overseas less stressful for our members, which will help with morale and retention. In future State or other broad authorizing bills, AFSA will look at opportunities to have additional provisions of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act applied to members of the Foreign Service. We hear from the AFSA membership most frequently on maintaining their home state residency for the purpose of taxes and the ability for professional licenses to be portable within the United States, especially in relation to spousal employment. AFSA encourages members to continue writing us at firstname.lastname@example.org to help us identify the facets of work overseas that have a negative impact on morale and retention in the Foreign Service, so we can look to prioritize solutions in our advocacy work. n the department’s Office of Retirement. It was posted in November at https://RNet. state.gov under the “What’s New?” tab. The more than 40-page newsletter contains official information on retirement benefits, including an explanation of how your annuity is taxed, instructions on how to report post-retirement marriage or divorce, and instructions on how your next of kin can apply for survivors’ benefits. Finally, the AFSA website at www.afsa.org/retirement has more than 100 documents and links, including frequently asked questions, videos of AFSA “Next Stage” panels on post–Foreign Service job and volunteer opportunities, and other written and video resources on retirement benefits. If you have not looked through that information in a while, doing so is another useful end-ofyear activity. n Retiree VP Voice Continued from previous page AFSA explains to legislators that to retain talented diplomats it is essential to ease some of the burdens of life overseas.