BY KENNETH KERO-MENTZ
When I joined the Foreign Service in January 2000, I’d been working on Capitol Hill and living in the District. My first tour was in Rio de Janeiro, which meant about six months of language training followed by ConGen (the perfect time to forget my Portuguese), so I didn’t make it out to post until October— 10 months later.
Most of my new colleagues in A-100 and in language training were hired from outside the 50-mile radius considered “local,” and I quickly learned that they were all on per diem and received a housing allowance for the entire time they were in training. Since I was hired locally, I received neither. In addition, because the department considered employees in long-term training to be “assigned” to their onward post, I didn’t get D.C. locality pay either.
I was shocked. We were all living in the same city, making the same meager salary of someone just entering the Service, but they could much more easily afford the groceries, rent and metro fare that went along with life inside the Beltway.
Fast forward to December 2012. A new local hire from D.C. who was completing a year of training had had enough. He approached AFSA with a reasonable complaint: the system was unfair. Our top-notch attorneys crafted a grievance with arguments based on the law and applicable regulations.
After a year of back-and-forth between AFSA and the department, the Foreign Service Grievance Board issued a decision finding that the department’s own regulations require that new local hires in training for 12 months or longer must be assigned to FSI and therefore receive locality pay.
These are, quite frankly, huge wins for all new local hires! Moving forward, any new hire expected to be in Washington, D.C., for at least six months for training following orientation will be officially posted to FSI and will receive D.C. locality pay.
Three years later, in 2016, a group of new hires approached AFSA with similar complaints. Our AFSA attorneys once again went to the mat, this time focusing on new local hires in training for six months or longer.
In a decision issued in 2017, the FSGB again found that the department’s own regulations require that new local hires in training for six months or longer be assigned to FSI and receive locality pay.
These are, quite frankly, huge wins for all new local hires! Whether an officer or a specialist, moving forward, any new hire expected to be in Washington, D.C., for at least six months for training following orientation will be officially posted to FSI and will receive D.C. locality pay, currently 28.22 percent.
In addition, the AFSA members who came to us with the complaint were made whole—receiving back pay, including locality pay, for their time in training. And now, AFSA is working on a proposal to have the department treat all local hires the same as those hired from outside the area— granting all locality pay from day one. Those hired from outside D.C. receive housing and per diem—they are, after all, essentially in the area on TDY. Those hired locally should be treated like any other government employee and receive the locality pay for the place they’re located.
While this effort will assist only those who join the Foreign Service in the future, it is just another example of the work we do at AFSA on behalf of our members. And while we cannot help everyone all the time, we’re always ready to listen, and we’re always ready to try. We’ll keep you apprised of our efforts on this important matter.