We Work Hard for the Money

State VP Voice


It’s been a busy few months of advocacy for AFSA. We’ve been engaging with the department on a range of issues. We don’t always get traction, but I’m pleased to report that our ideas—your ideas—often get a warm reception and sometimes lead to changes and improvements in how we do our jobs.

For instance, when one of our posts went on ordered departure in May, we heard from members who were expected to stay at post while their kids had to depart.

Single-parent employees or tandem couples found it especially difficult to get the kids to a safe haven, and the department’s rules can complicate matters by requiring that employees “check in” in Washington to receive financial support.

We advocated that the department allow single-parent employees (or tandems) to bring their children to the safe haven and then either return to post or Washington, D.C., to continue service as needed.

While we didn’t completely resolve the matter, we were informed that an appeal to DGDirect can lead to assistance being provided during such events, and that (thankfully) flexibility does exist in the regs, if one knows where to look. And we can help.

Again this year, promotion numbers were low, and we met with HR on a number of occasions to discuss this. While much better than last year, the numbers are significantly lower (especially at the FS-2 to FS-1 level) than expected, even according to the State Department’s own five-year projections.

With all the departures at senior levels in the past 18 months, we argued that promoting at higher rates was necessary, as there was both the pull and push for promotions. Unfortunately, promotion rates were unsatisfactory for many categories and did little to ameliorate the problem.

Working together, we will continue to make the department the best possible place to work on behalf of the American people.

In April the department unilaterally changed the maximum age for eligibility for the Summer Hire Program for college-age children from 24 to 21, purportedly to align with the FAM definition of an eligible family member.

This change would have seriously damaged the program that allows missions overseas to hire college-age FS kids for summer jobs in U.S. missions. We immediately registered our concerns over this nonsensical change, and the department agreed to hold off on implementation, at least until next year.

You may have read about certain political appointees in the department causing difficulties for Foreign Service members whom the appointees determined were not sufficiently loyal to the current administration. When we hear from members about this, we share what we’re hearing (without giving names)—with the DG’s office and, if necessary, with the Office of the Inspector General. The retribution we’re seeing is cause for grave concern. Please be in touch if you need us.

AFSA has continued to provide support and assistance to members sickened by a mysterious illness in Cuba (and now China). We join meetings with MED, the Cuba Cohort Task Force and other department officials and affected FS members to discuss issues such as insurance coverage, reimbursement for travel and lodging during medical treatment and other concerns.

Senior department officials are committed to addressing the needs of this group, but employees continue to raise issues concerning MED’s response; members cite a lack of communication regarding their precise medical status and continuing confusion regarding treatment. Recent reports from our FCS colleagues similarly affected in China echo these concerns.

Finally, when DS attempted to change the rules of pay for the Secretary’s Detail, AFSA fought back and forced a halt to the changes. One member wrote to thank us: “Our case was a concrete example of management taking advantage of junior agents. Even with a tight deadline, your team prioritized our case and took decisive action on our behalf before changes could be implemented. This was an outstanding testimonial for many who have paid AFSA dues for years, unsure of how/if the union would be there when needed. … Thanks again to you and your team!”

That’s what it’s all about for us—maximizing your benefits. Working together, we will continue to make the department the best possible place to work.

Kenneth Kero-Mentz is the Department of State vice president of the American Foreign Service Association.