AFSANET

AFSANET: State VP Message September 16, 2009

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This message is from AFSA State VP Daniel Hirsch.

This is the first of what I expect will be many periodic updates from me regarding State issues of interest to our members. I’ll begin with a couple of action items and announcements, then continue with a brief description of some of the issues we have raised to State management over the past several weeks.

ACTION ITEMS:

Committee membership: AFSA is seeking members interested in participating in the State Standing Committee. The State Standing Committee is a formal body charged with providing State Department members’ perspectives on issues, and can also raise issues for consideration by the AFSA Board or the State Vice President. Membership is open to any State Department AFSA member stationed in Washington. Because this is a formal AFSA body, members in this committee must be confirmed by the AFSA board. The committee will meet regularly (roughly monthly) in HST.  As AFSA State VP, I have also created a number of informal advisory committees for State members overseas. These are not formal bodies and they do not represent AFSA as a whole. Rather, they serve to advise me on specific issues of interest to members. Membership in these informal advisory committees is open to any member at any post on a something is missing here and they meet virtually by email as needed.  More about these committees can be found on the State VP web page at http://www.afsa.org/state. Members interested in joining any of these committees can write to me at hirschdm@state.gov.

Overseas Comparability Pay: As promised in the Under Secretary for Management’s cable, 9,218 direct-hire Foreign Service members began achieving  pay comparability with Washington with a 7.7% increase that appeared in their paychecks  on September 11.  All eligible employees received an SF-50 personnel action to implement the pay increase, and their Earnings and Leave Statements for Pay Period 17 will reflect the increase.  AFSA has heard from a number of eligible employees, however, who did not get their increase this pay period. State cable 85189 gives a contact e-mail for those few who may have slipped through the cracks:  the payroll customer support desk at payhelp@state.gov.  A small group of new employees still in training or transit may not be eligible for the increase until they arrive at post. For State employees currently eligible, any who might not have seen the increase on September 11 should receive it retroactive to PP 17.

Domestic Partners:   We are pleased to see that both the Department of State Standardized Regulations and the Foreign Affairs Manual have been amended to include domestic partners within the definition of  “eligible family member”.   We will be interested to hear members’ experiences in the implementation of this major change.

More information on the implementation of both the Comparability Pay and Domestic Partners benefits will be provided in the AFSA News section of the November issue of the Foreign Service Journal. 

Over the past several weeks, I have been listening to our members and raising their issues with management. Some of those issues are mentioned below.  I also received from management the following information  which might need greater dissemination:

TRAINING OPPORTUNITIES FOR EFMs: In discussing training options for EFMs (with particular attention to languages), FSI stressed that EFMs should have access to FSI online distance learning and FasTrack courses, including the Rosetta Stone for languages. There is an enrollment process, which is done online, and some posts may have issues with connectivity or internet access, but in general, employees should be aware that many options exist for family members, overseas or domestic, who wish to study languages or enhance their professional skills online. More information can be found here: http://www.state.gov/m/fsi/. This link is also on my State VP Web Page. 

VIRTUAL SMA LOCATIONS: A number of employees have encountered difficulties resulting from the choice of a virtual Involuntary SMA location when their families are residing outside the United States while the employee is on an unaccompanied tour.  When a virtual SMA location is not the same as the employee’s home-leave address, the employee may incur unexpected out-of-pocket expenses for travel to an onward assignment. The Department is not always sympathetic to these cases. It is very important for employees considering an ISMA location other than the home-leave address to inform themselves fully before committing.

Other issues raised with management include, but are not limited to, the following. Because these issues are under discussion, I will describe them only briefly. Members wishing to weigh in are encouraged to contact me at hirschdm@state.gov . Ensuring that disciplinary actions are proportional to the issues originating those actions and consistent with past disciplinary action taken in similar cases.

-Ensuring that incentives for service in Iraq and Afghanistan do not penalize employees who do not serve in those posts.

-Developing maternity and paternity leave procedures that do not involve annual or sick leave, and might include telecommuting for pregnant/post-partum employees or new fathers while at the birth destination, when job requirements and circumstances allow.

-Tandem issues, especially those affecting entry-level members, and ensuring that Washington assignments do not reduce the probability of tenuring of untenured entry-level employees.

-Improving coordination of the many factors affecting the ability of employees with disabilities to perform at full potential, including timely placement of required accommodation materials, appropriate consideration in the assignments process, and equal access to career-enhancing positions.

-Urging the Department to implement the provisions of FTR 302-14 and offer a Home Marketing Incentive Program (reducing employee losses due to forced sale of a residence), particularly to DS employees disproportionally affected by domestic assignments.

-Increasing career mobility options for specialists, and promoting opportunities for specialist to generalist or generalist to specialist conversions that do not imply a loss of seniority.

-Improving the speed of FOIA and PA responses to employees seeking information in order to respond to questions from the Department (usually related to security or discipline cases).

These are a few of the many issues AFSA’s State team is working. Let us know what others are important to you.   

Regards,

Daniel Hirsch