BY KENNETH KERO-MENTZ
Even during the longest-ever government shutdown, when all active-duty AFSA vice presidents were furloughed, our work continued.
While AFSA’s focus remained on the shutdown and providing up-to-theminute updates on the ever-shifting situation, the labor management team in the Harry S Truman building was busy responding to a stream of both furlough- and nonfurlough-related questions.
In addition, the daily work of our dedicated team of grievance counselors and attorney advisers continued, even though our counterparts in the department, and many of our members, were furloughed.
AFSA is currently working on nearly 500 individual cases on behalf of our members, providing technical expertise and assistance based on years of experience. And, indeed, as AFSA’s membership has grown, so too has our workload. The year-on-year figures show a nearly 10 percent increase in requests for assistance from our small team.
Many of the cases have to do with problems folks are having with assignment restrictions, some sort of an investigation, an EER complaint or issues with MED (especially, these days, relating to the special needs education allowance (SNEA)).
We’ve had a number of recent victories that help shed light on the breadth and depth of work we do for our members. For instance:
SNEA: After AFSA spent months assisting a tandem couple, the Foreign Service Grievance Board found the grievants had established that payment for an educational consultant was required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act to find their child an appropriate placement, and that the department had no basis to deny authorization of this expense on the grounds that the grievants had not yet arrived at post.
Though the decision addressed a fairly narrow question, it contained important language striking down the argument that the department has “unfettered discretion…to grant or deny a SNEA benefit to employees in any way it may see fit. Rather, law and regulation must limit its discretion.”
I’m proud of the team I’ve had the privilege to work with for the past 20 months, and our members should rest assured we’re here for you.
Allegations of Misconduct: An FS-1 officer was proposed for a 45-day suspension in connection with allegations of misuse of a government vehicle and failure to follow procedures. The proposal stemmed from alleged misconduct dating as far back as six years.
In the more than three years it took the department to investigate and propose disciplinary action, the FS-1 officer received three consecutive recommendations for promotion into the Senior Foreign Service; all of which were held in abeyance pending resolution of the matter.
Through both written and oral responses, the officer was able to prove that the allegations were without merit and, ultimately, he was not suspended, and was promoted.
HHE: After months of work and multiple interventions on our member’s behalf, AFSA was able to get an employee full compensation— nearly $50,000 in damages—for HHE that was destroyed by shippers.
Political Retribution: For those who have been following the “Vino Vixen” story—in which a political appointee in the Bureau of International Organizations was seen to be applying a loyalty litmus test for employees in the bureau—you may have heard that she has been dismissed from State.
We began hearing from members shortly after her arrival, and we kept steady diplomatic pressure on the department to address the problems this appointee was creating for bureau staff. Now that she has departed, the hard work of correcting the damage that was inflicted can begin in earnest.
I’m proud of the team I’ve had the privilege to work with for the past 20 months, and our members should rest assured we’re here for you. Through shutdowns, hiring freezes and anything else that comes our way, AFSA’s labor management team is ready to help.