The Foreign Service Journal - March 2018

36 MARCH 2018 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL At his Dec. 12 town hall meeting on the “redesign,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson promised to “end the hiring freeze [for EFMs] in 2018 and return the authority to bureaus and posts tomake decisions on what they need for eligible family members.” At the same town hall, Secretary Tillerson also said he would “expand the opportunities by expanding the use of the EPAP [Expanded Profes- sional Associates Program],” saying that “this is a talent pool that we should be using.” As of mid-February, the latest update to the Family Liaison Office hiring freeze information web page, on Dec. 29, 2017, no tes only the town hall announcements of the end to the EFMhiring freeze and promises to share guidance as it is released. Soon after the town hall meeting, we were told by several sources that bureaus were given the authority tomanage EFM positions and were authorized to fill up to 50 percent of their bureau-wide EFM vacancies, with the bureaus deciding which posts would fill which EFM jobs. (For example, some bureaus may decide to fill all of the EFM slots at one post and none at another.) However, at this writing no announcement has beenmade about when, or if, the bureaus will be able to fill the remaining 50 percent of EFM jobs. There has been recent movement on the Secretary’s town hall promise of expanding EPAP. As of Jan. 17 the FLOwebpage on the programdisplays guidance on how to prepare for the 2018 spring/ summer EPAP vacancy announcement, and includes a “checklist” for preparing documents, as well as a table outlining the new job qualification standards. The checklist notes that, because of the new qualification stan- dards, all previously qualified—and even working—professional associates will have to requalify for all future EPAP positions and go through the entire application process again. The new standards are more rigid and some are impractically high (a Ph.D. in business is required for an EPAP position in financial management with the rank of FP-3, for example). In the flurry of comments on social media after these guidelines were announced, many questioned the reason for these changes to a program that, though too small to make a big difference in the EFM employment pool, seemed to be working. In the meantime, while Foreign Service family members wait for at least half of the possible mission jobs to open up, how are they coping? Freeze Exacerbates a Longstanding Problem For the most part, spouses and partners of Foreign Service members are a resilient bunch. They follow their employee partners to far-flung posts where, for a variety of reasons (lack of bilateral work agreements, language or security barriers, and low local wages, to name a few), it’s not always possible to find employment on the local economy. For those who want to work, employment inside the mission is often the most appeal- ing—and sometimes the only—option. However, there have never been nearly enough jobs to go around. The most recently available report on family mem- ber employment, released by the State Department’s Family Liaison Office in April 2017, shows that while there were 12,064 adult family members stationed overseas, there were only 3,374 inside-the-mission positions open to EFMs. Granted, not all 12,000 EFMs are looking for work; still, there are far more EFMs than mission jobs available to them. The hiring freeze isn’t cre- ating a new problem—it is exacerbating an existing one. For this reason, perhaps, many of the resources created by FLO and available through the Transition Center at the Foreign Service Institute guide family members to consider “portable careers” and entrepreneurship. But becoming your own boss isn’t easy, and doing so while abroad in the Foreign Service, where you can’t use the mail for business purposes and some- times your own home is even deemed off-limits, is even harder. Also, any employment or outside activity done while at post must be approved by the chief of mission, and the rules vary from post to post, depending upon who is interpreting them. It can be a cumbersome and time-consuming stumbling block, depending on the post and its management, and something a few EFM business owners queried for this article chafed at. Turning to Social Media for Support EFMs have taken to social media to share interests, explore ideas, network and lend support using the most valuable resource available to them—each other. Undoubtedly, they Secretary Tillerson promised to end the hiring freeze for EFMs in 2018 and return the authority to bureaus and posts to make decisions on what they need.