Page 19 - Foreign Service Journal - April 2012

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A P R I L 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L
back in the States — and then
State’s own numbers confirm
that finding a job — any job —
while your spouse or partner is
serving overseas is not easy. Of the
11,056 Eligible Family Members
abroad in 2011, more than six in 10
were not working.
Now for the good news. It’s be-
coming less difficult for EFMs to
find meaningful employment overseas. According to
2011 data provided by the State Department’s Family Li-
aison Office, the percentage of family members working
rose from 35 percent in 2004 to 41 percent in 2010. The
figure slipped to 37 percent last year, but the overall trend
is encouraging.
Despite the progress, the picture is still disheartening
for spouses and partners who want or, for financial rea-
sons, need to work. The American Foreign Service
Association is making the case to State Department lead-
ers that much more could be done to help spouses and
partners, notes AFSA State Department Vice President
Daniel Hirsch.
Hirsch says that more spousal jobs at posts should be
centrally funded to ensure that they are there, regardless
of any financial difficulties the post may face. Leaving it
up to individual missions to find the money for family
member jobs “makes it optional and frequently one of the
first pieces of funding to disappear in tough times,” he ob-
Second, AFSA wants State to set up a central job bank
of all family member positions and a skills bank listing the
experience and education of the family members who
want to work. By publicizing all that information during
bidding season, Foreign Service employees and their
spouses could make more informed choices about where
they want to go. For their part, posts would be able to
offer spouses more challenging work because they’d have
more assurance that people with the skills to do the job
would be available.
Finally, Hirsch says that the department should de-
velop teleworking opportunities for family members over-
seas, enabling them to telework to jobs either from one
post to another, or from overseas
back to Washington. “While not all
jobs lend themselves to telework,
many do,” Hirsch notes, adding:
“Telework could dramatically in-
crease opportunities to match skill-
ed eligible family members with
jobs needing their skills.”
Still, Hirsch points out, spouses
and partners have to accept that the
burden will always remain on them
to secure employment, and that the Foreign Service
lifestyle will create headaches and conflicts. “You unfor-
tunately have to realize that you may not be able to do ex-
actly what you want to do. You have to be flexible,” he
Finding Work in the Embassy or Consulate
Responses from active-duty Foreign Service employ-
ees the
Foreign Service Journal
invited to comment on
these issues earlier this year contained lots of helpful
advice, on everything fromworking in an embassy to start-
ing your own business, teleworking and finding positions
on the local economy.
Still, most spouses who find work continue to find it at
the U.S. embassy, consulate or mission where their spouse
is stationed. That was the case for two out of every three
family members who held down jobs in 2011, according
to FLO.
Jobs in the mission are usually the easiest and safest
employment for spouses and partners to secure. And
thanks to federal employment rules, such positions con-
fer the opportunity to quickly become a Civil Service
employee, with all the rights and benefits that status en-
The drawback is that many top embassy officials don’t
want to make special accommodations for spouses and
partners, or see doing so as unwise. The reasons for this
are sometimes understandable: Family members can
take a while to hire, considering that many posts come
with a security clearance requirement and spouses some-
times quit early to handle the logistics of moving to the
next posting. Often, it’s also easier and cheaper to find
local employees to do the work.
Numerous spouses who responded to the AFSA survey
said nepotism rules, which bar hiring the spouses of cer-
tain embassy officials, had prevented them from getting
AFSA continues to make
the case to State that it
needs to do much more
to help spouses and
partners find work.
Shawn Zeller, a regular contributor to the
, is a free-
lance writer in Washington, D.C