Page 43 - FSJ_May12

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A
nannual surveyby thePartnership forPublic Service ranks
the State Department among the “best places to work”
in the U.S. government. The same survey ranks State
among the worst in terms of “family-friendly culture and ben-
efits.” In part, that is a result of the questions asked in the sur-
vey. But comments received in response to AFSA’s own annu-
al survey underscore the fact that many FS members feel State
does not do enough for families.
To be fair, the bar for State and USAID (which also ranks
near the bottom) is higher than it is for most agencies. Those
withmost or all of their employees statesideneedonlyworryabout
child care, simple wellness programs, and such family-friendly
initiatives as alternative work schedules or teleworking.
Withmost FS employees serving overseas, Statemust add to
this list Eligible Family Member employment opportunities,
schools, residential safety, transportation, basicmedical services,
emergency care, elder care, commissaries or consumables, recre-
ational facilities and evenpets. And this has significant resource
implications for the department.
The nature of embassy work often makes it difficult for
employees toarrange alternativework schedules or telework. And
the dramatic increase in the number of unaccompanied posts
adds the strains of separation and worry — both of which can
have deep and profound effects on families and family mem-
bers.
The Office of Employee Relations’ Work-Life Division, the
Family LiaisonOffice, the Office of Medical Services, the Office
ofOverseasBuildingOperations, andother divisions of State take
these matters seriously and are working hard and creatively to
address many of the issues described in this article. But it will
never be as easy, or as cheap, for State to be family-friendly as it
is for the vast majority of government agencies.
Equally important is the philosophical questionmost agen-
ciesneverhave toask:Towhatdegree shouldagovernment agency
spend taxpayer dollars on familymemberswhoarenot employed
by the government?
The short answer is that the ForeignService requires itsmem-
bers to reside overseas, and to develop skills that mature with
greater overseas experience. It would be impossible to recruit
or retain enoughpeople to do this kind of workwithout a guar-
antee that their familieswill be provided as safe an environment
as possible alongwith the same benefits (for example, a free edu-
cation through high school for their children) that any
American citizen resident in the U.S. would take for granted.
AFSA’s member surveys are clear: for employees who share
ahouseholdwith familymembers, fam-
ilyconsiderations areprimarywhenbidding, formoraleanddecid-
ing whether or not to stay in the Service.
Because ourwork in the ForeignService requires us to spend
the bulk of our careers abroad, support for families is evenmore
important than it is for the military. Yet while Congress will-
ingly funds facilities for military families, it is much less gener-
ous to the Foreign Service. Ironically, many areas of key inter-
est toAFSAmembers are either relatively inexpensive to address,
or involve costs that can be spread out.
State employees may currently use annual or sick leave, or
leavewithout pay, formaternity purposes. While thismaywork
for those with enough leave, it doesn’t work for newer employ-
ees. The military offers paid parental leave under the authority
of the SecretaryofDefense; State shoulddomore toobtaina sim-
ilar benefit.
Overseas safety is another concern. While some risks are
inevitable, others are not. For instance, many members com-
plain that posts are absurdly shortsightedwhen it comes to child-
proofing residences. Investment in safety gates, covers for elec-
trical outlets and reductions in the space between balcony rail-
ings canbe spreadout overmultiple family residences, and should
be part of the routine to make every house in a post’s housing
pool ready for occupancy.
Work-life balance is important — not just for families, but
for singles, as well. The department pays excellent lip service to
making time for anoutside life, but it continues to support a cul-
tureof 10-hourworkdays and six-dayworkweeks for anyonewho
expects to advance. In some skill codes, overtime is required to
receive full benefits. Singles also complainof being unfairly bur-
dened with holiday duty on the assumption that, being single,
they have no other life.
EFMemployment opportunitieswill not improve until State
adopts a centralizedviewof the functionandabandons the archa-
ic idea that it ismake-work designed to keep “the little woman”
happy. The department and chiefs of mission at posts should
workwith other agencies to develop fair employment strategies
to increase opportunities for family members.
Foreign Service employees spend a lifetime supporting the
interests of theU.S. government. In sodoing, they leave behind
their homes, extended family members, a spouse or partner’s
career, their children’s playmates, and their friends to live inunfa-
miliar overseas environments. The bar may be higher for State
than for other government agencies, but that is no excuse for
failing to reach it.
Making the FS Truly Family-Friendly
V.P. VOICE:
STATE
BY DANIEL HIRSCH
MA Y 2 0 1 2 / F OR E I GN S E R V I C E J OU R N A L
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Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP.