Page 25 - FSJ June 2012

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The employees consulted the For-
eign Affairs Manual, the regulations
that govern the State Department’s
operations. The rules outlined in its
third chapter, known as 3 FAM, em-
body honorable policies designed to
make the U.S. Department of State a
fair and competitive employer of local
staff at diplomatic posts.
The employees became convinced
that the changes to their benefits and
working conditions did not reflect the intent of 3 FAM or
State’s declared management philosophy. The group’s ef-
forts to appeal the issue were cut short, however, when the
ambassador informed the staff that they had to consent in
writing to the new terms of employment within two weeks,
or see their contracts with the mission terminated.
Under duress, the LES employees signed, but wrote to
the State Department’s legal adviser inWashington, D.C.,
asking whether the changes that had been made — and
the procedure used to impose them—were in accordance
with the FAM. Nearly four years later, they are still wait-
ing for a response.
In fact, Washington rarely replies to, or even acknowl-
edges, any LES communications on employment issues.
That is mainly because no one within the existing organi-
zational structure of State has the authority to do so. There
is no mechanism for LES, the State Department’s largest
employee group, to engage in a dialogue withWashington
on workplace issues or appeal decisions taken at embassies.
The absence of a channel to headquarters makes it difficult
to ensure trust and accountability in a
global employment context.
The Backbone
of the Embassy
Locally Employed Staff, who work
overseas for U.S. agencies, comprise
both Foreign Service Nationals (which
is what many of them still prefer to be
called) and local American citizens
hired under the Rockefeller Amend-
ment (sometimes known as “Rockies”). At last count, local
employees numbered some 53,000.
At virtually every diplomatic post, local employees
working for the five foreign affairs agencies — State, the
U.S. Agency for International Development, the De-
partments of Commerce and Agriculture and the Inter-
national Broadcasting Bureau — significantly outnumber
their American Foreign Service and Civil Service col-
leagues.
As one might surmise, there is no single “typical” LES
profile. A miniature United Nations, local employees all
over the world work as drivers, guards, senior medical
and legal professionals, cooks, cleaners, engineers, me-
chanics, webmasters, social media coordinators and
trusted political, economic and press advisers (often at
senior levels).
This corps of local experts — often called the back-
bone of the embassy — is one of the great strengths of
the U.S. foreign policy establishment. Even so, it has yet
to be recognized as a major component of the State De-
partment work force, much less given access to a trans-
parent and clearly codified human resources process and
a credible system of justice in Washington. This is true
even though the Office of the Inspector General urged
State to do so five years ago.
Specifically, in May 2007 the OIG issued an important
report (ISP-I-07-16) that called on the Bureau of Human
Resources to “codify in one place and strengthen its com-
mitment to” Locally Employed Staff. Although fewer than
10 of the report’s 80 pages focus on LES employment, they
include these three key recommendations:
• Create an LES Bill of Rights
• Appoint an ombudsman for LES issues
in Washington, D.C.
• Address inadequate staffing in the Human Re-
sources Bureau’s Office of Overseas Employment.
J U N E 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
25
F
OCUS
At nearly every
U.S. diplomatic post,
local staff constitute
the largest component
of the work force.
Eddy Olislaeger founded the International Foreign Serv-
ice Association in 2009 and became its first elected chair-
man in 2011, a position he still holds. He worked for more
than 40 years as a public affairs specialist at Embassy
Brussels before retiring from the Department of State in
March. On that occasion he received the Secretary’s Ca-
reer Achievement Award for his many contributions to the
field of public diplomacy
Wendy Lubetkin, a senior adviser on media affairs at the
U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, is vice chair-
man of IFSA. She is one of the first U.S. citizens to have
been hired under the Rockefeller Amendment, which
opened Locally Employed Staff positions to Americans.
Her previous employers include
Time
magazine and the
World Economic Forum.