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RETIREE VP VOICE

| BY LARRY COHEN

AFSA NEWS

Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA Retiree VP.

Contact:

lawrencecohenassociates@hotmail.com

or (703) 437-7881

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

|

JULY-AUGUST 2015

73

Foreign Service retirees

are fortunate. We enjoyed

fascinating and adventurous

careers. Our contribution

to public service and our

nation’s prestige and honor is

undeniable. If the clock could

be turned back, I suspect

most of us would do it all

again.

In general, Foreign Service

retirees receive fair pen-

sion and insurance benefits

earned during sustained

careers in challenging and

often dangerous environ-

ments. As embedded in the

Foreign Service Act of 1980,

we may retire with full pen-

sions earlier and with fewer

mandatory federal years on

the job than our Civil Service

colleagues.

Quirks in the system such

as the negative impact of

overseas service on pension

calculations have mostly

The Big Issue

been ironed out (e.g., virtual

locality pay). Compared to

the retirement benefits we

receive, issues of specific

concern to FS retirees such

as a transparent re-employ-

ment system seem less

critical.

Meanwhile, benefits for

retirees continue to come

under threat. This is a

much larger issue that goes

beyond the Foreign Service.

AFSA is one of many fed-

eral employee associations

fighting the good fight, for

example, against the move

to a chained consumer price

index that would reduce

defined pension benefits

significantly over time.

AFSA will continue to

battle efforts to scissor

away benefits in the name of

deficit reduction. One such

effort is the recent attack on

the annuity supplement. I am

confident the political sway

of current retirees and retiree

organizations will prevent

wholesale erosion of present

benefit levels. But AFSA and

its membership must remain

vigilant.

Sadly, however, ben-

efits for future retirees,

specifically our active-duty

colleagues and future hires,

are being atrophied. This is

especially true in an era of

pay freezes or minimal salary

increases. New members

of the Foreign Service now

contribute almost four times

the amount we did for their

pensions. Proposals to make

employee health insurance

contributions “post-tax”

and force the Thrift Savings

Plan’s G Fund into income

irrelevance must be taken

seriously.

AFSA, and especially its

retiree members, can and

should advocate strongly on

behalf of tomorrow’s ben-

eficiaries. They are the ones

truly getting hurt. If we do

not stand up for them, who

will? Because of Hatch Act

rules, the active-duty Foreign

Service cannot easily speak

out. We can.

Call or write to your sena-

tors and representatives.

Urge them to oppose budget

resolutions that target fed-

eral employees, the Foreign

Service and FS retirees. In

particular, tell them to quit

targeting millennials who are

just now entering public ser-

vice. These actions serve to

dissuade the best and bright-

est from joining up or staying

on. Insist that Congress can

and should find ways to craft

its budgets other than on the

backs of the federal work-

force.

n

Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Heather

Higginbottom (right) and Special Representative for the QDDR Tom

Perriello (left) lay out their vision for improved data management.

AFSA/MARIAC.LIVINGSTON

more effectively address risk

management in increasingly

dangerous environments.

In the lead up to the

review’s release, AFSA sub-

mitted

seven thought papers

to the QDDR team on priority

issues, such as professional

development, security and

technology.

Though not all of AFSA’s

suggestions were incorpo-

rated, critical provisions did

make it in, including those

addressing the need for

better management and

mitigation of physical risk;

increased investment in a

skilled and diverse workforce;

enhanced economic leader-

ship in each bureau; and

extended leave without pay.

The May 12 event was the

first in a planned series of

engagements on the 2015

QDDR. AFSA will continue to

seek answers and contribute

to the QDDR team’s imple-

mentation efforts.

n

—Maria C. Livingston,

Associate Editor