Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Foreign Service Overseas Pay Equity Act of 2009

On July 16, 2008, the AFSA-supported "Foreign Service Overseas Pay Equity Act of 2008" (H.R. 3202 which was originally offered by Rep. Christopher Smith [R-NJ]) was approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) on a voice vote with bipartisan support and no opposition. Congressman Smith wrote a letter to his colleagues regarding this issue last year. On September 23, 2008, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) passed an almost identical version of the House bill (assigned Senate bill number S. 3426 when offered by Senator John Kerry (D-MA)) on a voice vote with bi-partisan support and no opposition.

Then Congress adjourned without moving the bill to final passage.

AFSA was nonetheless pleased that the bill went that far saying that these actions were “a result of expanding awareness on Capitol Hill that the large and growing cut in base pay imposed on the junior and mid-level Foreign Service is a serious disincentive to recruitment, retention, and overseas service.”

Thanks to Diplopundit reader, Stephanie for the tip on the whereabouts of this bill – it is still in Committee.

Rep. Christopher Smith [R-NJ] re-introduced the bill as H.R. 370: Foreign Service Overseas Pay Equity Act of 2009 in the 111st Congress on January 9th. It currently has one sponsor, Rep. Donald Payne [D-NJ] and has been referred to House Oversight and Government Reform and the Committee on Foreign Affairs. This bill is once more, in the first step in the legislative process. Introduced bills and resolutions first go to committees that deliberate, investigate, and revise them before they go to general debate.

Would this go further this congressional year? In this severe budget crunch? Don’t know -- it’s all guess work right now.

The Foreign Service Overseas Pay Equity Act of 2009, like its previous version seeks to amend the Foreign Service Act of 1980 to extend comparability pay adjustments to members of the Foreign Service assigned to posts abroad, and to amend the provision relating to the death gratuity payable to surviving dependents of Foreign Service employees who die as a result of injuries sustained in the performance of duty abroad. Read the whole text of the bill here.

A lot of talk on the pay gap already, so I'll look at Section 3 of this bill which reads: SEC. 3. DEATH GRATUITY.

The first sentence of section 413(a) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (22 U.S.C. 3973(a)) is amended by striking `at the time of death' and inserting `at level II of the Executive Schedule under section 5313 of title 5, United States Code, at the time of death, except that for employees compensated under local compensation plans established under section 408, the amount shall be equal to the greater of 1 year's salary at the time of death or 1 year's salary at the highest step of the highest grade on the local compensation plan from which the employee was being paid at the time of death'.

The CRS folks who did a report on this last year writes that the Foreign Service Act of 1980 currently authorizes the Secretary of State to provide, at the Secretary’s discretion, a death gratuity to the survivors of any Foreign Service employee who dies as a result of injuries sustained in the performance of the employee’s duty abroad. The amount of the death gratuity is equal to the employee’s annual salary at the time of death.

The death gratuity section amends the current death gratuity provision in two ways:

#1. The death gratuity is increased for Foreign Service employees who die as a result of injuries sustained in the performance of his/her duty from the equivalent of one year’s salary to the salary of a level II of the Executive Schedule (As of January 2009, Level II pay in the Executive Schedule is $177,000). If an entry level FSO is killed, his/her surviving dependents would get a death gratuity of $177,000 instead of his/her one year salary of approximately 38K in the 2009 pay schedule).

#2. A death gratuity is authorized for employees compensated under local compensation plans. The amount of the death gratuity for the individual is equal to the greater of one year’s salary at the time of death, or one year’s salary at the highest step of the highest grade on the local compensation plan that the employee was under at the time of death.

The local compensation plans vary from country to country based on prevailing rates, normally paid in local currency, unless the economy has been dolarized but -- my understanding on this is if an employee is an FSN 6/2, and he/she is killed his/her death gratuity would be the greater amount between his/her annual salary at the time of death or one year salary at the highest step of the highest grade in his/her local plan (FSN 12/step 12 is the highest grade and step, I think). In the US Embassy Nairobi bombing in 1998, 12 American USG employees and family members, and 32 Kenyan local employees of the U.S. government were killed. This type of provision would have authorized giving the survivors of the Kenyan local employees a death gratuity.

U.S. diplomat Howard Kavaler according to this report received $68,000 as death gratuity for his FSO wife’s horrific death in Nairobi. I have no idea how much the local employees’ survivors were compensated in that incident under the Secretary of State’s discretion.

The 2008 CRS report here interprets the second portion of this section as a reference to Civil Service employees detailed to an embassy. I thought -- what? It must have been 30 years ago when local employees at U.S. missions overseas were moved away from Civil Service, so the argument used in this report is not accurate, I think. Also, this bill uses the specific language of “employees compensated under local compensation plans;” I don’t think you would lump Civil Servants under any local plan. I'm not a lawyer, so if you have a different reading of this bill, please feel free to comment below.

Then there's this piece on death and forgetfulness in the Foreign Service that is heartbreaking. You can help by contacting your senators and representative in the 111th Congress here.

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1 comment:

ejff said...

We all need to remember that the US Diplomatic Service is much more than the Foreign Service. If the pay gap is to be reduced it should be reduced for all US diplomats serving abroad, not just those serving under the FS system.