Family member employment is a key issue for foreign affairs agencies. Here is a comprehensive look at the options for work inside missions.
Note: This article was first published in the July-August 2005 issue of AFSA’s Foreign Service Journal.
By Shawn Dorman
- Preference for Mission Jobs
- Hiring Categories
- "Either CLO or Clerical"
- About Money
- Local Economies
- The Hiring Process
- Attitudes: Just Because We’re Here
- Outside the Fold: When a Family Member is Ineligible
- What’s New or Improved?
- Walking the Walk
- Guide to Family Member Employment Terms
The two-career family has become more of a norm than an exception, yet the Foreign Service is lumbering along attempting to catch up with that reality and figure out how a two-career family can succeed under the unique circumstances of Foreign Service life. Until the 1970s, the spouse (back then, almost exclusively wives) was considered by the bureaucracy to be an arm of the employee rather than an individual or professional in her own right, and the wife’s performance in such endeavors as representational entertaining was included in the employee’s performance evaluation reports. Spouses were not paid for their role as supporting actors, but were expected to work at that job. A 1972 Department of State directive "liberated" FS wives from employee evaluation reports, and in 1978, the Family Liaison Office was created to further assist Foreign Service family members.
Since then, more and more spouses have taken on paid employment inside and outside U.S. missions. "At any given time," says FLO’s Katie Hokenson, "there are 2,000 family member employees working inside our missions overseas."
Family member employment is a key issue for foreign affairs agencies seeking to recruit and retain the best employees. The new generation of Foreign Service employees wants and expects adequate employment options for their spouses. Management does seem to recognize that to keep employees satisfied, it has to be engaged in trying to satisfy the employment needs of family members. Some of the most exciting developments on the family member employment front are tied to employment outside missions. However, over 75 percent of family members working overseas work inside U.S. missions, and most family members still express a preference for work inside missions. Accordingly, this article examines the status of those employment options.
We spoke with, among others, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Resources John O’Keefe, Family Liaison Office Director Faye Barnes, Overseas Employment Personnel Management Specialist Vens McCoy, and FLO Employment Program Coordinator Katie Hokenson. In addition, more than 70 family members responded to our request for input on their own experiences with mission employment. Deputy Assistant Secretary O’Keefe explained that improved family member employment is one element of the director general’s current strategy. He said that management is aiming to help family members find more "professional-level" employment. A recent survey of 2,400 EFMs, O’Keefe explained, helped illustrate clearly that "we have a real talent pool" inside the Foreign Service community; one that can and should be utilized.
Of the 70 family members who responded to our request for comments on family member employment, a surprisingly large majority expressed the view that they would rather work inside the embassy than outside. This preference comes despite numerous bitter complaints about mission jobs focusing on low salaries, lack of professional options and frustrations about treatment by post management. The reason most often cited by survey respondents for their preference for mission employment was, ironically, "salary." Many pointed out that jobs in the local economy in most parts of the world, while potentially more interesting than embassy jobs, offer unacceptably low compensation. Other reasons for their preference for embassy jobs include: the ability to accumulate retirement pay and other benefits (for certain types of positions), a secure environment, ease of commuting with their spouses, contact with the embassy community and the ability to be more "plugged in" to what is going on in the community.
More family members work inside missions than outside. About 25 percent of all family members overseas work inside missions, and 10 percent work outside, according to data from the Family Liaison Office. FLO data for 2004 show that 35 percent of Foreign Service family members overseas were working, and that 50 percent would like to be working. Data from 169 posts, compiled by FLO in its December 2004 Family Member Employment Report, show that the total number of spouses overseas was 8,413. Of those, 6,680 (or 79 percent), were women and 1,733 were men. The total number of spouses working overseas was reported to be 2,907: 2,092 working inside the mission and 815 working outside. The goal of State management, through the office of the director general, the Human Resources Bureau, the FLO and post management, is to help increase the number of working family members to 50 percent, which would meet the current demand.
The family members who responded to our survey expressed a wide diversity of attitudes about mission jobs. Their experiences were strongly influenced by how they felt they were treated by post management. Some were extremely pleased with their mission jobs, while others either did not find a suitable job in the embassy or were frustrated by the ones they did find. There is no one uniform family member employment system at work in all missions, and no uniform group of family members seeking work at all posts. The success or failure of each family member employment program appears to depend on the actual needs and resources at the post, combined with the level of commitment to fostering opportunities from post management. This can explain the wide diversity of experience family members have with mission employment.
There are numerous hiring mechanisms under which spouses are brought on board for embassy employment. Click here for the most commonly used acronyms and abbreviations. Eligible Family Members who are American citizens and considered "AEFM," or Appointment-Eligible Family Members, have the broadest options for mission employment. An AEFM is a U.S. citizen spouse or U.S. citizen child at least 18 years old, on the travel orders of a U.S. citizen Foreign or Civil Service employee or military service member assigned to a U.S. mission. Non-American-citizen spouses are EFMs but are not eligible for spousal preference as outlined in the statute on preference.
Members of Household and other non-married partners of Foreign Service employees overseas are not considered to be EFMs. Most State Department mission jobs are limited to those with AEFM status, as they require a security clearance. Non-sensitive positions with other agencies are open to all EFMs.
In March 1994, the State Department established the Professional Associates Program to open up unfilled junior officer positions to EFMs. In the same year, State also implemented the Rockefeller Amendment, which allowed embassies and consulates to employ expatriate American citizens and family members in positions formerly available only to foreign nationals, and gave preference to American-citizen family members over other applicants for these jobs. One of the most important developments in family member mission employment was the creation of the State Department’s Family Member Appointment hiring mechanism in 1998. Prior to the FMA, spouses were hired under mechanisms that were truly the pits. The PIT (part-time intermittent temporary) appointment, used for many State embassy jobs, usually meant a low salary, virtually no benefits, no advancement and no continuity of career. The PIT has been replaced by the TEMP, "temporary appointments" for up to one year. These appointments are reserved for U.S. citizens and come with some benefits.
Another hiring mechanism that has long been used by a number of agencies is the Personal Service Contract. Family members hired locally by USAID are often hired on a PSC. There is no standard set of benefits that come with a PSC, and much depends on local practice and host-country laws. Most agencies, aside from USAID, now prefer to use the State Department hiring mechanism called the Personal Services Agreement instead of the PSC. The PSA is not subject to Federal Acquisition Regulations, which prohibit performance of certain types of duties including cashiering. The PSA was originally created for local hiring of non-Americans. It has been expanded to include American hires, and for them, it is called the PSAPlus Program. PSA and PSA-Plus are identical except that "plus" includes Americans. Non-AEFMs are eligible to apply for both PSA and PSC positions.
The creation of the Family Member Appointment hiring mechanism represents an effort to standardize what have to date been very localized and varied employment programs for family members. There is no doubt that creation of the FMA-a result of about 20 years of advocacy by the FLO and AAFSW (now the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide)-was a big step forward.
The Family Member Appointment is defined as a Department of State hiring mechanism used to employ appointment-eligible family members accompanying career employees on assignment abroad. The FMA, according to State materials, is "a five-year limited, non-career appointment," that allows family members to earn benefits. The benefits include annual leave, sick leave, retirement (FERS), health benefits (FEHB), life insurance (FEGLI), Thrift Savings Plan participation and non-competitive eligibility status for U.S. government jobs.
In 1999, a year after the creation of the FMA, 34 percent of family members working inside missions (of 150 posts surveyed by the FLO) were in FMA positions. By early 2005, the percentage had risen to 73. Clearly, the FMA hiring mechanism is taking hold.
The standardization of hiring mechanisms could help with a longstanding problem of employees leaving post without receiving a written performance evaluation. An employee with no performance record to carry to the next post or, more importantly, back to Washington , where further U.S. government opportunities may depend on adequate documentation of previous work, is at a disadvantage when seeking onward employment.
Foreign Service family members looking for upwardly-mobile career paths should probably not look to the embassy for employment. As one FS spouse put it, "It’s either CLO or clerical." This is an exaggeration, but does describe the typical perception of mission jobs – that they are not "professional" jobs.
While it may be possible to aim for similar types of jobs at different posts, usually a family member looking for mission work has to take what is available, which will at best be a continuation of a type of work done at another post, and almost certainly not be an advancement up a career ladder.
Typical embassy jobs with the State Department include consular associate, consular assistant, community liaison office coordinator, information management assistant, general services assistant, office manager, administrative assistant, housing coordinator, newsletter or Web-site editor, and security escort. The U.S. Agency for International Development has non-Foreign Service positions, which tend to be highly coveted development jobs.
Consular associates-family members working in consular sections around the world who have completed the full ConGen Rosslyn course-have helped embassies and consulates with the heavy workload, particularly visa adjudication. There are currently between 150 and 160 CAs at work around the world, who have had wide-ranging responsibilities similar to those of consular officers.
The authority of consular associates to adjudicate visa applications is being phased out as part of the implementation of new security measures. As of this September, CAs will no longer adjudicate visa applications. It is still unclear what impact this will have, but it is clearly a denigration of the authority that was invested in the position. Management has sent word to the field that post management should try to ensure that EFM consular positions are not eliminated in connection with the changes, and to try to minimize the impact on the CA jobs.
Some of the best mission jobs are the USAID jobs, seen as more professional in nature than many State jobs open to family members. "USAID is far more amenable to hiring people as professionals, giving them work in their area of expertise, and paying them accordingly," says an EFM working for USAID. "State has jobs for spouses that are basically secretarial, never professional, and mired in the 1950s view that a spouse has no professional track in mind other than a secretarial one." Many family members believe that most of these USAID jobs are unofficially reserved for USAID spouses, something a number of State family members point to as a source of great frustration.
Under the Professional Associates Program, originally established to open vacant junior officer positions to EFMs, the focus has now shifted to unfilled mid-level Foreign Service positions in the "hard-to-fill" category. (HTF positions are those that lack sufficient qualified Foreign Service bidders.) Every year, State management sends out a bid list for HTF jobs open to EFMs and Civil Service employees. When hired under the PA program, the EFM is hired on an FMA and receives commensurate benefits and a salary based on his/her qualifications.
This year’s list of State Department Hard-to-Fill Program positions was released in February, earlier than usual, in an effort to facilitate EFM participation. The 2005 list was particularly long and included a number of fairly high-level (FS-1) jobs. Although the EFM applicant is limited by the spouse’s post of assignment, the list does offer one more set of potential job opportunities.
During the period of severe shortage of junior officers, before the State Department began hiring under the Diplomatic Readiness Initiative in 2000, State reached a maximum of 30 spouses hired under the Professional Associates Program. (FLO Director Faye Barnes indicates that the original target of 50 PA positions was not reached.) In the interim, Barnes says, the program almost disappeared until FLO picked it up again under the hard-to-fill category. Because family members are limited by the post of assignment of their spouses, few have been able to take advantage of the program.
Post budgets play a major role in determining EFM employment options inside the mission, because EFM positions other than those in the Professional Associates Program are paid for out of post funds. In the 1990s, the severe budget strains on the foreign affairs agencies that resulted in a hiring freeze at State for several years and a reduction-in-force at USAID led to a shortage of entry-level employees at embassies worldwide. This led to more job opportunities for family members, many of whom began filling vacant State Foreign Service positions in consular sections as consular associates and professional associates.
During his tenure, Secretary of State Colin Powell brought budgets back to functional levels, and increased State Foreign Service hiring dramatically. More entry-level consular slots began to be filled by officers again. However, because the workload has grown substantially in recent years, the new influx of FS employees does not seem to have had a significant negative impact so far on the number of EFM jobs available. But foreign affairs agencies in 2005 are again facing tight budgets, and other types of EFM jobs at posts under severe budget strain may be affected. "FMA jobs are often the first cut when the budget is tight," says EFM Patrick Fogarty from Nogales, Mexico.
Now more than ever, EFMs represent a highly skilled, though extremely diverse, work force, seeking salaries matching their abilities. Overseas, these hopes are rarely met. Most family members surveyed noted that embassy jobs usually pay better than those in the local economy. Yet many expressed annoyance that mission salaries are lower than those of their Foreign Service colleagues in the embassy. As a general rule, an EFM who wants an FS-level salary for an embassy job would be best advised to try to join the Foreign Service.
Although family members tend to view embassy jobs as more lucrative than outside jobs, salaries for jobs with international organizations such as the United Nations, international and U.S.-based NGOs and U.S. or multinational companies tend not to be based on the local economic norms. Thus, many of these jobs pay much better than embassy positions.
When hired under the FMA, EFMs are eligible to receive salaries based on the "highest previous rate" calculation. Yet there are two major "ifs" at play: if the post budget allows, and if the position is not classified for a maximum salary below the HPR level. According to the survey respondents, the HPR is in fact often used for FMA hiring, but not always. Post budgets are a limiting factor, and may not allow for payment of a particular EFM’s rate. Even the HPR is often seen by EFMs as too low, because it only takes into account previous U.S. government employment, not all prior experience and salary history.
Many spouses expressed frustration at not receiving the salary level they felt they deserved. A typical comment, from an EFM in a Middle Eastern post, was that when she was hired for an embassy position the "human resources officer single-handedly decided that my previous work experience did not matter and that I would start at the lowest grade for which the position was announced."
EFM salaries can also be affected by the relatively new CAJE system, the Computer Aided Job Evaluation, which is being used to reclassify FSN positions around the world. EFM Joyce Otero, in Prague , explains that she was hired for an embassy job in the security office with a salary based on her highest previous rate. "But after one year, this all changed when the position was CAJE-ed at a lower grade." Her salary will be reduced because her pay level was higher than the highest rate available under the newly classified position.
Post budgets can be affected by the needs of other posts. An EFM at a Latin American post pointed out that the Iraq War has affected employment: "Cost-cutting measures are under way here, supposedly due to the cost of Iraq . . I’ve been told that upper managers try to save money to ‘look good,’ letting support staff be overworked even when there are back-up workers available to help them, at a much lower rate."
The Family Liaison Office has argued that EFM positions should be centrally funded. However, because most positions fall under ICASS (the International Cooperative Administrative Support Services, which mandates the sharing of administrative costs among agencies), this idea has not gone anywhere. However, State Department local-hire positions not covered by ICASS-generally those outside the management section-could be centrally funded, and the FLO believes this could help standardize the salaries and practices for FMA hiring.
Many family members complain that in competition for embassy jobs with locals, they usually lose. This is the case despite the statutory preference for AEFMs in hiring for embassy jobs. There seem to be plenty of ways around hiring an EFM, if the post prefers a Foreign Service National. Often it comes down to money, because in most of the world, it’s cheaper to hire a local than an EFM.
In many cases, however, there are other reasons for a post to prefer to hire a local over an EFM: Foreign Service assignment cycles dictate that EFMs will not stay on the job nearly as long as most FSNs; FSNs are usually native speakers of the host-country language; FSNs tend to know the local environment best and have vital contacts and access to the local community and/or government officials that an EFM usually would not have.
The issue of which positions should remain Foreign Service National slots and which should be filled by family members is a contentious one. The department is working to open more FSN positions to family members to increase EFM employment opportunities.
According to current department policy, all non-sensitive positions should be open to qualified EFM applicants. A pilot program being tested by the Western Hemisphere Bureau aims to bring more EFMs into FSN positions.
Many family members note that post management often uses language requirements to ensure that FSN positions are filled by local applicants rather than American EFMs.
In most regions of the world outside of Europe, FSNs earn substantially lower salaries than Americans, because FSN salaries are based on (the high end of) local-salary norms. When an EFM is hired into a position previously encumbered by an FSN, the cost to the post, in most parts of the world, is higher because the EFM is paid on the American compensation plan. So, while the salary may be low compared to FS colleagues in the embassy, it is high compared to most FSN salaries.
Because locally-hired staff get paid out of post funds, there is an obvious preference for hiring at the more affordable local rate. The opposite is true in Europe , where the local compensation plan, and the euro and British-pound exchange rate, translate into higher costs than in most of the rest of the world. One EFM in London noted that "the hourly pay levels for most EFM positions in London were more than 20 percent less than for the FSNs in the same positions, and less than what is paid to a good cleaner."
The hiring process varies from post to post. Some posts hire EFMs sight unseen, some without an interview. Others do not. The attitudes held by management at individual posts seem to play a strong role in determining how the selection process for EFM jobs works. A Post Employment Committee can help manage the process. But not all posts have a PEC, even though they are all, according to Foreign Affairs Manual regulations, supposed to have one. Each post is also supposed to have a written "post employment policy" as well, but many do not.
Many embassy jobs require a security clearance, and the acquisition of a clearance can take a long time and delay hiring by months. In late 2003, the Diplomatic Security Bureau implemented an interim clearance process, which allows posts to give temporary clearance to a spouse based on the Foreign Service employee’s clearance. Posts must request the interim clearance from DS, and if all goes well, DS can grant an interim clearance within a few weeks that allows the EFM to begin work while the full clearance process continues.
The FMA hiring mechanism has helped many posts speed up the hiring process for EFMs, though more than a few family members responding to our survey had complaints about delays. One of the key benefits of the FMA hiring mechanism is that it allows the EFM to carry a security clearance from post to post, thus avoiding the time-consuming and costly process of redoing a security check. A security clearance granted for an FMA position can be revalidated for up to two years after the employee leaves the job. Before the FMA mechanism, a new clearance was required by each new post. A number of EFMs told us that they have successfully reactivated a security clearance at a new post, and were able to save time in the hiring process for a new job. Marlene Nice-an EFM who joined the Foreign Service in May-says she went into intermittent-no-work-scheduled status when recently transferring from Montevideo to Zagreb , and "it took just a matter of days to renew my top secret clearance." Others told of having trouble reinstating a clearance at a new post. The success seems to depend largely on whether the management section at post tries to make it work.
Many family members receive training outside the mission for embassy jobs. Some, especially consular associates, receive training at FSI before going to post. FLO’s Katie Hokenson explains that training for family members prior to arrival at post (usually in connection with consular associate positions) is on a space-available basis. It has been somewhat more difficult for EFMs to get into consular courses during the past several years due to the increased hiring of Foreign Service employees under the Diplomatic Readiness Initiative.
EFMs who work as community liaison office coordinators usually receive training away from post. Others who often receive training out of country are APO postal employees, consular associates, voucher examiners, and those in other management positions in human resources and finance. Several EFMs working in Web-site management positions reported being extremely pleased with training opportunities.
There are good positions for EFM nurses at many posts. Several nurses responded to the survey, none of whom had received training for the job. Obviously, to be hired as an RN, you have to already be a trained nurse. However, the Foreign Service nurse does have unique responsibilities based on country-specific healthcare availability. EFM nurse Alison Rowles recalls landing in Niamey without much information about her job: "I was handed a radio upon landing and told I had a deathly ill patient to deal with at the local hospital. I didn’t even know where my home was let alone the hospital! It didn’t stop from there." Of respondents who had worked for USAID, some received outside training, and others did not. Training for USAID positions varies widely from post to post and job to job.
Many family members in embassy jobs complain that they feel underutilized, unappreciated and underpaid. "All the talk in the State Department about the importance of spousal employment does not amount to a hill of beans for anyone that has more than a high-school education," says a male EFM at an African post. "I have been told and have read a million times that if I’m flexible enough and try hard enough that I will be able to have a rewarding career as the spouse of a Foreign Service officer, and it is really just not true. I have tried every category possible, and most positions have either required I get paid a ridiculously low salary or that I work at a level well below my experience. .EFM positions are usually low-level, administrative positions. Most spouses these days show up with university and graduate degrees and salary histories that just do not make [the] available EFM employment opportunities appropriate or interesting."
EFM Adrianne Treiber in Warsaw says that embassy management should "recognize that we have a lot of skills. pay us as you would anyone else. .Do not take advantage of our desire to work, but give us real jobs, a professional attitude and a realistic remuneration." A first-tour EFM in an African post noted that "EFMs are not empowered to make decisions even though they may have much more experience and knowledge than their inexperienced first-tour junior-officer supervisor. There’s a very intelligent, experienced employee pool here that is underutilized." And finally, one frustrated EFM says: "I will never apply to work as an EFM on a Family Member Appointment again. I was not treated as a person who could advance professionally but rather as a spouse who had been given the gift of a job that I should be happy to have, like social welfare."
Many EFMs express frustration at the identity they have inside the embassy community. The term "dependent" still has a negative connotation, one that seems to strip away any prior professional experience. Bernard Huon-Dumentat, an EFM in Lisbon who writes about issues of family member employment, had this to say: "The department still views FMA jobs as opportunities that the U.S. government has created to keep spouses happy. Therefore the attitude is that EFMs should be satisfied with whatever pittance they receive in salary and whatever pitiful regard they receive for their real input to the organization. There is no long-term vision." Another family member who has been watching the issue for years, Terri Lawler Smith, notes: "I have to tell you that over the last 20 years a lot of lip service has been given to all the positive changes that the State Department has made in EFM employment, but in reality, very few concrete changes have taken place since the old PIT days."
A view from an East European post was more optimistic: "I think working conditions and appreciation for EFMs have improved. An EFM working in an FMA position is not seen as being ‘just the dependent’ anymore but as a ‘real employee.’" And from a first-tour EFM at a hardship post: "I have been very impressed with the importance that post management has put on family member employment. I am at a hardship post, and since I have been here I believe that almost every spouse that wanted to work in the mission has a job here." A family member new to the Foreign Service, who runs her embassy’s Web site, says: "I have been overseas for seven months now, and have seen many opportunities for family members. I post all the jobs on the Web site so I have seen all of them. I believe HR works with all family members to find positions suitable and enjoyable for them."
So much depends on the management team at post. The key players determining the employment situation at a post are the ambassador and deputy chief of mission, the management officer and the community liaison office coordinator. The players and the dynamics are different at every post as American personnel cycle through from year to year and as the needs of each post change. Therefore, opportunities for family members can vary widely from post to post, and from year to year at any given post.
The FMA hiring mechanism is only open to AEFMs who are not receiving a U.S. government annuity, so there are many family members who do not qualify. This is a point of stress for those family members outside the AEFM box, including Members of Household, other unmarried partners and non-U.S.-citizen spouses of Foreign Service employees.
"The program of employment for family members fails to address the needs of the significant portion of spouses who are not U.S. citizens," says USAID Health Officer John Dunlop. "These people find themselves plunked down in a foreign country without even real cultural ties to the American community, much less the local community. They cannot work in the embassy, which can lead to a very isolating situation of forced unemployment. This is very hard on the family as well as the spouse."
There are nepotism considerations that preclude other categories of family members from gaining access to embassy jobs, including family members who would serve under the chain of command of their spouse if they served in an embassy job. As the Foreign Service employee rises in rank, the options for the spouse become more limited due to the wider authority under the employee.
There are also conflict-of-interest concerns that can limit employment options. The Foreign Affairs Manual requires that spouses ask permission to accept a job in the local economy. A family member is not supposed to work in a position involving duties that could overlap or conflict with those of the Foreign Service employee spouse. This can limit work options both inside and outside the mission. The American Foreign Service Association heard from a family member in April who had to decline a lucrative private sector job offer because the work might have involved issues her spouse was working on inside the embassy. Management saw potential for a conflict of interest. The implementation of the rules on this vary from post to post.
In a March message to all chiefs of mission, entitled "Supporting Our People," Director General W. Robert Pearson laid out eight specific suggestions for helping validate the commitment to "improve the quality of employment life for our family members throughout the world." Half of the suggestions focused on mission employment, and requested that chiefs of mission: endorse the USAID/State pilot project to place qualified family members of USAID and State employees into professional positions; endorse the current department policy of family member preference in recruiting locally engaged staff; keep an eye on consular associate positions as CAs lose their visa-adjudication authority in September 2005; and ensure that every family member employee who works at post receives a performance evaluation.
The FMA hiring mechanism is providing spouses employment benefits never before available to them in mission jobs. Since its 1998 inception, with support from the director general, it has become the hiring mechanism of choice for many EFMs and managers.
A pilot program under State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs is aiming to increase opportunities for EFMs by implementing hiring preferences for "locally employed staff" positions. Announced in December 2004, the pilot project is a collaboration between the Family Member Employment Working Group and the executive office of WHA. (Note: The FMEWG is comprised of representatives from the FLO, the Office of Overseas Employment, Employee Relations Office and the Office of Policy Coordination, all under the director general’s office.) Under the pilot, as of Jan. 1, 2005, WHA posts have been obliged to use a recruiting policy giving hiring preference to AEFMs and U.S. veterans for positions that have traditionally been seen as Foreign Service National positions. The WHA pilot program could help increase job opportunities for EFMs in Western Hemisphere posts. Vens McCoy in the Overseas Employment Office tells us that feedback on the pilot has been positive and that they have plans to expand the program to the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau in January 2006.
Another new initiative, based on a cooperative agreement between State and USAID, looks promising. Last fall, USAID and State sent out a joint message (04 State 199609) stating that "USAID joins the Department of State in reaffirming its strong support for employment opportunities for the family members of U.S. government employees assigned to posts abroad. Employment opportunities should be available to qualified EFMs. .Family member employment has been an established feature of life at Foreign Service posts for decades, and providing such employment opportunities for them throughout the course of their time abroad has become increasingly important to all the foreign affairs agencies.
"In support of family member employment overseas, USAID is implementing a policy to make a significant number of additional positions available for EFMs, to be filled through USAID selection at post to include review by the Post Employment Committee. . USAID directors are expected to make locally established positions available to EFMs. . Directors of missions with up to five U.S. direct-hire positions must, at a minimum, identify one local position for primary staffing by an EFM." The message gives special emphasis to identifying "professional-level positions."
USAID has often been the source of professional-type jobs for family members, who have in the past been hired primarily under PSC authority. The new initiative calls for USAID to hire under State’s FMA when the employee desires. Several EFMs who commented on FMA hiring noted concern that if USAID positions are put under the FMA umbrella, the positions might be downgraded. One noted that the conversion to FMA for the higher-salaried USAID jobs might actually bring down the salaries to more typical FMA levels.
A brief mention of employment options outside missions must be made, for it is in this realm that a number of exciting programs are under way. The Global Employment Strategy has recently been launched by State. GES, according to the FLO, which runs the program, "seeks to increase spousal employment opportunities by establishing a global network of potential employers from multinational organizations and NGOs."
Another new program, E-Entrepreneurs, has come online to train family members to run their own portable businesses. The first pilot training was offered in May. The Strategic Networking Assistance Program, known as SNAP, has moved out of the pilot phase, and is being covered by ICASS funding. SNAP aims to help connect family members with opportunities for local employment outside the mission, and to help with career development and planning, résumé writing and honing interview skills. New posts will be added to the SNAP program as a regional expansion of the program is implemented in Central America and Africa.
Family member employment has long been an issue fairly low on the list of management priorities, when it’s been on the list at all. State management now seems to recognize that family member employment opportunities are a key element in efforts to recruit and retain the best employees. Embassy jobs will never be able to satisfy all the employment interests of family members. These jobs are just one piece of an expanding network of options.
Still, members of the Foreign Service community must understand that the foreign affairs agencies will probably never be able to ensure that call family members who want good jobs can get them at every post. "Heretical as it may sound and as much as I wish it were not so," longtime family-member advocate Mette Beecroft says, "there are couples whose joint career aspirations simply will not flourish in the Foreign Service. Especially in cases where an employee has had longtime aspirations to join the Foreign Service, it can be difficult to admit that the Foreign Service might just not be right for them."
To be blunt, the most exciting innovations and opportunities emerging for family members are from the world outside the embassy. The Internet-which vastly expands the options for continuity of contact with all types of employers and clients-will probably prove to be the single most valuable asset to a Foreign Service family member seeking some semblance of a career. Realistically, family members should not expect to have a traditional professional career path working in mission jobs. But they should be able to expect goodfaith assistance from post management in their efforts to find the best employment possible.
One element of the five-point strategy put forward by Director General Pearson in 2004 is improved options for family-member employment. The five-point strategy-"nurture our own talents" (under which the concept of support for family members falls), provide better training, cooperate more directly with national and international players, respond more quickly with more expertise and build that expertise for the future-defines personnel goals for the State Department.
The director general has gone on record asking chiefs of mission at all posts to make family member employment a priority, and he has laid out specific ways that they can do this. Obviously, this will only succeed if post management around the world takes it on as a priority. We have seen that management can talk the talk. Let’s see if management will give it teeth and require posts to walk the walk.
Shawn Dorman, a former Foreign Service political officer, is associate editor of the Foreign Service Journal and editor of the AFSA book Inside a U.S. Embassy.
AEFM : Appointment Eligible Family Member, U.S.-citizen spouse or child over 18 on travel orders of U.S.-citizen Foreign or Civil Service employee or military service member assigned to a U.S. mission
CAJE : Computer Aided Job Evaluation, created to reclassify FSN positions
CLO : Community Liaison Office, supports family members at posts
CS : Civil Service employee
EFM : Eligible Family Member, a dependent of a USG employee on travel orders
EOE : Executive Order Eligibility, a 3-year window for a qualifying AEFM to apply for U.S. government positions in the U.S. under category of "status candidates" or "non-competitive eligibles"
FAMER : Family Member Employment Report, produced by FLO
FLO : Family Liaison Office, State Department office supporting family members
FMEWG : Family Member Employment Working Group
FMA : Family Member Appointment, a hiring mechanism
FSN : Foreign Service National
GES : Global Employment Strategy, a new family member employment program
HPR : Highest previous rate
ICASS : International Cooperative Administrative Support Services, the program requiring cost-sharing among agencies at overseas missions
INWS : Intermittent-no-work-scheduled status, for those leaving FMA positions
LES : Locally Engaged Staff, another term for Foreign Service National
MOH : Member of Household, an FS employee dependent without EFM status (yet)
PA : Professional Associate, an AEFM who is selected to fill a Foreign Service position overseas
PEC : Post Employment Committee
PIT : Part-Time Intermittent Temporary appointment, a term no longer used by State; now called a TEMP or temporary appointment
PSA : Personal Services Agreement, a State Department hiring mechanism used by many agencies
PSC : Personal Services Contract, a hiring mechanism used by USAID
RH : Resident Hire
SNAP : Strategic Networking Assistance Program
TEMP : Temporary Appointment (formerly PIT)