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AAFSW Names Judy Ikels as This year’s Champion of Career Enhancement for Eligible Family Members

“EFM employment is more than a ‘benefit’ for family members”:
Judy Ikels Named AAFSW’s 2017 Champions of Career Enhancement
for Eligible Family Members Award Winner


For her outstanding contributions, service, and dedication to Foreign Service family member employment, AAFSW has chosen Judy Ikels as this year’s Champion of Career Enhancement for Eligible Family Members.

Over the course of her 27 years as a Department employee, Judy Ikels’ commitment to support family member employment has significantly impacted the evolution of employment opportunities and career development for Foreign Service family members. She has served as a Community Liaison Office Coordinator, a trainer at the Overseas Briefing Center, the Deputy Director of the Family Liaison Office (FLO), as well as the FLO Employment Coordinator, Chief of Employee Programs and Chief of the Work Life Division in HR’s Office of Employee Relations.

The scope of her accomplishments show that she has gone above and beyond her job descriptions and routine daily activities to promote the cause of employment and career development for Foreign Service family members. At a time when local employment options were limited, she proactively negotiated numerous bilateral work agreements to increase overseas employment opportunities, took the initiative to draft policy to create the Family Member Appointment (FMA) and worked to secure funding for the initial conversions from Part-time, Intermittent, and Temporary (PIT) appointments to FMAs. She was instrumental in drafting legislation for the “PIT Buy Back.” When there was an idea to create a program to help family members find jobs on local economies overseas, she and the Director of FLO took action to make the program a reality. Judy put her talents and energy behind obtaining funding for the program now known as the Global Employment Initiative.

She also saw the need for Separate Maintenance Allowance regulations to better align with contemporary reality. In Employee Relations, she drafted regulations to differentiate Separate Maintenance Allowance into Involuntary and Voluntary, making it clear that employees with spouses wishing to remain in the U.S. to study or work could continue to receive an allowance for the separate household. As Chief of the Work Life Division, Judy drafted policy in response to the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act and supervised the development of the Domestic Employee Teleworking Overseas program—so that authorized and qualified family members could telework a domestic position while accompanying a Foreign Service spouse on assignment abroad. The positive and lasting impact of her contributions has enhanced employment opportunities for all Foreign Service family members.

AAFSW asked Judy to share her expertise on family member employment, including where we have been and how far we have come, as well as advice to family members at the beginning of their Foreign Service experience:

Q. You have a long history of supporting family member employment. What are some of the positive changes that you have seen take place over the years? How far have we come?

My husband joined USIA in 1966, just days after our marriage in Texas. We raised a puppy, had two children and served in El Salvador, Colombia, Venezuela, and back to D.C., all in the first five years. It was a fast-moving train, all before 1972 when spouses were evaluated on their husband’s Performance Evaluation. Employment overseas was not an option.

With the founding of the Family Liaison Office (FLO) in 1978, spousal employment found its voice. There were many motivators: the need for a second income, staffing shortages overseas, and finally, recognition that without a robust Eligible Family Member (EFM) employment program, the Foreign Service stood to lose too many officers.
With the advent of the Family Member Appointment in 1998, employed spouses could earn benefits, including retirement in their own right, a move that professionalized the corps. EFMs could realize more than a disconnected set of jobs, but start working toward a career. It was my honor to work on the team that included FLO, the Office of Overseas Employment, and of course our legal advisors to create the Family Member Appointment (FMA). It was an exciting project to be a part of.

Overseas Mission employment, of course, is not suited for every spouse. Many have education and interests outside of working in government. To aid in working on the local economy, the number of bilateral work agreements has increased, and in the early 2000’s the Global Employment Initiative (GEI) was created to provide local job counselors overseas.
In 2016, the Office of Employee Relations developed a policy using telework to create Domestic Employees Teleworking Overseas, another workplace flexibility that can benefit working family members.
There have been two main shifts in thinking and policy:
For the Department, EFM employment is more than a “benefit” for family members; it provides an accomplished workforce to meet mission goals overseas.

For the EFM, employment is more than earning a salary. It is developing a career history to maintain employability through multiple transitions.

Q. Is there anything you wish you had known about family member employment when you were first starting out as a Foreign Service spouse?

When new people join government, I often tell them, “Remember, in your private life, you can do (almost) anything you want to do, as long as it is not against the law. But in government, you can ONLY do that which is permitted by law and our regulations.” How many times have been asked to, “show me where it says I can’t do this.” And I say, “You are asking the wrong question. Show me where it says you CAN.”

Employees and family members have to get used to working within this regulated framework. But then, sometimes you get to work in a policy office where you can help change the rules.

That was the opportunity I have had and so enjoyed, working in FLO and then in the Office of Employee Relations where policy is made. I joined a long line of advocates and policy makers intent on improving conditions for family member employment.

Q. What is your best advice to new Foreign Service family members who are at the beginning of their Foreign Service experience and seeking employment?

Take advantage of training at FSI, including language and cultural training. If you are interested in mission employment, learn everything you can by talking with people, visiting FLO, and reading about programs.
During periods when you are not working, practice what I call “volunteer career development.” That is, find an organization or cause you can support and treat the volunteer work like a paid job. Show leadership; it is often easier to demonstrate leadership in volunteer work than in entry-level paid positions. And when you leave, ask for letters of reference describing your work. There should be no distinction on a resume between paid and volunteer work.
Be patient. You will have many opportunities to contribute to your family and community while building a career serving the people of the United States.

Melissa Hess
AAFSW 1st Vice President