In May of 2021 the AAFSW Forum Committee sent out a survey to members of the foreign affairs community designed to determine what is important to members of the community we serve. The survey invited all active and retired members of the community plus adult family members and members of household from all agencies including military under Chief of Mission authority to respond. During the two weeks the survey was active, 402 completed responses were received. Over the summer Lara Center, President of AAFSW and Ann La Porta, Chair of the Forum Committee, read over 100 pages of written comments and distilled them into areas that AAFSW could work on and areas to be discussed with GCLO (formerly FLO) and AFSA (American Foreign Service Association).
Employment remains the largest area of discontent, especially with EFMs (Eligible Family Members). Responders mentioned the lack of opportunities to telework in particular DETO, which is carrying your State job overseas and working remotely. Also the bureaucratic hoops one must jump through to be eligible for EPAP and FSFRC, the time it takes to get security clearances and the lack of parity with military EFMs were also mentioned. Lack of training was a problem as were lack of resources for self- employment and the inability for MOHs to work. AAFSW has an Employment Committee which is actively engaged with these problems. They were especially effective during the hiring freeze enacted by Secretary of State Tillerson.
Recently the Office of Overseas Schools (OOS) has evidently changed the regulations to disallow many reimbursements for homeschooling expenses. This came at an especially difficult time when the pandemic caused many families to homeschool their children. AAFSW would like someone to volunteer to form a committee to explore this with OOS and to determine what could be done to remediate this.
People were unhappy that much of their home leave time was devoted to routine medical appointments. A suggestion was made that at posts without adequate medical facilities there should be an allowance for a yearly visit to medevac locations for routine preventative care. Another medical problem mentioned was the secrecy about posts affected by the Havana Syndrome. This made bidding difficult. AAFSW will follow this up with AFSA and MED but is there a volunteer especially interested in these issues and willing to help?
Even though there have been significant improvements to SNEA (Special Needs Education Allowance) families with children with special needs are burdened by the hoops they have to jump through to find adequate resources, to get reimbursements for these resources and to get appropriate assignments. AAFSW worked with the FS Families with Disabilities Alliance and other groups such as AFSA and the Foreign Service Youth Foundation to bring about improvements to SNEA which is an ongoing project.
Families left at home during Unaccompanied Tours (UT) felt they were not being adequately supported. For those families in the DMV area AAFSW could begin once again to start Neighborhood Support Groups. There is a Facebook group for these families. Are there any volunteers who would want to explore this? This would also be helpful for those new to the FS and those returning to the area.
Singles were the most unhappy group of responders with complaints about housing, allowances, leave time and Embassy activities related solely to families. GCLO recently sent out a Cable advising posts to especially include single employees in activities after work hours, to provide adequate housing and Welcome Kits for them and to ensure that they received time off, especially during the holidays as well as other amenities. As well as this “Be Nice” cable a new Affinity Group has been formed, “Singles at State”. AAFSW could liaison with them and also with the Work Life For You organization to explore where we might interact. Any volunteers?
Bidding and tandem assignments were also frequently mentioned as problems. AAFSW will discuss this with AFSA.
AAFSW is pleased with the participation and the outcome of its survey. We feel it will give us a strategic plan to move forward, working as always with GCLO and AFSA and our volunteers.
To volunteer please contact Ann La Porta via our office: firstname.lastname@example.org.