Tuesday, November 25, 2008

More on the Overseas Pay Gap

I have to say, I really like blogs that make me snicker, and The Skeptical Bureaucrat and Consul-At-Arms are often good for that. So I thought I would share some of their take on the Overseas Pay Gap and Sen. Coburn's mistaken views on the issue.

TSB wrote Sunday about posts "Where The Pants Are Not Striped, and Cookies Are Not Pushed", one of which he recently visited for a very brief TDY. He gives you a hint or five about where that was:
a volatile country...one of our most hazardous diplomatic posts. If you've been following the news, you can probably guess which diplomatic post that was from the following clues. All these incidents occurred there in the last week: a USAID contractor was ambushed and killed, an Iranian diplomat was abducted when departing his home for the office, two foreign journalists were shot, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the gates of a sports stadium, and, in a region outside the city, a missile strike of unattributed origin killed five al Qaeda figures, one of whom was reportedly a suspect in a 2006 plot to bomb ten airliners heading to the U.S. from Britain. In addition to all that, a few months ago the principal U.S. diplomat there was ambushed while en route to the office but escaped unharmed. A few weeks after that incident, the principal officer of another, non-U.S., diplomatic mission was successfully abducted in a similar attack.

Why was my pencil-pushing self in such a crazy place so far from my cubicle? Because Danger is my middle name, that's why. (Actually, Risk Analysis is my middle name, but there is no way to make that sound dashing; in fact, it should be the opposite of dashing).

More to the point, why are any of my fellow citizens there?

CAA points out that TSB's fellow citizens are there "doing the jobs that our fellow Americans send us overseas to do, per the wishes and stated desires of our elected representatives and chief executive>"

Senator Coburn's communications director John Hart, in opposing the Overseas Compatability Pay Act (which would mean that folks serving overseas would not lose the DC locality portion of their pay...Senior Foreign Service and other agencies serving overseas already get to keep their locality pay, so it is only lower- and mid-level State folks who lose it), commented, as I noted in an earlier post, that "Congress should be focused on improving conditions of workers who have lost their jobs or may lose their jobs and not on handing out huge raises to foreign service officers who already receive very generous benefits overseas." But as TSB suspects that Hart and Coburn get their image of Foreign Service life from tv and the movies, and CAA adds that we, as Foreign Service Officers, have not helped the matter. CAA writes: "Sen. Coburn's out-of-touch communications director might not be basing his under-factual statement solely on the basis of late-night movie fare. He may have actually traveled abroad on a STAFDEL or CODEL ("congressional staff delegation" or "congressional delegation," respectively). In which case some of the fault for his unrealistic impression of Foreign Service life may actual be our own fault.

When congressmen or their staff members travel overseas, describing that experience as being "inside a bubble" does not do it justice. They are met, escorted, control-officered, protected, briefed, introduced, coddled, dined-out, and expense-accounted to a fair-thee-well all the way to "wheels-up." And all by FSOs. We so want to make a good impression on our congressional visitors, after all our Department is the one without much of a natural "consituency" back home, but we do ourselves something of a disservice when we make it look too easy to our visiting fireman."

TSB says that he "like to see someone correct the American public's perception of embassy life. Some sort of Foreign Service Truth Squad that could fill in the picture of what life is like in all those places where our diplomats work out of ratty hovels rather than palatial surroundings. He rightly refers to some of the places we serve as "hell holes." Yes, we usually get housed in some of the best housing available at post, but if the best housing is a hovel (or in Iraq, a shipping container), guess what you get housed in. I had a marine tell me of his serve at one Embassy where he literally fell through the floor of the decrepit building. Guess what post housing there looks like? My housing at my last post was decent (though I did regularly get trapped in my elevator, once for more than 30 minutes while it repeatedly went up and down from the basement to the seventh floor), but our consulate (which we had rented more than 50 years ago) was a health and security hazard. And my partner returned from her last post with pollution-induced asthma.

Most of the places we serve are far from the western European posts where Senators like to visit. TSB notes: "Having seen the U.S. embassy offices and houses in Bangui, [Central African Republic] and experienced the difficulties and uncertainties of simply getting there and back, I can assure my fellow Americans that Senator Coburn's lowliest intern wouldn't want to trade life styles with the most senior diplomat there, even with the housing allowance. Much less would he want to trade places with the diplomats in the hot-spot that I was happy to drive away from at high speed last week."


Or as CAA says:
"As for the lowly interns.... I've met just one or two of those over the years who seem to still be nursing a grudge that they didn't pass the FS exam.

I'm just saying....."

Me too.

1 comment:

Consul-At-Arms said...


Nice "mash-up" of our two posts.

I do have to say that, when it comes to the congressional staff who do constituent services (who the ones most likely to contact a consular officer abroad in connection with something of interest to one of that congressman's constituents) are generally first-rate. They are interested in, within the law, providing assistance and customer service to (usually) American citizens, the same people who are a consular officer's first priority as well.

Sometimes some congressmen stretch their idea of who's a constituent well past citizens and legal residents to include even illegal aliens residing in their districts, but from a Constitutional standpoint I can kind of see their point.

If only more of the staff people advising their congressmen about the Foreign Service were those constituent service people whom we assist on a regular basis, rather than some politically-frustrated wannabe.