Wednesday, February 25, 2009
In failing economy, Foreign Service test attracts record numbers
By Scott Olster
Forget about a career in investment banking. Hedge funds, schmedge funds. For many these days, diplomacy is where it’s at.
Late last month, the State Department announced that the February administration of its Foreign Service officer test had reached the agency’s “worldwide scheduling limit,” reflecting a surge in applicants from previous years.
Inspired in part by a new president who promises to strengthen alliances abroad at a time when companies are cutting their rosters, thousands are looking to the Foreign Service as a future career path.
“The numbers are definitely up for this go-around,” said Robert Dry, a diplomat- in-residence at City College of New York.
More than 5,000 people have registered for the February exam, according to Brenda Greenberg, a State Department spokeswoman. By comparison, just over 3,000 applicants took the March 2008 exam, the highest registration that year.
The exam is the first step in a highly competitive selection process used to recruit a significant portion of the State Department’s career diplomats. Close to 9,000 people took the exam in 2008, according to Greenberg. The average exam pass rate is a mere 20 percent.
The exam is widely known for its difficulty, with subjects ranging from world history, economics, math and U.S. government. It is not uncommon for applicants to take the test several times before passing. The few who pass are invited to Washington for an oral interview. From that elite pool, only a few hundred are hired every year.
“We look for people who have quality skills, the motivation to represent the United States abroad, and to improve the world,” Dry said.
This year, the State Department aims to hire approximately 450 Foreign Service officers, which does not include Civil Service officers and Foreign Service specialists who are also hired to work at the State Department. Starting salaries for Foreign Service officers range between $42,576 and $58,775, and are based on an officer's educational background and work experience, according to the State Department's website.
While the application process is as competitive as ever, it is now easier to apply. Previously, applicants were required to submit essays before taking the exam. The State Department has since revamped the application process and now applicants need to submit essays only if they have passed the exam.
The election of Barack Obama, whose presidential campaign highlighted the importance of diplomacy as a foreign policy tool, has played no small role in the increased interest in the Foreign Service, according to diplomatic hopefuls, foreign policy experts and members of the State Department.
“People are getting more excited about foreign policy,” said Erica Tun, a 24-year old public relations specialist from Fort Wayne, Ind., who is registered to take the exam in February. “There is a president who is interested in making the nation more global.”
Tun, who has applied for a position in the public diplomacy track, which focuses on defining America’s image abroad, first considered the Foreign Service just a few months ago when she found an online job posting as the presidential election reached a fever pitch. “It piqued my curiosity,” she said. “I always had the interest, but didn’t have a way to focus my energy.”
In addition to public diplomacy, applicants can apply to work in consular affairs, economic affairs, management affairs and political affairs, according to the State Department’s Web site. New Foreign Service officers spend their first two to three years working at a consulate abroad.
For Tun, who has not traveled beyond the Virgin Islands and Canada, the Foreign Service represents an opportunity to explore the world beyond her hometown. “There was always a part of me that wanted to be part of a bigger world,” she said.
For Jonathan Posner, a 37-year-old management consultant from Laguna Beach, Calif., applying to the Foreign Service is an opportunity to return to the adventures of working abroad. He has previously worked as a consultant in Venezuela, Germany and China and wants to work in management affairs.
Posner had considered applying to the Peace Corps several years ago, but he got married and raised three children in the United States instead.
Foreign Service officers must spend their careers posted in several locations around the world, including some designated as “hardship” posts in areas with high crime rates, limited access to modern health care or high levels of pollution.
“It’s the same as being a military officer; you have to be ready to be posted anywhere, and you can be put in harm’s way,” said Daniel Hamilton, director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations and a professor at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Hamilton was deputy assistant secretary for European Affairs at the State Department during the Clinton administration.
Despite the challenges, career diplomats like Robert Dry manage to pursue this demanding profession while maintaining a family life. “I was in Riyadh, Vietnam, Oman and Paris, all the while raising a family, and I would never give it up,” Dry said of the last 12 years he spent overseas.
While some, like Posner, head to the Foreign Service later in their careers, others, like Nicole Sunderlin, 21, hope to launch their careers at the State Department. Sunderlin, who is studying political science at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Mich., applied for an internship with the State Department on a whim and was accepted.
Sunderlin spent three months as a consular intern at the U.S. Embassy in London, where she spent most of her time helping U.S. citizens who were overseas register to submit absentee votes for the 2008 elections.
After her time in London, she was set on applying to become a Foreign Service officer in the consular affairs track. “I came home and immediately registered for the test,” Sunderlin said.
Although applicants say that living abroad and exploring different cultures are among their primary motivations to apply, the Foreign Service is not all romance. More than half of all Foreign Service officers are serving in a “hardship” post, according to a congressional report published in September 2008.
From securing a stable Iraqi government, to achieving stability in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Congo, to nuclear nonproliferation negotiations with Iran and North Korea, the next generation of Foreign Service officers will face enormous challenges.
“These are the kinds of things that require a robust Foreign Service, and there is a sense on Capitol Hill that we need to reform and enhance the diplomatic arm of the government,” Dry said.
The new administration's focus on diplomacy and the appointment of Hillary Clinton to Secretary of State have given hope to Foreign Service officers, applicants, and experts that it will usher in a renaissance for the State Department.
“The U.S. is presenting a new face to the world; Obama and Clinton have emphasized principles (of) pragmatism,” said Alan Henrikson, director of diplomatic studies and a professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, contrasting the new administration’s pledged diplomatic program to what he called “more doctrinaire approaches.”
The State Department has submitted a 2009 budget of more than $11 billion, an increase of more than $700 million from the department’s 2008 estimated budget, and it includes funding for the creation of several hundred additional diplomatic jobs.
Although Dry maintained that a strong U.S. military is paramount, he noted the cost of war as a point of comparison. "Diplomacy," he said, "is cost effective."
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Today I read that I had missed a cable that went out to all diplomatic and consular channels entitled, "Social Media and the Conduct of Diplomacy." The cable starts off by defending the Department's web 2.0 efforts, and then reminds personnel that, "Department personnel must publicly defend U.S. government policy, despite any personal reservations," and, "any posting to a wiki or blog that contains information 'of official concern' to the Department must be cleared through PA (for domestic employees) or Chief of Mission." I looked up a definition of "of official concern" and found "materials are on matters of official concern if they relate to any policy, program, or operation of the employee’s agency or to current U.S. foreign policies." In other words, anything about the Department or about US foreign affairs is off limits without clearance.
I didn't always blog anonymously. I started this blog on a different platform and for a different reason than why I blog now. I was overseas, in an area with on-going hostilities, and my family was worried about me. So rather than send out mass emails every day saying, yep, I am still okay, I started blogging. I found that I enjoyed doing it and my family liked being able to check up on me at any time.
Then I got warned on two separate occassions, once by both Diplomatic Security and once by our acting Deputy Chief of Mission. After the first warning (from my friend in DS), because I found some of their concerns understandable, I sanitized some of the entries. After the second warning, I made the blog private. But I found that unsatisfactory...the platform I used required each of my family members to get a logon to see it. So I changed to blogspot and went anonymous.
I don't talk about foreign policy issues. I knew when I signed onto the Foreign Service that my job was to defend our foreign policy whether I agreed with it or not. That is the price I pay to serve, the price I pay for the paycheck, and I can deal with that. But we were told from the beginning that domestic policy was fair game. So I figured blogging about life in the Foreign Service, and specifically about life for LGBT folks in the foreign service, is permissible. I don't kid myself...the definition in the post above places what I blog on firmly within the realm of "official concern." But of the hundred or so FS blogs I follow, I don't know a single one that gets clearance for their posts. And I know that if all of us did, there would be no way to post anything in a timely manner.
Plus, I know the Foreign Service is of a mixed mind on blogs. I agree with DS that you have to be cautious not to create security risks (which is why I sanitized what I did). But like the folks in Public Affairs, I consider a blog to be a great recruiting tool. And I think it is important to get the word out. I love serving my country. I want others to join me. But I want them to do it with open eyes. And too, I hope to be part of the nudge to the Department to address the inequities facing LGBT foreign service families.
So here I am.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Does Hillary Clinton Support Federal Benefits for Same-Sex Couples at State?
By Paul Bedard
Posted February 20, 2009
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, wrapping up a worldwide trademark listening tour, has apparently been lending an ear to Foreign Service officers, too. The American Foreign Service Association, which represents the officers and USAID workers, reveals in a newsletter that Clinton is open to many of their workplace complaints, including a demand to expand benefits to same-sex couples. "This issue has been presented to the new secretary of state, and she seems understanding and supportive towards increasing these benefits," says the influential group. The assessment was included in the group's latest member survey. In that poll, members were asked: "Should AFSA advocate for official recognition and benefits for same-sex domestic partners of Foreign Service members?" About 71 percent said yes, with only 17 percent opposed. The group also said that Clinton is keen on addressing another of its issues: the overseas pay gap, the nearly 20 percent drop in pay department employees incur when leaving high-priced U.S. cities like Washington to move overseas.
The survey also includes many comments and complaints from Foreign Service officers, including this tart note: "We had a feeling of caring under Colin Powell in regards to training priorities, family support, and quality of life. We no longer feel that under the current [Bush] administration, and I am not optimistic we'll get that with the new. The current atmosphere in the Foreign Service seems to me to be like DOD—where you're used, abused, then thrown out the door when they're done with you."
I believe 71% is the total from USAID who support benefits and recognition for same-sex partners. For the Foreign Service as a whole, I understand the number was 63%. Not as great, but still pretty good.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Foreign service employees overwhelmingly favor extending benefits to same-sex couples
Earlier this month during a town hall meeting with State Department employees, Secretary Hillary Clinton expressed “real concern” that same-sex partners in the foreign service aren’t offered the benefits that are provided to heterosexual couples. A new poll conducted by the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) found that a significant majority of the department’s employees agree. When asked if AFSA should “advocate for official recognition and benefits for same-sex domestic partners of Foreign Service members,” 71 percent said yes while only 17 percent opposed.
Friday, February 20, 2009
Thank you for your letter of February 2. As Secretary Clinton made clear in her remarks to employees on February 4, the policies relating to lesbian and gay State Depailment employees are of real concern to her. She views these policies as important not only for workplace fairness and employee retention, but important for their effect on the safety and effectiveness of our embassy communities worldwide.
At her instruction, the Department is reviewing current policies, especially those that are set forth in State Department regulations. Please feel free to contact us further on this or any other matter of concern to vou.
Michael C. Polt
Acting Assistant Secretary
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Clinton reiterates vow to review policies on gays
Some changes at State may require congressional action
By CHRIS JOHNSON, Washington Blade
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated her pledge to review inequities in her department’s treatment of gay employees, but for the first time, said some changes might require congressional approval.
Clinton made the remarks during a Feb. 4 employee meeting in response to a question posed by Ralan Hill, who identified himself as a Foreign Service officer who was poised to go to Paraguay with a same-sex partner. A transcript of the meeting was made publicly available.
Hill said the State Department “actively discriminates” against him by limiting “access to benefits routinely and customarily provided to other families.”
Clinton said in response that the issue was of “real concern” and that she viewed it as “an issue of workplace fairness, employee retention and the safety and effectiveness of our embassy communities worldwide.”
“We are reviewing what would need to be changed — what we can legally change,” she said. “A lot of things we cannot legally change by a decision in the State Department. But let’s see what we can determine is within our realm of responsibility, and we are moving on that expeditiously.”
Michelle Schohn, president of Gays & Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, said she was “really pleased” with Clinton’s response and joked that Hill “was not a plant” during the town hall meeting.
“She used words that indicate to me that she really understands the issues,” Schohn said, “talking about ‘workplace fairness’ and ‘retention’ and ‘safety and effectiveness of our embassy communities worldwide.’”
But Clinton’s remarks raise questions about which policy changes can be enacted through the State Department alone and which would require congressional approval.
Noel Clay, a State Department spokesperson, said the department has to look at GLIFAA’s requests carefully because “maybe there [are] some laws that prevent them from happening,” adding that he didn’t know which requests Clinton was referring to that required congressional approval.
Schohn confirmed that some of the changes requested by GLIFAA would require involvement from lawmakers.
“It’s going to take several fixes to achieve full equality,” she said. “There are things … that [Clinton] can change purely by changing the regulations within the department. And then there will be other issues, visa issues, things like that, that are going to have to be dealt with congressionally. And those issues are important to us, too.”
In December, GLIFAA provided then-President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team with a request for changes and noted that some required congressional involvement.
The changes requiring congressional approval could be enacted by passage of the Domestic Partner Benefits & Obligations Act, which would grant the partners of gay federal employees the same benefits available to the spouses of straight employees, and passage of the Uniting American Families Act, which would allow a foreign national’s partner in the United States to sponsor their immigration to the country.
Passage of the DPBO bill is necessary for gay Foreign Service officers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan to obtain a Separate Maintenance Allowance, which is granted to employees when the State Department determines that they cannot keep their family on post, GLIFAA’s paper says.
Approving this bill is also necessary for partners to receive dental and vision benefits as well as a cost of living allowance, GLIFAA states.
Getting UAFA signed into law would allow gay Foreign Service officers to serve “without visa worries for their partners” and for retirees to return to the United States with a partner they meet abroad, GLIFAA says.
U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) was expected to reintroduce UAFA in the House this week. U.S. Sen Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) was expected to reintroduce the legislation in the Senate.
A version of the DPBO bill was not introduced in Congress by deadline, but in the last session, legislation was sponsored in the House by U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the only out lesbian in Congress, and in the Senate by U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn).
GOP’s New Face For Foreign Operations Funding Seeks a Sleeker System
Her selection [Republican Kay Granger was selected to lead the GOP on the State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee for the 111th Congress] is “not something we’re entirely thrilled about, especially at this time,” said Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs at the Family Research Council, referring to President Obama’s Jan. 23 move overturning the “Mexico City” policy. That policy prohibited funding of groups that perform or promote abortion overseas.
Since Obama’s action on Mexico City may have removed the abortion issue from the bill, McClusky said he hoped Republicans would defend against attempts to add some same-sex partner benefits for foreign service officers. Human rights groups are seeking benefits specific to overseas postings, such as travel reimbursement and access to health care, which spouses get.
So basically, since they lost on abortion, they have to turn to their tried and true whipping boy, the LGBT community? But let's specifically home in on those of us serving our country? Seriously?
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Council for Global Equality Praises Senators for Posing LGBT-Related Confirmation Questions
During the presidential campaign, President Obama pledged that human rights violations based on sexual orientation would be "part and parcel of any conversations we have about human rights." (See a full transcript of his statement by clicking here.) Today, to ensure that pledges of change are realized, the Council for Global Equality is working closely with our organizational members and our many individual supporters to hold the Obama Administration to that high standard.
Our efforts began before President Obama was sworn into office. Early in January, the Council for Global Equality encouraged supportive U.S. Senators to ask nominees for senior State Department positions confirmation questions focusing on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues in an effort to explore their positions on global human rights concerns and same-sex partnership benefits for the State Department's LGBT employees.
Senators Feingold (D-WI) and Casey (D-PA), both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, rose to the challenge and posed LGBT-specific questions to the State Department's senior foreign policy team in three different hearings. The questions were addressed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UN Ambassador Susan Rice and Deputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew. Now that these senior leaders are on record as supporting LGBT equality, the Council will monitor their attention to the issues, while simultaneously working with friendly Congressional offices to hold the State Department to its commitments. Click on the links below to read the confirmation questions and responses from:
Deputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew (Statement Not Yet Available)
After Secretary Clinton's confirmation, a bi-partisan group of Congressional leaders, including Congresswomen Tammy Baldwin and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Senators Russ Feingold and Ron Wyden, sent Secretary Clinton a detailed letter to follow up on her responses during the hearing. (Read the Congressional letter to Secretary Clinton by clicking here.)
Friday, February 06, 2009
By Caitlin Millat
updated 1 hour, 6 minutes ago
Gay and lesbian spouses of federal employees are entitled to receive the same health coverage and other benefits as traditional straight couples, a federal judge ruled in a breakthrough decision in Los Angeles today.
Judge Stephen Reinhardt said in the ruling that the government's denial last year to grant health coverage to the husband of a deputy federal public defender amounted to unlawful discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Tony Sears, who married attorney Brad Levenson last July, applied for spousal benefits three days after the wedding but was denied because of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which refuses same-sex spouses access to benefits and healthcare.
Reinhardt called the denial "unconstitutional" and ordered the U.S. Courts administration to submit Sears' benefits election form.
The Defense of Marriage Act states that it was passed to "nurture" heterosexual marriage, "defend morality," and save government funding that would otherwise be used on same-sex healthcare.
Reinhardt said in the 15-page ruling that the cost of providing benefits to homosexual couples would be negligible and refuted the claim that denying same-sex spouses benefits would decrease the likelihood of gay or lesbian unions.
U.S. diplomat's death in Ethiopia being investigated as homicide
By Carly Lagrotteria and Sarah Scire The GW Hatchet
A George Washington University alumnus working for the State Department was found dead in Ethiopia this week and U.S. government officials say his death is being investigated as a homicide.
Brian Adkins, who graduated in 2007, worked for the State Department as a Foreign Service officer stationed in Ethiopia's capital city, Addis Ababa. Representatives from the State Department said Wednesday that Adkins died on Saturday, but would not give further details because it was an ongoing homicide investigation.
Adkins, who would have turned 26 on Feb. 2, completed both his undergraduate and graduate studies at GW, graduating summa cum laude as an international affairs major from the Elliott School of International Affairs in 2005. He joined the State Department after receiving his master's degree in 2007 and was assigned to Ethiopia.
After studying the indigenous language and culture for nearly a year, Adkins moved to Ethiopia as part of a Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship.
John Wysham, head of the Ethiopia desk at the State Department, said he was unable to provide details about Adkins' death or the homicide investigation.
"The trouble here is that it is a crime scene we are talking about," Wysham said. "It wasn't like he fell off a rock and hit his head."
He added, "We'd love to talk about it and stop some of these rumors but we cannot."
Wysham said that he has been in contact with the Ethiopian embassy and Ethopian police forces about the ongoing investigation.
A Foreign Service officer also stationed in Africa is planning to accompany Adkins' body from Ethiopia to the United States, Wysham said. The casket will be transported by military aircraft.
Ginny Boncy, a member of the State Department's casualty assistance department, said Adkins was in the first year of his assignment and performing consular work for the State Department.
Consular work typically includes providing services like assisting Americans in distress and handling visas and passports.
Though Adkins' father could not be reached for comment, senior Michael Geremia, one of Adkins' best friends, described the Ohio native as "selfless, hardworking, confident, funny, charming, articulate, a scholar and a gentleman."
"The world has lost someone who had so much to offer. I miss him tremendously," Geremia said. "When I received word of his death on Monday, which would have been his 26th birthday, a piece of me died in Ethiopia."
Geremia said that he last spoke to Adkins on Sunday, Jan. 25, when the two friends started to plan Adkins' summer vacation in D.C.
"He was so excited to be in Africa serving his country as a diplomat, promoting American values," Geremia said. "As much as he loved his career, he missed the U.S."
Geremia said that despite the trials of living abroad, Adkins was optimistic about his future as a diplomat.
"Whenever I would urge him to be safe, he would reassure me that Ethiopia was safer than D.C.," Geremia said.
As a student in Foggy Bottom, Adkins was a leader at the Knights of Columbus and the Newman Center, two organizations devoted to the Catholic faith.
He served as a trustee and held several officer positions with the Knights, including chancellor in charge of membership. After graduating, Adkins served as state ceremonial chairman and district warren for the Knights. In 2007, he was named Knight of the Year in D.C.
"He was friendly to everyone, incredibly devoted to his faith, and always willing to volunteer and give of himself," said senior Conrad Murphy, a former grand knight. "When he left for Ethiopia, we found that it took at least three of us just to fill his shoes."
Friends and fellow members of the Knights of Columbus, including Murphy, said Adkins will be remembered as incredibly intelligent and always working to master a new language. He spoke French, Arabic and Amharic, the official working language of Ethiopia.
Tom Saccoccia, a fellow 2007 alumnus and close friend, said Adkins will also be remembered for his humility.
"He just wasn't a credit grabber, even though he did everything," Saccoccia said. "He was just an all-around good guy."
Adkins was a native of Columbus, Ohio. A Rite of Christian Burial is planned in his honor at St. Mary's Church in his hometown.
Thursday, February 05, 2009
Gay Rights On Fast Track At State Dept.
Days after pledging review policies that discriminate against LGBT employees at the State Department, Secretary Clinton said her staff is reviewing inequities and preparing to make appropriate changes "expeditiously."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told participants at a town hall meeting in Washington, D.C. Wednesday that equalizing the treatment of the State Department’s LGBT employees and their partners is being reviewed and “is on a fast timeline” to be remedied.
“We are reviewing what would need to be changed, what we can legally change,” Secretary Clinton said. “A lot of things we cannot legally change by a decision in the State Department. But let’s see what we can determine is within our realm of responsibility, and we are moving on that expeditiously.”
Clinton’s remarks came in response to a question posed by Ralan Hill, a foreign service officer with a same-sex partner, who noted that in an emergency situation abroad, the State Department would be responsible for evacuating him but would have no such obligation to his partner. The department does, however, provide evacuation assistance to heterosexual spouses of officers stationed overseas.
“This is an issue of real concern to me,” Clinton responded. “And even though, as you pointed out, all of our personnel share the same service requirements, the partners in same-sex relationships are not offered the same training, the same benefits, and the same protections that other family members receive when you serve abroad. So I view this as an issue of workplace fairness, employee retention, and the safety and effectiveness of our embassy communities worldwide.”
Clinton signaled that she would review the inequities faced by LGBT employees during her confirmation hearings and momentum has been growing ever since. Earlier this week, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) along with Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), sent a letter to Secretary Clinton asking her to change the discriminatory policies.
“The lack of equitable treatment could force dedicated, intelligent, and needed FSOs (Foreign Service Officers) and officials to make an unfortunate choice between serving their country and protecting their families,” read the letter. “The State Department’s past inattention to these disparities places it below parity with the best employment practices used in the private sector, where the majority of Fortune 500 companies extend employee benefit programs to cover the domestic partners.”
Baldwin and her colleagues singled out the following changes in State Department policy regarding Foreign Service Officers (FSOs):
• Inclusion in travel orders for same-sex domestic partners of FSOs
• Access to training, including all language classes, area studies, and embassy effectiveness classes for same-sex domestic partners of FSOs
• Emergency evacuation and medevac from post when necessary for same-sex domestic partners of FSOs
• Access to post health units for same-sex domestic partners of FSOs
• Visa support for same-sex domestic partners accompanying FSOs to overseas postings, and for same-sex foreign-born domestic partners accompanying FSOs to postings in Washington or elsewhere in the U.S.
• Preferential status for employment at post comparable to that enjoyed by Eligible Family Members (EFMs) for same-sex domestic partners of FSOs
Congressional members sent a similar letter to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last year but the concerns fell on deaf ears. Assistant Secretary Jeffrey Bergner sent a response stating that the department recruits and promotes employees “without regard to sexual orientation” and affords benefits to unmarried partners of employees in accordance with the Foreign Affairs Manual (at 3 FAM 4180). The letter failed to acknowledge any inequalities faced by officers in same-sex relationships.
Sources familiar with the State Department say LGBT employees today are more hopeful than they have ever been about the direction of potential policy changes. Last week, 2,200 government employees (gay and straight) working in foreign affairs signed a letter advocating for fair treatment of LGBT employees that was hand-delivered to Secretary Clinton's office.
Michelle Schohn, president of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA), welcomed the support of Congressional members and said she firmly believed policy changes are imminent.
“We are delighted that these members of Congress share our concerns about the inequities facing gays and lesbians in the foreign service,” Schohn said. “I am confident that these are issues that the Secretary already takes seriously.”
Clinton gives hope to gay diplomats
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton promised gay diplomats Wednesday to work toward securing better rights and benefits for them and their partners, whose treatment is now much worse than that of married straight couples.
During her first town hall meeting with State Department employees since taking office two weeks ago, Mrs. Clinton pledged to look for ways to provide "training, benefits and protections" to same-sex partners who accompany Foreign Service officers to overseas posts.
"This is an issue of real concern to me. Even though all of our personnel share the same service requirements, the partners in same-sex relationships are not offered the same training, the same benefits and the same protections that other family members receive when you serve abroad," she said. "I view this as an issue of workplace fairness, employee retention, and the safety and effectiveness of our embassy communities worldwide."
Currently, same-sex partners are designated as "members of household," which allows them to live with diplomats in government-funded housing but offers no other benefits. For example, they have to pay for their transportation when traveling to a new post, while the State Department covers those expenses for the families of straight employees.
A diplomat who asked Mrs. Clinton about the issue during the town hall meeting, Ralan Hill, said that his partner would be left behind if an embassy evacuation were to take place in the country he was posted to.
"The department actively discriminates against me and my family in a number of areas by limiting our access to benefits routinely and customarily provided to other families," Mr. Hill said.
Gay partners are not entitled to embassy access, either, though chiefs of mission are authorized to grant such access and most of them do. As for embassy employment, spouses of diplomats are given priority, while same-sex partners are treated as any other U.S. citizen applying for a position.
When a diplomat marries a foreign national, that person is entitled to fast-track processing for a green card and eventually U.S. citizenship. Gay partners are not eligible even for a U.S. entry visa.
Mrs. Clinton warned that there are legal limits to what she can do because gay marriage is not recognized by federal law.
"We are reviewing what would need to be changed -- what we can legally change. A lot of things we cannot legally change by a decision in the State Department," she said. "But let’s see what we can determine is within our realm of responsibility, and we are moving on that expeditiously."
-- Nicholas Kralev, diplomatic correspondent, The Washington Times
Hat tip to BoneYard for this piece.
And Now for the Clinton Team
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is bringing in a well-connected foreign policy hand to serve under policy planning chief Anne-Marie Slaughter. Derek Chollet, who in 2004 was a foreign policy adviser to vice presidential candidate John Edwards and helped former secretaries of state James A. Baker III and Warren M. Christopher write their memoirs, will become deputy director of policy planning at the State Department.
Chollet is particularly close to veteran diplomat Richard C. Holbrooke, Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, having served as his speechwriter at the United Nations. Most recently a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, Chollet will help Slaughter -- an academic from Princeton -- navigate Washington's policy world.
Clinton is also looking for an assistant secretary for public affairs. Candidates include two Clinton White House veterans. Calvin Mitchell, now executive vice president of communications at the New York Fed, was director of public affairs at the National Security Council and assistant press secretary at the Clinton White House.
Mary Ellen Glynn, now gone private at Pyramid Communications on the West Coast, had been spokeswoman for former U.N. ambassador Holbrooke, a spokeswoman at State and White House deputy press secretary. Also oft-mentioned is Doug Hattaway, a Hillary Clinton spokesman during the campaign who's developed a communications business in Boston.
One question the Clinton folks are sorting out is whether the assistant secretary also handles the daily briefings to keep the media at bay. If the spokesman is not part of the secretary's inner circle, then his utility is much reduced, and the jackals will seek other game. But that means they'll have to work harder, which makes them surlier. That's why media folks like the models set by insiders such as Margaret Tutwiler or James P. Rubin at State or Michele Davis at Treasury.
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
Secretary Clinton Must Address State Dept. Policies on LGBT Employees
By Rep. Tammy Baldwin
During her confirmation hearing in January, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged to examine current policies relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employees at the State Department. Her willingness to examine these issues signals positive change on many levels. Not only has our nation evolved in its recognition and acceptance of LGBT American, but our new administration understands that the strength of our diplomatic corps is undermined by inequitable employment policies.
As Secretary Clinton noted during the question and answer session of her confirmation hearing, many other nations now extend training, protection, and benefits to the partners of LGBT employees. Yet, the U.S. currently denies same-sex partners of Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) access to travel and visa assistance to and from a posting abroad, and embassy health, protection, and emergency evacuation services that other “Eligible Family Members” (EFMs) enjoy. The lack of equitable treatment at the State Department could force — in fact, already has forced — dedicated, intelligent, and needed FSOs and officials to make an unfortunate choice between serving their country and protecting their families.
Secretary Clinton can remedy many of these inequitable policies immediately, without legislation; and, in our letter, Sens. Wyden, Feingold, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, and I urge her to do so. At a time when America’s core values and belief in democracy are most on display to the rest of the world, our nation is tarnished by practices that are contrary to those values and beliefs.
But Congress must also work to end discriminatory practices against LGBT Americans. For example, we must pass the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act to put the federal government on par with a majority of Fortune 500 companies by extending employee benefit programs to cover the domestic partners of federal employees to the same extent those benefits cover spouses of federal employees.
Last Spring, Congressman Barney Frank and I founded the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. To date, 74 Members have joined our caucus to achieve the extension of equal rights, the repeal of discriminatory laws, the elimination of hate-motivated violence, and the improved health and well being of all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. In the 111th Congress, the Caucus will continue to serve as a resource for Members of Congress, their staffs, and the public on LGBT issues.
The very existence of an LGBT Equality Caucus makes a strong statement about the values this Congress and our nation hold dear. I hope more colleagues will join us in creating a more perfect Union, assuring equal rights for all here at home, and safeguarding the human rights of LGBT people in all parts of the world.
QUESTION: Thank you, Madame Secretary, and thank you for coming to address us today. My name is Ralan Hill. I’m a Foreign Service officer. I am here in Washington on TDY, going to Paraguay. I have a same-sex partner, who’s been recognized as a member of household by the Department of State. Because of that, the Department actively discriminates against me and my family in a number of areas by limiting our access to benefits routinely and customarily provided to other families here in the Department. As one example, if I were assigned overseas to a post that came under a mandatory evacuation order, I would be required to leave, although the Department is under no legal obligation to do anything to help my partner. He could be left literally to fend for himself in a war zone.
While I hope you find the current situation unacceptable, my question is what can you do to eliminate this discrimination, and what timeline do you see for making such changes? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, thank you for raising that. (Applause.) You know, this is an issue of real concern to me. And even though, as you pointed out, all of our personnel share the same service requirements, the partners in same-sex relationships are not offered the same training, the same benefits, and the same protections that other family members receive when you serve abroad. So I view this as an issue of workplace fairness, employee retention, and the safety and effectiveness of our embassy communities worldwide.
So I have asked for a staff review of current policies, especially those that are set forth in State Department regulations, and recommendations and a strategy for making effective changes. This is on a – it’s on a fast timeline, but we’ve begun that process. We are reviewing what would need to be changed, what we can legally change. A lot of things we cannot legally change by a decision in the State Department. But let’s see what we can determine is within our realm of responsibility, and we are moving on that expeditiously.
You can read the transcripts of the entire meeting here.
I didn't get to go, so I watched on BNET from my office. I had hoped someone would ask her about MOH issues. I really want her to keep this in mind.
A man named Ralan, who I have never seen before and who is heading to Paraguay with his partner, couldn't have done a better job if he had been scripted!
He told her he was heading to Paraguay with his same-sex partner and that the State Department "discriminates against me and my family by denying benefits routinely and customarily granted to opposite sex partners." He asked what she could do "to eliminate this discrimination" and what her timeline would be.
There is, of course, only so much the Secretary can say about what she plans to do. That said, I was extremely pleased with her answer. She said this was an "issue of real concern" to her. She said that while all officers have the same requirements of service, the partners of LGBT officers do not receive the same "training, benefits and protections "other families recieve when you serve abroad." She said she considered this an issue of work-place fairness, retention, and safety and effectiveness worldwide. She said this was on a fast timeline to be addressed and that she had already begun the process of looking into what she can do. She said she is moving on this expeditiously.
In other words, the Secretary gets it.
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Not a question of rights – a question of survival abroad
According to the Advocate, a magazine covering the LGBT community, 2,200 U.S. Department of State employees signed a petition that was sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, urging her to extend the rights granted to “eligible family members” to same-sex couples.
Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA), which composed the letter, says that withholding benefits from same-sex partners not only makes a career in foreign service more challenging for them but more dangerous as well. Ninety-two percent of those who signed the petition would not be affected by the proposed policy change, meaning they are largely either single or in a heterosexual marriage.
Secretary Clinton should enact this change as expeditiously as possible because the lives of U.S. citizens and their loved ones stationed abroad are at risk.
It is apparent that the United States is divided over gay rights. The federal government currently grants no rights to same-sex couples, but two states allow gay marriage, several others honor civil unions and domestic partnerships, and Hawai‘i’s Legislature is currently considering a civil-unions bill. However, still others have yet to add sexual orientation as a form of discrimination. If there is a line where ideology should bend to sensible reason, this is a starting place.
Whatever one thinks about same-sex relationships, it’s hard to deny that someone willing to go halfway around the world with a partner working to promote U.S. interests and safety has the right to equal accommodations as his or her heterosexual counterpart.
Foreign service officers work in the some of the most hostile regions in the world, in embassies, consulates, and other diplomatic missions burdened by constant threats and crises. It is understandable why married partners are entitled to language immersion, since communicating in that country might mean the difference between knowing where to go and knowing what not to do. It makes sense that partners are entitled to federal health-care benefits in regions where the local medical care is far below decent standards. And it is a basic right for spouses to have access to evacuation assistance during times of extreme danger.
But none of these “benefits” are allotted to same-sex partners of employees. Yes, even in the precarious throngs of a political fallout, they literally are not shown the escape plans.
How can a country that supposedly puts a high premium on protecting its citizens at home and abroad completely disregard this small contingent of people who’ve chosen to risk their safety to be with someone for whom they love? How can a citizen, especially working in, say, Baghdad or Kabul, function at the highest level knowing his or her partner is exceptionally vulnerable, particularly in those countries where homosexuality is forbidden?
Ultimately, the petition to grant same-sex couples these basic necessities does not infringe upon the sanctity of traditional marriage or so-called normative relationships. Rather, it is a matter of recognizing the sanctity of human life– a principle we should all vigorously support.
Towleroad covers it here, and has video of Secretary Clinton's second swearing-in ceremony.
The new letter was also covered by U.K.'s PinkNews, gaypolitics.com, My Gay Minneapolis, Outtake blog, and 2015 Place.
Noticably lacking is any mainstream coverage.
Monday, February 02, 2009
The text of the release reads:
Baldwin Calls on Clinton to Change State Dept. LGBT Policies
Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) has asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to address inequities in employment practices concerning gay and lesbian State Department employees and to take remedial action.
In a letter sent today, Baldwin, joined by Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), wrote:
“The lack of equitable treatment could force dedicated, intelligent, and needed FSOs (Foreign Service Officers) and officials to make an unfortunate choice between serving their country and protecting their families. As you noted during the question and answer session of your Senate Foreign Relations confirmation hearing, many other nations now extend training, protection, and benefits to the partners of LGBT employees. Further, the State Department’s past inattention to these disparities places it below parity with the best employment practices used in the private sector, where the majority of Fortune 500 companies extend employee benefit programs to cover the domestic partners. Without remedying these inequities, the State Department may fail to attract and retain qualified personnel.”
Baldwin and her colleagues asked Secretary Clinton to institute, among other things, the following changes in State Department policy regarding Foreign Service Officers (FSOs):
Inclusion in travel orders for same-sex domestic partners of FSOs
Access to training, including all language classes, area studies, and embassy effectiveness classes for same-sex domestic partners of FSOs
Emergency evacuation and medevac from post when necessary for same-sex domestic partners of FSOs
Access to post health units for same-sex domestic partners of FSOs
Visa support for same-sex domestic partners accompanying FSOs to overseas postings, and for same-sex foreign-born domestic partners accompanying FSOs to postings in Washington or elsewhere in the U.S.
Preferential status for employment at post comparable to that enjoyed by Eligible Family Members (EFMs) for same-sex domestic partners of FSOs
Former U.S. Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest, a distinguished diplomat, resigned last year from the State Department because of inequitable employment practices. Such disparities “should not be the reason why highly qualified employees leave the State Department at a time when their service is needed more than ever,” Baldwin wrote. More than 2,200 government employees, members of the group Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA), also sent a letter to Clinton expressing their concerns on this issue.
Citing Secretary Clinton’s pledge during her confirmation hearing to examine current policies relating to lesbian and gay employees at the State Department, Baldwin and her colleagues wrote: “As you work to advance America’s national security and exemplify this great country’s values around the world, we hope you will follow through on this pledge and also work to fully support your diverse workforce.”
Here is the text of the letter:
Congratulations on your confirmation as our new Secretary of State. We welcome your leadership in promoting America's security and standing in the world and look forward to working in partnership with you. As you begin your work, we hope that you will also focus on equalizing the internal State Department rules and regulations for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Foreign and Civil Service employees.
Recently, you received a letter from the group Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA), signed by over 2,200 government employees, expressing their concerns on this issue. As in the case of former Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest, the inequitable treatment of LGBT Foreign and Civil Service Officers (FSOs) and their partners should not be the reason why highly qualified employees leave the State Department at a time when their service is needed more than ever. Many of these inequities, however, could be remedied through your leadership as Secretary, without legislative changes.
As you may know, by not including same-sex partners in the definition of an "Eligible Family Member" (EFM), the Department excludes them from many of the State Department benefits, protections, and services afforded to family members of FSOs. These benefits are important to the safety, effectiveness, and morale of our communities abroad.
We are particularly concerned that the Department has not taken enough steps to assure the safety and security of non-EFM partners of FSOs. According to the State Department's own literature, 85% of FSOs are likely to be a victim of crime at some point during their overseas career. While same-sex partners are now allowed to take security classes through the Foreign Service Institute, their access is only on a space-available basis. Moreover, they are still denied access to embassy health services, even in countries where grave health crises exist. They are not included in protocols for the distribution of Tamiflu in the event of an avian flu outbreak, undercutting the most basic preventive step against a potential pandemic outbreak.
Further, if an evacuation is ordered, same-sex partners are financially responsible for their own evacuation - creating a frightening choice between safety and resources.
The lack of equitable treatment could force dedicated, intelligent, and needed FSOs and officials to make an unfortunate choice between serving their country and protecting their families. As you noted during the question and answer session of your Senate Foreign Relations confirmation hearing, many other nations now extend training, protection, and benefits to the partners of LGBT employees. Further, the State Department's past inattention to these disparities places it below parity with the best employment practices used in the private sector, where the majority of Fortune 500 companies extend employee benefit programs to cover the domestic partners. Without remedying these inequities, the State Department may fail to attract and retain qualified personnel.
Madam Secretary, we urge you to take the initiative in addressing these basic concerns, all of which can be handled through internal regulatory changes and would not require Congressional action. Your leadership in these policy areas would make a difference in the safety and morale of those who support American policy goals overseas:
* Inclusion in travel orders for same-sex domestic partners of FSOs
* Access to training, including all language classes, area studies, and embassy effectiveness classes for same-sex domestic partners of FSOs
* Emergency evacuation and medevac from post when necessary for same-sex domestic partners of FSOs
* Access to post health units for same-sex domestic partners of FSOs
* Visa support for same-sex domestic partners accompanying FSOs to overseas postings, and for same-sex foreign-born domestic partners accompanying FSOs to postings in Washington or elsewhere in the U.S.
* Preferential status for employment at post comparable to that enjoyed by EFMs for same-sex domestic partners of FSOs
Many of these changes might be efficiently addressed through the inclusion of same-sex domestic partners under the definition of an EFM in the Foreign Service Standardized Regulation 040(m). None of the changes above are contrary to the letter or spirit of the Defense of Marriage Act.
In addition to these issues, we ask you to consider leading the State Department in recognizing partners of diplomats from other countries while they serve in the United States. This offer of equality and hospitality can restore our nation's leadership role on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights while bolstering our diplomatic efforts.
Also, we similarly hope you will provide guidance to U.S. Missions to the United Nations to enable American employees at the UN to designate their same-sex partners as domestic partners. It is our understanding that the UN will defer to the instructions of the relevant Permanent Mission of the country of origin of the staff member when deciding whether to grant benefits to same-sex partners of UN employees. While they are not FSOs, these individuals lead dedicated lives of service, and deserve the opportunity to provide for their families.
During your confirmation hearing, you pledged to examine current policies relating to lesbian and gay employees at the State Department. As you work to advance America's national security and exemplify this great country's values around the world, we hope you will follow through on this pledge and also work to fully support your diverse workforce. Madam Secretary, we would be pleased to work with you in addressing these matters and look forward to your response.
Clinton meets with State Dept. gay group
Reiterates pledge to review policies
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday met with the head of the gay affinity group within her department and reiterated her pledge to review the inequities in how the State Department treats its gay and straight employees.
Michelle Schohn, president of Gays & Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, said she met with Clinton for 30 minutes along with the heads of nine affinity groups within the State Department.
Schohn said she raised the issue of how the department treats its gay employees, and Clinton responded by reiterating her promise to review current policies.
“It was an overwhelmingly positive meeting,” Schohn said. “There wasn’t a lot of time to talk with her because she was meeting with all the affinity groups, so we each got a tiny chunk of time to be able to say something to her.”
Schohn said Clinton seemed “generally interested in what we had to say.” No timetables or other details were discussed, Schohn said.
Unlike the spouses of straight Foreign Service officers, the partners of gay Foreign Service officers are not included in travel orders, not eligible for federal health care insurance, not entitled to emergency evacuation and not eligible for more than basic language training.
While the State Department covers various travel expenses for officials moving overseas, including the cost of moving a pet, the department doesn’t reimburse travel costs for a partner.
When Clinton was asked about gay employees during her confirmation hearing earlier this month, she said she would “take a hard look at existing policy,” and that her “understanding is other nations have moved to extend that partnership benefit.”
Earlier this week, GLIFAA delivered a letter to Clinton signed by more than 2,000 government workers urging her to address the discrepancies between how the State Department treats gay and straight employees.
Schohn said she asked Clinton whether she had received the letter, and Clinton confirmed that she did.