The OpSec Blog

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Budgets, Shutdowns, and Overseas Comparability [Updated]

with 2 comments

Pretty much every Foreign Service blog in the past few months has established their position on the impending government shutdown, the budget deadlock, and the thorny issue of Overseas Comparability Pay (OCP) for Foreign Service Officers.  Here’s an appeal for a little more  perspective from my colleagues serving around the world.

First, the budget deadlock.  I completely agree that it’s a shame it’s come to this, but those denouncing this party or that party for their actions for or against whatever budget proposal should really take a step back and think about what they’re saying.  I’m a fairly apolitical guy, but I have great respect for Speaker Boehner, the Tea Party, or any other Congressperson who is doing their job by representing their constituency’s interests.  I think that people accusing any such Congressperson of being unpatriotic, disloyal, or uncompromising should remember that (especially given recent events in the Middle East) some people can only dream about being a part of a representational democracy that is deadlocked over a disagreement about funding.  How many Libyans do you think would rather be in our situation than their current one?

Second, OCP.  Some of us have been around long enough to remember the times before OCP existed.  I’ve heard a lot of grumbling- especially from those who joined in the recent hiring push- that they might quit if OCP gets rescinded.  Really?  I have a hard time believing that Foreign Service Officers and Specialists alike will actually separate over the issue; especially those who tried for years to get in.  Yes, taking a 16% pay cut would really suck… but if Congress votes for it, you can’t really say that it’s unfair.  Everyone loves democracy as long as it’s working for them.  Foreign Service Officers make plenty of money, will be able to retire comfortably, and will be able to meet most of their financial goals without OCP.  They did it for years.  It’s quite interesting (to me) that Foreign Service employees seem to want to be treated differently due to their perceived “elite” status in Department/USG culture, but insist on things being the same when it comes to pay.  Imagine the outcry if our Civil Service colleagues insisted on being able to retire after 20 years (like Foreign Service employees do) instead of the current 30.  On top of OCP, the cost of living in much of the world is far, far less than in the US.  It kills me every time I see a colleague living in Burundi railing about the unfairness of having a pay cut.

That being said, I’m still not sure why OCP is in the crosshairs to begin with.  The amount is so miniscule in the long term that it’s a kind of microcosm for the current budget fight- shutting down the government over 10-15% of the budget seems like it’s avoiding the issue to me.  If my car got wrecked and the other driver offered to replace my front tires while avoiding the rest of the damage, I don’t think I’d be very happy about it.

In conclusion, you have a civic duty to voice your opinions on the pressing issues.  However, you also have a responsibility to your employer and-whether you like it or not- to yourself to voice those opinions in a thoughtful, considerate, professional manner.  Realize that there’s a difference between your government not working and your government not working in your best interest.

Update: the specifics of the “final” continuing resolution have been released, and includes language that strongly indicates the third phase of OCP will not be enacted.  It remains to be seen what exactly the implications are for Foreign Service employees, as OCP has repeatedly been cast as not a raise in pay, which the CR seems to axe.


2 Responses

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  1. I have lived in 3 places overseas and each one was much more expensive with much less available to purchase as related to what you have in the States.

    Have you been to Burundi? I am pretty sure have not because if you had you would know about all of the gerenade attacks, the restriction on traveling about in-country because of the rebel held territory and other dangers. Right now the 16% OCP is the only difference in pay bewteen DC and Burundi, The “Hardship Pay” (25%)that was significant when DC’s locality pay was in the single digits is now just a paltry .06% more (24.4%). Yeap, without OCP you get maybe $700 to leave a US school system, a place that speaks English, a safe place, your own culture, relative proximaty to your family and a myriad more benifits. Take away OCP and voila, the $700 is a huge boon in exchange for the things I just listed.

    Result? The most productive years of a member of the FS are spent not in the field, but at home in DC getting the locality pay without the BS for the last three so thier retirement is maximized. Is that what we really want?

    Do we really want to send a message to the people willing to do the oversaeas work that they are worth less than the other 50% of the embassy working for the USG who get both the hardship pay and the DC locailty? That’s right, almost every other agency who sends people overseas to embassies get both pay allotments.


    10/11/2011 at 18:58

    • I actually have been to Burundi. I’ve also been to Kabul, Baghdad, Khartoum, Beirut, and numerous other places that I would argue are more dangerous than Burundi. Your arguments about leaving the US school system, serving in a country that does not speak English as a primary language, is as safe as the US, proximity to family, etc. are all hollow. If you are not willing to give up those things, you should not be in the Foreign Service. Furthermore, you signed up to be worldwide available as a condition of your employment. OCP is a bonus, not an entitlement. If anything, Civil Servants should simply lose their locality pay when serving overseas.


      12/11/2011 at 15:01

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