I spent most of yesterday evening filling out forms from my appointment packet and from the website the State Department set up for entry on duty paperwork. I think I filled out over 15 forms – there were a lot of them. I wrote my name and address many many times and worried about writing my social security number incorrectly. Then I read some of the posts on the 155th A-100 class’ google group and found out more information on what people have to go through just to get to DC (or Virginia…). Despite the perceived loss in ‘per diem’ income, I’m very happy to be a local hire.
I’ve known a couple future and current FSO’s who have debated moving outside of the 50 mile mark to be able to take advantage of the per diem benefit as well as the convenience of living in corporate housing. While one current FSO regrets their decision to stay a local hire, most agree with me that the move isn’t worth it.
My primary instinct is to not try and ‘game’ the system. Every federal agency is facing tight budgets this year, and the Department of State is no exception. I have the Death and Taxes Poster on the wall of my office. If you haven’t seen it before, I highly recommend taking a look. You can zoom in and out on it, and see the Obama administration’s proposal for the Federal discretionary budget. It’s a great graph and poster, and in the bottom, a little right of the center, is the circle that represents the State Department. While the overall department budget is up a few percentage point, the Administration of Foreign Affairs is down a bit. They need all of the money they can get. My father is a retired Marine (who still works for the Marine Corps), my mother worked for the Navy, and I work for federal contractors. Out of my 31 years on earth, 3 of them were not subsidized by tax payers in one way or another. I try to be a good steward of tax payer money, and trying to ‘game’ the per diem benefit goes directly against the spirit of that benefit, and I won’t do it.
I completely agree that incoming FSO’s, and anyone on training or TDY should get a per diem. Incoming FSO’s have approximately 60 days to uproot their entire lives and move to a new city that is probably unfamiliar to them, and they may not be here for more than four or five months (hence the logic of corporate housing). Per diem helps to ease the loss of income during their transition to the State Department, especially since we won’t receive our first paycheck until the end of A-100 training. However, for Chad and me, it just isn’t necessary.
First, we don’t have to move. I have lost track of how many foreign service families are starting, in the middle of, or finishing up their summer migrations. If you want to read about their experiences, the Weekly State Department Blog Roundup posts by Ryan & Lori’s Exciting Adventures and Shannon’s blog Cyberbones are a great source for all of the fun pack out and moving adventures. Let me just say that I’m happy to delay that experience. I’m happy to be able to spend the next howeverlong in the apartment I’ve spent the past two years in with all of my (kitchen – and other!) stuff, and that we have a little extra time to cull out the excess junk.
Second, we don’t need the money. Since we don’t have to move, I’m only taking a few days off between my job here at Halfaker and the beginning of the A-100, so I won’t have too much of an income gap (especially thanks to some accumulated leave payout). More importantly, however, is that Chad will still be working. We are definitely privileged to be DINKs (double income, no kids), and his income and benefits more than make up for any amount of per diem that we might receive.
Finally, we can hang on to the novelty of being a local for a little bit longer. Best place for falafel or the best restaurant for an anniversary? Too easy. You need a doctor or a dentist? I have recommendations. We need to find a place to hold a 100+ person happy hour where we can all still move around and talk to each other, and it won’t cost an arm and a leg? I have a list.
So good luck to my future classmates and anyone else still going through their pack outs and moves. I know we’ll get that experience soon enough, but for now I’m glad to be a local hire.
DisclaimerAll views and opinions expressed on this website are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. State Department (they have their own website...).
- Douglas on Preparing for the Foreign Service Oral Assessment: Part II
- Anuradha Shastry (@runneranu) on The Foreign Service is Plan B
- Anuradha Shastry (@runneranu) on Studying for the FSOT (how I did it)
- kristel on My Statement of Interest for the Foreign Service
- Joel on FSOT Score Breakdown