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House bill cuts locality pay for Foreign Service officers overseas

Feb. 22, 2011 - 06:00AM   |  
By STEPHEN LOSEY   |   Comments
The House on Saturday voted to cut locality pay for Foreign Service officers, who are State Department employees, serving overseas.
The House on Saturday voted to cut locality pay for Foreign Service officers, who are State Department employees, serving overseas. (Brendan Smialowski / Agence France-Presse via Gett)

The House on Saturday voted to cut locality pay for Foreign Service officers serving overseas.

The continuing resolution bill, HR 1, contains an amendment sponsored by Rep. Thomas Reed, R-N.Y., stripping the pay measure. For years, Foreign Service did not receive any locality pay when they went abroad, and took significant pay cuts when deployed. Congress in 2009 voted to start phasing in the Washington-area locality pay rate which is now 24 percent for Foreign Service officers.

Reed said canceling these payments would save $140 million this year and $427 million by fiscal 2013.

"At a time when other federal employees have had their salaries frozen or reduced, we cannot and should not be giving massive, automatic pay raises to any federal employees," Reed said in a statement.

But Susan Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, said the vote signals that the government doesn't value Foreign Service officers at a time when they are supporting military operations in combat zones.

"When we're trying to build up our civilian capacity and send them overseas, penalizing the people who are doing the essential mission of the Foreign Service is not the way to go about it," Johnson said. "This says it's more important to stay in Washington than go to the front lines."

Johnson also said the payments are important to keep deployed officers' pay comparable to stateside employees' and disputed Reed's characterization of them as automatic pay raises.

"It's not an automatic raise," Johnson said. "It keeps Foreign Service pay from being reduced when they go overseas. This is an example of the kind of misunderstanding and distortion that is all-too-prevalent about this issue."

The White House's deficit reduction commission first proposed canceling locality payments last November, saying Foreign Service jobs were highly sought-after even without the locality payments.

Some diplomats overseas earn hardship payments of 15 percent to 25 percent. But unlike locality payments, those hardship payments aren't factored into salaries for determining future pensions or raises.

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