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US Foreign Service. The salary system (?)



Paul Simon explains arcane budget aspects of the State Department:

"The US Foreign Service has a suitably Byzantine formula for calculating overseas allowances based on assessments of hardship, danger, and cost of living. The three are assessed separately. Hardship and danger pay together may not exceed 40% of base pay. COLA varies widely, and also is on a sliding scale based on family size, percentage of consumables purchased locally, etc. For instance, if officers in Japan did 60% of their shopping at a US base, the COLA would be applied to 40% of the percentage of their income assumed to be spent on consumables, that amount assumed to slide based on family size.

I did say Byzantine, right? Hardship is assessed on a wide variety of factors, some post-specific like the housing or relative degree of isolation (for instance here in Chengdu we are a LONG and pricey flight even from Hong Kong or Beijing). We also factor in pollution, how much official espionage and harassment we suffer, disease vectors, availability of schooling and health care, and more. The danger pay assessment is also complex. So, in short, we do get extra pay in less desirable posts. My experience is that this helps to staff some of our less desirable missions but that the secret to Foreign Service staffing is an unparalleled level of dedication among the US diplomatic corps. Our small corps (about 4000 commissioned officers) is full of the adventurous, the brave, the service-minded. Many prefer to serve "where the action is" or where they perceive they make a difference.

I know I'd probably wither if I was stationed in The Hague writing reports like "Dutch slightly right of center party beats slightly left of center party in parliamentary runoff: No change in ruling centrist coalition expected". On the other hand, there is probably an officer out there who adores the Netherlands and would love that job. I have one dear friend who likes the "rough" places and is going from Ashkabad to Dushanbe! I know others who adore Africa. Some people fear malaria, others dislike the cold. Between it all, despite all our panics, we somehow keep the embassies and consulates open and staffed".

My comment: When an officer is due to be transferred, he is given three choices, Does that always include a pleasant place, or could there be three hardship posts? Paul's analysis does not mention the class of the officer. Does service in a hardship post help promotion to a higher class? Ambassadors who are political employees are reported to spend much of their own money on entertainment. I suspect that sometimes this may be a myth.

Ronald Hilton - 11/24/01


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