Friday, January 17, 2014

The $12,000 Question

Do you live in this circle?
This is a well documented and heated debate, so I'll be brief, but I thought I should weigh in on the local hire per diem disparity. The GSA (General Services Association) outlines the requirements to receive per diem for temporary assignments (such as Foreign Service orientation and training). Those rules state that if you're traveling more than 50 miles, you will be paid per diem for the duration of the trip to cover meals, housing, and travel incidentals. The idea is, any shorter distance and you'll commute from home. This relates to people like me, as we are considered local to the Foreign Service Institute (actually, I believe the distance is measured from the Washington Monument), and therefore do not receive government provided housing and per diem during training. The rates, at time of writing, end up being about $12,000 over my estimated orientation and training period (give or take).

This system generally makes sense. I mean, my wife gets to keep her job (at least in the short term), my son doesn't need a new daycare provider, I get to see my friends and such (on weekends, since I'll have around 3 hours of commuting per day). However, with Foreign Service training, this system breaks down. Since I can't guarantee the speed at which my house will sell, I have to choose between selling early and then renting in Arlington on my own dime, or waiting until training is complete, and hoping the house sells quickly while I'm overseas. Of course this isn't that much different than out of area hires who presumably have to hurry up to sell their houses also. The big difference is, if I do sell my house, I also have to pack my own stuff, put it in storage, and then get it re-packed-out on pack-out day by the official people. Bummer. In the grand scheme of things it's not really a big deal. I'm probably just bitter to be facing a 90 minute each way commute... and having to pay for my own food! (Oh the injustice!) On the plus side, all that time on the trains and buses will give me lots of time to practice a foreign language, if only I knew which one to work on.

What's the take away? Apparently I should have moved last week! Oh, and even if it IS probably fair, nobody likes to miss out on the per diem gravy train! I guess this means no daily crab feast lunches for me.


  1. I was having trouble finding the exact answer but Transportation says we can schedule the shipment of our local hire household effects (HHE) as soon as we get our travel orders (TMFOUR). I asked HR how soon after orientation and Flag Day those orders are available and got the standard "it depends" answer because the processing times vary. I asked a few people I know that already went through training and they got them within a month after orientation but still early during training time.

    If our local area house sells early then I hope to have travel orders and can have them ship (or put into long-term storage) the bulk of our stuff a month or 2 early since transit time for it to our first post is usually a long time anyway.

    1. Hey Jeff, that's pretty much what I'd figured/expected. My only concern is that my house needs to be decluttered before I start showing it. I could wait to see what the expected ETA is for my travel orders, instead of rushing to list my house immediately (e.g. this month). It's a tough call, if I can list and potentially sell my house a month earlier, it'd be worth packing myself out. The mortgage to rent ratio between living in my house and in a short-term apartment near the Foreign Service Institute is most of the cost of just hiring professional movers... but the commute time would make up any difference.

      That does bring up a good point though. With the standard delays between house offers and close dates, I can probably haphazardly pack things into our basement (to make showing the house easier), and then hope that the close date is after my travel orders come through. Fortunately my one year old is very fastidious about keeping the house presentable: Guests always appreciate cheerios readily available on the floor, right?