Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., was one of the lawmakers behind the measure.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., was one of the lawmakers behind the measure. Andrew Harnik/AP

Bipartisan Bill Would Expand Federal Job Opportunities for Foreign Service Spouses

The measure aims to bring equity between military and civilian personnel serving overseas.

A bipartisan pair of senators is looking to ease the process for family members of Foreign Service officers to receive federal jobs, saying the measure would help the government recruit top-notch candidates for its career diplomatic corps.

The Foreign Service Families Act would enable the State Department to use expedited hiring authority for family members of Foreign Service officers overseas, much like the Defense Department does for military spouses. Foreign Service spouses would also receive notification of State vacancies and the department would build hiring preferences for them into contracts with private businesses. The bill would require State to expand telework opportunities so diplomat spouses could keep their jobs while traveling to new posts with their families.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said he introduced the bill due to his first-hand experiences growing up in a Foreign Service family, noting his mother was provided few opportunities when traveling to posts with her husband.  

“These families often face unique challenges,” Van Hollen said. “This legislation will help provide more employment opportunities to Foreign Service spouses, and ensure that we can continue to attract and retain the best and the brightest to serve in our diplomatic corps.”

The American Foreign Service Association praised the intentions of the bill, saying its member families “frequent deployment abroad, often in difficult and even dangerous conditions.” The group said it welcomed a “high-level conversation” about the authorities and resources necessary to support those sacrifices.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, who cosponsored the bill as it was unveiled last week to coincide with Foreign Service Day, said the measure would bring equity between military and civilian personnel serving overseas.

“Foreign service professionals are every bit as patriotic and service-oriented as members of our military, and often face similar challenges in far corners of the globe,” Sullivan said. “We can’t forget that their family members serve our country too and, as a result, find it difficult to secure employment opportunities of their own.”

The bill would also seek to expand private sector job opportunities for Foreign Service family members by making space at State facilities for outside groups to provide career services and by “developing partnerships” for private companies.

Van Hollen and Sullivan, who recorded a Facebook video to promote their efforts, two years ago established the Senate Foreign Service Caucus, which now has about 20 members.

“We just want all of you to know that whether it's through legislation or through the caucus that we think that work you’re doing ought to be recognized,” said Sullivan, who added he knew first-hand of the importance of the work State employees conduct due to his time as an assistant secretary at the department during the George W. Bush administration. “You should know you have people who have your back in the U.S. Senate."