179. Memorandum From the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Personnel (Barnes) to the Under Secretary of State for Management (Read)1


  • Families at Post

As the attached memo notes, one element of the “stay-at-home Foreign Service” image abroad in the land has been a growing perception that a significant number of Foreign Service officers and staff who have families are in fact going to posts abroad without their spouses and children.

To get at the real story—and as part of a broader effort to document the difficulties of staffing hardship posts—we sent a cable to all posts2 asking how many employees with families were at post either alone or with only part of their immediate family present. The responses, summarized in the attached memo, were broken down by the differential level of the post, by the employee grade level, and by the reason (or reasons) for the absence of all or part of a family.

In the absence of comparable data from an earlier period, interpretation of our overall finding that 91% of employees with family at non-evacuation posts have all or part of their families with them is hazardous at best. Is the glass half-full or half-empty? That is, are we looking at a chronic, but manageable problem, or at the tip of an iceberg which threatens to sink the ship? At first blush, we incline to a cautiously optimistic view, since we find the number of absent families to be less than we had expected (FLO shares this view). Within this total, we are also struck by the relatively small number of employees (29 worldwide) who cited “spouse’s career” as the primary reason for the absence of their families from post, since we had anticipated that this phenomenon would have a more marked impact on service abroad than is yet the case, and by the significantly larger number (79) whose families are away from post because of “children’s education.” Finally, we note that the percentage of employees without family remains constant from non-differential through 20% posts, but rises sharply at [Page 708] 25% posts3—thus suggesting that greater financial rewards may not in themselves solve our problem.

Because our data represent only one point in time, and are not part of a trend line, we recommend that they be taken with a large grain of salt. Nonetheless, we believe this information, albeit imperfect, should be shared with the Foreign Service as a whole, and plan to use it as the basis for an appropriately caveated article in the Newsletter.4 For the longer term, we propose to repeat the worldwide survey two years hence (allowing time for a turnover of most personnel now at posts), and expect that the information gathered at that time—and the resultant trend line—will give us a better sense of the real dimensions of our problem.


Memorandum Prepared in the Department of State5



There is a growing perception that a significant number of Foreign Service employees with families do not have those families with them at overseas posts. While this perception is a general one, it is perhaps most persistent in connection with hardship posts.

The purpose of this survey, which relied on responses from posts to three specific questions, was to determine the true extent of the no-family-at-post phenomenon in general and at hardship posts (as compared to non-hardship posts) in particular. Accordingly, the data is presented in the same basic format as used in the earlier report on staffing hardship posts.6 One caution is appropriate: It will be noted that not all the data can be fully reconciled. This is attributable to the essentially voluntary nature of the survey and, hence, the possible failure of some employees to divulge pertinent information.

[Page 709]

Summary of Findings

The data reveals that 88% of our employees serving overseas who have families have their families (or at least part of them) at post. There is some difference between differential and non-differential posts with regard to presence of families (see Section II.A.),7 but overall the differences are not great. 91% of the families are present at non-differential posts, while the overall figure for differential posts is 85%. At 10% and 20% differential posts, the rates are 94% and 90% respectively, about the same as at non-differential posts, while at 15% and 25% posts the rates are sharply lower (75% and 77% respectively). This zig-zag pattern contrasts with the smoothly rising curve we found with regard to underbid jobs, where the underbidding rate rose with—that is, despite—the differential.

The reasons provided in the survey responses suggest the explanation. “Evacuation or danger” was the reason given in almost 40% of the cases overall, and rose from zero at non-differential and 10% posts to less than 20% at 20% posts and less than 33% at 25% posts. At 15% posts, however, it accounted for over 90% of the cases.

Review of the figures by region confirms the suspicion: all but one of the family absences at 15% posts are in NEA. Except for this bulge, the drop-off comes at 25% posts in NEA (50% family presence) and ARA (60%). In AF, on the other hand, almost 88% of the families are represented at 25% posts. (Both of the families in EA 25% posts are present; EUR has no 25% posts.)

Moreover, removing the evacuation posts does in fact remove the anomaly (Section IV.). The percentage of family presence is in the low 90’s from non-differential posts through 10%, 15%, and 20% posts, dropping (not surprisingly, and not much) to 82% at 25% posts. (The zig-zag curve when evacuation posts were included resulted from the coincidence that there are 6 such posts with 25% differentials and 6 with 15%, but only 3 with 20%.) Breaking the data out in this fashion, which is a truer measure of the dimension of the “stay-at-home” problem, reveals that over 90% of the employees with families at non-evacuation posts have family with them. And, perhaps surprisingly, there is no significant difference between overall hardship and non-hardship categories.

The next most important reason given for absences overall was “children’s education”, accounting for just over one-fourth of the absences. This reason was given for about half the absences at non-differential posts and at 20% posts, and a third of the cases at 10% [Page 710] posts, but less than a fifth at 25% posts, and almost none (1 out of 102) at 15% posts. (As we have seen, in these last two categories “evacuation or danger” has already effectively kept families away.)

All other reasons combined only accounted for one-third of the absences, with “spouse’s career” leading the specific reasons given with less than 10%.


As a snapshot of the families at post situation at a specific point in time, the survey tells us a good deal about the present dimensions of the problem and the reasons for it.

Whether what it tells us is dramatic—or significant—depends largely on what was expected. However, it does seem to indicate that, when evacuations are factored out, the stay-at-home family phenomenon is no more pronounced at hardship posts overall than it is at non-hardship posts.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Under Secretary for Management (M), 1980, Box 4, Chron May 5–10, 1980. No classification marking.
  2. Not found.
  3. The differentials describe the amount of additional pay based on one’s salary for serving at a hardship post.
  4. See “Family Separation Problem is Subject of a Survey,” Department of State Newsletter, June 1980, p. 22.
  5. No classification marking. Drafted on April 24 by Robert Homme (PER/FCA/EUR).
  6. Not found.
  7. Reference is to a section in the data tables, which are attached but not printed.