232. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Equal Employment Opportunity (Burroughs) to the Under Secretary of State for Management (Read)1


  • Policy on Working Couples

The Foreign Service should recognize the advantages to be gained from the employment of working couples and seek to facilitate tandem assignments rather than discourage working couples by unnecessarily creating obstacles for them. The action memorandum of October 30, 19792 proposes a policy which would force one member of a working couple to accept leave without pay at the beginning of every new assignment as the only alternative to an assignment to a separate post. This policy would greatly discourage working couples and severely limit the number in the Foreign Service. The proposed policy could bring about a situation where one member or the other of the couple was always, or for the most part, on leave without pay. If this occurred, the situation would retrogress to pre-1971 conditions.3 Employees cannot remain competitive in the Foreign Service when working only about half of the time.

Inequities for other employees caused by tandem assignments are perceived by some as a serious problem. In practice, every assignment of an employee to a position disadvantages all other qualified employees who sought that position. Does it really make any difference whether the final deciding factor among qualified candidates is school-age children, an employee’s need for a certain type of experience, or making possible a tandem assignment? The Foreign Service gains from tandem assignments as it does from most other non-performance factors taken into consideration in making assignments.

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Working couples are generally well aware that in the Foreign Service as elsewhere there are unavoidable problems involved in dual careers. They certainly must be prepared to accept the limiting factors which are likely to slow the advance of their careers and to force them to make hard choices (see attachment). The general rule is that the difficulties increase as one or both members of the couple achieve higher rank. A focus on individual assignments which ignores the existence of working couples, however, will deny Foreign Service employees any opportunity to choose between dual careers and individual career advantages.

We do not agree that there is any need to change the standard operating procedures for the assignment of working couples. If the interpretation given to the existing FAM provisions and the standard operating procedures has resulted in too much accommodation for working couples, changing the regulations and procedures to permit and encourage a return to the pre-1971 situation is not the solution. Working couples should be reminded of the unavoidable limitations affecting tandem assignments and the implementation of the existing procedures should be shifted to bring about the proper balance of interests.

Policy on working couples should be consistent. If the fact that employees are members of working couples is taken into consideration in making assignments, other provisions of the standard operating procedures should not view them solely as individuals. For example, some adjustments in present guidelines on allowances may be in order for a working couple assigned to the same post.

After a general review of the policy on working couples, we believe it would be useful to give wide distribution to a balanced presentation of the policy which would welcome and encourage working couples, but at the same time point out the unavoidable limitations.


Paper Prepared in the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity4


—It will seldom be possible to achieve optimum assignments from a career development point of view for both members of a working [Page 941] couple at the same post. At least one member of a working couple must be prepared to accept less than optimum assignments which may be of lower rank, less interesting, less “career-enhancing” or “out of cone.” Any decisions as to whether one member’s career will take precedence at any given time or whether both will accept less than optimum assignments in order to share the disadvantage can only be made by the couple.

—The impossibility of providing optimum assignments at the same post for both members of a working couple can be expected to affect the career progress of one or both members of the couple.

—If the professional field of one member of the couple is highly specialized rather than a major Foreign Service career field, the assignment of both members of the couple to the same post will be possible less frequently than would otherwise be the case.

—If both members of the couple are officers, they must expect to meet serious difficulties in achieving tandem assignments overseas which are even moderately satisfactory when and if they both reach ranks of FSO/R–3/FSSO–1 or above. Strenuous attempts to provide tandem assignments in positions commensurate with the couple’s ranks would force PER/FCA to give working couples undue preference for assignments to the larger posts. The difficulties in some cases may be able to be reduced by the assignment of one member of the couple to another agency.

—If one member of a working couple is assigned as a DCM, the other member cannot be assigned to a Department of State position at the same post except where required by overriding Service needs. Again, it may be possible on occasion to work out an assignment with another agency which forms part of the overall U.S. mission.

—If one member of a working couple is appointed as Chief of Mission, the other cannot be assigned to any position in an agency which forms part of that U.S. mission. In a few instances, an assignment with an international organization or a separate U.S. mission in the same city may be feasible. In most cases, however, the choices for the other member of the couple will be reduced to leave without pay or assignment to another post.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Under Secretary for Management (M), 1980, Box 1, Chron Jan 10–11, 1980. No classification marking. Copies were sent to Conlin, Barnes, Ronald Palmer (M/DGP), Janet Lloyd (M/FLO), Walter Silva (PER/FCA), Arthur Woodruff (PER/FCA), and Douglas Watson (FCA/ARA).
  2. Not found.
  3. Reference is to the policy in place until 1971 that essentially forced working Foreign Service wives to forgo home leave by transferring them to a leave-without-pay status prior to their departure from post, which continued until arrival at the next post. See “Married Women Employees” in Women in the Department of State by Homer L. Caulkin, Department of State Publication 8951 (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1978), pp. 142–145.
  4. No classification marking.