December 16, 2021

Senate Passes Van Hollen-Sullivan “Foreign Service Families Act”

U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), co-founders of the bipartisan Senate Foreign Service Caucus, announced the passage of their Foreign Service Families Act yesterday as part of the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The legislation will help ensure that the Foreign Service is able to attract and retain a world-class diplomatic corps by providing expanded career options and services to eligible family members. For many of these family members, the process of finding employment isn’t easy—frequent moves, language barriers, and limited options pose significant challenges. The legislation will address those issues in order for the Foreign Service to continue to serve the best interests of Americans at home and abroad. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) are also original cosponsors of the Foreign Service Families Act.

“America’s Foreign Service is vital to maintaining and advancing American diplomacy around the world. But for Foreign Service families, overseas postings often come with hardships for family members that can take a lasting toll. That's why I’m proud that today – as part of the National Defense Authorization Act – the Senate passed our bipartisan Foreign Service Families Act, to help expand employment opportunities for Foreign Service spouses and ensure in-state tuition benefits for students to help these families succeed and strengthen our Foreign Service across the board. We provide these benefits to military families and this same support should be extended to Foreign Service families serving our country,” said Sen. Van Hollen.

“Our country relies on Foreign Service officers to engage with governments, businesses and individuals around the world, all with the aim of promoting America’s interests, strengthening our national security, and assisting U.S. citizens,” said Sen. Sullivan. “Two ways we can better support our Foreign Service officers is to prioritize their access to State Department opportunities at the conclusion of their service, and also expand private sector employment opportunities for the family members of officers where they serve. I want to thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for moving us one step closer to providing that support and for recognizing the exemplary service of this crucial diplomatic corps.”

“Initiatives like the Foreign Service Families Act help attract and retain our nation’s top talent in the Foreign Service ranks,” said Ambassador Eric Rubin, president of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), upon introduction. “AFSA strongly supports this effort to ensure that our diplomats and their families are afforded all possible consideration, much like our military counterparts.”

“AAFSW (Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide) whole-heartedly supports this bill,” said AAFSW President Lara Center upon introduction. “As an organization which has advocated for spouses since our creation in 1960, we believe this bill will contribute greatly to Foreign Service morale and effectiveness.”

“The American Academy of Diplomacy supports the bill, noting that the legislation will help the State Department attract and retain the best personnel overseas where family well-being is critically important to the employees,” said the American Academy of Diplomacy upon introduction.

The Foreign Service Families Act would provide authority to the State Department to offer the same services to Foreign Service family members that the Defense Department is permitted to provide to military families. This includes:

  • Expanded hiring authority for qualified family members;
  • Ensuring that Foreign Services family members receive notice of State Department vacancies and that those who apply receive consideration; and
  • Making space available in State Department facilities for outside entities to provide career services. 

Additionally, the legislation:

  • Provides in-state tuition rates to members of the Foreign Service, their spouses, and dependent children;
  • Extends provisions of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to the Foreign Service, allowing members of the Foreign Service who are posted overseas to terminate residential and motor leases and telephone service contracts;
  • Supports the expansion of telecommuting opportunities for Foreign Service family members, so that family members can continue to work federal civilian jobs while overseas;
  • Ensures that family members in the Expanded Professional Associates Program, which offers career opportunities for family members with advanced education and professional experience, are not held to unfair hiring standards; and
  • Ensures that the State Department has fully implemented the Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps, a program intended to speed hiring and improve clearance portability for Foreign Service family members.