…or “Why I Love the State Department: Reason# 146”. I spent the last decade basically working in two environments. One as a contract employee for a very large company, and the other in a small family-owned business. Neither of them really cared what the employees thought of their working conditions. The first one would gladly solicit suggestions and then sympathetically explain why none of it would work and why everything was being taken away. The second was more interested in purchasing new recreational vehicles for his personal use at the expense of the employee Christmas party, paid holidays or annual raises or bonuses.

In the 12 months that I’ve been in the Foreign Service I have been beyond impressed by how quickly and ardently the Department looks after its people. I know there are plenty of exceptions, and there are probably many people out there that feel like they’ve been wronged in some way. But I imagine it can be difficult to keep 12,000 people happy all of the time.

I think two of the most powerful tools that we have working for us are the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) and blogging, believe it or not. Apparently the Powers That Be actually pay attention to what we have to say. And the whole mission of AFSA is to lobby on behalf of the FS to keep it an amazing place to work.  Here’s an excellent example.

Back in March, United Airlines changed its pet policy. The Travel section of ABC News ran an informative article and basically summed it up saying, “The change in policy means pets will now be transported as cargo rather than checked luggage. In certain countries, like Japan, it is required by law to pay a third party to ship cargo. And that’s where the real cost lies: While the one-way fee for transporting your pet on United from Japan to the United States is about $300 for a 10- to 50-pound pet, per United’s website, the additional fee means the consumer will pay an additional $1,440 to  $3,869.”

Not only would the new policy triple the costs of flying with your pet. But it could also put their lives at risk. Normally small animals are allowed to fit under the seat in front of you but cargo-only would obviously change that. (If you love animals and need a good cry, go visit Sadie Abroad and see what happened to her dog on their way to her first post in Saudi Arabia.)

ABC got some of their numbers from Stars and Stripes, which is the newspaper of the U.S. military. And you can bet they were paying attention. United quickly put in a waiver for military personnel that were on official change of station orders…but did not include Foreign Service personnel.

That’s when AFSA got involved. One day I received an email in my inbox from AFSA addressed to me and probably 11,999 other FS employees. The email detailed the changes that had taken place, included some suggested actions we could take, as well as a few key email addresses at United Airlines. Our family jumped on that bandwagon right away. And in a few short weeks, AFSA sent us all a follow up email joyfully informing us that United had extended its waiver to include us.

On a smaller scale, one blogger was recently removed from the State Department’s careers page for posting some intimate details about some of the personal struggles she’s been going through with breast cancer. Apparently, the FS blogging community is pretty tight, and it went into hyper drive when the news became public. Again, the folks up the chain actually listened, apologized, and reinstated her blog in its rightful place.

Even here at little Embassy Belmopan, I’ve seen positive changes made from a few people simply speaking up. We have a suggestion box that employees actually use, and the issues presented are addressed in the all-hands meetings. Whether it’s putting up a large vehicle mirror at the gate of the housing compound so you can actually see if there’s approaching traffic or bringing in a vending machine after the cafeteria closed. If it’s within their power and budget, they’ll try to make it work.

So thank you, State Department. I am proud to have my family be part of your family. 🙂