There is a lot of excitement in the FS world (that's Foreign Service for you sessile types) about something that is called comparability pay. If you are interested, you can read this WP article on the subject.
While I'm really sympathetic to the FSO's (their pay is pitiful to begin with), these days I can't but help envying them their cushy lifestyle.
Usually, FS workers know well in advance where they are going next. They know as much as a year in advance! Imagine that! They have strict regulations as to moving allowances and travel orders but State would never think of denying them a move, or not to pay their children's schools, or not telling them either of that until you are actually on the ground.
Contractors, on the other hand, are fair game. Mobilize within 30 days! No, make that 14 days. Move fast! But wait until we sign off on that plane ticket. We might get around to doing that, um, is a day before you leave too short? Surely not. What do you mean, it's much more expensive to buy a plane ticket the day before? What do you mean, you would like to have some time to pack? We don't understand. You're contractor, you have no rights. Who knows whether you're even human. Don't complain, it's unseemly.
So, Doug is replacing a Chief of Party (CoP) who jumped ship seven months before his project ran out. He gave 30 days notice until February 28, then took a week of vacation and announced he'd leave the country on the 21st of February, come hell or high water. Doug was in Jordan when he accepted the offer, with less than a month to The Departure. He flew home, turned around and flew to Moldova to meet the then-CoP to get debriefed. Three days of really intense meetings and meetings and meetings. Doug had a conference to attend in DC on the 14th, so we met him at the airport in Frankfurt on his way back from Moldova and flew together to DC. In DC, Doug did his gig and then basically spent the rest of the time working for the new company, and wrapping up some loose ends from prior projects he's done. We came back three days ago. Doug started work today.
All the while, we had to make decisions. We made clear that we only come as a package. No problem, we were told. No problem at all. We have kids, we need schooling. Sure, no problem.
The catch is that the project ends on September 30. Because Doug will work on this project for under a year, the client - USAID - had to decide whether this is a STTA (short term assignment) or an LTTA (you can guess this one, can't you?).
Now, before we get into more details, let me quickly explain that these projects that Doug does are USAID projects. Which means that while they are run by a company, USAID provides the funding, makes the rules and gets to approve or disapprove every single decision. Anything, from plane tickets and housing allowance to schooling and arrival dates, must be cleared with USAID. They have to give you country clearance before you can even step off the plane. Their turf, their rules.
So, STTA's. No family. No move. No school fees for kids, of course, as those kids are not even there, right? No housing allowance because the STTA's are supposed to stay in hotels. For lodging and meals they get a "per diem" that varies from country to country. For seven months, this runs to about $49,000 if you go to Moldova.
LTTA's, on the other hand, get pretty much everything. A move, both an airship and a ground move. School for the kids. Housing allowance. COLA and whatnot. A flight back home every two years, etc., etc.
It adds up but much of this is taxable income. Per diems are not taxable. All in all, we calculated that we would probably be even or better off as STTA's, especially since the company promised us all sorts of additional benefits out of their own pockets. They were desperate, you see. They promised things.
The company worked out two pay/benefit versions, one STTA and one LTTA and presented them to USAID; to nobody's surprise, Doug was approved as STTA.
Okay, we said. The company had promised us $5,000 towards the schooling, and with the per diem and the housing allowance which USAID randomly decided to pay, we'd be okay.
Ah, said USAID. You know, we don't like STTA's that go on forever and ever. In order to discourage this vast waste of per diem, we have a regulation that stops payment on per diem's after 49 days. Wait, we said, that doesn't make sense. You said we have to be STTA - if you don't approve of that, why did you approve that? Ah, said USAID. You're a contractor. You don't understand.
So here we are. We get 1/3 of the per diem the company had in the calculations. You would think we could go and say to the company that they were misleading us, or that they were being sloppy, and which of the two is worse I can't say. We did. There was much apologizing and promising to right it, and Doug's boss promised we'd get money for the kids' school, and, and, and...
Only they told us days later they misunderstood and thought we'd meant the $5,000 originally promised money and not the fees for the International school... They promised us to push back to USAID (who has approved the family to come along, so there's that) but you know. Promises, promises.
In the meantime, no move of any sort has yet been approved. If you think we could just go and organize a move and get some or all of the money back, you are wrong. Remember that USAID has to approve every single step? USAID doesn't care that we are leaving in 12 days and that 12 days are rather short for packing up a house, especially when you don't plan to just take everything.
That's why I'm sitting here, writing blog posts, instead of running around, frantically packing. I simply have no clue at all what I can pack.
Hurry up and wait. That should be the official motto in USAID's seal. Right next to, "Contractors have no rights." My FSO friends tell me that's why we get paid so handsomely. Yes, well. We need that money to pay the shrink who gets stressed contractor's wives out of their fits.