Sunday, February 06, 2011

Everything's Negotiable

After bidding and lobbying and hugs and handshakes and finally, at last, paneling, you would think that you'd be finished with the entire process and would be all set to move on to your next post. You would, of course, be wrong.

Now you have to negotiate your transfer details, aka your orders, from your present post, or losing post, to your future post, or gaining post. It begins with the actual timing of your move but it doesn't end there. Your itinerary, any required or desired training, the shipment of your UAB (Unaccompanied Air Baggage) and HHE (Household Effects), the shipment of your POV (Privately Owned Vehicle) and your Home Leave will all have to be determined.  You begin the process by filling out a TMTWO form online and hitting the 'submit' button.

The TMTWO is the form you use to carefully craft your plan to cover all the details of your move and it's surprisingly interactive, coherent and easy to complete. When you have completed the form to your satisfaction, you hit 'submit' and it's automatically routed to all the parties who need to approve it: your supervisors, the HR sections at both posts, the Bureau assignment officer in charge of your move and HR in Washington DC. Then the games begin.

The losing post doesn't want you to leave until your replacement is physically pushing you out of your chair, while the gaining post wants you to arrive ten minutes after you've been paneled. In addition to the losing and gaining posts, you must also receive the Bureau's blessing on your transfer plans. So getting everyone to agree to the timing of your move seems a logical place to start.

In Rome I worked out a departure plan with the NIV Section Chief and our boss, the CG. Based on my arrival here in August 2009 I would be, theoretically, expected to depart from Rome in August 2011. My rotational tour had me working in the Econ Section for one year and then transitioning into Consular for my second year. However, because the officer I was replacing in Consular left post early, I was pulled into the NIV section in June instead of August. I was quite happy with this arrangement because I enjoy Consular work and this would give me an extra couple of months working with a great group of people.

I'll be the Management Officer in Port Moresby and the DCM there recommended that I take a course in Financial Management (FMO) at FSI before I report to post. The course is nine weeks long. I also have to take mandatory Home Leave after Rome. This is leave time we are given in addition to our regular annual leave. It must be taken in the US and is designed to ensure that Foreign Service Officers spend time in America between tours. I have over thirty-five days of Home Leave on the books.

So, sitting down with a calendar, an abacus and a slide rule, I worked out my itinerary. My proposed itinerary, or TMTWO, had me leaving Rome in June, taking most of my Home Leave before the FMO course, taking the course, then taking a final week of Home Leave in September to attend my son's wedding and finally heading down to PNG immediately after the wedding in the beginning of October, hungover but happy. The officer who will replace me in the Consular Section is already in Rome, working in the Econ Section. Therefore, leaving early isn't as much of a problem as it would otherwise be and so, Rome agreed to release me in mid-June, approximately two months early, based solely on my enrollment in the FMO course.

Upon discovering that I would be leaving Rome in June, PNG promptly asked me to forgo the training course and report to post immediately after Home Leave to cover the early departure of the incumbent Management Officer. Rome coughed discreetly into its hand and withdrew its approval for my early departure because I would no longer be attending a training program... and, I was back to square one. Now I would have to stay in Rome until August, not receive the Financial Management training, take my thirty-five days of Home Leave and still arrive in PNG in early October. Rome, it seemed, was willing to accommodate PNG when it came to training schedules but mere staffing shortages warrant no sympathy between posts.

In fairness, PNG is a very small post with fewer than a dozen American officers so gaps in staffing can have an exaggerated effect there. The current Management Officer was scheduled to depart in September but is, I would imagine, being pressured by his onward assignment to report there early. Once Bureau realized that I would either arrive in PNG in October with Financial Management training or I would arrive in October without it, they weighed in and re-set my original itinerary so that I'll arrive in PNG in October after my FMO training. The timing of your transfer will require some give and take all around.

Next on the list was negotiating with HR in Washington DC for the shipment of my car. State shipped my car to Rome for me and on my TMTWO I asked them to ship it back to the U.S. when my tour ends. It's a left-hand drive vehicle (as so many American cars tend to be) and PNG follows the British habit of driving on the left (or as we commonly think of it, the 'wrong') side of the road so I don't want to ship my old Mustang down there. I explained this in my TMTWO and stated that the government wouldn't incur any storage expenses in the U.S. because I'd put the car back in my garage.

I received a brief message from HR advising me that they "would not ship my POV back to the States simply so I could use it for Home Leave".  Realizing that there had been a miscommunication somewhere along the line, I decided to call the HR tech and explain the situation a bit more clearly. Silver tongue'd devil that I am, I was certain that I could sort this out in a couple of minutes on the phone. After all, my car would require special permits in PNG, post recommends against shipping left-hand drive vehicles and I wouldn't feel comfortable driving a left-hand drive vehicle in a right-hand drive world anyway. Therefore, if it wasn't going to PNG, the only option left would be to send it back where it came Maine.

I suppose that my biggest failing is that I lack imagination. HR correctly brought to my attention during our conversation that a third option does indeed exist as noted in 14FAM615, the rules and regulations that govern our moves. "If you don't want your POV to go to your next post, we will ship it to our storage facility in Brussels (ELSO) and hold it until your post after that and then, we'll ship it there". "But", I said, "PNG will be my last post because I have to retire at the end of that tour". "In that case", the HR tech replied, "we'll ship it from ELSO back to the States when you retire"!

Somehow, shipping my car to ELSO, storing it for three years and then shipping it to the States made more sense to HR than simply shipping it to the States when I leave Rome. Helpfully, my HR tech reminded me that I could, in fact, purchase a right-hand drive vehicle at my present post and a) ship my old car to ELSO, b) store it there for three years, then c) ship it home, and they would d) ship the new vehicle to PNG. Yep, it's all right there in 14FAM615! Fortunately for me, those same regulations allow me to ship my POV to "an alternate destination" using 'cost-contruct'. This means that I can choose to ship the car back to Maine and pay the difference between the cost of that routing and the cost of shipping it to PNG or shipping it to ELSO and storing it for three years. Under 'cost-construct', the least expensive option is to simply ship it home so, in the end, the car will go back to Maine and I won't have to pay anything out of pocket. I have to make these arrangements with our Transportation Dept. in Washington after my orders are cut. Why, you may well ask, can't that be put on my orders? Beats me.

I honestly believe that they still think that I'm trying to scam them into shipping my car home so I can use it for Home Leave and somewhere in the dark suspicious part of my psyche, I believe that if I weren't going to the U.S. between posts they would have shipped it home without batting an eye!

The remaining chips on the table are the pack-out and shipping of my personal stuff, some from Rome to the U.S. and then to PNG and some from Rome directly to PNG, an approved access to the storage facility in Hagerstown while I'm at FSI, my request to use one week of my Home Leave after the FMO course and the actual routing of my trip to PNG. This last point is important because, depending on the routing, the trip to PNG from the east coast of the U.S. can take up to 40 hours!! Why do I suspect that the only acceptable routing on my orders will require me to row in the economy section of a small boat from Hawaii to Guam?

In other good news, my Class One Medical clearance will need to be renewed prior to my departure for PNG. That means a full fluids, filters and working parts tune-up before I leave Rome. In anticipation of this medical examination, and in full recognition of the deleterious effects of nearly two years of Italian food and enough gelato to pave a hockey rink, I have re-loaded the C25K program on my iPod and begun to run again! I, of course, use 'run' in the figurative sense of the word. I actually amble, meander, saunter and stroll on a treadmill in the gym in my apartment building. Breaking into anything more than a trot makes it almost impossible to hold my cigar and turn the pages on my book.

I took a trip up to Siena a few weeks ago and managed to climb the bell tower! I was somewhat surprised and moderately disappointed when post refused to send a helicopter to bring me back down!

Here's the view going back down the 479 steps.

For Christmas my son, the soon-to-be chef, gave me a brownie pan and five boxes of brownie mix. The entire NIV section in Rome thanks him.


I have four months left in Rome (assuming my orders will finally be approved) and reservations for the guest room are now difficult to obtain as family and friends all jostle for a last visit to the Eternal City. I will stop volunteering at the dog shelter next week and I plan to spend my remaining weekends seeing as much of Italy as I can before I leave. I'm pretty sure that once HR discovers that I intend to use my POV to travel around the country, they'll insist on shipping it to the States immediately. Anyway, it sure will be nice to have it back in the States so I can use it while I'm on Home Leave!