September 18, 2006

This guide is intended as a resource for agencies which currently have no personnel overseas, or for those considering establishing positions overseas in countries in which they currently have no presence. However, it will also be of benefit to agencies seeking to expand or reduce their presence at overseas posts. It has been drafted by the Department of State's Office of Rightsizing the United States Government Overseas Presence, in collaboration with other geographic and functional bureaus within the Department of State.

Section I: Chief of Mission Authority

The President's Letter of Instruction to Chiefs of Mission (COM), most recently issued on June 30, 2003, stipulates that the Chief of Mission has "full responsibility for the direction, coordination, and supervision of all United States Government executive branch employees, regardless of their employment categories or location, except those under command of a U.S. area military commander or on the staff of an international organization"; that "all executive branch agencies under [COM] authority, and every element of [the] Mission, must keep [the Chief of Mission] fully informed at all times of their current and planned activities"; that he/she has "the right to see all communications to or from Mission elements, however transmitted, except those specifically exempted by law or Executive decision"; that the Chief of Mission has full responsibility "for the security of [the] Mission and all personnel... whether inside or outside the chancery gate"; that the Chief of Mission review programs, personnel, and funding levels regularly, "and ensure that all agencies... do likewise"; that every executive branch agency under Chief of Mission authority obtain approval "before changing the size, composition or mandate of its staff"; and that all U.S. Government personnel other than those in country under command of a U.S. area military commander or on the staff of an international organization "must obtain country clearance" before entering the country on official business.

Section II: National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 38

National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 38 was signed by President Reagan on June 2, 1982, and provides that all agencies with staffs operating under the authority of COMs will ensure that "the Chief of Mission's approval is sought on any proposed changes in the size, composition, or mandate of such staff elements."

A request for Chief of Mission approval under NSDD-38 should be the last step in a dialogue with the Chief of Mission during which the agency's representative explains the agency's plans to the Chief of Mission, receives feedback on how this plan fits into the overall Mission Strategic Plan, learns more about operating in the host country, and makes necessary refinements to the proposal. In some cases, the Chief of Mission may indicate that the proposal will not be feasible - because it is inappropriate to U.S. Government operations in the host country, because there is no space available, because of security conditions, because the proposed activity is duplicative of a function already performed by another U.S. Government agency, etc.

NSDD-38 requests are submitted to the Office of Rightsizing the United States Government Overseas Presence (M/R), Room 2820, Department of State, Washington, DC 20520 via an automated system. To request a logon, please visit the Internet site Users will be asked to complete a standard on-line request form which will initiate the process. Chiefs of Missions are asked to submit a reply within three weeks. Agencies are notified by M/R when a reply has been received, or if additional information is required by the Chief of Mission to make a decision. Once NSDD-38 approval has been received, the agency is free to establish the position and assign personnel. The post should be promptly informed of the name, grade, family composition, and anticipated arrival date of the new employee(s) as soon as possible, so that the Interagency Housing Board may assign housing and the Community Liaison Office Coordinator may assign a sponsor (for further information, see Section III of this guide).

Section III: Resources in Washington

Although it is essential that agencies contemplating establishing an office overseas discuss their plan with the Chief of Mission and selected members of the country team (see Section IV), it is also helpful in the early stages of the decision-making process to talk to a variety of interlocutors at the Department of State in Washington.

The first and most important contact will be with the relevant country desk. Country desks in the Department of State's geographic bureaus are the principal point of contact in the interagency process for issues relating to a particular country or group of countries. To identify the appropriate country desk, go to Large countries will have a desk dealing exclusively with matters pertaining to that country, while smaller countries may have an office dealing with a regional cluster of countries.

A number of functional bureaus may also provide good contacts. Agencies contemplating an overseas presence should ensure that the work they are planning to execute is not duplicative of work already being performed by another U.S. government agency, and should inform themselves about similar functions already performed by other agencies. For example, the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs coordinates activities in the economic, business, and agricultural area and the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental Scientific Affairs coordinates activities pertaining to a number of environmental, health, and global issues. A complete listing of functional bureaus, with links to their websites, is available at

Once a decision to establish a presence in a given country has been taken, and approval granted, a number of management bureaus will provide assistance.

The Office of Rightsizing the United States Government Overseas Presence (M/R) will work with the agency on a Memorandum of Understanding governing the agency's overseas presence. The MOU covers matters of administration such as information technology, participation in International Cooperative Administrative Support Services (ICASS), security, and outlines broadly the mission of the agency overseas. Please contact M/R at 202-647-6498 to initiate this process.

The Bureau of Administration's Office of Logistics Management will provide guidance on shipping household effects and other items to the overseas post. Contact 202-647-4160 for further details. Agencies may enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of State to use the State Department's offices for the transportation of personnel and property to the overseas post.

The Bureau of Administration's Office of Overseas Schools maintains information on all schools overseas attended by family members of official Americans, and provides grants to many of them. For the most up-to-date information, please contact the Office of Overseas Schools at 202-261-8200. The Department of State's Family Liaison Office (FLO) also has an Education and Youth Officer who can provide invaluable information and guidance about education issues as they relate to internationally mobile children including special education resources, boarding schools, and college applications. The Family Liaison Office can be contacted at 202-647-1076, or via e-mail at

When applicable, the Bureau of Human Resources' Office of Title and Rank will act on requests for diplomatic or consular titles for agency personnel to be assigned overseas. Contact 202-647-9732 for further assistance.

The Mission's Human Resource Section and State's Office of Overseas Employment will provide information on hiring local staff, including foreign nationals and ordinarily resident U.S. citizens, collectively identified as Locally Employed (LE) Staff, as well as information on hiring eligible family members of U.S. direct-hire staff. The Mission HR Office can handle all HR support and personnel actions for LE Staff, contingent upon the hiring agency's subscription to ICASS HR support services at post and the signing of a Personal Services Agreement (PSA) Memorandum of Agreement with the Department of State, permitting the use of State's PSA authorities for non-State local hires. The USG is viewed as a single employer, and LE Staff are paid, generally in local currency, on a pay plan approved by HR/OE, based on local prevailing practice, and considering the benefits normally accorded under host country labor law. The Local Compensation Plan (LCP) approved by HR/OE is the only compensation plan available to LE Staff of all U.S. Government agencies overseas. The LCP generally includes the salary schedule, premium pay rules, bonuses and allowances (if applicable), a Local Leave Plan and end-of-service benefit plans, including severance pay, separation notice, separation for age provisions and a Reduction in Force (RIF) plan. The LE Staff Handbook will generally cover conditions of employment, grievance procedures, disciplinary actions and other post-specific procedures which all agencies must follow. LE Staff are enrolled in host government or private local retirement plans, or, in limited instances, where such plans do not exist or are unreliable, in an offshore retirement plan. For further information, contact the Mission's HR Office or the Director of the Office of Overseas Employment (HR/OE) at 202-261-8132.

The Family Liaison Office (FLO) serves U.S. Government employees and their family members assigned to, serving at, or returning from a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. In addition to managing the worldwide Community Liaison Office Coordinator program (described in Section III), FLO provides services in the areas of Education and Youth, Family Member Employment, and Support Services for those experiencing a mission-wide or personal crisis or issue (such as abuse, adoption, divorce, eldercare, or evacuations). The FLO also has an Employment Section that provides services and resources related to Family Member Employment overseas. We strongly recommend that family members contact the FLO as soon as possible if they are interested in working while posted overseas. That office can be contacted at 202-647-1076, or via e-mail to Additional information can be found at

All management/logistics arrangements must be closely coordinated with post. As planning progresses, it may be useful to arrange conference calls between Washington-based support offices and the Post Management Officer or designee to discuss specifics. Particularly if an agency is considering sending multiple personnel to a post, it is recommended that the agency's domestic administrative point of contact make a trip to post early on to have detailed discussions with post personnel on the ground.

The International Cooperative Administrative Support Services (ICASS) office in the Bureau of Resource Management coordinates the shared administrative services arrangement under which agencies receive administrative services overseas from the Department of State or an alternative service provider. The ICASS Service Center can be reached at 202-663-3883. ICASS is a cost distribution system. Charges are based on the number of cost centers for which an agency is signed up; the workload counts associated with those cost centers; and the cost of providing the services associated with those cost centers. Participating agencies must sign up for at least the "Basic Package" and "Community Liaison Office" cost centers. Other services may also be required depending on an agency's particular circumstances at post, e.g., if agency employees are located in U.S. Government facilities, security would be mandatory as would Building Operating Expenses. In keeping with the President's Management Agenda requirement to avoid unnecessary duplication of management services overseas, posts may also require agencies to sign up for all appropriate services as a condition of NSDD-38 approval.

Some services - chiefly the human resources cost centers - are charged based on head counts. The remaining cost centers, including shipping, supply, procurement, and motor pool, are charged based on actual consumption. Building Operating Expenses charges are based on square meters occupied. Workload factors are counted annually by the service provider at post, and the Financial Management Office provides the senior agency representative with a bill and supporting documentation for signature. An ICASS Council at post, consisting of members of serviced agencies, including the Department of State, meets several times a year to review the ICASS budget, assess the quality of service, and address other issues of concern. Further information can be provided by the Financial Management Officer (see Section III).

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) offers a mandatory course for all personnel assigned overseas on the security environment and embassy organization, as well as language and area studies courses, to which agency personnel may be assigned, upon payment of course fees by their agency. For registration information call 703-302-7139 or visit the FSI website at The Overseas Briefing Center at FSI offers a wealth of information for personnel assigned overseas and their families, including videos of the post and host city/country; samples of post newsletters; post reports; rules concerning pets; and other information designed to assist newly assigned personnel preparing to move overseas. It can be reached at 703-302-7275.

The Office of Medical Services (MED) conducts physical examsfor medical clearances, which U.S. Government employees and their eligible family members must receive in order to travel to post and to receive medical treatment from the post Medical Unit, providing the agency has signed up for medical services under ICASS. To schedule a clearance physical, contact 202-663-1779. Please note that contractors may receive medical services from overseas post health units only if medical services are expressly provided for in the contract, and MED determines the program can accommodate them. Other requirements include obtaining a medical clearance from MED, participation by the contracting agency, via the ICASS shared services mechanism, in the costs of the medical program, and specific provision in the contract for paying costs for overseas hospitalization and/or medical evacuation. For further clarification, please contact MED.

U.S. direct-hire personnel assigned overseas, as well as their eligible family members, generally travel on diplomatic or official passports. To apply for such a passport, please contact the Special Issuance Agency at 600 19th Street NW, Suite 3.200, Washington, DC 20006 or call 202-485-8200. Agencies should check with the receiving country's embassy in Washington concerning visa requirements for assigned employees and their families.

The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) assesses all agencies with personnel overseas under COM authority an annual charge for Capital Security Cost Sharing. Through this program, agencies contribute toward the cost of building new, safe and secure diplomatic facilities overseas, at a rate of approximately ten facilities per year over an eighteen-year period. The amount of the annual charge is based on the number of desk and non-desk positions an agency has and whether those positions are located in controlled-access areas (where classified information may be discussed and stored) or in regular workspace. For further information, contact 703-516-1980. These charges are made at the headquarters level.

Section IV. Resources at Post

As indicated above, it is crucial that an agency contemplating establishing positions overseas discuss its plan in-depth with the COM and other relevant post officials as early as possible. The COM will provide insight on how the agency's proposal fits into the overall mission operations. The annual Mission Strategic Plan outlines the mission's primary goals (usually about half a dozen) and provides interagency action plans for each. This document, formulated by the country team at the end of the calendar year, is expected to drive the embassy's operations for the coming year and serves as an important tool in the budget cycle.

The country team consists of the COM, usually an Ambassador, the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), and the heads of the State Department sections and other agencies assigned to the mission. The COM may be either a career Foreign Service officer or a non-career ambassador from the world of business, politics, or academia. The DCM is a career Foreign Service officer, often with previous assignments in both policy and management. He or she acts as Charge d'Affaires ad interim in the absence of the COM.

Agencies will want to confer with the Mission on both management/logistics and policy issues.

A. Management Issues

The Management Officer (or Counselor, depending on rank), is responsible for many of the administrative details of the agency's presence at the post, in particular such issues as office space and administrative relations with the host government. The Management Officer/Counselor should be the first point of contact for all management/administrative issues to best coordinate the agency's entry into post. Key members of the Management Officer's staff are:

  • The General Services Officer (GSO), who is responsible for housing, procurement of office and residential furniture and furnishings; warehousing, and motor pool operations;
  • The Financial Management Officer (FMO), who will explain the Interagency Cooperative Administrative Support System (ICASS), and provide projections of specific costs;
  • The Human Resources Officer (HRO), who will discuss establishment of any positions for LE staff and eligible family members, and should provide a copy of the most recent LE Staff Handbook, which addresses salaries, benefits, and conditions of employment for local national staff and locally resident American staff, to which all agencies must adhere;
  • The Information Management Officer (IMO), who will address issues related to computers, telephones, diplomatic pouch and mail or APO/FPO;
  • The Community Liaison Office (CLO) Coordinator , who will discuss employment of eligible family members, schools, recreational activities, identify sponsors, and address other quality of life issues;
  • The Post Medical Officer -- a Foreign Service physician or medical practitioner, or a locally employed physician or nurse -- who will provide information on local health conditions, local medical facilities, medical clearance requirements, and medevac procedures.

B. Policy Issues

The DCM or his/her designee should be the first point of contact for all security and policy issues. S/he can recommend and facilitate discussions with:

  • The Regional Security Officer (RSO), who will discuss post-specific threat information, including both operational security for the office and personal and residential security for employees and family members outside the office. The COM is responsible for the security of all U.S. Government employees overseas under his/her authority. The RSO manages the security program for the COM. All agencies and employees must adhere to the COM's security requirements, including those involving firearms.
  • Other State sections as appropriate. The Political Section deals with a wide array of political, military, and global issues such as democracy and trafficking in persons. The Economic Section addresses economic, commercial, and agricultural relations, including such issues as terrorist finance and intellectual property rights. The Consular Section issues visas to foreign nationals seeking to come to the United States and passports and other services to American citizen residents or tourists in the host nation. The Public Affairs Section is responsible for all media relations as well as exchange programs and other cultural affairs.
  • The DCM may also recommend other agency contacts within the embassy as appropriate.

Section V: Life at post

Life at an overseas missionvaries considerably from post to post. A large embassy, particularly one of recent construction and corresponding to the latest security requirements, may seem from the outside rather like a fortress, while a small post may be located in commercial office space with no setback from the street and only limited protection. In all cases, however, embassies or consulates are protected by a local guard force, and in many cases a Marine Security Guard detachment is present as well, to safeguard classified material.

Business attire is generally the norm, unless local conditions dictate otherwise and the COM has so determined. Official business hours vary widely according to local custom, but must constitute a 40-hour work week. In many Muslim countries the weekend is either Thursday-Friday or Friday-Saturday. The mission generally observes not only all American holidays, but also those of the host nation. Locally employed staff frequently receive some benefits that are unique to local prevailing practice; these are included in the LE Staff Handbook, mentioned above.

In addition to the weekly country team meeting, a typical post will have a number of committees, of which agency representatives are members by virtue of their position or to which they are appointed by post management on a rotating basis. Such committees include the Emergency Action Committee, which meets regularly to discuss emergency planning and possible threats against the post or individuals; the Interagency Housing Board, which manages the housing program at post, including the assignment of new arrivals to housing; the Awards Committee, which approves award nominations; the Post Employment Committee, which ensures fairness to all family member candidates for employment; and the ICASS Council. Many posts have an employee association which runs a small commissary and/or club; membership is voluntary and the board is elected by the members.

Although many agencies will receive some administrative services (particularly human resources and financial management) from their Washington headquarters, they should not seek to replicate at post services already provided by ICASS. This is wasteful, contradictory to U.S. Government rightsizing policy, and increases the costs for the other agencies at post.

The COM will generally indicate at what level other mission personnel are to interact with the host government and other foreign missions in country. In general, the COM is the chief (or sole) mission interlocutor with the President, Prime Minister, and cabinet, although, particularly in small countries, key members of the country team may have direct contact with ministers in their respective portfolios. Although the COM will be the principal interlocutor with other Ambassadors, other members of the mission may find themselves engaging foreign diplomats higher than their own rank as a result of common social interests (e.g., church, sports, cultural, or other organizations).

Relations with the press are handled by the Public Affairs Section; all requests for interviews must be sent through the Public Affairs Office (PAO), which will coordinate with other sections and agencies as appropriate. Employees of other sections or agencies should not give media interviews without prior approval from the PAO.

Particularly in developing countries with high rates of unemployment, official Americans of all sections and agencies may be approached by foreign nationals seeking their assistance in obtaining an American tourist or student visa. In general, such requestors should be referred to the Consular Section. Each post is required to have a rigorous visa "referral" system, to which all personnel must adhere. Because of widespread fraud, the bar - and the responsibility - for recommending that a Consular Officer issue a visa to a close contact are extremely high. Many U.S. employees have been duped by trusted contacts into recommending individuals who were instead participating in immigration scams.

The "Standardized Regulations," sometimes referred to as the "DSSR," govern allowances and other payments available to U.S. Government civilian employees working in foreign countries; the Department of Defense follows the DSSR in its own regulations, with limited exceptions. The following are examples of payments included in the DSSR: hardship differential, payable in countries where the local security, medical, sanitary, climate, or other conditions are substantially different from those of the United States; post allowance, a cost-of-living allowance in localities where the cost of living is at least five percent more than in the United States; danger pay, where the local security situation puts American employees at particular risk; and subsistence expense allowance (SEA) for employees or family members who have been evacuated from post. Some agencies also provide their employees with representation allowances to entertain host-country contacts; the proper use of these allowances is explained in the DSSR. The first place to check on any of these issues is the Management Section at post.

In addition to family member employment, the sponsorship program, crisis management support, and school liaison, the Community Liaison Office (CLO) reaches out to the community and organizes a variety of activities to strengthen employee and family member morale and understanding of the host culture. Such activities generally include a weekly or biweekly embassy newsletter; an orientation session for newcomers; outings to shopping outlets and local restaurants; in-country and regional travel; visits to local handicraft dealers and artisans; and cultural, social, and sports events. The CLO Coordinator keeps a reference library, which can also facilitate connections for newcomers with special interests.

Security and safety are of paramount importance. Newcomers will receive a security briefing soon after arrival at post. As noted previously, every employee who is assigned abroad must complete mandatory security training prior to arrival at post. Each post has an Emergency Action Plan, with which all employees should be familiar. Drills are conducted regularly, to test the various segments of the plan. These apply to all agencies. Family members should acquaint themselves with basic security requirements, and ensure that servants also exercise sound security practices. In many countries, particularly in the developing world, servants are not a luxury but rather a necessity, to shop for and prepare food, clean the house or apartment, and care for children. Many countries do not have American-style supermarkets, necessitating food shopping in multiple locations, and in some cases bargaining in the local language. Depending upon local health conditions, fruits and vegetables may need to be soaked in a bleach solution, and drinking water may have to be boiled. Insect-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever, are endemic to many posts, and require special precautions such as mosquito netting or prophylaxis. The RSO's office and CLO will often be able to provide some assistance in finding and clearing servants.

Finally, no matter whether the foreign posting is to a Western country where Americans may blend in or a location where they stand out, or whether they are at the office or the beach, official Americans are always representing their government. They are expected to adhere to the highest standards of ethical and moral conduct at all times, to respect host country laws and customs, and to set an example for their agencies or sections. Most official Americans and their eligible family members overseas will have some form of privileges and immunities under the Vienna Conventions; post-specific information should be provided by the Management Officer.




KEY OFFICERS LIST - [This site provides the current list of key officers of all sections and agencies at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.]

POST REPORTS - [This site provides reports on each country where the U.S. has a diplomatic mission, and specific information for U.S. Government personnel assigned to that mission, including education, entertainment, medical conditions, availability of goods and services, etc.]

ICASS WEB SITE - [This site provides information on the International Cooperative Administrative Support Services (ICASS) system by which administrative support services are provided at overseas posts.]

OFFICE OF OVERSEAS ALLOWANCES SITE - [This site provides links to the Department of State Standardized Regulations, the government-wide allowances and benefits program abroad.]

OVERSEAS BUILDINGS OPERATIONS (OBO) WEBSITE - [This site contains information on the Capital Security Cost Sharing program.]