Promotion Scorecards

 

I got an email from my CDO on how to decypher the “TIC/TIS scorecard” that’s part of your employee profile. Supposedly, you’re able to figure out where you ended up on the promotion list, though you’ll need the total numbers of promotions to the next grade (available from State Magazine or AFSA, though later than the scorecard, usually). Access your employee profile through HR Online and use the key below. The CDO’s email said to expect the data up on the 13th. It’s not there yet for 2009, but you can check out past years’ data. Note: it’s only for promotions where you competed, which means that JOs won’t have any meaningful data until after tenure.

HR’s Office of Performance Evaluation (HR/PE) plans to release scorecards from the 2009 promotion cycle on January 13.  Following is some information to help you access, understand, and interpret your scorecard.

What is a “Scorecard”?

Your scorecard is an electronic document that shows the selection board rankings of Foreign Service employees reviewed for promotion in a given year. They are usually updated in late November or December to reflect promotion board deliberations finalized the previous October.  Scorecards also show employees’ tenure record, any period of leave without pay or separation from the Service, time in class (TIC) and time in service (TIS) expiration dates, and language scores. 

Where Can You Access Your Scorecard?

Logon to HROnline, click on “Employee Profile.”  In the upper right-hand of the screen you’ll see a tab for “View TIC/TIS and Scorecard Data.”  Click on that.

How to Read Your Scorecard

Your scorecard is displayed in the form of a grid. The first column is year.  The second column is no longer in use.  The third column is labeled “Class;” it shows how you were ranked in class-wide competition.  The “F BRD” column next to it shows rankings for people who competed for promotion functionally (i.e., with others in the same cone).  The fifth and seventh columns are no longer in use.  The sixth column, “CW Prelim,” depicts the results of preliminary class-wide screening (for FS-02s).

  • Class-wide selection boards meet before the functional skill code boards. If you are promoted class-wide, your file is not/not reviewed by the functional board.

In the “Class,” “F BRD” and “CW Prelim” columns, you will find a letter/symbol indicating the following:

  • A – Advanced for further review for class-wide promotion
  • D – Denied advancement for further class-wide review but will be competed by conal board
  • P – Promoted (shows ranking)
  • R – Recommended for promotion but not reached (shows ranking)
  • S – Mid-ranked (eligible but not recommended for promotion, no numerical ranking)
  • L – Low-ranked  
  • O – Low-ranked and identified for immediate referral to the Performance Standards Board (PSB)
  • X – Ineligible for promotion (less than three years at grade)
  • Y – Non-rated (Board unable to judge performance due to insufficient material in file)
  • Z – Ineligible (Has not opened window for promotion into the Senior Foreign Service — FO-01s only)

Your scorecard only indicates how many people in your category were recommended for promotion that year; it does not say how many were ultimately promoted. Promotion statistics giving this information are published each year in State magazine.

Sadness: Hulu blocks proxy servers, shuts overseas access

 

You know that previous blog post where I talked about how to access U.S.-only websites from overseas? The main reason to do that is Hulu (and, now Netflix) and they’ve gone and blocked overseas access.  I only get 10GB of bandwidth per month, so I’m not going to waste it seeing if something like Tor would still work given that that’s more like IP address sharing. But seriously, Hulu…first you cut off Boxee and then it goes to to these lengths. Boo and hiss!

 

I’ve always been annoyed by the process of finding hotels at per diem rates in DC. I’ve only had to do it a few times, as I started out as a local hire (where you get no per diem) and I bought a house in DC in conjunction with long-term training. While waiting to close on the house, we needed to find a per-diem hotel that allowed pets, which significantly narrowed the field (I highly recommend staying at a Kimpton hotel if traveling with pets). Now, I’m heading back for a three-day training at FSI and I wanted a place to stay. While all the major chains allow you to choose the Government/Military rate after you’ve settled on a property, if their rate is unavailable or higher than per diem, you have to go all the way back to the search results. It would be easy enough for all the hotel chains to simply put the option on the search page, but instead all built “special” search pages which I’ve collected here:

Wyndham offers the discount as well, but not in the DC area so I’m not including them. I prefer Hilton and Marriott, mostly on the strength of their rewards programs. You can always check FedRooms.com or the list of Hotels at Per Diem, but neither is inclusive and both sites will return all hotels that offer the rate – whether the rate is available for your specified travel dates or not. Kind of defeats the purpose, no? 

 

Tomorrow is tax day (and, coincidentally, the anniversary of the Titanic sinking). I wanted to pass along this tip that could save you up to $75,000 in taxes that I’m surprised more people don’t know.

For those of you who actually know me, you’ll remember that I was conducting real estate settlements in DC before joining the Foreign Service.  I liked learning the intricacies of real estate law but one thing stuck out at me: active duty military and Foreign Service Officers have a much longer window to sell a house and claim up to $500,000exemption on the capital gains from the home sale. Most people know about the 2 years in 5 rule, by which you can exempt your primary home from capital gains if you lived in it for two out of the five years before you sold it. The exemption is $250k for individual filers and $500k for married couples filing jointly. The special rule for FSOs is that you can suspend your five-year test period for up to 10 years if you’re on assignment away from your home — effectively giving you a 2 year in 15 rule!

For example: say I bought an apartment in DC for $200,000 in January 2001 and lived in it as my main home through July 2004 when I was posted overseas. In the five years since then, say I’ve acquired several children, rugs, and large non-embassy furniture and I need a bigger place. In this fantasy equation, I sell the house for $500,000. Your real estate agent and possibly even your tax preparer may think you’re on the hook for $300k in gains on the house ($45,000 tax liability) because you fail the 2 in 5 tests. Au contraire! The example STILL works if I had lived in the house from 1996-1999 and have been overseas since (the publication actually doesn’t make the distinction that you have to be overseas though it does for members of the intelligence community. I’d rather not have my readers be tests cases, but you could always check with a lawyer to see if it applies while you’re domestic).

The full rules for this are explained in IRS Publication 523. If you’re not sure, talk to a tax professional or a lawyer. Another option that requires much more foresight than the previous example would be a “Starker” 1031 exchange, which I can get into at a different time.  It’s useful, though, to point this out to real estate folks in DC because most of them are shocked to know it and wouldn’t be in a position to even advise you on it (though I think I remember the excellent Benny Kass mentions it in one of his WaPo columns.

Preparing your EER – forms and tips

 

Far be it from me to question the wisdom of scheduling EER due dates at the same time as your tax returns; at least you’re combining as much pain and suffering into as short a time as possible. I’ve just finished my EER and each year I try to tell myself I’ll be more organized for next year. Here are some of the things I’m doing:

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Upcoming: Hulu to go international, no need for a VPN?

 

DownloadSquad is reporting that Hulu has signed on a VP for international operations. If this is rolled out, this could be a game-changer for TV watching abroad. I recently buckled and bought an AFN receiver – mostly so we had options when our internet was out (as it was for our first six months of this tour). I prefer downloading shows from iTunes, which has so far worked without VPN access so I can watch my favorite shows (Chuck, Lost, Heroes, House) shortly after they come out. This is great, but it’s expensive at $2/episode for low-def and $3 for HD. But if you have a high-speed connection in EUR, this will let you watch a good tranche of shows for free – with higher definition than AFN and fewer commercial interruptions. It’s not likely to be much use to me, as I don’t see the Jamahiriya being top of their list for countries to make marketing and licensing deals with, but who knows – maybe they’ll work out some way to throw the doors wide open and I can catch a few episodes of Life or Burn Notice.

Quick tip: keep frequent flyer accounts handy

 

addbook-snap

Here’s a tip to make sure your loyalty-program accounts are always handy if you’re going on TDY or find yourslef making unexpected stops while traveling: put the account information in as an email address in your address book/cell phone. I have all of mine listed in my Mac AddressBook with the surname “ZZ” to make sure they appear last in the list. This syncs with my gMail account via SpanningSync, to my iPod via iTunes, and to my cell phone via iSync. If I’m ever at a ticket counter, I just need to pull out my cell phone to find the account number I need. It’s been great for making sure I get all my miles on those last-minute trips (and has even gotten me a few courtesy upgrades).

 

I’m a big fan of top fives, and here are the five things that have made my expat life much easier:

1. A Good Home Media Center

macminiMy current tour has been a bit rough: we didn’t have internet for six months and the city doesn’t offer much in the way of entertainment (no movies, few restaurants, and no cultural anything). With our UAB taking 2 months and our HHE 5, boy was I glad that I had all of my movies on a hard drive. I used MacTheRipper and HandBrake to rip my DVDs to .mkv files (at about 1.5GB a piece) and threw those onto a Maxtor 1TeraByte Drive that came with me on the plane. I’ve just added a new Mac Mini to the mix that will serve those movies, my iTunes, and all of my photos and I bought an ElGato eyeTV so I can “Tivo” AFN shows. Best part is that you can bring it all with you in your carry on when you PCS – so you have lots of entertainment the moment you arrive at post.

2. Man’s best friend: A Hammer Drill

drillI’m convinced that the U.S. is the only country in the world where balloon-frame housing is the norm. Everywhere else, you’re looking at masonry, which makes it tough to hang things up. GSO has limited time and I like things done just so. Enter my plug-in Dewalt hammer drill. It’s plug-in and 110V, but it works fine with a GSO-supplied 2000W transformer. Grab some nice carbide bits and work gloves and you’re good to go.

3. A decent point-and-shoot camera

lumixI like photography, and I’ve definitely drooled over some of the nicer DSLRs out there, but let’s face it – carrying around a big camera reduces the number of pictures you take of everyday situations. After a lot of research, I decided on a Panasonic Lumix. It’s small enough to fit in your pocket but still takes some great pictures and has a 10x optical zoom (with a nice Leica lens). The two negatives are that you can’t control the f-stop or the ISO. Other than that, we get some great photos – both in normal situations and in places like Giza or Leptis Magna. Bonus? The photos are super high resolution so you can take a picture of receipts and travel documents while you’re traveling so you don’t have to bring a scanner along. I’ve also taken pictures of maps so I could consult them by zooming in on the photo rather than pulling out a big sheet of paper.

4. Home brewing supplies

I’m currently posted to the Middle East with no alcohol on the local market and no commissary – meaning home brewing is necessary to stay sane. Frankly, if you’re in to variety, it probably pays to learn some home brewing for most posts (save some places in EUR). I’d recommend visiting Midwest Brewing Supplies for the basics (get a few EZ-bottles, a Better Bottle Carboy, and a wort cooler after decide you don’t mind brewing). I’ve gotten into it just to taste my favorite beers from back home. The book Beer Captured gives pretty good approximations of some of my favorite beers and is a good place to start.

5. GrandCentral, now Google Voice

Google VoiceA lot of people like Skype. As much as I love my computer, I like to move around when I’m on the phone. We’ve had good luck with Vonage, but I started getting in to GrandCentral a year or two ago. It’s useful: a permanent number that let’s me screen calls and redirect them to whatever number I have when I’m in the US – so it rings my cell phone or home phone (and office phone, if you like). Now that Google has taken over, voicemails get transcribed and emailed to you within minutes. So far, it doesn’t link to foreign numbers, but it’s been nice to put on calling cards and the like. You can send SMS messages from your computer, sync your phone book, and have custom voice messages for each caller. Using it with Vonage has been perfect and it looks to be getting better with the change in management.

What do you use that makes life easier?

Facebook in the Foreign Service

 

Ed. note: I’ll update this with screenshots someday if I ever get a working internet connection. Until then, I hope the written instructions are clear enough.

With over 15 million users, you’ve probably been invited by at least a dozen folks to be their friend on Facebook. It’s an easy, fun way to keep in touch and spread news quickly…but it can also be an easy way to lose a good measure of privacy and mix your personal and professional lives a little more than you might like. Used correctly, Facebook is a powerful professional tool with lots of good PD uses regardless of your position. While some of this is geared to FSO-types, any professional would do well to take on a few of these. In this post, I’m going to focus on securing your profile to separate your friends from professional contacts, extensions for Foreign Service folks, professional Facebook etiquette, and social networking alternatives. Read on after the jump:

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Virginia sales tax: diplomatic pouch sales exempt

 

For the lot of you that don’t have APO/DPO access and use the pouch as your primary shipping method to post, here’s a little tip that might save you a few bucks.

States (except New York, sigh) don’t charge sales tax on internet orders if the company shipping doesn’t do business in the state to which its being shipped. That said, convincing a Virginia company that Dulles, Virginia isn’t located in-state might be more trouble than it’s worth. If the company has a comments/instructions box on the order page, it might be worth directing them to the ruling from the Virginia Tax Commissioner outlining that the Dulles, VA 20189 address is exempt from state sales tax due to the final destination being overseas:

http://www.policylibrary.tax.virginia.gov/OTP/Policy.nsf/ccd0d2ea93db9ba485256968006a39ed/3b3de555cc6c794485256e7f0053d72f?OpenDocument

Sadly, Apple Computer will charge you sales tax regardless. Sigh.