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Tandem Employees in the Foreign Service

The Global Community Liaison Office (GCLO) works to improve the quality of life for tandem employees and their family members. GCLO advocates on behalf of all employees and Foreign Service community members answering questions, offering confidential guidance, and sharing available resources, including GCLO programs and services in DC and overseas through the worldwide CLO Program.

Key Resources

Global Community Liaison Office

  • The Global Community Liaison Office (GCLO) advocates for tandem employees and families under Chief of Mission authority by linking groups working on tandem issues and organizing informational and listening sessions with Subject Matter Experts and Department leadership. In addition, the Crisis Management and Support Services Team provides guidance and referral to all Foreign Service employees and their family members on a range of topics. Email GCLOAskSupportServices@state.gov for more information.
  • GCLO’s Family Member Employment page – Provides information on centralized hiring programs and hiring mechanisms.
  • GCLO’s Unaccompanied Tours page – Information and resources to support employees and family members before, during, and after an unaccompanied assignment.
  • GCLO’s Personal Preparedness page – Information and resources to help prepare for the possibility of a sudden departure from an overseas post.
  • Community Liaison Office (CLO) Program – Provides morale-enhancing support to U.S. government employees and family members of all agencies who are assigned to U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.

Department of State Resources

Tandems Teams Channel

The Tandems Teams Channel is moderated by the Tandems Coordinator through the Office of Career Development and Assignments. The Tandems Teams channel provides a wide range of information of importance to tandem employees. For more information contact: TandemCoordinator@state.gov.

DETO Policy

For employees with DETO-related questions, please visit the DETO SharePoint site (intranet) or email the DETO Policy Group at: DETOPolicy@state.gov.

3 FAM 2370 Domestic Employee Teleworking Overseas (DETO) provides in-depth information and guidance related to DETO positions, such as the definition of a DETO, eligibility requirements and establishing a DETO arrangement, and much more.

iMentor

Tandem employees may participate in the Bureau of Global Talent Management’s iMentor program.  The iMentor program​ is committed to providing state-of-the-art mentorship programs and fostering a culture of leadership that supports ongoing professional development and competency building. Tandem employees may request mentors and/or mentees that are fellow tandem employees. For more information please email: FSMentoring@state.gov or CSMentoring@state.gov.

Department of State’s Employee Consultation Services (ECS)

ECS provides confidential services to assist Foreign Service and Civil Service employees who may be experiencing professional or personal life challenges. They offer services face to face, video, or telephonically, both domestically and abroad.

ECS also conducts many different support groups for employees and their families. These groups meet at the State Department and virtually to share issues, resources, and approaches to the problems that tandem Foreign Service employees may face, such as parenting, divorce and grief, health and well-being, eldercare, anxiety and stress, and other life events.

Email MEDECS@state.gov or call 202-634-4874 for more information and also visit GCLO’s Counseling Resources and Referral Services page.

Publications

Serving in Tandem for State (Foreign Service Journal, May 2019)
Tandem Couples: Serving Together, Apart (Foreign Service Journal, July/August 2016)

Employee Services

WorkLife4You (WL4Y) is the Department of State’s 24/7 comprehensive and confidential resource and referral service for employees and their family members. WL4Y provides free 24/7 education, and referral services that help Department of State employees and family members find the programs, providers, information, and resources they need to manage personal and professional responsibilities. Counselors will help determine what services are needed and available and refer to appropriate providers (including lawyers who may assist with financial matters, wills, prenuptial agreements, etc.).

Call them for 24/7 personalized assistance, read articles and educational guides on their website, order topic-related kits, engage in monthly live talks, watch webinars and listen to audios, or ask for a free in-person eldercare assessment from a qualified Professional Care Manager.

In addition, The WL4Y Emergency Backup Dependent Care provides 24/7 access to specialists to arrange care in advance or at the last minute for every member of the family, as well as aging loved ones. WL4Y provides up to five (5) days of adult backup care with a low co-pay if using a nationwide care center or a 100% reimbursement if using friends or family members. Backup care services can only be used for care taking place within the United States and U.S. territories. Call 24/7 at 866-552-IQ4U (4748).

Department of State, both Civil Service and Foreign Service, employees and family members are eligible to use WorkLife4You.

Staff Care – For USAID employees and family members. USAID’s Staff Care Program promotes a range of programs and initiatives that assist with employee resilience, wellness, and work-life balance. The website has information on Staff Care’s programs and services, a wealth of resources on parenting, caregiving, for example, as well as information on financial, legal and relocation services. Visit for additional resources and tools to help you take care of your physical and mental health.

** Employees of agencies other than the Department of State should check with their headquarters for guidance pertaining to their contracted Employee Assistance Programs.

Additional Resources

American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) is both the principal advocate for the long-term institutional wellbeing of the professional career Foreign Service and responsible for safeguarding the interests of AFSA members.

Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) offers social opportunities and digital outreach including the Livelines Discussion Group (must be an AAFSW member to access).

Videos

GCLO and TalentCare hosted a series of webinars in April 2022 to share the latest information on resources for tandems and to hear directly from employees and family members with questions as well as insights, ideas, and recommendations to improve the tandem experience.  You can view the recording of the Tandem Information Session on GCLO’s YouTube channel.

Tandems Information Session Hosted by TalentCare and GCLO

Frequently Asked Questions about Tandem Employment in the Foreign Service

General

  1. What is a tandem couple?
  2. The Muller and Cohen Rules are used a lot in relation to tandem employees. What are the Muller and Cohen Rules?
  3. What is In-Country Language Training (ICLT)? Who is eligible for ICLT?
  4. What is a “Y” Tour?

Assignments

  1. Why is it difficult to get assignments together, especially entry level (EL)? Many employees are forced to choose between family and career and choose to leave the Department.

Bidding

  1. What options are available to tandems as they move up through the ranks, especially considering nepotism issues?
  2. Can TalentMap have the option to enter up to a certain amount of non-State locations in matching tandem positions for inter-agency tandems to better sort and organize bids?

Domestic Employee Teleworking Overseas (DETO)

  1. Why are DETOs not eligible for certain benefits like allowances, differentials, or home leave, even though they are overseas?
  2. Why do DETO agreements take so long to get approved?
  3. Why can’t DETOs do “Y” tours (short tours)? Why prevent officers from being a value-add to offices in need?

Other Topics

  1. Can you explain why tandems overseas on Leave Without Pay (LWOP) as Eligible Family Members (EFMs) have a lower hiring preference in the EFM hiring process versus other EFMs and are not eligible for EPAP?
  2. Is it possible for a Civil Service employee to take LWOP to accompany their spouse who is a Foreign Service employee abroad?

FAQ Answers

General

1. What is a tandem couple?

A. The Department defines a member of a tandem couple as a career or career-candidate Foreign Service employee whose spouse or domestic partner is also a career or career-candidate Foreign Service employee of one of five foreign affairs agencies, i.e., Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Department of Commerce, Department of Agriculture, and the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM).

2. The Muller and Cohen Rules are used a lot in relation to tandem employees. What are the Muller and Cohen Rules?

A. The Cohen Rule permits the assignment, adjustment, curtailment or break of one member of a tandem couple to synchronize their tours into the same bidding cycle.

The rule permits negotiated tours of duty (i.e., tours that are less than the standard duration) for one member of a tandem couple who would otherwise be on LWOP in the assigned member’s city of assignment, when such assignment actions would not disadvantage another bidder and would be compatible with the needs of the Foreign Service. The Cohen Rule may not be used to curtail a tour following In-Country Language Training (ICLT). Employees who are Entry Level or were directed to an Entry Level assignment are not eligible to use the Cohen Rule.

The Muller Rule permits language training at FSI, while remaining on salary, to the unassigned member of a tandem couple who may be going to a post in LWOP status where the language would be an asset, on the premise that a position might come open at that post during the assigned member’s Tour of Duty (TOD). The assigned member of the tandem couple must be assigned to the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area for the unassigned member of the tandem couple to be eligible to study in these circumstances.

3. What is In-Country Language Training (ICLT)? Who is eligible for ICLT?

A. The ICLT program is designed as an exception to the norm of FSI attendance to meet the needs of the Foreign Service and the needs of employees under special circumstances by allowing the employee to take full-time language training at their post of onward assignment rather than at FSI. Applications are usually justified by tandem or family-friendly considerations.

Only tenured mid- and senior-level employees are eligible to participate in ICLT. An employee must have received and accepted a handshake on a Language-Designated Position (LDP) at the post where they will study the language. This requirement precludes an employee from studying at post without a specific position assignment. The Muller Rule (see SOP A-02) does not apply to ICLT.

4. What is a “Y” Tour?

A. Short tours are also called “Y” tours because the position numbers begin with the letter “Y.” The Short-Tour Program was established in 1984.

The purpose of “Y” tours is to increase staffing flexibility to meet short-term, high priority needs or projects; to address surges or seasonal work beyond the ability of regularly assigned employees; to fill positions when the incumbent is seconded on detail to another agency; and to fulfill project and seasonal/surge needs.

Assignments

1. Why is it difficult to get assignments together, especially entry level (EL)? Many employees are forced to choose between family and career and choose to leave the Department.

A. Global Talent Management/Career Development and Assignments (GTM/CDA) will make every reasonable effort to facilitate tandem assignments but cannot guarantee tandem employees can be posted together. Assignments must abide by EEO policies and cannot advantage or disadvantage anyone for an assignment based on marital status.

The Generalist/Specialist Entry Level Teams in CDA/EL do not add posts to the bid lists and do not pre-assign any employees. At CDA/EL, the focus must be on giving employees the best opportunities to:

  1. fulfill EL requirements,
  2. get tenured, and
  3. get off language probation.

For these important reasons, “EL bidding always leads.”

The EL Specialist team does not “own” EL positions and must request positions from the bureaus prior to each class. This makes it very difficult to assign couples together, especially when there are few positions to fill in each specialty. However, they do make every reasonable effort to assign tandems together.

Ultimately, tandems need to weigh serving together against locations and the jobs they want – deciding what is most important for their family in each bid cycle and making decisions accordingly. Tandems should work closely with their Career Development Officers (CDO) to develop a realistic bidding strategy that maximizes the possibility of serving together.

Bidding

1. What options are available to tandems as they move up through the ranks, especially considering nepotism issues?

A. There are many strategies to consider that are available to tenured tandems:

  • Cohen Rule – Allows tandems to synchronize their transfer dates to the same bidding cycle.
  • Muller Rule – Allows tandems to study together at FSI if certain criteria is met.
  • Domestic Employee Teleworking Overseas (DETO) Agreement – A workplace flexibility which allows a tandem officer to telework a domestic position from an overseas location.
  • Leave Without Pay (LWOP)

However, there are other strategies that are recommended as you progress in your careers. These strategies include:

  • Alternating assignments in DC.
  • Considering down stretches, especially because promotion panels are not aware of the position grade.
  • Prioritizing who will be the lead bidder on a particular bidding cycle and then alternating the next cycle. For example, if one spouse was recently promoted, then the other spouse can be the lead bidder in that particular bidding cycle.
  • Considering an out-of-cone assignment.

Regarding nepotism, keep in mind this is a regulation that the Department must observe and sometimes a workaround is not feasible. However, the Office of Career Development and Assignments (CDA) strives to ensure all arrangements are viable so that a tandem employee can have a workable option, when possible, but it really depends on the size of the post, the supervisory chain of command, the duties, and other considerations. Every case is different, and CDA works closely with Legal to analyze each one to ensure there is a workable angle within the regulations.

2. Can TalentMap have the option to enter up to a certain amount of non-State locations in matching tandem positions for inter-agency tandems to better sort and organize bids?

A. TalentMAP is a system specifically designed for the Department of State based on GTM/CDA’s bidding and assignments policies and procedures. Since other agencies have their own bidding systems and timelines, it is impossible to include information that pertains to other agencies into TalentMAP at this time.

Non-state employees are encouraged to seek advice from their CDOs and HR staff in their agencies to ensure all options available to tandems are properly applied.

Domestic Employee Teleworking Overseas (DETO)

1. Why are DETOs not eligible for certain benefits like allowances, differentials, or home leave, even though they are overseas?

A. Eligibility for allowances, differentials, home leave, etc. are based on an overseas assignment. And although both Civil Service and Foreign Service DETOs telework from overseas, the assignment itself is domestic.

With the exception of the eight-year rule for Continuous Domestic Service and Overseas Comparability Pay (OCP) for Foreign Service DETOs, DETOs are not considered to serve at a post of duty abroad, as defined in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).

2. Why do DETO agreements take so long to get approved?

A. Every DETO arrangement is different, and the approval time can vary widely. Some of the factors that can lengthen the approval process for a DETO arrangement include the requirement for an anti-nepotism review (ANR), any International Cooperative Administrative Support Services (ICASS) costs, and the need for a workspace at a consulate or embassy.

Global Talent Management (GTM) is convening a series of DETO process-related working group sessions with the bureaus to work through the biggest obstacles in the process. Part of the issue is that although demand for the program has risen sharply, there has been no commensurate increase in staffing for those who must review and approve the applications.

All employees are advised to begin the process several months in advance to ensure its completion before the employee arrives at post, as the process can sometimes take as long as 3-6 months. Although an employee can travel to post without a completed DETO agreement, they cannot begin to telework from overseas until the agreement is completely signed and they have Chief of Mission approval.

3. Why can’t DETOs do “Y” tours (short tours)? Why prevent officers from being a value-add to offices in need?

A. The purpose of “Y” tours is to increase staffing flexibility to meet short-term, high priority needs or projects; to address surges or seasonal work beyond the ability of regularly assigned employees; to fill positions when the incumbent is seconded on detail to another agency; and to fulfill project and seasonal/surge needs.

Leadership views assignments as positions that should not be temporary. In addition, an increase in “Y” tours could lead to more domestic assignments going unfilled.

Other Topics

1. Can you explain why tandems overseas on Leave Without Pay (LWOP) as Eligible Family Members (EFMs) have a lower hiring preference in the EFM hiring process versus other EFMs and are not eligible for EPAP?

A. When the hiring preference policy was put into place, careful consideration was given to creating a fair and balanced approach to enhancing family member employment.

Foreign Service (FS) family members face many employment challenges related to their mobile lifestyle, including language requirements, budgetary constraints, length of time required to obtain a security clearance, and potential lack of continuity in a position due to the sponsor’s transfer schedule. Current employment policies balance the needs of family members and the needs of career FS employees who have made the difficult choice of requesting LWOP during an overseas tour.

2. Is it possible for a Civil Service employee to take LWOP to accompany their Foreign Service spouse abroad?

A. There is an extended LWOP program, for both CS and FS employees; contact Civil Service Talent Management (CSTM) for more information. Employees should begin working with their offices on the feasibility of this option as soon as possible.

U.S. Department of State

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