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SUMMARY OF ALLOWANCES AND BENEFITS

FOR U.S.G. CIVILIANS UNDER THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE STANDARDIZED REGULATIONS (DSSR)

 

The Department of State Standardized Regulations (DSSR) govern allowances and benefits available to U.S. Government civilians assigned to foreign areas. Note that because individual agencies may draft their own implementing regulations, which can be more restrictive than the DSSR, you may not be eligible for all of the allowances listed below. Employees should check both the DSSR and their agency’s implementing regulations for guidance on a specific allowance. Employees of the four Foreign Affairs Agencies (State, Foreign Commercial Service, Foreign Agricultural Service, and USAID) should refer to volumes 3 and 14 of the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) and volume 3 of the Foreign Affairs Handbook (FAH) for more guidance.  Employees of Defense Agencies should refer to Joint Travel Regulations (JTR Vol II Civilians), Chapter 5 (C5010) at http://www.defensetravel.dod.mil/site/travelreg.cfm and DoD 1400.25-M, Civilian Personnel Manual, Subchapter 1250 at http://www.dtic.mil/whs/directives/corres/pdf/1400.25-V1250.pdf.

The Office of Allowances internet website: http://aoprals.state.gov

The FAM and FAH can be found on the internet at: http://www.state.gov/m/a/dir/regs/

The Office of Allowances intranet website: http://aoprals.a.state.gov
 
The FAM and the FAH can be found on the intranet at: http://a.m.state.sbu/sites/gis/dir/fam/default.aspx
 
There are five general types of allowances and benefits:

(1) Foreign Travel Per Diem Allowances: The foreign travel per diem allowances provide for lodging, meals, and incidental expenses when an employee is on temporary duty overseas. While the Office of Allowances is responsible for setting foreign per diem rates, per diem travel policy, both foreign and domestic, is governed by the Federal Travel Regulation (FTR) and not by the DSSR. Employees should check their individual agency’s implementing regulations also. The FTR can be found on the General Services Administration’s website at http://www.gsa.gov/perdiemrates.

(2) Cost-of-Living Allowances: The cost-of-living allowances are those allowances that are designed to reimburse employees for certain excess costs that they incur as a result of their employment overseas. This group includes the Post Allowance (more commonly referred to as the COLA), Foreign Transfer Allowance, Home Service Transfer Allowance, Separate Maintenance Allowance, Education Allowance, and Educational Travel. Cost-of-living allowances are not considered a part of taxable income.

(3) Recruitment and Retention Incentives: These allowances are designed to recruit employees to posts where living conditions may be difficult or dangerous. Post Hardship Differential, Danger Pay, and Difficult-to-Staff Incentive Differential (also known as Service-Needs Differential) are all considered recruitment and retention allowances. They are included in taxable income.

(4) Quarters Allowances: Quarters Allowances, which include the Living Quarters Allowance, Temporary Quarters Subsistence Allowance, and Extraordinary Quarters Allowance, are intended to reimburse employees for substantially all housing costs, either temporary or permanent, at overseas posts where government housing is not provided. These allowances are not included in taxable income.

(5) Other Allowances: Other allowances include ORE (Official Residence Expense), Representation Allowance, evacuation-related payments, and Advance of Pay.

Note: Taxation of Allowances under the DSSR (DSSR 054): The Internal Revenue Service considers “incentive” allowances (Post Differential, Danger Pay, and Difficult-to-Staff Incentive Differential) as additional compensation; they are included in gross income for federal income tax purposes. Other allowances under the DSSR are considered “reimbursements” for extraordinary expenses due to a foreign assignment and are not taxed. For tax treatment of Per Diem, please contact the Office of Travel Management Policy, General Services Administration, at 202-501-4318 or contact your agency’s Human Resources (HR) office.

Following is a detailed description of the five general types of allowances and benefits:

1. Foreign Travel Per Diem Allowances:

The Office of Allowances establishes per diem rates for foreign areas. Foreign per diem rates are updated monthly and are effective the first day of each month, and are published in DSSR Section 925. The rates consist of a maximum lodging portion and a maximum meals and incidental expenses (M&IE) portion. Because taxes are included in the lodging and meal prices we use to determine the foreign per diem rates, tax expenses may not be reimbursed separately. The incidental expenses portion of the per diem rate includes laundry and dry cleaning expenses. Therefore, these expenses may also not be claimed separately.

The foreign per diem rates are used for (1) Permanent Change of Station (PCS) travel between the U.S. and a foreign area; (2) PCS travel from one foreign area to another; (3) temporary duty or detail (TDY) to a foreign area; and (4) calculating the Temporary Quarters Subsistence Allowance described below when permanently assigned to a foreign location. Refer to your agency’s travel regulations for instructions on how to calculate travel reimbursements.

The General Services Administration establishes per diem rates in the continental United States (CONUS). For travelers to CONUS locations, laundry, dry cleaning, and taxes on lodging may be reimbursed in addition to the per diem rate. The Department of Defense establishes per diem rates for non-foreign locations outside of the continental United States, such as Alaska, Hawaii, or Guam. Travelers to these non-foreign “OCONUS” locations may claim lodging tax expenses separately, but may not claim laundry and dry cleaning expenses as those expenses are included in the incidental expenses portion of the OCONUS per diem rate.

For more information on per diem policies, contact GSA’s Office of Travel Management Policy at 202-501-0483 or consult your agency’s implementing regulations. Implementing per diem regulations for the Foreign Affairs Agencies may be found in section 570 of Volume 14 of the Foreign Affairs Manual (14 FAM 570). Domestic per diem rates may be accessed at http://www.gsa.gov/perdiemrates. Per diem rates for non-foreign locations outside of the continental United States may be accessed at: http://www.defensetravel.dod.mil/.

          2. Cost-of-Living Allowances:

Post Allowance: Commonly referred to as the “cost-of-living” allowance, this is an allowance based on a percentage of “spendable income,” i.e. money you can really put your hands on to spend on goods and services. The amount varies depending on salary level and family size. The post allowance is calculated by comparing costs for goods and services in 11 categories - including food (consumed at home or in restaurants), tobacco/alcohol, clothing, personal care items, furnishings, household goods, medical services, recreation, public transportation, vehicle-related expenses, and household help – to the cost of those same goods and services in Washington, D.C.

Our office determines a ratio between the average cost of goods and services at the foreign post to costs in Washington, D.C.  We then evaluate expenditure patterns between the foreign location and Washington, D.C. to establish an overall cost index, which may be adjusted biweekly for exchange rate fluctuations.  If the overall cost of goods and services at a foreign post, taking into account expenditure patterns, is at least 3% above the cost of the same goods and services in the Washington, D.C. area, we establish a post allowance. See DSSR section 220 for further information.

Foreign Transfer Allowance (FTA): The purpose of the FTA is to help defray an employee’s extraordinary but necessary and reasonable costs when he/she transfers to a post in a foreign area. The FTA has four parts:

(1) The Miscellaneous Expense Portion is to help cover “miscellaneous” expenses incident to a foreign assignment such as pet transportation; vehicle registration; driver’s license; utility fees or deposits not offset by an eventual refund; and conversion of appliances. The flat amount for an employee without family is the lesser of either one-week’s salary or $650. For an employee with family it is the lesser of two weeks’ salary or $1,300. A higher rate is available if the employee provides itemized receipts (see DSSR 242.1b).

(2) The Wardrobe Expense Portion is granted when an employee transfers across two climatic zones to his/her new foreign post of assignment. Climate zone information for foreign areas can be found under “Trans Zone” in section 920 of the DSSR. Non-foreign area climate zones are listed in DSSR 242.2b. Because the continental U.S. is in zone 2, personnel transferring from the continental U.S. do not receive the wardrobe expense portion. DoD does not authorize this part of the FTA for its personnel. For those employees who qualify, the flat amounts (no itemization; no receipts required) for a two-zone transfer are: $600 for an employee without family; $1,000 for an employee with one family member; and $1,300 for an employee with two or more family members. For more information, see DSSR 242.2.

(3) The Predeparture Subsistence Expense Portion is granted to assist employees with the costs of temporary lodging, meals, laundry, and dry cleaning that are incurred when an employee transfers to a foreign post from a post in the U.S. This allowance may be granted for up to 10 days before final departure from a post in the U.S., beginning not more than 30 days after the employee has vacated permanent residence quarters. According to the government-wide DSSR the 10 days may be taken anywhere in the U.S. as long as the employee or family members have not begun travel on orders and the final departure is from the U.S. post of assignment.  Note:  Agency implementing regulations may restrict the 10 days to within reasonable proximity of the U.S. post of assignment.  An agency may consider reasonable proximity as a fifty mile radius from the U.S. post of assignment.   

There are two methods by which employees may be reimbursed. The Total Actual Subsistence Method is the primary method of reimbursement. However, agencies may alternatively offer the Partial Flat Rate Method of reimbursement. Please check your agency’s implementing regulations for guidance on which method(s) of reimbursement your agency offers. DSSR 242.3 explains how to calculate the Partial Flat Rate Method and the Total Actual Subsistence Method.  Regardless of the method, the calculation is always based on the employee's U.S. post of assignment per diem and not the per diem of where the employee/family members may be staying.

(4) The Lease Penalty Expense Portion is to offset a residential (not car or cell phone) lease penalty unavoidably incurred by an employee when transferring to a foreign post. In order for the employee to qualify for the lease penalty portion, the employee and agency must meet several requirements. Information on the lease penalty expense portion is found in DSSR 242.4.

Home Service Transfer Allowance (HSTA): The purpose of the HSTA is to help defray an employee’s extraordinary but necessary and reasonable costs when s/he transfers from a foreign post to a post in the United States. To qualify for the allowance, the employee must sign the attestation in DSSR 252.5b, stating that s/he agrees to complete 12 months of USG service after s/he transfers to the U.S. The HSTA is also available to family members who relocate to the U.S. following the death of an employee assigned to a foreign area.

The HSTA is similar to the Foreign Transfer Allowance described above because it also has four portions:  a miscellaneous expense portion, a wardrobe portion, a lease penalty portion and a subsistence expense portion. For the subsistence expense portion, agencies may choose whether to use only the “actual expense reimbursement method” or offer to employees the optional “fixed amount reimbursement system.”  If the optional method is offered by an agency the employee may choose which method s/he wants to use.  Please check your agency’s implementing regulations for guidance on which method(s) of reimbursement your agency offers.  These calculations differ from reimbursements under the FTA. For actual expense reimbursement:  (1) if the U.S. post of assignment is in the continental U.S. (CONUS) the standard CONUS per diem rate is used; (2) if the U.S. post of assignment is outside the continental U.S. (OCONUS) then the per diem of that location (Alaska, Hawaii, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, etc.) is used.  For the fixed amount reimbursement, the per diem of the U.S. post of assignment (whether CONUS or OCONUS) always applies.  DSSR 252.3 explains how to make calculations under the actual expense reimbursement method and the fixed amount reimbursement system. See DSSR 250 and DSSR 960 HSTA Worksheet for further information on the HSTA.

Separate Maintenance Allowance (SMA): SMA is designed to help an employee who is compelled by reasons of dangerous, notably unhealthful or excessively adverse living conditions at the foreign post of assignment, or for convenience of the Government, or because of family considerations, to defray the additional expense of maintaining family members at another location.

There are three types of SMA: Involuntary, Voluntary and Transitional. Involuntary SMA is paid when family members are prohibited from residing at the foreign post. Children are eligible for Involuntary SMA until they reach 21 years of age. Voluntary SMA is paid when family members may go to a foreign post but opt not to for personal reasons. Children lose eligibility for voluntary SMA when they turn 18, unless they are still in secondary school (e.g., high school). The rates for Involuntary and Voluntary SMA are at DSSR 267.1a in Section 260 (http://aoprals.state.gov/content.asp?content_id=215&menu_id=89).

Transitional SMA may be paid for reasons following the termination of an evacuation (a) through (c) or in connection with commencement/termination of an unaccompanied tour of duty (d) and (e):  
   (a) following termination of an evacuation and conversion of a post to an unaccompanied status; 
   (b) following termination of an evacuation and reversion of post to accompanied status, to allow a child in the final semester of the current school year to complete that school year; 
   (c) following termination of an evacuation and reversion of post to accompanied status but an employee and/or family members cannot return to post for reason(s) beyond the employee’s control; 
   (d) when family members must depart from an accompanied foreign post because the employee's next foreign post is unaccompanied; or 
   (e) when family members on ISMA prepare to depart the ISMA point for the employee's next foreign post or domestic post (accompanied).  

The rates for Transitional SMA are at DSSR 267.1b in Section 260 (http://aoprals.state.gov/content.asp?content_id=215&menu_id=89).

Please see DSSR 260 for details on each type of SMA. Note carefully the limits on some types of SMA, particularly the 90-day separation requirement, the one-change-of-election provision and separation/divorce/dissolution and legal-custody-of-child provisions.

Education Allowance: The purpose of the education allowance is to assist an employee in defraying those costs necessary to obtain educational services (grades K-12) that would normally be free of charge in the U.S. The allowance is based on the least expensive “adequate” school at post. A school is deemed adequate if, upon completion of a grade at the school, a child of normal ability could enter the next higher grade at a public school in the United States. When a school is adequate, the rates for attending a school “at post” and attending a school “away from post” will be the same. The “away-from-post” education allowance can be used to pay for tuition, room and board, unaccompanied air baggage and periodic transportation between the post and the designated boarding school.

The regulations also provide a “special-needs” allowance in lieu of the “at-post” or “away-from-post” education allowances, as well as additional funds for supplementary instruction. Children who are home-schooled are also eligible for some education allowance funding. DOD employees come under separate authority for education benefits. Note: the transportation portion of the “away-from-post” rate should not be confused with the separate benefit of educational travel described below. See Section 270 of the DSSR for more information on the education allowance.

Educational Travel: This allowance permits one round trip annually between a school attended and the foreign post of assignment. This benefit is primarily intended to reunite a full-time post-secondary student attending college (including the post-baccalaureate level), technical or vocational school with the employee/parent serving the U.S. government in the foreign area. However, educational travel may be paid for a child in secondary school (grades 9 through 12) instead of the education allowance described above.

Educational travel cannot be paid at the same time as the education allowance and should not be confused with the transportation component of the “away-from-post” education allowance. Educational travel can commence from either the school or the post, but only one round trip between school and post is allowed annually.  Based on a change in law, the DSSR changed effective July 22, 2007 eliminating the restriction that the school attended full-time had to be in the United States.  The educational travel benefit ceases once the student dependent reaches the age of 23, except for in limited cases when the child's education is delayed by military service (see DSSR 284 for further information).

3. Recruitment and Retention Incentives:

Post Hardship Differential: Post hardship differential is meant to compensate employees for service at places in foreign areas where conditions of environment differ substantially from conditions of environment in the continental United States and warrant additional compensation as a recruitment and retention incentive. It is paid as a percentage of basic compensation in 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 and 35% increments. In addition to being paid to permanently-assigned personnel, post differential may also be paid to employees on extended detail either from the U.S. or from foreign posts. See DSSR 500 for further information.

Danger Pay: The danger pay allowance provides additional compensation for employees serving at designated danger pay posts. It is paid as a percentage of basic compensation in 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 and 35% increments. In addition to being paid to permanently-assigned personnel, danger pay may also be paid to employees on temporary duty or detail to the post.

For those not qualifying for the danger pay allowance described above, a danger pay allowance may be granted to civilian employees who accompany U.S. military forces designated by the Secretary of Defense as eligible for imminent danger pay. The amount of danger pay will be the same flat rate amount as the imminent danger pay amount paid to uniformed military personnel, currently $225 per month. While uniformed military personnel are paid once every 30 days, civilian employees eligible for this type of danger pay will be paid on a daily basis. The two types of danger pay may not be paid simultaneously. See DSSR 650 and DSSR 920, footnotes “p” and “v” for further information.

Difficult-to-Staff Incentive Differential (DTSID)- aka Service-Needs Differential: This differential is paid to an employee assigned to a 15% or higher hardship differential post after an agency has determined that especially adverse conditions of environment warrant additional pay as a recruitment and retention incentive to fill the employee’s position at that post. Also known as the Service-Needs Differential, the differential is a percentage of basic compensation (15%). Check with your agency representative for more information because each agency develops unique procedures to implement the differential (or may choose not to implement it). Note that DTSID and Danger Pay compensation together may not equal more than 35% of an employee’s basic compensation. General guidance can be found in DSSR 1000.

4. Quarters Allowances:

Temporary Quarters Subsistence Allowance (TQSA): The purpose of TQSA is to assist with temporary lodging, meals, laundry and dry cleaning in a foreign area when an employee first arrives at a new post and permanent quarters are not yet available, or when an employee is getting ready to depart the foreign post permanently and must vacate residential quarters. An employee cannot receive the post (cost-of-living) allowance when receiving the TQSA. An employee may receive TQSA and LQA at the same time when departing post only with agency permission for unusual circumstances described at DSSR 124.1 and DSSR 132.41a. For further information on TQSA, please refer to DSSR 120.

Living Quarters Allowance (LQA): This allowance is granted to an employee to help defray the annual cost of suitable, adequate living quarters for the employee and his/her family at a foreign post where government-leased or -owned housing is not provided. The LQA rates are designed to substantially cover the average employee’s costs for rent, utilities, required taxes levied by the local government, and other allowable expenses. Living quarters allowance rates are categorized by “quarters groups” based on the employee’s grade level or rank and his/her family size. Additional amounts of up to 10%, 20%, or 30% above the LQA rates may be allowed for larger families. For further information on LQA, see DSSR 130. DSSR 136 contains guidance for employees occupying personally-owned quarters.

Extraordinary Quarters Allowance (EQA): An employee and eligible family members at a foreign posting may receive EQA when they are required to partially or completely vacate their permanent quarters because of renovations/repairs or unhealthy or dangerous conditions. The employee may continue to receive post (cost-of-living) allowance and LQA when receiving EQA. For further information, please see DSSR 138. 

5. Other Allowances:

Representation: Representation allowances are intended to reimburse employees, including foreign national employees and adult family members of employees, for expenses incurred in establishing and maintaining relationships of value to the United States in foreign countries. Reimbursement may include costs for entertainment and customary gifts or gratuities. Funds are limited and specific guidelines are formulated at each foreign post depending on need, custom, and budget. See DSSR 300 for further information.

Official Residence Expenses (ORE): The purpose of ORE is to reimburse a principal representative (e.g. an Ambassador) at a foreign post for expenses related to operating and maintaining a suitable official residence when those expenses exceed the usual expenses incurred if s/he were serving at the post in any other official capacity. Generally the principal representative will contribute three and one-half percent of salary for “usual” expenses; allowable expenses above that amount will be reimbursed. See DSSR 400 for further information.

Evacuation Payments: Evacuation payments are made when an employee/family member(s) is authorized or ordered to evacuate a foreign post. Evacuation payments consist of (1) a subsistence allowance to help cover the costs of lodging, meals, laundry, and dry cleaning; (2) local transportation at the safehaven; and (3) an air freight replacement allowance if air freight is not shipped from post. Subsistence amounts are based on the safehaven’s per diem rate if the family is occupying commercial quarters, and vary based on family size. M&IE payments decrease over time. Evacuation payments terminate no later than 180 days after the evacuation order is issued.

Generally, the United States (anywhere in the 50 States and the District of Columbia) is designated as the official safehaven (at times, when necessary, an official foreign safehaven may also be designated), and evacuees are required to return to the U.S. (or official foreign safehaven) to receive allowances. An employee may request designation of an alternate safehaven for special family needs but approval is not guaranteed. See DSSR sections 600 and 960 (Evacuation Payments Worksheet) and the Evacuation Manual available at each foreign post for more information.  The Office of Allowances' website also contains Frequently Asked Questions on Evacuation.

Advance of Pay: Up to three months’ salary (minus certain deductions as designated by the agency) may be advanced when an employee is assigned to a foreign post. An advance of pay may also be authorized for medical emergencies. Repayment varies by agency; the State Department maximum is 18 pay periods; the DOD maximum is 26 pay periods. See DSSR 850 for further information. 

References:

DSSR 010 - Authorities for establishing the allowances/benefits
 
DSSR 030 - Determining eligibility for the allowances/benefits under the DSSR

DSSR 040 - General definitions used for the DSSR (however, if there is a specific definition at a chapter, that definition will pertain for that chapter)

DSSR 070 - All reporting requirements for reports used to determine the allowances and instructions for use of the SF-1190 (Rev. 07/2009) for claiming the allowances. Now incorporates former DSSR 950 Retail Price Schedule Handbook.

DSSR 100 - Quarters Allowances (including LQA, TQSA and EQA)

DSSR 200 - All the “cost-of-living” allowances (Post Allowance, Transfer Allowances, SMA, Education Allowance, Educational Travel)

DSSR 300 - Representation Allowance

DSSR 400 - Official Residence Expense (ORE)

DSSR 500 - Post Hardship Differential

DSSR 600 - Evacuation Payments

DSSR 650 - Danger Pay

DSSR 850 - Advances of Pay

DSSR 900 - Instructions for understanding all columns of DSSR 920

DSSR 960 - Valuable training/learning resource which contains the worksheets for TQSA, LQA, EQA, FTA, HSTA, EDA, EPW and the “Omnibus Exhibit” of helpful points on Post Allowance, SMA, Educational Travel, Post Differential and Danger Pay

DSSR 1000 - Difficult-to-Staff Incentive Differential

The Department of State Standardized Regulations (DSSR) are maintained by the Office of Allowances within the U.S. Department of State. Changes to the DSSR are proposed through an interagency and union consultation process.

 This information is current as of March 24, 2014.