Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ten Things I Learned At The Retirement Seminar

#1 - It's good to have income

#2 - It's good to be healthy

#3 - After 20 or so years in, your pension will have a cash-equivalent present value of around $1 million. Seriously.

#4 - The Thrift Savings Plan is the best thing to come out of Congress since Joe 'Double Barrel' Biden

#5 - There are all sorts of ways to minimize post-retirement taxation

#6 - There are also all sorts of ways to maximize inheritances to children

#7 - For example, financial gifts are not income and therefore not taxable to the recipient
#8 - I will postpone retirement for a few years longer than I'd been thinking (see #1)   

#9 - When I finally go, I think I'll use my lifetime federal fellowship to pursue a Ph.D


#10 - Judging by the hundreds of people in the seminar, State will need a lot of new hires in a few years.

I'm not kidding about the hundreds of people. The sheer size of the crowd came as a shock. What's more, I think that over the years I may have worked for, or worked with, traveled with, or just met in passing, about half of them.

It was exactly the way I imagine a 30th High School reunion would be. There were some people I wanted to see and catch up with, a few I knew better than to start a conversation with, and many that I dodged because, while I sort of remembered them, I could not recall their names and wanted to avoid an awkward "oh, hi, how are you ... whoever you are ... and how have you been since we met in ... wherever it was?" moment.

One last retirement thing. After a few days of absorbing financial planning advice, I think that "Revocable Trust" would make an excellent title for my memoirs.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Happy Washington's Birthday (Four Days Early)

Happy Washington's Birthday, as the federal holiday that was established for this day by law is officially known (and not so-called 'President's Day,' thank you very much), and which this year falls four days ahead of George Washington's actual birthday on February 22.

The federal government does not commemorate the birthday of our first President on the anniversary of his birth because Congress, back in 1968, fixed most federal holidays on Mondays. They did that in order to increase government efficiency create three-day weekends and reduce administrative expenses inspire government employees to take leave on Federal Fridays.

Okay. I appreciate having a Monday off as much as the next federal worker. But I still plan to commemorate the occasion with a cannon salute on the 22nd, the way Americans did it back in the day. I would go totally Old School and add a bonfire and fire works, except that would be asking too much of the watered-down modern day patriotism of my local Fairfax County authorities.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I Plan to Sequester Myself Near a River

I suppose I should be concerned by this panic-inducing headline in the WaPo's Federal Diary: Furloughs likely would exceed 1 million; feds feel ‘undervalued, unappreciated’!!! It all sounds very dire, and needs a lot of exclamation points.

I've seen the official Department notice, so I know the possibility of unpaid furloughs is quite real. And yet, it rolls off me like water off a duck's back brown trout. Preferably a trout in the Rose River, certainly in a river somewhere in the Shenandoah Valley.  

Ever since I enrolled in the Department's retirement seminar I have adopted a whole new laid-back vibe. I won't actually retire for a few more years, and I won't stop working even after that, but the mere act of planning for retirement has me feeling downright giddy. Undervalued and unappreciated? Speak for yourself, WaPo. Personally, I'm feeling pretty good.

Spending a couple weeks fishing sounds like a great alternative to the daily grind. My fellow feds have my sympathy, and I know that furloughs will cause real hardships and disruptions to families. But at least I won't be contributing to the misery.

Friday, February 1, 2013

New Leadership For DS

Yeah, I'm happy!

I hear that there were some other high-level comings and goings today at the State Department, but the one I've been waiting for finally became official this afternoon when the DS website was updated:
Gregory B. Starr was sworn in February 1, 2013 as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security and Director of the Diplomatic Security Service. Mr. Starr also will serve as acting Assistant Secretary until further notice.

So the leadership vacuum that existed after the departure last December of Assistant Secretary Boswell and the top two levels of DSS officials below him has now ended. And in what is probably the best possible way, by bringing back the exceptionally well-regarded officer who had previously been the P/DAS and acting Assistant Secretary of State for DS from October 2007 to July 2008 before becoming the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security, a position he vacated last month.

Greg Starr joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1980, and served as Regional Security Officer (RSO) in Israel, Tunisia, Senegal and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as in various senior headquarters assignments.

He is the obvious choice to bring DSS through a rough period of reconstruction and change. If he isn't appointed the permanent Assistant Secretary right away, I will be very surprised.

Ankara's Security Upgrades Prevented Greater Loss

Security door blown out of concrete wall

The New York Times had good coverage of today's tragic attack in Ankara which took the life of one of the embassy's local guards:

News photographs of the explosion site showed extensive damage to a squat one-story building just inside the compound where visitors are checked by security guards and an X-ray machine. Turkish news media said preliminary investigations by security officials said the bomber might have detonated a suicide belt prematurely as he was going through security controls. NTV, a private television broadcaster, said embassy security cameras had shown the assailant entering and panicking as he walked through an X-ray machine.

The other fatality in the blast was identified as Mustafa Akarsu, 47, one of the Turkish security guards at the embassy.

That "squat one-story building" is shown in the photo above. Notice that the building's heavy steel security door was blown partly out of the surrounding concrete wall by the force of the blast, and that the adjacent security windows are damaged but still intact. That tells the story - the hardened building in which visitors are screened contained the bomb blast, preventing what would most likely have been greater loss of life and injuries to embassy employees and visitors.

The State Department spokeswoman noted just that in her remarks quoted in the WaPo:

The level of security protection at our facility in Ankara ensured that there were not significantly more deaths and injuries than there could have been,” Nuland told reporters in Washington.

“This is one of the compounds where we have been making steady security upgrades over the last decade,” Nuland said. “And in fact, the attack was at one of the exterior compound access sites. So it was far from the main building, and it was a result of the way that was hardened that we only lost the one local security guard. And in fact, there were other security guards inside the building behind the glass who were only shaken up by this.”

It will be no consolation to the family and friends of Mustafa Akarsu, but the Department can take some satisfaction from knowing that its security upgrades minimized the damage today.