Letter to the Editor

Lack of housing support abroad hurts IT worker

I read your article "IT job front remains critical" [Federal Computer Week, April 9, 2001], and I would like to point out another reason why the government cannot keep skilled information technology workers.

I will be leaving soon if my situation isn't resolved. I am a hard-working, 26-year-old, skilled IT government GS employee. (What the government wants right?) I made the mistake of transferring from a contracting career with an $80,000 to $100,000 salary to a government career with a $40,000 to $50,000 salary because of "great benefits and job stability."

I am working in Germany at the 98th Area Support Group Provost Marshal Office as the senior systems administrator for the ASG. Prior to accepting the GS position, I was a civilian contractor in Darmstadt, Germany and then a contractor in Kosovo for six months. I lived in a hotel for four months in Germany on temporary duty status, returned to the United States and then worked in Kosovo and lived in a shack, also on temporary duty status from the United States (with my company paying more than $15,000 extra per year for cost-of-living expenses).

Because I was in Kosovo when accepted for the GS position, I was classified as a local hire in Wuerzburg, Germany. I receive no housing allowance, no support from the housing office and cannot get furniture from housing all because I was living and working in Kosovo. After my Kosovo contract ended, I was required to return to the United States to outprocess from my company. I then had to pay for my ticket to go back to Germany for my new government job and pay $2,000 to ship my car. I still have not shipped my household goods from the United States because I cannot afford to right now. Therefore I have to live in a more expensive, fully furnished apartment because I cannot afford to buy more furniture, especially when I am paying for the storage of my household items in the United States. I am stuck.

I am getting married soon and because of the lack of support for housing, I barely have enough money to pay the bills and buy food for both of us. I am ashamed that I trusted the U.S. government to take care of its own employees. I was told that the housing allowance situation was in my favor when I accepted the job. I expected to get the allowance and get reimbursed for everything I had to pay, but later found I was probably not going to get it — all because I worked in Kosovo and was considered a local hire. Yeah, right. I have no property in Germany, no family, no residence (unless you consider a hotel a residence), nor had plans to do establish one. I have no attachments whatsoever to Europe.

My point is this: How can the government complain about retaining and hiring IT people when my (housing allowance) situation is very common. This is crazy! I will make sure that none of my friends or colleagues ever make the same mistake as me.

All I want is for the government to pay my living quarters allowance (LQA) as any company with employees overseas would, and I would make a long and successful career as a GS IT worker, for sure. The corporate sector would never do to its employees what I just went through. In fact I put my resume out three days ago [letter written on April 10] and got 12 job offers — all paying relocation expenses.

I was tricked into accepting this job and now have paid the consequences.

I have an appeal in for the LQA and should know soon. If I get denied, the government has just lost another skilled IT employee. How can I be a happy GS employee when I have to worry if I can afford rent and food? What gets me the most is everyone I talk to thinks I should get housing allowance — everyone except the final decision-makers.

Jeff Schafer
98th Area Support Group Provost Marshal Office

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