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Costs of Danger and Hardship Pay Incentives for State Department Employees Overseas

GAO-17-715, September 13, 2017

The Department of State provides a range of allowances to compensate its employees for costs and hardships related to foreign assignments. Two of these allowances are danger pay and hardship pay, which serve as incentives to get employees to work at challenging overseas locations.

Danger pay is intended to compensate for conditions of civil unrest, terrorism, or war that threaten to harm employees. Hardship pay is intended to compensate for living conditions that are substantially different from those in the continental United States.

The map below shows how much State spent annually on danger and hardship pay—and where in the world it was spent—from fiscal year 2011 through fiscal year 2016. Use the drop-down menus to choose the type of allowance and the year.

Two factors influence State's hardship and danger pay spending by country:

  1. The number of State Foreign Service officers assigned to posts
  2. The allowance rates at posts in each country

For fiscal year 2016, you can hover over each country to get a breakdown of workforce and allowance rates by post. These indicate that higher hardship or danger spending is not solely a reflection of how severe State assesses the hardship or danger to be in a given country. For example, State spent about $6.1 million for hardship pay in China across 6 posts with more than 450 foreign service officers. The hardship rates at these posts ranged from 10-25%, while other posts around the world have rates as high as 35%.

Map of State Department Spending on Danger and Hardship Pay, by Country

$1 $100K $1M None $5M $17M
The Gambia
Marshall Islands
Cabo Verde
Federated States
of Micronesia

Source: GAO analysis of Department of State data. | GAO-17-715

Notes: The figure reflects spending on danger pay or hardship pay for State employees at all posts in a given country.

We present hardship and danger pay spending separately for Israel and Jerusalem to reflect State's data. The U.S. Embassy to Israel is located in Tel Aviv. The United States operates a Consulate General in Jerusalem representing the United States in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

For more information, read our report, GAO-17-715.