A bill to make the first major change since 1946 in laws governing the U.S. Foreign Service -- including pay increases and raising the mandatory retirement age from 60 to 65 -- passed the House last night, 239 to 78, and was sent to the Senate.

The product of nearly two years of work by two House committees, the bill is designed to make the Foreign Service more attractive. It would link pay scales to the higher levels given classified workers in the Civil Service.

It also would create a senior Foreign Service pattern after the senior executive service in the Civil Service to provide a qualified pool of senior officers. And it would require that all Foreign Service personnel be available for duty abroad.

One major provision would make the former spouse of a Foreign Service officer eligible for some of the officer's retirement and survivor benefits. Currently, a former spouse -- which means a former wife who traveled about the world with her husband and was unable to have a career and therefore has no independent retirement benefits -- is not eligible for any of the officer's retirement benefits if they are divorced. The bill would make former spouses eligible, but would leave it to the courts to decide how much they would receive.