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February 2002

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Department of State and American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) on Reform Measures

Below is the text of a joint AFSA/Foreign Service Director General official cable transmitted by the Department of State to all U. S. diplomatic and consular posts on February 7, 2002. The cable specifies problems and actions to be taken regarding proposed reforms in the Foreign Service.—Ed.

FM SECSTATE WASHDC
TO ALL DIPLOMATIC AND CONSULAR POSTS

JOINT AFSA/DG CABLE

Subject: Action on Foreign Service Reform Proposals

For all Foreign Service employees from DirGen Davis

1. Introduction:
On November 13, 2001, AFSA submitted a Package of Foreign Service Reform Proposals to State Management. Director General Ruth A. Davis met with AFSA on January 10 to discuss those proposals. Below is a Joint DG-AFSA statement adopted after that meeting. End of Introduction.

2. Joint DG/AFSA Statement on Foreign Service Reform:
Both State Department Management and the American Foreign Service Association see the need for reforming and reinvigorating the Foreign Service so that it may most effectively discharge its indispensable role in the active promotion of American interests abroad. Change is needed in four areas:

  • Training and career development: close the training gap that has left the Foreign Service under-prepared to carry out its duties in an increasingly complex world.
  • Work force utilization: strengthen the service discipline that makes the Foreign Service an indispensable corps of individuals available for worldwide duty.
  • Organizational culture: shape a Foreign Service work force exhibiting the values and attitudes required for the successful conduct of 21st century diplomacy.
  • Conditions of service: bring into better balance the rewards and burdens of service in order to keep the Foreign Service as a viable career for talented Americans.

AFSA submitted an initial package of proposals to HR on November 13, 2001; the Department of State has either already implemented or will soon implement each of the reforms outlined below. In addition, the DG has invited AFSA to identify and propose further reforms in the coming months. AFSA agreed.

Training
Background: For more than a decade, inadequate staffing and other factors have kept Foreign Service members from receiving adequate professional, technical, leadership, and management training. As a result, many employees (including supervisors and managers) are deficient in key skills, especially those involving leadership and management. We must close this training gap to ensure that Foreign Service employees have the leadership tools they need to meet our foreign policy requirements in an increasingly complex world.

  • Action: HR and FSI are working now to develop a plan to a) establish training requirements that employees must meet at key stages of their career while b) assuring that the personnel system actually makes employees available to take that training. The Department and AFSA hope to conclude our collaborative effort by may to formalize the new training requirements in the promotion precepts and assignments rules.

Strengthen worldwide availability
Background: A defining characteristic of the Foreign Service is the availability of its members to serve where their skills are most needed. Unfortunately, there is a sense that "service discipline" has declined somewhat in recent years. While part of the problem is the current imbalance between the number of positions to be filled and the number of Foreign Service employees available to fill them, there is also an underlying difficulty in convincing a small but significant percentage of employees to go where the service needs them.

  • Action: The Director General has instructed Career Development Officers to ensure that bidding employees a) comply with core bid and fair share bid rules, b) accept assignments made in accordance with those rules, and c) understand that, if needed, the Director General is prepared to employ existing assignment "identification" procedures to fill Foreign Service positions in accordance with service need. While these actions amount to enforcing existing rules, those rules had not always been fully enforced in the past.
  • Action: The Director General has sharply reduced the number of non-medical waivers given to the "8-year rule" limiting the length of domestic tours. This action will reinforce worldwide availability by precipitating a choice between recommitting to overseas service or leaving the Foreign Service (e.g., by retiring, applying for entry into the Civil Service, or resigning).
  • Action: Increased hiring under the Diplomatic Readiness initiative in the coming years will lead to an increase in the number of domestic Foreign Service jobs. Providing more domestic assignment opportunities will assist Foreign Service members during critical periods in their lives when they need to stay closer to home to attend to family needs. This will not change the concept of "worldwide availability," but it will provide more opportunities in the U.S. for those Foreign Service employees who wish to serve domestically.
  • Action: The Bureau of Human Resources will publish and post on the internet a summary of the rules governing the application process and the implications of conversion from the Foreign Service to the Civil Service (for the benefit of non-worldwide available Foreign Service members seeking a mid-career exit). At the same time, existing programs will continue that allow those Civil Service employees who are willing to commit to worldwide availability to compete for conversion permanently to the Foreign Service.
  • Action: The Department will continue to allow opportunities for alternative work arrangements for employees (e.g., alternative and flexible work schedules, and telecommuting). Such flexibility is needed because of societal changes reflected in the new 21st century work place. Accomplishing this goal (which is also one of the performance goals set in the Department's performance plan for fiscal years 2001-2002) will depend in part on employees proactively approaching their supervisors to request alternative work arrangements.

Separate unsatisfactory performers
Background: The Foreign Service is a unique service that has mechanisms not found elsewhere in the federal government to separate unsatisfactory performers. One of those mechanisms is the tenuring process. Even though stiff competition to enter the Foreign Service assures that those hired exhibit exceptional potential to excel in our demanding work, the tenuring process is designed to offer permanent career status only to those employees who prove themselves in real-world Foreign Service postings. During the mid-1990s, Commissioning and Tenure Boards at the State Department determined that between 3.5% and 7.9% of career candidates had failed to prove themselves. However, in 1998 and 1999, fewer than 1% were denied tenure.

  • Action. The Director General will meet with members of Commissioning and Tenure Boards to reinforce with them their duty to identify unsatisfactory performers.

Organizational culture
Background: Every successful organization strives to create a work environment that allows its employees to put forth their best effort. The Foreign Service's organizational culture has not kept up with changes in its operating environment. Many of the well-entrenched characteristics that helped the Foreign Service wage the Cold War from the 1950s to the 1980s (e.g., risk-aversion and inward focus) are now holding it back from responding to the challenges of diplomacy in the 21st century.

  • Action: The State Department is pe[sic] to ensure that bidding employees . . . [p]utting added weight to demonstrated leadership and managerial ability and good interpersonal skills when selecting employees to be assigned to DCM and other senior positions.
  • Action: The State Department is continuing to pilot its 360-degree rating program giving employees the opportunity to learn more about their own leadership and management styles and then follow up with recommended training. The 360 program will soon be moved to FSI where it can be integrated into FSI's Leadership and Management Training Continuum.

Fill urgent human resources shortfall
Background: Years of hiring below attrition have created staffing gaps that leave the State Department unable to staff its missions with fully trained employees. Secretary Powell recognizes this problem and has made it a top goal to close this gap by hiring 1158 additional employees within the next three years. He was successful in convincing the Congress to fund the first year of this program. However, while the Secretary is committed to lobbying for funding to fill the remaining two-thirds of the shortfall, success in the coming two budget cycles cannot be assumed.

  • Action: To reinforce the case for filling the Department's urgent staffing shortfalls, the State Department will revise and reissue its 1999 report "Diplomatic Readiness: The Human Resources Strategy" in order to highlight recent accomplishments and document remaining unmet needs.

Career development
Background: Staffing deficits in the 1990s forced the Department to sharply reduce the exposure that many new Junior Officers got to the work of other career tracks besides consular.

  • Action: Given the planned increase in Foreign Service hiring, the Department is in the process of creating approximately 100 additional Junior Officer rotational jobs overseas. This will allow many Junior Officers to have more rotational opportunities in addition to performing consular work.

Pay and allowances
Background: The exclusion of overseas employees from the locality pay system has created a huge financial disincentive to serve abroad. The pay cut this effectively imposes on overseas employees not only reduces the value of post allowances and differentials, but also reduces an employee's retirement savings (including the Thrift Savings Plan).

  • Action: State is working hard to secure authority from Congress to compensate overseas Foreign Service employees for the loss of the locality pay portion of their base pay by giving them a comparability payment equal to that of the Washington D.C. locality pay rate.

End of joint DG/AFSA statement.

Powell


Source: AFSA Net e-mail message Feb. 8, 2002.

February 12, 2002



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