Friday, January 25, 2008

Issues surrounding the AFSA survey

Consul-At-Arms has an interesting piece from WhirledView today:

"re: "Problems a-plenty on the listing ship of State"
PHK at WhirledView ("A Look at World Politics & Most Everything Else") also has some observations" on some recent DIPNOTE ("U.S. Department of State Official Blog") posts (and resulting comment threads) by three high-ranking State Dept. officials (A/S Sean McCormack, A/S Thomas A. Shannon, and A/S Richard A. Boucher) in response to the recent AFSA survey."

I read some of the posts and responses. Like some of the respondants, I was offended by the use of quotes around the word survey, as though it was less than legitimate. That 40% of active duty employees, myself included, responded is significant, and, according to AFSA, is higher than the percentage of responses to official department surveys that are then used by the department. Even if respondants self-selected (and of course they did. That is the nature of all voluntary surveys), that more than 80% of the respondants had serious concerns means that even if every person who didn't respond is completely satisfied, 1/3 of employees are not. And that is significant.

The piece merits reading in its entirety, as I think it clearly lays bare some of the issues that I think threaten the Foreign Service. Some quotes of interest:

"State’s promotion and assignments system has been outdated for years. Not only too many cushy jobs (about 35% of all Ambassadorships under the W administration) are awarded to mostly unqualified political appointees who bought their posts for $100,000 a crack according to the FT in 2005, but too many of the relatively few professionals who made it to the very top of State's angels' head pinsized pinnacle did it by managing upward while ignoring, or worse, those who worked for them. Many also did it by staying in Washington and as close to the Seventh Floor and the Secretary's Office as possible rather than through overseas service in difficult places at difficult times...

Instead of sneering, then, the people involved in Foggy Bottom leadership today should be taking Foreign Service employee criticisms to heart and trying to make things better, not worse. This includes acting upon the suggestion by employees who have already served in Iraq to reduce, not increase the size of the Foreign Service in that war zone. It means dealing with a huge pay disparity that requires Congressional action to change and it also means increasing the department's staff to meet the workload being demanded. When the military has more musicians than there are US Foreign Service Officers something is wrong with this picture.

That the Foreign Service attrition rate apparently remains low (around four percent according to McCormack) does not necessarily mean – as the Dipnote trio suggests – that all’s right in the Department. More likely it means that most people are careerists with families to support and, as professional diplomats, don’t have a lot of other employment options.

It’s not like being able to change companies mid-stream. The US has only one diplomatic service. It would be rare for a former American diplomat to get taken on by – let’s say – someone else’s Foreign Ministry. Then there is that quaint idea of loyalty to one's country after all."

1 comment:

Consul-At-Arms said...

Thanks for the linkage. I've quoted you and linked to you here: