Subject: AFSA President's Message on QDDR Draft Recommendations on "Recruiting & Training"
Dear Fellow Members of the Foreign Service,
As you know, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review has been a close- hold exercise in which AFSA has not been involved. (At our request, we received a briefing just before the draft was leaked.) I want to share our preliminary views and solicit yours, particularly on those aspects of most direct concern – hiring, training and retention. As the process unfolds we will provide updates, and we encourage your feedback on specific proposals at President@afsa.org.
Broadly speaking, AFSA welcomes the QDDR’s call to rely on America’s diplomats and development experts to be the “first face of American power.” We concur in the need to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, Foreign Commercial Service, Foreign Agricultural Service and the International Broadcasting Bureau. And we want to be active partners in the process as it moves forward – but we need basic information so that we can contribute constructive proposals to improve “cost-effectiveness and results” – a QDDR goal.
In its briefing to AFSA, the department has asserted that it does not intend to establish a mid-level lateral entry program at the State Department. We will work to ensure that this does not happen. What has so far been revealed about the QDDR draft recommendations relating to recruiting and training suggests that it seeks to address the (unspecified) mid-level experience gap in broad terms. AFSA’s position remains clear: We believe that mid-level hiring programs are not and have not been the best way to address mid-level experience gaps for the Foreign Service at all agencies. Like our military, the Foreign Service consists of commissioned officers, who serve on an up-or-out basis and are subject to the discipline of worldwide availability. Lateral entry is disruptive to the system and undermines morale in the same way it would if introduced into our military services.
At State, the “hiring surge” of the last few years has brought in thousands of new entry-level officers, many with strong academic credentials and extensive work experience. We believe that a better, more flexible, quicker and less costly way to address any mid-level gap is to identify and give opportunities for rapid advancement and training in supervision and management to the best of the entry level officers and to draw on Foreign Service retirees – in effect, our “Foreign Service reserve” – who have the needed experience, need no training, know how embassies and missions work, can mentor and coach, and are, by definition, short term. More flexible hiring authority to use retirees to fill mid-level experience gaps, with appropriate sunset provisions, is a tool the Secretary of State should have and should use.
In contrast to the State Department, the QDDR recommends hiring 95 mid-level technical experts at USAID. While AFSA recognizes the occasional need to bring in mid-level technical experts not currently available in the agency, we are not convinced that the numbers proposed are critical to carry out USAID’s work. The need at the FS-2 and FS-3 levels can be largely met in a cost-effective manner by appointing personnel with the same skills at the FS-5 and FS-4 levels. In any case, AFSA needs to be included in any work-force analysis in order to assure that only justifiable hiring takes place.
The QDDR recommends expanding opportunities for State Department Civil Service personnel to convert to the Foreign Service, seeking more flexible hiring authorities to attract expertise, and tying promotion to training. The current conversion procedures were negotiated with AFSA, and we continue to welcome qualified career Civil Service colleagues who utilize these existing procedures.
We have asked for a detailed briefing about the scope and nature of the mid-level deficit of positions at State and USAID, and expect to receive it shortly. I have communicated these points to Director of Policy Planning and QDDR Coordinator Anne-Marie Slaughter and to Director General Nancy Powell. We are also seeking more specific information about hiring authority and tying promotion to training.
We remain ready to contribute constructive proposals to ensure that the QDDR process enhances the operation of the Foreign Service. We look forward to working with management to ensure that: (1) any mid-level needs are carefully and transparently identified and documented; (2) established procedures to fill such gaps are followed; and (3) any remedial measures proposed strengthen our professional diplomatic and development services rather than weakening or politicizing them.
Susan R. Johnson