The Foreign Service Journal - January/February 2018

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2018 23 A combination of copays and incentives would encourage employees to spend taxpayer money more like their own money and less like other people’s money. Two Employee Evaluation Systems: A Target for Savings Foreign Service members must go through two evaluation processes: the annual Employee Evaluation Reviewwe all write, and the evaluation that takes place when we bid on posts. Why do we need two systems? It is a waste of time and resources. We should rid ourselves of the EER system, which is clearly broken. If an EER were truly valuable, it would be the docu- ment requested by bureaus when you bid on one of their positions. Instead, bureaus are using the 360-degree reviews to evalu- ate bidders. If the promotion systemworked, there would rarely be handshakes given to out- of-cone and below-grade candidates. The in-cone and at-grade candidate would always be preferred. Instead, the preferred candidate goes to a shootout; and if there is an in-cone and at-grade candidate, that person wins nomatter how bad their reputation. The EER system seems designed to maximize the time input into the system while minimizing the ability to distinguish between actual candidates. We should pursue the opposite goal: a minimum investment in time spent on employee evaluations that maximizes the ability to evaluate the candidates’ qualifications and performance. Bidding for posts is a much cleaner system and takes much less time. It works. Why mess with it? Why even keep the rank- in-person system? It is clearly expensive, and its results are constantly questioned— we should jettison it and convert to rank- in-position. Pay people for the positions they occupy as they do in the Civil Service and private industry. Instead, allow employees to bid on positions one grade above, at grade or below grade. Good candidates will rise more quickly. Low performers will be forced to take lower and lower grades over time until they leave to find other employ- ment. When in doubt, assess what others are doing: our bidding system looks a lot more like the private sector than our EER system does. I would like to see a report from the Bureau of Human Resources measuring and justifying the cost of the promotion system. I don’t believe we can justify the return on that investment to the taxpayers. Free Market vs. Controlled Economy: How Much Is a Position Worth? Free market principles are among the bedrock principles of our foreign policy. But the department doesn’t use those free market principles when designing its own policies. Instead, we set up bureaucratic procedures to determine the market price for specific jobs at certain posts. When that price is still inadequate to attract bidders, we design program after program to patch the hole, which results in a confusing hodge-podge of policy. For example, a post can have a dif- ferential up to 35 percent, a cost of living adjustment (COLA) up to 70 percent, danger pay up to 35 percent, a “historically difficult to staff” designation, a “service need differential” designation, a larger housing allowance—all to assure there are bidders for all posts. When it is still difficult to staff some posts, we react bureaucratically by creating yet another program tomeasure and add to the incentives. We had problems staffing in war zones, so we created a new program called “priority staffing posts.” What’s next? There are numerous justifications to keep all these allowance programs going, but the system still doesn’t adequately ensure enough bidders for all posts. Some high-differential posts, such as Bangkok andManila, never have trouble getting bidders. Because of some intan- gible element, those posts are considered desirable. Apparently we have more differ- entials than we need for such posts. On the other hand, some non-differential posts have difficulties attracting bidders. Reyk- javík, for example, needs help to attract more bidders. Rather than follow the lead of apparatchiks working on five-year plans for a command economy, let’s use the invisible hand of the market. Posts and Positions Why measure all these categories of hardship and try to second-guess what we hope will encourage bidders? We already have a metric in the Foreign Service to measure a post’s desirability: bidders. We can use the number of bidders at each post to establish the price of those positions. If all bidders have to submit six bids, then all positions should receive six bidders for each bid cycle (assuming staffing matches positions). If a post is getting that many bidders, great! The differentials are working and