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dvancement in the Foreign Service depends, to a large
degree, on assignments, performance and corridor rep-
utation. For the vast majority of generalists, a good cor-
ridor reputation involves pleasing one’s boss, one’s post and
the regional bureau to which one is assigned. That is usually
a straightforward matter of doing a good job, advancing our
nation’s mission in the country of assignment and receiving a
good evaluation.
For many specialists (and a small but growing number of
generalists), the picture ismore complicated. Many functional
specialists serve two masters: their post of assignment and a
functional bureau. In some cases, they serve more. This sit-
uation has benefits, but also creates a number of issues of in-
creasing concern to AFSA.
On the positive side, “membership” in a functional bu-
reau often brings a level of esprit de corps — a more deeply
shared sense of mission, a greater sense of being part of a
team, and greater support frommore experienced members
— which has been disappearing from other parts of the
Service. Functional bureaus have their own funds for train-
ing and conferences, ensuring a better training continuum.
They are often in a position to better equip their employees,
and to lobby, if necessary, for classwide issues. And they can
provide a safety net for the employee who runs afoul of a
boss at post — provided that boss is not a part of the same
functional bureau.
However, the negative side can be of serious concern. Two
of the three largest functional bureaus have a high-level of em-
ployee dissatisfaction, and that dissatisfaction appears directly
proportional to the bureau’s degree of autonomy. At its heart
is the fact that larger functional bureaus exert much greater
control over assignments and careers, often through parallel
or separate assignments structures.
Whatever their size — from hundreds to thousands of FS
employees—these bureaus have broad, pyramidal structures
that give considerable power to a few individuals. These in-
dividuals can make or break careers, in ways that often leave
no paper trail and are therefore difficult to document. AFSA
has become increasingly concerned about processes in these
bureaus that circumvent the checks, balances and internal
controls built into the human resources system that protect
most employees from abuse.
In bureaus that exercise strong control over assignments,
AFSA hears of assignments being used as rewards and pun-
ishments, including demotions that do not involve a due-
process review of the reasons for such action. Even when a
demotion does not occur, dramatic differences can exist be-
tween the general impression of an employee held by col-
leagues at current or past posts, and his or her reputation in
the functional bureau.
We have heard credible allegations of supervisors being
pressured to write (or rewrite) Employee Evaluation Reports
to malign employees who have annoyed higher-ups. In such
cases, the supervisor (who is aware of an employee’s high-
quality work at post) is pressured by bureaumanagement (for
reasons that may have nothing whatsoever to do with that
post) to ignore good work, document in the EER issues nor-
mally protected as personnel-sensitive, and highlight, or in-
vent, mistakes. Such evaluations (and the demotions
mentioned above) can easily halt a career, or force the em-
ployee to look for a job elsewhere.
Some decisions have financial implications, including loss
of Law Enforcement Availability Pay or other standby pay.
Others can delay or veto the presentation of awards approved
by supervisors and post management.
Less shocking, but equally unfair, are assignments tomore,
or less, desirable posts, based not on qualifications, but on re-
lations between the employee and someone with greater
power in the bureau.
The potential for such abuses exists everywhere in the sys-
tem. To some degree, personal relationships, corridor reputa-
tion and other issues, affect every Foreign Service assignment
or career. For most employees, there are mechanisms to help
ensure that these decisions aremade by objective third parties,
that candidates are fairly considered and that the employee
has access to due process mechanisms. CentralizedHR func-
tions not only reduce redundancies; they promote fairness
and due process in assignments, promotions and disciplinary
For those who serve two masters, however, these mecha-
nisms are too often ignored, inflicting unfair damage to ca-
reers and reputations.
AFSA intends to focus more deeply on these issues, par-
ticularly as other functional bureaus begin to exert greater in-
fluence over coordinated assignments. We must ensure that
parallel or redundant systems either do not circumvent due
process, or include their own controls to ensure fairness. As
always, we are interested in hearing from FS members, either
by e-mail to me at or
through AFSA’s
Web site at
J A N U A R Y 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L
Serving Two Masters