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MARCH 2017



Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA FAS VP.


or (202) 720-2502




Best Foot Forward

Foreign Service officers in the

Foreign Agricultural Service

are too modest.We have

failed to fully recognize the

role of economic diplomacy

in the broader foreign affairs

context and to capitalize on

opportunities to increase that

role in the wider foreign affairs


Although FAS is vitally

important as a lifeline

between our constituents and

Congress, we also stubbornly

resist the urge to go beyond

the protected bubble of the

D.C.-based agriculture com-

munity.Why do we expend so

little effort on going directly

to our stakeholders to explain

the importance of the Foreign

Service and our work for the

American people?

The change in adminis-

tration gives us the perfect

opportunity to rethink this

and directly engage with our

stakeholders, including farm-

ers, ranchers and the indus-

tries that facilitate agricultural

trade. This is a prime opportu-

nity for us in two clear ways.

First, the entire electorate

is now engaged on the subject

of the cost and benefits of

trade. Though most produc-

ers understand how the value

of their food products is

increased by the addition of

foreign demand, I believe that

rural non-farmworkers and

the general public don’t see

the link between that added

value and the economic health

of their communities.

Second, people have

expressed their concern about

the size of government and

the value it brings. Studies

have repeatedly shown that

one dollar invested by the U.S.

government in market access

or marketing of agricultural

exports yields many multiples

in economic activity that

ripple across the economy.

This is our chance to edu-

cate the public about the work

FAS does and why it benefits

them. I feel that FAS FSOs

have an obligation to spend

more time inside the United

States, sharing our experi-

ences about how our work

improves lives and is a good

investment that needs to be


Even though our friends

in the Foreign Commercial

Service have domestic offices

and FAS does not, the reason

they are much more effective

in this regard is because they

view direct interaction with

stakeholders as an essential


Blaming FAS management

for not making this a priority

or not pushing FSOs to the

forefront is missing the point;

it is up to FAS FSOs to change

our culture, to make stake-

holder interactions a priority

for our time and resources.

We have a positive role to

play in the ongoing national

discussion about the benefits

of agricultural trade and how

it can be done better; we

should waste no time in telling

America our stories.



In December, AFSA’s Labor Management team successfully reversed a decision by the Foreign Commercial Service

barring FCS Foreign Service officers from participation in the Foreign Service Institute’s Retirement Program.

In 2016, the FCS unilaterally eliminated participation in the Job Search Program for eligible FCS FSOs. The

program prepares those planning to retire for life after the Foreign Service. Given the rigors of the up or out system

established in the Foreign Service Act, members of the Foreign Service routinely face the stark reality of separa-

tion well before they might choose to leave the Service, so the elimination of this helpful transition program was

particularly unwelcome. In response, AFSA filed an implementation dispute against the FCS in September.

In changing this condition of employment without providing AFSA notice and affording the union an opportunity

to bargain over such a change, AFSA argued, the agency violated AFSA’s collective bargaining agreement and the

agency’s past practice of permitting participation for eligible FSOs.

For decades prior to the sudden change, FCS had provided Foreign Service employees eligible for retirement

within five years the opportunity to participate in the program. As FCS mandatory retirements due to age will more

than double in the 2018-2020 timeframe versus the prior three years (2015-2017), the opportunity to attend these

sessions becomes all the more important.

The dispute was settled when FCS agreed to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding with AFSA. The MOU

provides that all Foreign Service employees may participate in the program, including those otherwise-eligible FS

employees who had been denied participation prior to the filing of the implementation dispute.


—Colleen Fallon-Lenaghan, Labor Management Counselor