The Foreign Service Journal - March 2018

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MARCH 2018 59 USAID VP VOICE | BY ANN POSNER AFSA NEWS Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA USAID VP. Contact: | (202) 712-1631 USAID Senior Leadership Must Support ItsWorkforce How can senior leadership increase communications and improve its attitude toward FSOs? In my December column I highlighted communication gaps at USAID. Our agency does well communicating about its work, such as our laudable disaster responses. Stories in the press describe USAID’s health and education innovations, as well as food assistance in places stricken by famine caused by drought or war. Press reports about the agency foster pride in the people carrying out its work. The USAID Foreign Ser- vice officers I know have a combination of idealism and intelligence that is fitting for this premier development agency. The Civil Service and other Washington staff are equally impressive, and I can- not overstate my pride in our local staff overseas. However, with the excep- tion of its Foreign Service assignments team, the agency does not do well in communicating internally with its workforce. Obfusca- tion and misleading state- ments about facts important to Foreign Service officers’ careers are so persistent that, often, communications gaps and miscommunica- tion seem deliberate. The continuing lack of candor between USAID senior lead- ers and its FS workforce is harmful to both. This is not a new problem: My predecessor in the role of AFSA USAID vice president, Sharon Wayne, warned in her March 2016 column in The Foreign Service Journal that “using non-standard hiring practices to bring in staff to encumber positions transitionally reserved for Foreign Service officers has had a severe impact on the career paths of our FSOs and dealt a striking blow to workforce morale.” The 2017 hiring freeze worsened the situation. A few incidents will high- light my growing concern: During one large town- hall meeting in a functional bureau, FSOs were described by bureau leadership as unwilling or uninterested in serving in difficult posts and inflexible about serving in difficult-to-fill roles. This mis- information was used when proposing yet another new hiring category for the agency, focused on humanitarian and crisis work. After the FSOs protested the characteriza- tion, citing the difficult work they’ve been doing around the world for years, a grudging apology was made. However, damage was done by the lead- ership’s disparaging public remarks, which revealed a deeply held bias. In January, an anonymous message was pushed under the USAID AFSA office door. The unsigned two-page mis- sive leveled numerous accu- sations against the agency, including “lack of transpar- ency.”When I get anony- mous messages like that one, I wonder: “Are serious concerns like these gnaw- ing away at other people?” It isn’t just that unsigned note: I’ve also gotten calls and messages from concerned, seasoned, senior, very cred- ible FSOs overseas. How can senior leadership increase communications and improve its attitude toward FSOs? They, after all, sign on for worldwide availability as needed, unlike Foreign Service Limited (FSL) and Personal Service Con- tract (PSC) employees, who can go position by position wherever they want. The announcement of the new Chief Human Capital Office (CHCO) seemed a sound move, but many other recent management deci- sions regarding the USAID Direct Hire Foreign Service Officer workforce led to more questions: Does the Hiring Reassign- ment and Review Board have some hidden objective? Why else would it approve recruit- ment of some much-needed FS skills while putting aside the well-supported requests for other FS skills with numerous vacancies? Is USAID actually “plan- ning” its staffing shortages? If staffing shortage emergen- cies can be predicted years in advance and funding is not a problem, are the agency’s staffing shortages truly “emergencies”? USAID has several pro- grams in place to address overseas staffing “emer- gencies.” There is the Civil Service to Foreign Service excursion program. There are PSCs and FSLs. Numerous hiring mechanisms are in place, and probably still more are on the drawing boards. However, I don’t think that the agency can foster the resilience it needs without valuing experienced FSOs. And the agency cannot count on idealism and investment in its vision and loyalty if it relies on an ever-changing staff of non-career personnel. Here’s another illustration: USAID recently decided to consider CS to FS conver- sions for EXOs (USAID’s man- agement officers), because of an “emergency shortage” of FSOs with management skills. If the need was known in early 2016, when a group of highly qualified FSO applicants was interviewed and selected, why does the agency define this as an emergency in 2018?Were agency funds expended for recruitment of FSOs in 2016 just written off? These are the types of questions being asked because of the agency’s frequently hidden rationales and inexplicable decisions. USAID FSOs need answers to these questions. n