Page 51 - Foreign Service Journal - April 2012

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T
he federalwork force isunder attack. For thepast twoyears,
certain elements in Congress have waged a deliberate war
against federal employees — freezing our salaries, attack-
ing our pensions, calling us names and seeking tomake govern-
ment service less attractive.
At first, they claimed it was about including us in the shared
sacrifices askedof allAmericans tobalance thebudget. Nowmany
of them admit they want to shrink the government, reduce our
ranks andeliminate certaingovernment functions altogether. We
arepawns in twopolitical battles: one aboutmoney and theother
about the very nature of government. It is a pretty unpleasant
place to be.
Defending ourselves, we are forced to justify our very exis-
tence. We do this from both a personal and professional per-
spective. Professionally, we try to explain (shocked that it is even
necessary to do so) what the Foreign Service is, what it does for
theAmericanpeople andwhy it is needed. Personally, we express
our love of country, desire to make a difference, interest in the
worldaroundus and, increasingly, describe the sacrificeswehave
made as individuals and family members to serve our country.
It is very easy, in this environment, to feel defensive, and to
react to any attempt toquestionour purpose, or change our sta-
tus quo, as a threat. This natural reaction could put us in a very
difficult place with regard to the Quadrennial Diplomacy and
Development Review.
TheQDDR is not a threat. Were it not unfortunately timed
to coincidewith theworst attacks onour livelihood in recent his-
tory, most of us would see it, conceptually, as a very good thing.
It is an effort to improve efficiency and coordinate, across var-
ious lines, our efforts to achieve our mission. But it is also an
effort to reachdeep intoour organization, questionevery assump-
tion, seek justification for why things are the way they are, and
change things in some verydramatic and, to some degree, exper-
imental ways.
Wemust make the effort to separate genuine attacks on our
Service from those which are simply artifacts of an ever-chang-
ing, ever-evolvingworld. It is extremely important for us tohelp
shape, rather than oppose, State’s efforts—or run the risk that
they will be shaped primarily by others.
As part of theQDDR, over the past fewmonths, the depart-
ment has undertaken a number of initiatives, including a small
pilot programenabling a small number of Civil Service employ-
ees to serve one tour in overseas positions selected to enhance
their knowledgebase—witha reciprocal aspect allowingForeign
Servicemembers to serve a tour in theCivil Servicepositions tem-
porarily vacated.
There is a dramatic increase in demand for certain “niche”
skills inspecific countries andat specificgrade levels that thedepart-
ment cannot address by simply hiring more FS members. In
response, there will be a significant increase in the number and
typeof LimitedNon-CareerAppointments, colleagueswho serve
at specificgrade levels innarrowlydefinedpositionsonnon-career,
time-limited appointments. Nearly all LNAswill be in just a few
countries, and some will actually free up career entry level offi-
cers for longer-term language training.
Such initiatives challenge our assumptions about our insti-
tution, and could play into the hands of thosewho question the
requirement for a dedicatedForeignService. But properlyman-
aged, they are essential to enable the State Department to meet
its mission more effectively.
AFSA’s role in such casesmust therefore be to collaborate in
shaping the terms of such initiatives, defining numbers and lim-
itations, and building in safeguards to ensure that they do not
harm our career paths or legitimacy. We also have an impor-
tant role to play as a reality check, sharing field-tested expertise
to keep abstract ideas focused on realities.
Recognizing the purpose and value of the QDDR, our role
must be to ensure a strong FS voice is at the table as ideas are
transformed intoprograms andprocedures. Ideally, we canuse
this process to achieve, as well, things we ourselves have want-
ed—such as better career paths for specialists, and greater and
more promotable opportunities formid-level generalists to serve
in developmental tours.
To do this, we need your help. We need to hear frommore
of you, andwe needmore of you toweigh inwithmanagement
through your own chains of command. We need to do this to
make sure our voice is heard—not to defend ourselves against
implementation of the QDDR, but to help shape its outcome,
by sharing our skills and expertise tohelpour agency better per-
form its mission.
Defining, Not Defending, Our Future
V.P. VOICE:
STATE
BY DANIEL HIRSCH
A P R I L 2 0 1 2 / F OR E I GN S E R V I C E J OU R N A L
51
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Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP.
It is very easy, in this environment, to feel defensive,
and to react to any attempt to question our
purpose, or change our status quo, as a threat.