Page 17 - Foreign Service Journal - April 2013

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the Foreign Service journal
April 2013
among those voting at that time.
It was an era when the “old boy/old
school tie” dominated. Diplomats were
gentlemen (overwhelmingly), while most
union members were industrial workers,
more familiar with factory shop foors
than embassies. Tose endorsing
the AFSA option—and I was one of
them—blithely expected continuation of
the historical precedent of lifetime careers
leading to retirement, rather than up-or-
out defenestration.
We were wrong. And AFSA’s 1970s-era
paradigm needs to be rethought and fun-
damentally reinvented—or jettisoned.
Without saying so in picket lines or
manifestos, the Foreign Service rank-and-
fle implicitly recognizes AFSA’s feeble
efect on their professional lives. Te
attitude is most evident in membership
and election participation.
At the time of the 2011 Governing
Board elections, nearly a quarter of the
Foreign Service’s 12,000-plus active-duty
personnel were not AFSAmembers. I have
heard frommany who have joined AFSA
that a big incentive was access to legal
services to fght the vagaries of Bureau
of Diplomatic Security charges—not any
ideological belief in the value of unions.
Another indicator of widespread apathy is
the fact that only a quarter of Foreign Ser-
vice retirees choose to retain their AFSA
Historically, few AFSAmembers have
ever bothered to vote in the biennial
Governing Board elections (20 percent
in 2007; 23 percent in 2009). For the 2011
elections, the results were even more piti-
ful: reportedly, just a sixth (16.7 percent)
of all members voted, and only 9.1 percent
of eligible voters cast a ballot for the AFSA
State vice president.
One reason for such widespread voter
apathy might well be the ad hominem
bitterness that tainted the 2009 elec-
tions. Responding to crossfre charges of
procedural violations, the Department of
Labor—which certifes the results of all
union elections—took a more hands-on
role in the 2011 elections.
It would certainly seem that most AFSA
members don’t regard the elections as
personally meaningful. Tink about that
for a moment. Foreign Service person-
nel are among the most politically aware,
intellectually engaged citizens; it’s rea-
sonable to assume that something close
to 90 percent of them voted in the 2012
presidential election. Yet they can’t be
bothered to take part in an AFSA election.
A “union” with such a pitiful participa-
tion rate risks being regarded as a paper
tiger by State Department management.
Tat perception, in turn, renders AFSA
inefectual in advocating its members’
interests, which sets up a vicious cycle.
Revamping AFSA’s
Election Process
As this year’s elections proceed, AFSA
needs to deliver on its commitments to
engage AFSAmembers and attract new
support. Tat point should be self-evident,
but apparently is not.
Toward that end, here are some spe-
cifc reforms it needs to adopt as soon as
possible. (Most of them apply just as much
to all other AFSA activities and opera-
tions, not just biennial Governing Board
Campaign Fatigue.
Te election cycle
is much too long. Currently, the initial call
for nominations goes out to the member-
ship in November during even-numbered
years, yet the process is not completed
until the following July, with installation of
the new Governing Board.
We are now in the 21st century, and the
process urgently needs to be streamlined.
After all, we are no longer burdened by
tiny posts communicating with Washing-
ton only by monthly pouches.
I am therefore pleased to note that
beginning this year, AFSA is ofering
secure electronic voting for Governing
Board positions. (Paper ballots will still be
available, as well.) Tat hopefully will lead
to a much more reasonable timeline for
the electoral process, and boost participa-
Opening Up the Process.
ing members of the Governing Board and
AFSA’s various committees—regardless of
their competence—should turn over more
often. (If there are no candidates for posi-
tions, they should go empty.) Tere should
also be a focus on greater diversity in com-
mittee appointments, particularly with
regard to members from outside State.
Speaking of openness, there should
also be far greater transparency in regard
to announcing the agenda for the Gov-
erning Board’s monthly meetings and
reporting the meeting minutes. Te board
should institute roll-call voting, as well.
Change at the Top.
Term limits for
AFSA ofcers open the door to much-
needed generational renewal. Te coterie
of retirees and aged ofcers who have
long run AFSA badly needs expansion. It
should be the exception rather than the
norm that Governing Board leaders are
older than the U.S. president.
Yes, experience and seniority have
value—but so do energy and vigor. Up-
AFSA’s 1970s-era paradigm needs
to be rethought and fundamentally
reinvented—or jettisoned.