The Foreign Service Journal - April 2016
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APRIL 2016


wrote in

my very first column

of the joy

of receiving members of the 183rd A-100

class at AFSA headquarters, in my first

act after being sworn in as president

in July. Their excitement and enthusiasm

about their careers was contagious.

Recently, I shared lunch and a consid-

erably more somber conversation with

members of the 185th A-100 class. They

are ready to serve, but concerned.

Their concern: that the recent surge in

demand for entry-level consular adjudi-

cators will lead to back-to-back consular

tours that will distort their career paths

and hinder their development into well-

rounded Foreign Service officers.

One thoughtful member of the class

followed up with me in writing, describ-

ing the impact of the “present crushing

demand” for consular staffing and urging

expanded use of the limited non-career

appointment (LNA) adjudicator program.

The current A-100 class, he wrote,

“consists of 93 members, all of whomwill

serve in the consular section during their

first tour. It is highly likely that a majority

will serve their second tour in the consular

section, as well. Of those 93, only 20 are

actually consular-coned officers. If the

desired end state is well-rounded officers,

the remaining 73 individuals are being put

at a disadvantage.”

AFSA agrees

that the desired

end state is well-

rounded officers.

In fact, a key

purpose of the

Foreign Service

personnel system is to produce a deep

bench of experienced, seasoned leaders

year after year.

How are those leaders produced?

Primarily through a series of varied and

increasingly responsible assignments. The

rule of thumb is 70-20-10: that is, 70 per-

cent of career development comes from

a carefully thought out series of assign-

ments; 20 percent frommentoring; and 10

percent from formal training.

On-the-job training, through assign-

ments designed to master the core busi-

ness and develop a leader, is not just nice

to have if circumstances permit. On the

contrary, it is the primary means by which

the Foreign Service develops the next

generation of leaders.

A consular tour—for all officers, of

every cone—is an important step in

mastering the core business of the Foreign

Service, including leader development,

a signature strength of Consular Affairs.

That said, when the one or two years of

consular work slip to four, five or six years,

we are putting career development at risk.

AFSA recognizes the short-term chal-

lenge of filling a sharply higher number of

entry-level consular adjudicator slots and

will engage constructively with depart-

ment management to address it.

As the principal advocate for the long-

term institutional health of the Foreign

Service, AFSA will insist that solutions to

the short-term challenge give due weight

to the long-termwell-being of our com-

petitive up-or-out Service.

Here is the good news. The current

staffing challenge pales in comparison to

past challenges and can be easily over-

come—without sacrificing access to the

varied assignments key to career develop-


Let’s do some quick math. Workload

projections indicate that 600 entry-level

consular adjudicators are needed this

year. About 365 positions will be filled with

new entry-level officers, leaving a gap of

235 positions.

How does filling 235 LNA positions

in cities like São Paulo, Guadalajara and

Shanghai stack up against past challenges?

As deputy coordinator for Iraq in Janu-

ary 2007, I found myself with less than a

year to get more than 600 trained civil-

ians to Iraq, then experiencing horrific

violence. It was the largest deployment of

civilians to a war zone since the Vietnam

War, and we filled every position.

To my new colleagues in the 185th

A100 class, I say: Fear not. You joined a

strong, resilient organization, one that

has faced down bigger challenges in the

past. Count on AFSA to advocate cease-

lessly and effectively for a career path that

ensures that you too can develop into

the seasoned, well-rounded leaders the

Foreign Service needs.



Ambassador Barbara Stephenson is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.

Building the Deep Bench



The training acquired through assignments is

the primary means by which the Foreign Service

develops the next generation of leaders.