Page 36 - FSJ June 2012

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36
F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / J U N E 2 0 1 2
Foreign Service staff can be. Ambassadors and visiting U.S.
officials frequently describe us as “the institutional mem-
ory,” as “the most important human resource at the em-
bassy and at the State Department,” and as “pillars of the
embassy.”
I also believe that many people at State genuinely ap-
preciate the challenges that Foreign Service Nationals face.
Even so, sometimes the department issues policies that
seem to increase the sense of separation between us and
Americans, undermining morale. Here are two examples.
First, we are now called Locally Employed Staff, not
Foreign Service Nationals, the termused when I first began
working for the U.S. government. Many senior staff at Em-
bassy Kuala Lumpur find this change discouraging.
The term “Foreign Service National” has elements of
pride and authority. It makes the local employees feel truly
like parts of a global community, and full members of theDe-
partment of State. By contrast, the term “Locally Employed
Staff” has an element of segregation. It emphasizes that we
are simply “locals,” separated from the global structure.
It also does not help that the acronym, LES, sounds like
“less.”
The Interagency Mission Awards Program — intro-
duced this year to replace State Department legacy awards
with a new set of awards for locally employed staff — has
been another source of frustration. The cable announcing
IMAP said that the department had consulted “all major
stakeholders,” and that there had not been any objections.
However the most important stakeholders in the exercise
— the country-based staff who would receive the awards—
were never consulted.
It is very telling that one of the highest honors in the
new system is the “LES of the Year Award.” If the depart-
ment truly believes that we are an integral part of U.S.
diplomacy, and wants to enhance solidarity among all its
employees, then it should reconsider policies that make us
feel “LES” appreciated.
Ravindran Manickam is Embassy Kuala Lumpur’s po-
litical specialist. An embassy employee since 1989, he is
president of its Malaysian Employees Association.
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