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Last July, I wrote a column

highlighting the disparity in

benefits received by State

Department and USAID For-

eign Service officers (see the

July 2014 AFSA News)

. The

article served as a power-

ful catalyst leading to the

creation of several working

groups focused on closing

the gaps.

We have seen improve-

ments in some areas, such

as greater resources and

opportunities available to

eligible family members.

Although an excellent start,

I am dismayed by the lack of

progress on establishing a

functioning temporary-duty

housing program for USAID

employees in the United

States (similar to what is

available to State FSOs).

This glaring inequity

should not persist! I’ve

heard of horrific hardships

borne by USAID colleagues

forced to wait months

before being reimbursed for

thousands of dollars’ worth

of TDY lodging costs. These

stories have only strength-

ened my resolve to see this

benefit come to fruition.

Responding to my frustra-

tion over this issue, one

AFSA member likened the

process of achieving change

in government to turning an

oil tanker, lamenting, “It just

isn’t going to happen fast.”

The agency has had a

year to research and under-

stand the impact of benefit

inequalities on morale, qual-

ity of work and retention.

Government Change: An Oxymoron?

If USAID wants to keep

the FS cadre in whom it has

invested, addressing the

fundamental concerns with

working condition inequi-

ties and other drivers of low

morale must be a top prior-

ity. We do not want to lose

momentum with the change

of leadership, and I person-

ally want to see a hot fire lit

under the temporary-duty

lodging situation.

My private-sector

friends can’t understand

why it takes so long to

enact wanted changes. One

theory is that senior politi-

cal leadership in govern-

ment agencies turns over

more frequently than in the

private sector. The kind of

disruption this turnover

causes in agency priorities is

usually only seen in hostile

takeovers in the private-

sector context.

The main goal of many

political appointees is to

promote the policies of the

administration or change

the policies of the previous

administration, or both.

Few focus on organizational

management issues, often

because they lack manage-

ment know-how, will not be

in government long or desire

to concentrate on higher-

profile policy issues.

Furthermore, spending

time on improving working

conditions for the federal

workforce yields low political

support in many districts—a

clear incentive to ignore the

problems.

Employee engagement

is a major challenge for the

federal government. I was

saddened to learn from last

year’s Federal Employee

Viewpoint Survey that over-

all job satisfaction among

federal employees was at

its lowest since the survey

began in 2004, and that

USAID was voted 19th out of

the 25 best medium-sized

federal agencies in which to

work.

This placement is an

absolute travesty in my

mind, as USAID employees

are—by nature—altruistic,

brilliant and dedicated to

USAID’s mission, one that

should yield great personal

satisfaction.

Unfortunately, USAID

FSOs have endured a series

of morale-crushing epi-

sodes, including reductions

in performance awards,

promotion opportunities

and training; a threatened

government shutdown; last

year’s “promo-gate” (see

the December 2014 AFSA News); and a lack of trans

-

parency in assignments.

And when USAID FSOs, in

the face of such challenges,

find themselves also battling

poor leadership, non-inclu-

sive decision-making and

the appearance of disinter-

est in securing equitable

benefits, their dedication

can only last so long.

Agency leadership is the

most important factor in

effecting change. I believe

Acting Administrator Alfonso

Lenhardt will be a strong ally

in the days ahead. His dis-

tinctive military and ambas-

sadorial background means

he understands better than

most that today’s officers

are less inclined to execute

orders without question;

they care about being

involved in the creation of

departmental strategies and

want to understand their

implications.

Management occasion-

ally inquires about what

“low-hanging fruit” to tackle

first, for many issues are

cross-cutting and complex.

My response from now on

will be that USAID should

demonstrate appreciation

for its employees by pri-

oritizing their concerns and

engaging those who would

be affected by any change.

These basic gestures would

go a long way, if done

genuinely.

Meanwhile, I intend to

light that hot fire under the

TDY housing program and

help make it a reality. Stay

tuned, and thank you for all

of your support as we blaze

this new trail together.

n

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

|

JULY-AUGUST 2015

71

Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA USAID VP.

Contact:

swayne@usaid.gov

or (202) 712-1631

USAID VP VOICE

| BY SHARON WAYNE AFSA NEWS

My private-sector friends can’t understand

why it takes so long to enact wanted

changes.