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Formula for Success?




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


or (202) 720-2502

The Foreign Agricultural

Service and its officers have

undergone a strenuous few

years. While most remain

hopeful for the future, chal-

lenges abound.

Thankfully, FAS weath-

ered the storm of seques-

tration and is now seeing

both a rebound in financial

resources and a passing of

the self-defeating “more with

less” mantra. However, FAS

members still face uncer-

tainty in several areas.

The most basic of these

is organizational in nature. It

remains to be seen how the

Department of Agriculture

will act on the 2014 congres-

sional provision mandating

the establishment of an

under secretary for trade and

foreign affairs and how that

position might affect FAS.

In addition, the proposed

organizational tinkering with

the agency under the term

“Refresh” gives pause to

those of us who lived through

the not-so-successful reorga-

nization of 2006.

Uncertainty is one of the

main contributing factors

to low overall morale in FAS,

as measured by the Federal

Employee Viewpoint Survey.

To the credit of the current

leadership, FAS has engaged

the Partnership for Public

Service to try to diagnose

the problems and involve all

employees in solutions.

However, the question

remains whether Foreign

Service issues can com-

mand attention in an agency

in which FSOs are numeri-

cally smaller than both the

Civil Service and Schedule B

employee categories.

The second key area of

concern is FSO demograph-

ics—primarily the impact

of retirements. While FAS

recently made a significant

change when it opened up

its officer intake system to

allow outside candidates to

compete for those positions,

years of very low intake in

the early 2000s and the high

numbers of recent retire-

ments have put great stress

on the system.

For example, FAS now has

fewer FO-1 officers than posi-

tions at that grade overseas,

and 40 percent fewer FO-1

officers than in 2006. This

demographic reality puts

stress on employees at all

grades, including pushing

more than 35 percent of all

officers into stretch positions.

Put simply, neither the

absolute number of officers

nor the number of officers

necessary at each grade is

keeping pace with retire-

ments. Worryingly, the

problems won’t ebb soon, for

50 percent of all FAS FSOs

will be eligible for retirement

within five years.

In the long term, proper

management of the intake

system has the potential to

dramatically increase the

FAS FSO pool and amelio-

rate the demographic crisis.

However, in the short run,

demographics suggest that

officers will continue to face

pressing demands for which

answering the call is largely

not rewarded.

AFSA’s task in this time of

transition is threefold: work

with management to advance

long-term staffing plans that

rectify the demographic

crisis; seek recognition and

advancement of an officer

corps working effectively at

higher levels of responsibility;

and ensure that resources

remain sufficient for FAS to

serve its overseas mission.

Only by increasing the

focus on employees and

adequate staffing can the

agency succeed in promoting

U.S. agriculture overseas.


Implementing the 2015 QDDR

Now that the 2015 Qua-

drennial Diplomacy and

Development Review has

been released, the American

Foreign Service Association

is focused on understand-

ing better how the strategic

priorities and proposed set of

reforms will be implemented,

and how these changes will

affect AFSA members.

AFSA was in the audience

when Deputy Secretary for

Management and Resources

Heather Higginbottom and

Special Representative for

the QDDR Tom Perriello held

a May 12 town hall meet-

ing with State Department

employees to run through

the report and answer ques-

tions. The

88-page report

has been criticized for being

weak on details, and the town

hall discussion did not reveal

much more.

Participants had barely

enough time to touch on a

handful of matters during the

hourlong session, ranging

from how to take advantage

of the pilot sabbatical and

how the data hub will make

knowledge sharing more

convenient, to understand-

ing how the department will

AFSA State Vice President Matthew Asada asks a question at the town hall

meeting on how the QDDR team proposes to improve risk management.