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50
JULY-AUGUST 2013
|
THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
AFSA NEWSSTATE VP VOICE | BY DANIEL HIRSCH
AFSA NEWS
Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP.
Sometime in the past two
years AFSA added a dis-
claimer to the VP columns,
stating that the views
described therein were solely
those of the writer. I think it
fair to end my term by taking
advantage of that disclaimer
to voice my own opinion on
an issue other AFSA Govern-
ing Board members have
addressed diferently.
In my opinion, the biggest
impediment to a greater
foreign policy leadership role
for the Foreign Service is not
competition from the Civil
Service or political appoin-
tees, but the shortage of FS
members qualifed to make
policy, rather than expertly
carry it out.
Our Values
The values advanced
by our meritocracy do not
produce enough FS members
with the skill sets to recog-
nize the larger issues for our
country, defne and shape
those issues as “require-
ments” and identify—in an
integrated interagency con-
text—the agents, processes
and resources necessary to
meet those requirements.
We must be as knowledge-
able about our government's
policymaking structure as
we are about foreign afairs,
the issue of the day or the
cultural fne points of our
country of assignment.
When there are not
enough FS members to
do those things, someone
else has to do them. That
will either be a Civil Service
member who has developed
a deep understanding of the
organization or government
through years of Washing-
ton service, or it will be an
appointee who has the trust,
for whatever reason, of the
highest-level ofcials. It may
be shortsighted of the orga-
nization to put its own need
for operational efectiveness
ahead of our need to develop
qualifcations, but it is neither
surprising nor conspiratorial.
FS members are as much to
blame as any other factor.
Outside Infuences
Certainly, outside infu-
ences have played their roles.
Years of suboptimal hiring
rates did not allow a training
foat, while resource issues
resulted in just-in-time train-
ing over employee develop-
ment. Wartime politics, par-
tisan politics and the greater
familiarity of some members
of Congress with the military
shifted some roles. Diferent
administrations empha-
sized diferent planning
tools, which afected the
way some FS members view
planning in general. And for
the past decade, the needs
of Afghanistan, Iraq and
Pakistan have forced many
upper and upper-mid-level FS
members to focus on issues
other than their own profes-
sional development.
Assignment Process
Career development of-
cers are frequently unable to
provide real developmental
counseling, while the bureau
assignment process focuses
primarily on putting people
into positions for which they
are already fully qualifed.
Through a combination of
understafng, underfunding
and failure to recognize the
need to develop leadership
skills as a key part of the FS
member skillset, the Foreign
Service (including some in
positions with the author-
ity to ameliorate the issues)
has lagged in its collective
responsibility to develop
future leaders.
Realistically, our own
habits have worsened the
problem. Many of us bid on
positions where we will fur-
ther refne skills we already
possess, and view training
or a Washington assignment
as a detour rather than a
stepping stone. We pride
ourselves on the depth,
rather than the breadth, of
our subject-matter expertise.
We choose posts based on
personal preference, family
or fnancial needs, with little
thought to whether they will
teach us the skills we will
need to climb the ladder and
assume leadership roles.
Signifcant Strides
The good news is that
things have begun to change.
With AFSA’s support, the
department has made signif-
cant strides in ofering train-
ing in leadership, supervision
and personnel development.
The promotion precepts
negotiated with AFSA have
begun to reward the neces-
sary skill sets. But change
will be slow, as it always is.
Each evaluation season, I
am amazed by the number of
FS employees who com-
plain about taking time out
of their important work to
evaluate the performance of
their subordinates. I am also
dismayed by the number of
courses or conferences can-
celed by the department due
to insufcient enrollment—
either because employees
don't want to attend, or their
posts/supervisors/bureaus
can't aford to give them the
time to learn something new.
If we don't think about our
own professional develop-
ment, or that of our most tal-
ented subordinates, who will?
So who is really to blame if—
lacking enough FS members
with the skill sets needed to
formulate policy—our agency
flls vacancies with others
who possess those skills?
Honor to Serve
It has been an honor and a
privilege serving the Foreign
Service for the past 30 years,
and as your AFSA State vice
president for the past four
years. It is my most fervent
hope that the next AFSA
Governing Board will focus,
as I have tried to do, on ways
to make FS members better
supervisors, managers, plan-
ners and leaders. We have the
other skills covered.
n
On Becoming Foreign Service Policymakers