The Foreign Service Journal - October 2014 - page 50

Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP.
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Conversions and the Foreign Service
The Foreign Service Act of
1980 finds that a “career
Foreign Service, characterized
by excellence and profes-
sionalism, is essential in the
national interest” (
ly/USCode3901). The Act
a•rms a merit-based Service
with o•cers appointed by the
president, with the advice and
consent of the Senate, and
other members appointed by
the Secretary of State, with
promotions according to the
principles of “a regular, pre-
dictable flow of talent upward
through the ranks” with
“e‹ective career development
patterns to meet the needs of
the Service.”
With this in mind I turn to
this month’s focus on conver-
sions of people or positions
into or from the Foreign Ser-
vice. Conceptually, it is useful
to think about conversions
of a
Each conversion has its
own impact on promotions,
professional development
opportunities and the overall
integrity of the system. The
number of promotion oppor-
tunities is derived from the
anticipated projected vacan-
cies over the next couple of
years normalized to ensure
the “regular, predictable flow.”
The permanent
of people
to or the
of Foreign Service positions
from the system, in excess of
a certain number, will reduce
the number of promotions
available to existing mem-
bers. AFSA is concerned by
conversions into skill codes
and at grades that are not in
deficit, as such conversions
will disadvantage at least one
individual in the existing pool.
At the same time, the
temporary conversion of a
domestic Foreign Service
position (known as blue-
sheeting)—or the limited non-
career appointment of a non-
Foreign Service employee to
an overseas Foreign Service
position—removes an oppor-
tunity for a member of the
Foreign Service to accumulate
professional development
experience as called for in our
career development plans.
Unlike the Hard-to-Fill
Program, which occurs after
members have had a chance
to bid on positions, the pilot
Overseas Development Pro-
grammay remove positions
before members have had a
chance to bid on them.
The stated goal of the ODP
is to give Civil Service employ-
ees opportunities to work and
learn about the department’s
work overseas, so that they
can return and apply those
experiences to their contin-
ued professional development
within the Civil Service.
Because the ODP may take
Foreign Service positions out
of the bidding process, AFSA
closely reviews each position
for uniqueness, language
designation, and policy and
supervisory responsibilities
before approving its inclusion
in the program.
AFSA has currently
approved 20 positions for
inclusion in the pilot program.
However, we remain con-
cerned that some employees
see the ODP as a conversion
program, and not a develop-
mental program as originally
AFSA is also concerned
about several changes to con-
version programs piloted by
the department that weaken
the integrity of the Foreign
Service’s merit-based person-
nel system.
Specifically, in 2012,
pursuant to the Quadrennial
Diplomacy and Development
Review, State revised the
conversion program to create
two separate competition
pools for those employees
interested in converting into
the Foreign Service.
Whereas previously the
best-qualified employee,
regardless of personnel sys-
tem, was selected to convert,
now two distinct conversion
pools have been created, one
for Foreign Service and one
for Civil Service personnel.
AFSA is concerned that
the conversion program
no longer selects the best-
qualified overall employee
for conversion, and that this
practice may violate the act’s
merit-based principle.
Moreover, AFSA is con-
cerned by the increase of
conversions at the FS-2 and
FS-1 levels resulting from the
changes to the conversion
programs, particularly in light
of the “pig in the python”
problem. The previous sta‹-
ing deficits at the 01 and 02
levels are being eliminated
as the Diplomatic Readiness
Initiative and Diplomacy 3.0
cohorts rise through the
The department has
an obligation to ensure
that career personnel have
predictable flow-through
and career paths. It appears
irresponsible to continue to
accommodate non-deficit
conversions at the upper
mid-levels given the projected
slowdown in promotions and
increasing time in class for
existing personnel.
While AFSA agrees that it
is important for employees
to have professional devel-
opment opportunities for
temporary and permanent
conversion, such opportuni-
ties must take into account
the Foreign Service Act’s
requirements for a career
Service governed by merit-
based principles with regular,
predictable career paths up to
and through the senior ranks.
AFSA will be considering
these principles when it sits
down later this year to negoti-
ate the regularization of these
pilot conversion initiatives.
I encourage each of you to
think about them prior to pro-
posing any temporary or per-
manent conversion of a Foreign
Service position.
Next month: Retention and
Attrition—Are We Keeping Our
Best and Brightest?
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