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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

Taking Care of Our People

The responsibility for “Duty

of Care” is a topic currently

gaining momentum within

the federal government, and

one that has great signifi-

cance for USAID FSOs given

the security concerns, the

round-the-clock nature

of foreign affairs, and the

significant personal sacri-

fices that USAID FSOs and

their families are required to

make.

The 2014 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review highlighted USAID’s

pledge to “take care of its

people.” The reality that ser-

vice in high-stress environ-

ments and its foreseeable

consequences (see “The Cost of Longer CPC Tours”

in

the October 2014

FSJ

) has

become the norm for USAID

FSOs led the agency to

commission an independent

study to help guide their next

steps.

The report on that study,

prepared by Greenleaf Inte-

grative Strategies and titled

“Stress and Resilience Issues

Affecting USAID Personnel

in High Operational Stress

Environments”

(http://bit

.

ly/2dhTktz), was released

last September. (See discus- sion of the report in Talking Points, January-February 2016 FSJ .)

The study’s storyline took

a twist when the findings

revealed that the primary

sources of stress identi-

fied by USAID personnel

were related to institutional

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

|

OCTOBER 2016

55

factors, not external contex-

tual factors. In other words,

USAID has created its own

high-stress environment,

regardless of where one

serves.

The building blocks of

the high-stress, in-house

environment have been

internal practices, employed

over many years, such as

neglecting to hire sufficient

numbers of Foreign Service

officers and declining to

provide adequate training

and opportunity at all levels

of the Foreign Service career

(despite the Foreign Service

Act of 1980’s mandate to do

so in sec. 703: Career Devel-

opment).

USAID has strayed from

its foundational respon-

sibility as a foreign affairs

agency—namely to recruit

and champion its FSOs. The

results of the stress and

resilience assessment clearly

reveal how an otherwise

honorable agency like USAID

could rank as low as it does

in the federal employee view-

point surveys.

The Greenleaf study

opens with this observation

by a medical unit employee:

“USAID personnel are the

most stressed population

from among the various

agencies at post.”

It goes on to identify

the top sources of stress at

USAID:

1–Heavy Workload/

Pace

(i.e. inadequate staff-

ing);

2–Leadership Defi-

cits

(e.g., failure to defend

USAID institutional interests

in interagency forums);

3–

Inadequate Management

(e.g., lack of personnel and

team-based management

skills); and

4–Poor Super-

vision

(e.g., deficient in

prioritization of tasks and

feedback).

Because USAID is

undergoing a transforma-

tion in its Office of Human

Capital and Talent Manage-

ment, the time is right to

address the foundational

weaknesses described in

this study. I believe a direct

line can be drawn from

the well-worn practices of

deficient workforce plan-

ning, budgeting and training

to the near-default filling of

the resultant agency gaps

with temporary, non-career

USAID has strayed from its foundational

responsibility as a foreign affairs agency—

to recruit and champion its FSOs.

staff (often program-funded

due to insufficient operating

expense budget) and the

distressing results we see in

this assessment. Correcting

these damaging business

practices and changing what

has become culture will

require agency top leader-

ship to drive the course, but

it is possible.

A system that transpar-

ently and accurately articu-

lates USAID’s hiring, training

and career pathing needs to

“take care of its people”. That

must be among the highest

of priorities towards meet-

ing its development goals.

Our people are our greatest

asset.

n