The Foreign Service Journal - November 2014 - page 73

Statisticians worry about
false positives and false nega-
tives, i.e., those values that
were reported in the solution
set that should not have been
and those that the equation
failed to capture in the first
place. While I am no statisti-
cian, I worry about the false
positives and false negatives
in the Foreign Service: those
leaving the Foreign Service
who should not, and those
who fail to apply for entry to
the Foreign Service in the first
Management often cites
two numbers supporting its
“all is well” claim at the State
Department: overall low, flat
attrition rates and a record
number of applicants to the
Foreign Service. This month I
dig a little deeper to see what
these numbers do, and do
not, tell us about the health of
the Foreign Service.
Workforce Planning.
best place to start is with the
data. Each year the depart-
ment updates its congres-
sionally mandated Five Year
Workforce and Leadership
Succession Plan. This June,
the Office of Resource Man-
agement and Organization
Analysis (HR/RMA) published
the report for Fiscal Years
2014 to 2018 (available on
its intranet site). Last year
the department transmitted
a summary of its findings to
Congress, and AFSA is cur-
rently working on its submis-
sion in accordance with 22
U.S. Code § 4173.
Attrition: A False Sense of Security
Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP.
| (202) 647-8160 | @matthewasada
Attrition is
one way of analyzing the
State Department’s success
in retaining employees. In
the report, the department
describes Foreign Service
attrition as either non-
retirement or retirement and
as voluntary or involuntary.
Moreover, it analyzes officers
and specialists separately,
with distinct analysis for each
specialty (see pages 37-38 of
the Five Year Plan).
Beware of Aggregates.
Overall attrition figures may
mask significant differences
within the Foreign Service
and do not tell us who is
leaving voluntarily without
a pension. Increases or
decreases within this group,
after accounting for changes
in economic conditions, may
better correlate with the State
Department’s overall desir-
ability as an employer. While
the department reported that
the number of non-retirement
officer separations increased
from 66 in FY 2012 to 74 in FY
2013 and is projected to be 82
in FY 2014 it does not provide
a breakdown of their volun-
tary or involuntary nature.
For this reason, AFSA has
zeroed in on non-retirement
voluntary separations and
recently wrote to the depart-
ment requesting these figures
for the past several years (see
Danger of Specialist
Given the num-
ber of specialties and their
vast differences in size, aggre-
gated specialist data is more
prone to mask underlying
trends within the population.
For instance, I could tell you
that non-retirement specialist
separations are expected to
decrease from 64 in FY 2013
to 52 in FY 2014. However,
such an aggregated number
would mask the fact that
Diplomatic Security agent
non-retirement separation is
expected to
in the
same period from 25 to 33!
Similarly, one has to be
wary of reporting aggregated
specialist percentages—given
the differences in the size
of specialist populations—
a decrease of two office
management specialists is
a much smaller percentage
than a commensurate two-
person decrease within the
construction engineer cadre!
Who Is Leaving and
AFSA hopes that the
requested data will provide a
better picture of those who
are voluntarily deciding to
leave the Service. Are the indi-
viduals some of the organiza-
tion’s star performers?Were
they promoted or tenured on
first review? Many of us know
people who have left promis-
ing careers with the Foreign
Service at the five- or 10-year
mark. I can think of three
exceptional officers who have
left within the last six months.
AFSA believes that more
rigorous data analysis of
those leaving the Foreign
Service, in addition to a
new survey of all outgoing
employees, will help inform
our collective efforts to retain
our best and brightest. Simi-
larly, looking more closely at
those individuals who are
not applying for the Foreign
Service, but should be—the
false negatives—can improve
our efforts to recruit the best
and brightest.
While focusing on the false
positives and false negatives
may temporarily undermine
our sense of security in the
Foreign Service personnel
system, it will ultimately
improve our efforts to address
the personal and professional
concerns of the best and
brightest that the nation has
to offer. I look forward to hear-
ing from you with suggestions
for further Foreign Service
statistical analysis.
Next month: Mental Health
in the Service
AFSA believes that more rigorous
data analysis of those leaving the
Foreign Service, in addition to a new
survey of all outgoing employees, will
help inform our collective efforts to
retain our best and brightest.
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