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USAID Promotions, ‘Promo-gate’ and Progress

on Transparency

About this time last year

I wrote an article for the

December 2013



“USAID Needs a Transparent

Promotions Process.” In it, I

focused on the importance

of clear agency communica-

tions regarding the promotion


The lack of transparency

and published statistics leads

employees to doubt the integ-

rity of the entire procedure

and gives rise to unrealistic

expectations. Eventually, this

leads to disillusionment and

declining morale.

It’s only logical that these

factors, in turn, cause a drop

in productivity and a higher

turnover of USAID’s work-

force, as employees look for

more mutually beneficial and

respectful work environments.

After that article was pub-

lished, feedback fromUSAID’s

Ožce of Human Resources

was inspiring. They seemed to

“get it” and were committed

to better communications,

to publishing promotion data

and to developing career

paths for USAID’s Foreign

Service ožcers.

In a perfect world, I’d be

writing about the plethora of

information and helpful points

of contact now available to

assist the agency’s FSOs with

the logistics of their career.

With this in place, our FSOs

would feel confident that their

agency is fair and transpar-

ent and that it values their

dedicated service, thus free-

ing them to focus on the work

they were hired to do.

Unfortunately, things

went terribly wrong this last

promotion cycle. The USAID

Foreign Service promotion list

that was released included

the names of 12 FSOs who

were ineligible for promotion.

At the same time, it omitted

the names of nine FSOs who

should have been on the list.

The mistake was caught early,

but not early enough to pre-

vent the roller coaster ride of

anguish and disillusionment

over such negligence.

It is perhaps necessary

to repeat: if employees are

to believe the promotion

process is fair, the integrity

of the process is extremely

important; and the belief that

the promotion process is fair

is of utmost importance to

employee morale, loyalty and


In March 2013, Administra-

tor Rajiv Shah welcomed a

new human resources team,

which included a Civil Service

director, a Civil Service deputy

and a Foreign Service deputy.

This was a controversial move

because the HR director posi-

tion had previously been filled

by a Foreign Service ožcer.

The main argument for this

change was that bringing in an

HR professional would better

serve USAID’s talent force.

Development professionals

know better than anyone that

change doesn’t happen over-

night. They are also intimately

familiar with the magnitude of

the reporting, justifying and

tracking required on USAID


From a professional

perspective, it’s clear that if

HR were a USAID program, it

would be time to start seeing


I feel a mixture of sadness

and anger as I wonder how

USAID can take its greatest

asset for granted, which is

what is suggested by the neg-

ligence that resulted in what

many have called “promo-


I cling to the hope that we

are still heading in the right

direction for two reasons. One

is that the most common and

often most dižcult challenge

to organizational growth is

establishing the necessary

processes and structures to

accommodate that growth.

With the recent hiring

of roughly 60 percent of

our workforce, it would not

be irrational to predict that

things could get worse before

they get better. Burnout (and

associated errors) in this tran-

sition stage before sužcient

resources, processes and

procedures are put in place,

should not be unexpected.

The other reason for

hope is that HR accepted the

blame. You can learn from a

mistake only after you admit

you made it. The fact that

the new HR leadership team

put aside its pride, and both

publicly apologized and indi-

vidually reached out to those

a’ected, is encouraging.

If the HR leadership has

the integrity and fortitude

to admit its mistakes, it may

also have the integrity and

fortitude to see envisioned

improvements through to


HR has informed AFSA that

as a result of the December

2013 article, they have been

in the process of gathering

statistics with the intent to

publish promotion data that

mirrors that published by the

State Department. If that is

the case, then by the time this

column is published, USAID

promotion statistics should be


It’s time to start seeing

progress and results.



This summer, AFSA joined the photo-sharing

social site Flickr in an e’ort to make photos from

AFSA events more widely available. Flickr makes it easy

to download copies of photos directly from the site, and

social sharing is also available. You can even comment on

photos, and help us identify anyone pictured. Feel free to

browse the selection at


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


or (202) 712-1631