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Workforce Planning Overdue at FAS

In Ambassador Barbara Stephenson’s October President’s Views column,


hit on the most pressing issue

facing Foreign Service officers

in the Foreign Agricultural

Service today, one which will

have important repercussions

over the course of the next

decade—workforce planning.

Indeed, today the goal of

creating a “cohesive, robust,

resilient and confident” FSO

corps seems a long way off.

Instead, we are now in a

state of crisis as a result of

situationally expedient deci-

sions made a decade ago.

The number of FAS FSOs is

at a historic low—20 percent

lower than 10 years ago,

despite the number of offices

remaining roughly the same

and U.S. agricultural trade

growing in value and com-


For example, we now have

about the same number of

FS-1 officers as overseas

positions, leaving no room

for officers to take advantage

of training or fill Washing-

ton positions. The next 10

years will bring even greater

challenges, as the high rate

of retirements continues to

decimate the upper ranks.

The “bulge” of officers

that came into FAS in the

late 1980s is rapidly shrink-

ing due to Time-in-Class and

Time-in-Service limits, but

the cohort behind them is

shockingly small. It is small

because of painfully meager

incoming classes in the mid-

2000s. All of this has contrib-

uted to a severe shortage in

the middle ranks, especially

FS-1 and FS-2 officers. We

need to dramatically improve

our workforce planning to

be able to fulfill our mission

going forward.

As I noted optimistically


my October column

, a new

officer recruiting system is

leading to large and talented

new classes of officers com-

ing into FAS. However, these

FS-3 officers and trainees

need years to gain the neces-

sary experience to take on

leadership roles. This leaves

FAS with a critical and wors-

ening shortage of trained

officers to serve as head of

post or to fill other higher-

level positions.

The leadership shortage

is manifested in many ways,

including an extremely

large number of stretch

positions (40 percent of all

assignments in 2014-2015),

greatly reduced time in

Washington to reconnect

with FAS culture, officer

burnout, higher rates of

voluntary separation,

skewed bidding incentives

and increasing demands

by Civil Service employees

to serve multiple overseas


The least noticed, but

perhaps longest-lasting

impact will be on the

leadership training available

to existing officers. With

ever-higher demands placed

on so few FSOs, we would do

well to consider whether we

will be able to provide them

with the leadership training

and mentorship they require.

FSOs are accustomed to

getting on-the-job training,

but we also know that many

hidden problems result

when corners are cut to

accommodate immediate


FAS’ Office of Foreign

Service Operations has

made progress on workforce

planning and its execution.

However, management and

human resource officials

don’t seem to share OFSO’s

sense of urgency. We at

AFSA, in collaboration with

our members, must do more

to educate FAS as to why this

is such a critical period.

We are in the midst of a

crisis and need to make sure

FAS doesn’t mortgage the

future integrity of the Foreign

Service in order to keep the

lights on today.


With ever-higher demands placed on so

few FSOs, we would do well to consider

whether we will be able to provide

them with the leadership training and

mentorship they require.

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


or (202) 720-2502


On Oct. 30, the American Foreign Service Association and DACOR teamed

up to host the graduation reception for the most recent Job Search Program

class at the Foreign Service Institute. AFSAwas pleased to honor the Foreign

Service employees who were retiring from diplomatic service, and looks

forward to welcoming them as retiree members of the association and

continuing to work on their behalf to protect their Foreign Service legacy and

help them navigate their retirement.