AFSA Annual Report 2013
FAS Vice President’s Report: David Mergen
The government shutdown in October had a large impact on the
Foreign Agricultural Service in 2013 because, unlike our colleagues at
State and USAID, most FAS employees were furloughed. AFSA and its
leadership were at the forefront of the successful effort by the “Federal-
Postal Coalition” to lobby for approval of back pay for the affected
employees. While we would have all preferred to continue doing our
jobs, this mitigated the financial impact on employees.
The FAS system for performance awards was a major issue for 2013,
starting with a decision by management to unilaterally change the policy
on Meritorious Service Increases shortly before the promotion boards
met in August. Management justified reducing the number of MSIs as
necessary to bring the policy in line with changes made on the Civil Service side of FAS.
The proposed change was dropped when we pointed out that the decision violated the FAS-
Further complicating the situation on awards were sequester-related restrictions imple-
mented by the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management
in early 2013. FAS management was successful in avoiding furloughs due to the sequester,
but was not able to make award payments. Management agreed to note the awards and MSIs
for non-SFS employees in their performance files, without making any payments. The OMB/
OPM prohibition was lifted in November 2013, and performance awards for the SFS have
since been approved. We are still seeking approval for the awards and MSIs recommended for
One of the most contentious issues was the direct assignment to the head of post in Ottawa.
While the officer selected was well qualified (and eventually got the position), the decision to
do this as a direct assignment, skipping the competitive process spelled out in the AFSA con-
tract, threatened to undermine the entire overseas assignment process. The AFSA legal team
played a key role in convincing management to withdraw the assignment and include it in the
normal assignment process.
FAS moved up in ranking to 266 (from 282) out of 300 agencies in the 2013 ranking of best
places to work in the federal government, but is still far below where it was even a few years
ago. As was the case last year, improving the work environment in FAS will continue to be an
AFSA priority in 2014.
Finally, I would like to welcome our agricultural colleagues in the Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service, who voted in 2013 to be become members of the AFSA family.
The year 2013 was tumultuous, to say the least. Aside from the constant
stream of kerfuffles and controversies coming out of Washington, the
U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service went through a once-every-30-
years organizational change. Yes, it has been 30-plus years since FCS
was formed and now it has joined its country desk colleagues to form
“Global Markets.” The goal is to better assist U.S. firms looking to
export. Time will tell if these changes have been worthwhile. The new
management team for Global Markets is doing everything it can to
make it so.
Enormous leadership change also took place in and around FCS
during 2013. Nearly the entire management team turned over. Gone are
Acting Director General Chuck Ford (an FSO) and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Interna-
tional Operations Tom Moore (an FSO), and in are Acting Director General Judy Reinke
(an FSO), Acting Assistant Secretary John Andersen (not FS), a newly-configured team of
regional deputy assistant secretaries and executive directors, and some new Foreign Service
FCS AFSA helped ensure that the new team included Foreign Service officers. Henceforth,
the Deputy Director General will be a Senior Foreign Service officer. In addition, management
agreed to designate eight high-grade (SFS) positions in Washington as available for bidding.
While AFSA did not get as many regional DAS positions dedicated as Foreign Service officer
slots as we would have liked, DDG Reinke and new, permanent ITA Deputy Under Secretary
Ken Hyatt have committed in writing to rectifying the situation as soon as possible.
Looking ahead, there are a number of issues that have been brought to the attention of FCS
AFSA leadership, and we are working on those. One issue is the assignment process. Clearly
management has the right to make assignments, but any deviation from past practice has to be
agreed to or at least discussed with the union.
Another area that has caused FCS AFSA membership considerable “heartburn” is long-
term language training reimbursement. In a nutshell, FCS management has been requiring
officers to sign agreements to “work off” long-term language training at a rate of approxi-
mately three weeks of subsequent employment for every week of full-time language training.
FCS management has recently agreed to discuss this issue with AFSA.
As this article is being prepared, the House and Senate have agreed to new two-year budget
targets. Some here are calling this an end to government shutdowns—for now. Let’s hope this
is a sign of good things to come.
FCS Vice President’s Report: Steve Morrison
An Eventful Year for FAS
A Year of Changes