Speaking of Elections

State VP Voice


Just when you thought you wouldn’t have to hear the word “elections” for a few more years, it’s time to talk about the upcoming elections for the 2017-2019 AFSA Governing Board.

For starters, my job will be up for grabs. Like the job of AFSA President, the job of AFSA State Vice President is a full-time job that comes with a time-in-class extension. While any grade and any skill code can run for the position, the wider the candidate’s experience in the Foreign Service, the better he or she will be able to do the job.

The State VP is the head of the union portion of AFSA (the professional association side is led by the president) and, as such, is the chief negotiator for the union.

What does that mean in practical terms? When the State Department proposes a new policy or a significant change to an existing policy, the State VP leads the negotiations on behalf of FS employees. I’m a political officer, but I’ve engaged in more negotiations during this assignment than during any of my overseas postings.

The State VP, along with the excellent labor-management staff at AFSA, is responsible for reviewing new and revised policies and determining how best to mitigate any potential adverse impact to our members.

Attention to detail is crucial, as is a solid understanding of and appreciation for the full spectrum of FS employees. A policy which might be great for FSOs, for example, could disadvantage specialists, or a policy that sounds like a positive change might in fact end up hurting employees at lower grades, etc.

The State VP maintains contact with several employee organizations and affinity groups and meets regularly with the leadership of the Career Development and Assignments Office (HR/CDA), Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Medical Services, to name a few.

Whether you’re interested in running for office or not, please be sure to vote. It makes an enormous difference who holds the job of State Vice President.

He or she also attends the monthly AFSA Governing Board meetings; participates in periodic AFSA budget meetings; coordinates as needed with counterparts at Agriculture, USAID and Commerce; and writes this riveting monthly column on the topic of his or her choice.

Every job has its downsides, and this one is no exception. Labor-management relations are complex. It can be frustrating to see how hard it is to effect actual change in the department, and it’s no fun to have to tell people that you weren’t able to get them the result they wanted.

There’s also a two-year cooling-off period after you finish the job, which prevents you from assuming a leadership position within HR immediately after serving as AFSA State VP.

The positives, however, far outweigh the negatives. The job is extremely flexible in terms of work-life balance, and it provides the holder with a rare opportunity to set his or her own agenda and prioritize whichever issues they believe are most important for the Foreign Service.

AFSA’s labor-management staff are some of the best colleagues I’ve ever had, and I genuinely enjoy coming to work each day because of them. You learn a lot about how the State Department works (for better and for worse), and you get to play a role in making things better for future generations of FS colleagues. In short, your efforts actually matter.

If you’re interested in becoming more involved but don’t want it to be your full-time job, consider running for a State Representative position on the Governing Board—those are all volunteer positions, not full-time jobs. You attend the monthly Governing Board meetings and get involved in other issues as much or as little as you want in between.

Finally, whether you’re interested in running for office or not, please be sure to vote. It makes an enormous difference who holds the job of State VP, so you need to acquaint yourself with the candidates and their positions on issues that matter to you.

Vote for whichever candidate you believe possesses the best judgment when it comes to protecting your interests. It matters.

Angie Bryan is the Department of State vice president of the American Foreign Service Association.