Page 58 - Foreign Service Journal - October, 2012b

This is a SEO version of Foreign Service Journal - October, 2012b. Click here to view full version

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »
The Foreign Service person-
nel system is buttressed
by two distinctive features:
rank-in-person and an up-
or-out retention system. FS
employees, like members of
the military, hold personal
rank, rather than deriving
it from the position they
This gives the govern-
ment tremendous fexibility
when determining overseas
assignments and reduces the
already considerable bureau-
cracy inherent in transferring
employees to new postings.
The up-or-out retention sys-
tem acts as a management
control to rank-in-person by
creating a strong disincentive
to employees resting on their
The Time-in-Class and
Time-in-Service compo-
nents of the system make it
a “retention” system rather
than merely a “promotion”
system. Because failure
to rise within a given time
period ends careers, TIC and
TIS encourage continuing
professional development.
They enable our agen-
cies to provide true pay for
performance and provide a
predictable degree of fow
to FS promotions. That, in
turn, means that to stay in
the system, a Foreign Service
member must constantly be
competitive for promotion.
In order to work best, the
up-or-out retention system
requires rated employees
to “look” essentially alike.
Similarity between job
Staying in Place in an Up-or-Out System
Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP.
descriptions and standard-
ized reviews of performance
make it easier to compare
performance and qualifca-
tions between employees.
As the department has
diversifed its workload and
changed its expectations
with regard to employee
careers (due to wars, the
Quadrennial Diplomacy
and Development Review,
dramatic broadening of
the Bureau of Diplomatic
Security functions, and other
factors), various groups of
employees have become dis-
advantaged in the process.
AFSA is increasingly work-
ing with management to fnd
ways to reduce the efect
on retention of the following
• Detail to other agencies
or organizations are strongly
encouraged by the QDDR. A
tour of duty in an intergov-
ernmental organization—as
an adviser to the military or
international body, or as a
congressional staf member
—can be both broadening
and prestigious. However,
translating that service into
a competitive employee
evaluation report is occasion-
ally problematic. The duties
and responsibilities inherent
to such details are poorly
understood by both employ-
ees and, occasionally, the
department itself. We have
seen cases where perceived
conficts between those
duties and the department’s
current “message” have
disadvantaged employees.
More generally, many details
are considered long-term
training and documented
with a training report. AFSA
would like to see that training
report more closely resemble
a standard EER form, or be
replaced by one.
• Reserve military service is
documented in ways diferent
than performance in most
Foreign Service jobs. AFSA is
currently working with man-
agement to study the efects
of such service on careers
and to monitor compliance,
by State, with the Uniformed
Services Employment and
Reemployment Rights Act,
which requires agencies to
ensure that reserve service
does not disadvantage
employees who are called
to such duty. In the USERRA
context, we are looking at a
number of issues; e.g., how
duties performed for the
military can be described in
terms of the core precepts of
performance in the Foreign
• Caps and bottlenecks
exist in the career paths
of many specialists, which
either cap the level to which
members of that specialty
can rise, or severely limit the
percentage of employees
who can aspire to higher lev-
els. Where the entire group is
capped, the group as a whole
is generally exempted from
TIC regulations. Where even
one member of the group
can rise to higher levels, the
entire group is subject to TIC.
AFSA would like to see man-
agement exempt from TIC
any group where fewer than
5 percent of members can
aspire to promotion above
FS-2 during a full career.
• Extended service in
Washington or other state-
side postings is increasingly
a reality for many employees,
particularly those in certain
specialist classes. AFSA’s
eforts to address the impact
through the promotion
precepts seem to be working
But given that the changes
are fairly recent, we continue
to monitor the situation
• Employees with disabili-
ties often face hidden biases
limiting their assignments,
which in turn, afect their
ability to demonstrate their
skills in competitive settings.
As with USERRA, AFSA con-
tends that compliance with
federal policy on disabilities
requires the department to
enable such employees to
compete, on a level playing
feld, with other members of
their rank and skill classes.
Despite signifcant
improvements in some areas,
we consider the department
to be far from where it should
... a Foreign Service member must
constantly be competitive for promotion.