BY KENNETH KERO-MENTZ
When I started in this position two years ago, I titled my inaugural column “Like a Bridge.” Back then we had a Secretary of State who halted hiring into the Foreign Service, slashed promotions within the Foreign Service, reduced the number of Foreign Service officers and specialists, and forced large numbers of our most experienced diplomats into early retirement.
In that column, I made the point that AFSA was here to help us through troubled times, and I believe it has. AFSA President Barbara Stephenson and her team convinced friends and allies on the Hill to stand up and defend the Foreign Service, and for the first time in my memory, journalists across the country were promoting the need for U.S. diplomacy.
When the dust settled, hiring began again in earnest, and efforts to undermine the Foreign Service were abandoned. Things are still far from perfect, on many levels, but I believe that those direct attacks are behind us. And for that I say, “Amen!”
In the two years since I wrote that first column, I’ve learned a great deal more about this organization, and my respect for it remains unshakable. I no longer view AFSA as simply a bridge. It’s a rock. It’s your rock. It’s the place you can go to be heard, by people who care, and by people who are ready—whenever possible—to go to the mat on your behalf.
AFSA works tirelessly to make the Department of State a better place to work, and we do so because we understand the Foreign Service is not just our job—it’s our life. Being a member of the Foreign Service affects our spouses, families back home, kids, friendships, even our pets. And AFSA makes sure that the department understands the complexities of our work and our lives. We work with State to develop collaborative solutions to our day-to-day challenges, to make State a better place to live and work.
We advocate for members when they’ve been wronged, and we ensure due process for those who find themselves in hot water. We work with affinity groups and employee organizations alike to reinforce and promote our shared goals. Over the past two years I’ve worked particularly closely with Balancing Act, Working in Tandem, GLIFAA and Foreign Service Families with Disabilities Alliance (FSFDA) to push the department to do more to allow us to keep our families together while we serve abroad.
We helped convince the department to allow women on obstetric medevac to telework. We fought for increased DETO (Domestic Employees Teleworking Abroad) positions, so important for tandem couples, as well as providing fobs for those on leave without pay so folks can bid for an onward assignment while on leave.
AFSA works tirelessly to make the Department of State a better place to work, and we do so because we understand the Foreign Service is not just our job—it’s our life.
Thanks in part to our advocacy, the costs associated with obtaining visa renewals (including travel, per diem and fees) for spouses who do not receive residency visas while posted overseas with their Foreign Service family would be reimbursed by the department (an important win, especially for same-sex spouses in host countries that refuse to offer privileges and immunities, or even residency visas).
And our partnership with FSFDA is finally, after months of vigorous advocacy, yielding positive results for Foreign Service families with children who have special educational needs, with streamlined bidding and enhanced clarity in allowances.
Beyond that, we do things that help our Foreign Service profession thrive. We’ve worked with the Office of Performance Evaluations to enhance language in the Promotion Precepts to combat toxic workplace behavior and bullying, ensuring that our next generation of leaders rejects the “kiss up, kick down” model of the past.
During the 2017 hiring freeze debacle, we worked tirelessly to tell your story, ensuring that political decision-makers understood the difficulties those cuts were causing to our diplomatic missions worldwide. And during the 2018-19 government shutdown, AFSA remained open and available to assist our members, getting answers from the department and passing along your concerns.
AFSA is, indeed, the rock you can rely on.
Two years ago, I pledged to honor the trust you placed in me by representing and encouraging our members through the challenges we’ve faced. I’ve heard your stories, and I’ve shared your concerns. I’ve sung your praises, and I’ve defended your work. These are still challenging times—there’s no doubt about that—but we crossed that bridge together, and we’re better for it. Thank you for the opportunity to work for you and, with my AFSA Labor Management colleagues, to make our Foreign Service world a better place to be.
And remember: Be kind to one another and, most importantly, take care of yourself. America needs you.