The Foreign Service Journal - November 2014 - page 7

ondrously complex is the
State Department personnel
edifice.The job of AFSA pres-
ident offers a close-up gaze
fromcertain angles and, after 14months on
the job, here is my initial sketch.
State has fivemajor personnel systems.
The three career systems total roughly
75,000 employees, comprised of the Foreign
Service with 14,000members, two thirds
of whomare overseas at any one time; the
Civil Service with 11,000, nearly all based in
Washington; and Locally Engaged Staff with
50,000 in overseas missions.There are two
non-career systems of political appointees
numbering several hundred and contrac-
tors whose numbers fluctuate widely.
AFSA represents the Foreign Service,
focusing on its welfare collectively and indi-
vidually, but not in isolation.The Foreign
Service works alongside employees from
the other four systems. We havementors,
colleagues and friends fromeach of them.
We care about each other’s welfare and
occasionally compete over who gets which
positions. All this is normal activity inside
the complex edifice.
The new trend, frommy vantage point, is
the recent expansion of political appointees
both in overall numbers and in reach down
to themiddlemanager level.
One indication is the number
of department employees hired
under Schedule B author-
ity, defined as limited-term
appointments for individuals
with specific foreign policy
expertise. At the GS-14 and 15
levels (corresponding to FS-01),
Schedule B employees more
than tripled in number between 2008 and
2012, according to HR data, from26 to 89
Why this sudden surge inmid-level
limited-termemployees? I suspect it was
partly an incoming administration defining
new needs and looking to some extent out-
side the career ranks in filling them. Part of
it lies in a large pool of interested persons in
think-tanks, NGOs and law firms who want
a turn in government, and then a return to
the private sector. Partly these are one-off
needs for esoteric expertise not available at
the time in the career ranks.
At the senior level, there are currently 40
special advisers, envoys and representatives
at State; only five are either Civil or Foreign
Service. Five of the six under secretaries of
State are political appointees. Non-career
members in such groups can provide
important outside perspectives. We should
welcome that, and also respect the ability
of every Secretary to pick her or his own
leadership team.
But the overall personnel balance in the
edifice appears tome to have swung too far
in one direction, to the detriment of both
talent development in the career ranks and
foreign policy effectiveness.
An expansion of political appointees
has been observedmore gener-
ally in the federal government,
not only at State.The American
Society for Public Administration
and National Academy of Public
Administration issued a joint
memo at the outset of the second
administration of President
Obama on this trend and advised as follows:
“Judicious reductions in the number of
political appointees will improve govern-
ment performance by increasingmanage-
rial capacity, decreasing harmful manage-
ment turnover, and facilitating efforts to
recruit and retain the best and brightest in
government service.”
The career cadremost affected by the
growth of political appointees domestically
is the Civil Service. At the top end of the lad-
der, for instance, HR data in 2012 shows that
non-career appointees occupied 83 percent
of the assistant secretary of State positions
designated Civil Service, while occupying
none of those designated Foreign Service.
In the equivalent overseas positions—
chief of mission jobs—the traditional
percentage of political appointees is about
30 percent.
One of AFSA’s initiatives over the past
year was to adopt and publicize a uni-
form set of qualifications applicable to
both career and non-career ambassado-
rial nominees, which is now drawn on by
the State Department in presenting the
nominees’ qualifications to the Senate for
In short, I hopemy initial sketch of
State’s personnel edifice doesn’t resemble
something byM.C. Escher. AFSA is working
closely with the department manage-
ment on the issues raised herein, and this
collaboration will, I believe, help right this
picture over time.
Be well, stay safe and keep in touch,
Robert J. Silverman is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.
Righting the Personnel Balance at State
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