AFSA Advocacy Update, December 2021

In this issue you will find:

 

State

Payroll Update

Although the Department had promised that retroactive payments would be fixed by PP 22/23, and leave accounting issues by PP 25, their predictions appear once again to have been excessively optimistic. We continue to receive many emails from members whose pay, allowances, TSP, and/or leave are still not correct. We are concerned that people who have not experienced problems before now are also beginning to come to us. We continue to ask when AFSA will receive a response to the November 2 letter we sent to the Secretary on this issue. We are also concerned at the number of overpayments; members will need to know how to repay these before the end of the tax year in order to avoid tax implications next year. In addition, we are exploring options to ensure that the Department is required to pay interest on all back pay and an appropriate rate of return on late TSP deposits. We anticipate that this will be a lengthy process but are resolved to continue until all affected employees are made whole. A copy of the December 8 State ALDAC on leave accounting can be accessed here.

Vaccine Mandate and Pediatric Vaccination

November 22 was the deadline for State Department employees either to be fully vaccinated or to have submitted a request for either a medical or religious accommodation. We have yet to hear from any members denied an accommodation. The Department has 97.4% agency wide compliance and a 96.1% vaccination rate. The White House has published these statistics across the agencies.

On pediatric vaccinations, the Department initially received fewer doses of pediatric vaccine than it had requested. HHS allotted the Department only 600 doses in a first distribution tranche and 3,700 in a second, with more to follow. However, the Department now has sufficient pediatric doses and is sending those to the field. We continue to follow up regarding how much has been shipped and are also asking about the status of booster doses. Prior to the beginning of the vaccine distribution, we received a number of messages from members concerned as to when it would begin, but those subsided once the vaccine shipments started, even with the delayed distribution. The Department told us on November 23 that it expected that “everyone would be taken care of by December.”

Anomalous Health Incidents (AHIs) Update

On November 30, President Rubin and State VP Yazdgerdi attended a meeting facilitated by AFSA with Senior Advisor to the Health Incidents Response Taskforce (HIRTF) Amb. Jonathan Moore and impacted employees (at Moore’s request). Amb. Moore announced that the Department would authorize administrative leave eligibility for recent AHIs under certain circumstances, to include employees under long-term care. LM still has questions about precisely who will be covered (and will follow up) but we view this as a major step forward in our efforts to get equitable treatment for this group vis-a-vis the Cohort. Amb. Moore told us that the Department’s new HIRTF SharePoint is now officially up and running. We have accessed it and it looks to be a much better way to get needed information to employees on a more urgent basis. He also plans to work with GTM/Care to address remaining cases where employees have not yet received relief under the Workers Compensation program and pledged to consider ways to formally acknowledge “unconfirmed” cases (e.g., the China Group) and address exclusion of recent AHI and “legacy” cases from bi-monthly calls between the Cohort and the Department. Regarding employees’ (and AFSA’s) request for inclusion of an impacted employee on the HIRTF, Moore seemed open to considering different ways to include an employee representative’s input. We sense a real change in tone here and are cautiously optimistic that real progress is being made to better address the medical/treatment needs of this group.

Important Dog Ban Update

The CDC issued two dog ban updates on December 1. Effective December 1, 2021, dogs vaccinated in the United States by a US-licensed veterinarian may re-enter the United States from a high-risk country without a CDC Dog Import Permit if the dog:

  • has a valid US-issued rabies vaccination certificate;
  • has proof of a microchip;
  • is at least 6 months old;
  • is healthy upon arrival; and
  • arrives at an approved port of entry

Expired US-issued rabies vaccination certificates will not be accepted. If the US-issued rabies vaccination certificate has expired, you must apply for a CDC Dog Import Permit, if eligible.

Effective December 1, 2021, all dogs that have been in a high-risk country in the past 6 months may only enter the United States through an approved port of entry, which includes all 18 airports with a CDC quarantine station: Anchorage (ANC), Atlanta (ATL), Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Dallas (DFW), Detroit (DTW), Honolulu (HNL), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), Minneapolis (MSP), New York (JFK), Newark (EWR), Philadelphia (PHL), San Francisco (SFO), San Juan (SJU), Seattle (SEA), and Washington DC (IAD). All dogs imported into the United States must be healthy on arrival.

Dogs that have not been in a high-risk country in the past 6 months are not required by CDC to present a rabies vaccination certificate or a CDC Dog Import Permit—and can enter the United States at any port of entry but must be healthy upon arrival and vaccination against rabies is recommended.

Assignment Restrictions Program Reform Update

LM has recently learned that the Department is considering a proposal to create an Assignment Restrictions Appeal Panel that would include the Director of Diplomatic Security as a voting member. The other two members would be the DASs for GTM and INR. Under currently existing regulations, the DS Director renders the final decision on an assignment restriction appeal even though the initial decision to impose the initial assignment restriction is also made by DS’ PSS office. AFSA, along with AAFAA, has advocated for the removal of DS from the final decision-making process to increase transparency and accountability and has endorsed Rep. Lieu’s (D-CA) legislation, which has a model that removes DS as the final decision maker. While we have not yet received the Department’s formal proposal, we have already conveyed our objections to the Department’s model to GTM/PC and informed them that we will oppose it in any future formal consultations/negotiations regarding the Assignment Restrictions program. Rep. Lieu’s legislation also provides for including the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer (CDIO) on the appeals panel.

EEOC Complaint Challenging Worldwide Availability (WWA) Requirement

In October, AFSA received a briefing on class action complaint challenging WWA that is pending before the EEOC. There has not been a ruling on the merits of the case, but the EEOC has certified the class. The class consists of all qualified applicants or employees who, beginning on October 7, 2006, were denied employment, or were delayed in their start date, based on their disability and the Department’s requirement for WWA upon entry into the Foreign Service. Under the American with Disabilities Act, disability related inquiries and medical examinations must be "job related and consistent with business necessity."

The class alleges that FS employees are not WWA as they are not required to serve in every post. Therefore, applicants should not be required to serve in 100% of posts. The Department is currently engaged in mediation with the attorney for the class and wanted AFSA’s input on possible changes to WWA. We anticipate ongoing meetings with the Department regarding this issue. AFSA supports the entry into the Foreign Service of individuals with disabilities; at the same time, we seek to minimize the impact on employees with class 1 clearances.

Office of Diversity and Inclusion Meetings

In a November 9 meeting, AFSA discussed with the S/ODI staff the role of AFSA in EEO cases and walked them through the security clearance revocation process. AFSA reps explained the extenuated delays on the Department’s side that lead to employees with a revoked clearance being in a paid status for long periods of time. We also discussed our shared interest in consequences for managers who act in hostile/bullying/harassing ways, one of which would be not allowing them to continue to move up and perpetuate the same behavior. AFSA raised its advocacy for an Office of Conflict Resolution within GTM that could provide more accountability for managers who behave in unacceptable ways.

Career Nominees for Ambassadorships

AFSA President Rubin and State VP Yazdgerdi had a November 19 videoconference with nearly a dozen career ambassador nominees, all of whom (except one) were still awaiting confirmation – including one who had been waiting nearly 3 years. AFSA is focused on mitigating the possible negative effects of being in ‘limbo’ while waiting for confirmation, including those who did not receive EERs during the time they waited, which might result in possibly TICing out and the inability to compete for performance pay. AFSA has raised the issue with the DG Front Office and sent a December 7 letter to the Acting Under Secretary for Management asking for TIC extensions and greater Department engagement with the White House and Senate to fix what AFSA sees as a broken nomination and confirmation process.

MSI Settlement

After nearly 5+ years, there is finally an end in sight for 450 current and former FS employees who should have received MSI's in 2015 and/or 2016. In January of this year, the FSLRB ruled in AFSA's favor in the 2015 and 2015 MSI implementation disputes. This win led to settlement discussions between the Department and AFSA. On October 21, 2021 the parties finalized a settlement agreement that includes the payment of approximately $6 million dollars to those 450 individuals. Members of the LM staff spent the last 7 years litigating MSI cases (2013-2016). AFSA was successful in receiving payouts for the 2013, 2015 and 2016 cohorts. Despite multiple attempts, including a letter to the Secretary, to get the Department to voluntarily pay the 2014 cohort, the request was denied. That said, we are proud of the outcome we were able to achieve for nearly 1,500 FS employees.

 

USAID

New Assistant to the Administrator (ATA) for Human Capital and Talent Management (HCTM)

On November 23, AFSA and AFGE had their regular monthly meeting with the Chief Human Capital Officer (CHCO). We were joined by the newly appointed Assistant to the Administrator for HCTM, Adetola Abiade, who holds a new position that reports directly to the Administrator. AFSA remains concerned by the creation of this position, whose role and duties seem duplicative of the career CHCO position and, to some extent, the Deputy Administrator for Management and Resources. Both AFSA and several Employee Resource Groups have expressed concern at the potential for politicization of the career workforce. AFSA has requested a briefing from the Agency on how these various positions will interact and coordinate to advance AFSA member concerns.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA)

I joined a number of Employee Resource Groups in their November 17 meeting with the Deputy Chief of Staff to discuss concerns with Agency DEIA efforts. Specifically, USAID appears to be planning to name a political appointee as Chief Diversity Officer, despite a strong belief by the ERGs that a career employee would be best placed to institutionalize and carry through the DEIA agenda. Related, I attended the November 18 DEIA Council Committee meeting where the Agency laid out some of its plans to implement the President’s DEIA plans. The Agency plans to carve off the “Diversity” part of the Office of Civil Rights and Diversity (OCRD) and move it to the Front Office under the auspices of the Chief Diversity Officer.

Improving the Foreign Service Promotion Process

AFSA and the Agency have established a biweekly meeting to discuss improvements to the FS promotion process. Topics include diversity of promotion boards, recusal policies, “tweaks” based on lessons learned from the new system over the past two years, Agency “report cards” and the overall promotion process. These sessions are a good sign of improving communications and willingness to engage.

New USAID-Agency Collective Bargaining Agreement

We have notified the Agency of our desire to renegotiate the AFSA-USAID Framework Agreement, last modified in 2009. We have also shared with management the negotiation “ground rules” from other similar negotiations. The Agency has accepted the ground rules.

Stretch Positions

Many USAID FSOs regularly serve in stretch positions for multiple tours throughout their careers. AFSA has been engaged in discussions and data requests related to USAID’s systemic use of stretch positions. At USAID, this practice leads to frustration, demoralization, and too often mismatched expectations between employees and their supervisors. Thanks in part to AFSA’s engagement, the Agency is starting to gather data, the first step in understanding and addressing this pervasive practice.

Retirement

We shared a “white paper” with the Agency on AFSA’s perspectives and proposals to improve USAID’s support for retiring and retired FSOs. We hope to engage in a more focused discussion with HCTM counterparts on AFSA’s proposals. Of note, there is an ADS chapter on CS retirement; AFSA has proposed development of an ADS chapter for FS retirement processes. The Agency is making some effort to improve customer service in this area, but it lacks sufficient and clear policies and procedures

ADS Chapter on Senior Leadership Group (SLG): AFSA has shared its formal comments and positions on the Agency’s draft ADS chapter for the Senior Leadership Group (SLG).

Role of Foreign Service Nationals (FSNS)

There have been a series of rumors and indications that the Agency is considering opportunities to allow FSN colleagues to serve as Deputy Mission Directors in select cases. AFSA has informed the Agency that it opposes non-American USDH supervising FSOs, and that in addition there would likely be a range of logistical, security, personnel and interagency challenges associated with any such scheme. AFSA will monitor this development given the various rumors and the Administrator’s commitment to further empower FSN employees.

 

Foreign Commercial Service

Senate Confirmations

After a long delay, the Senate confirmed the 2018 and 2019 Senior Foreign Service cohorts (PN905) on October 28. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee also voted the 2020 SFS cohort (PN480) and new officer commissions out of committee on November 3, and a vote of the full body is expected in the coming days.

Negotiations on Assignments Policy Concludes

AFSA concluded negotiations with the Department on revisions to the Assignments and Tours of Duty Policy on October 25. The MOU codifying the changes has been approved.

Work Continues on Additional Bargaining Proposals

Work continues on several bargaining proposals submitted by AFSA, including much needed revisions to the time in service requirements, language training policy, selection board precepts, and hardship post requirements and incentives.

Promotion Announcement Delayed

The 2021 Selection Boards completed their work on September 24, but the Department has yet to announce the 2021 promotions list. Thus far, despite repeated inquiries, the Department has given no reason as to why the longer than usual delay. This issue places unneeded pressure on officers bidding in the upcoming bid season, now also delayed, but expected to begin in late November.

 

Foreign Agriculture Service

AFSA Renegotiation

FAS is also in the process of renegotiating its collective bargaining agreement, including promotion precepts, assignments, etc.

Lead on DEIA

At the Foreign Agriculture Service, there is now a lead person on DEI for FAS' foreign service, who is primarily seeking to boost our applicant numbers and increase diversity for the August 2022 FSO exam/assessments.

 

USAGM

In mid-October news circulated that Amanda Bennett was the White House’s top candidate to run the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) as its CEO. Ms. Bennett served as the former director of Voice of America during the prior administration (2016-2020). Due to interactions with Ms. Bennett during her time as VOA director, this news raised concerns with AFSA. AFSA sent a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) sharing its views on the nomination. AFSA shared its belief that, if Ms. Bennett is confirmed, the institution of the Foreign Service is at risk within USAGM. During Ms. Bennett’s time at VOA, the agency appeared to be violating the basic terms and conditions of employment affecting our members. AFSA learned that this stemmed from Ms. Bennett’s opinion that being a member of the Foreign Service somehow opens the VOA Foreign Service Correspondent Corps to a perception that they might be subjected to undue influence from the Department of State. In its letter, AFSA requested the SFRC do its due diligence in posing questions relevant to these concerns at Ms. Bennett’s nomination hearing.