The Big Impact of a Small Agency

President’s Views


This month’s cover story highlights the impressive work of our Foreign Service colleagues in the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The people of APHIS are unsung heroes who keep our agricultural and natural resource industries safe from invasive pests and diseases, safeguard the transport of livestock and pets and help expand markets for U.S. plant and animal products.

We’re highlighting APHIS, the second-smallest agency with a Foreign Service component, on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. The APHIS Foreign Service illustrates how a small group of highly skilled, highly qualified public servants can make a huge impact on our country’s security and prosperity.

Here’s a great example: APHIS kept the New World screwworm from reinfecting American cattle herds after it was eradicated in the U.S. in 1966. Working closely with the governments of Mexico and Central America, APHIS succeeded in eliminating this costly pest all the way to the Panama-Colombia border by 2006.

Those efforts saved thousands of cattle and billions of dollars in agricultural resources. It’s not surprising that most Americans don’t know what APHIS does for them. It is surprising, however, that many of us in the Foreign Service don’t know either.

AFSA takes seriously its mission to represent and serve all members of the U.S. Foreign Service in the six federal agencies and departments that host Foreign Service components: State, USAID, Commerce/FCS, USDA/FAS, USDA/APHIS and USAGM/VOA. We are proud that all six bargaining units have elected AFSA as their sole legal union representative under federal labor laws. And we are determined to avoid being seen as “State-centric” or, even worse, acting as such.

With more than 80 percent of the Foreign Service belonging to State, it is not surprising that many journalists, foreign diplomats and everyday citizens think of the Foreign Service and the State Department as synonymous. Those of us who have served overseas with FS colleagues from agencies other than our own, however, quickly learn that the phrase “one team” is more than just a slogan.

Both the Foreign Service Act of 1946 and 1980 stipulated the establishment of an advisory board of the Foreign Service, in part to coordinate among branches of the Foreign Service. That board has never really functioned.

The creation of the Office of Foreign Assistance (“F”) at State in 2006 has led to significantly improved coordination and information sharing between State and USAID bureaus and offices. It also has its detractors, who complain that it added layers of bureaucracy and review to already complicated decision-making processes.

As AFSA refines its priority goals for Foreign Service reform and modernization, we want to ensure that changes treat the Foreign Service as one institution whenever possible. Our members have shared their ideas for change and their frustrations with the way things work (or all too often, fail to work) in their agencies. We will coordinate closely with members and with staff in both houses of Congress to bring about legislative changes needed to make our work more effective and our careers more manageable and rewarding.

Most importantly, we urge the Biden administration to act on the president’s January 2021 Executive Order on Protecting the Federal Workforce and April 2021 Executive Order Establishing the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment, which is chaired by Vice President Harris.

The executive orders call for federal agencies and departments to work collaboratively with federal employee unions to address problems and to negotiate substantive changes before they are decided and announced. To date, we have not seen any significant implementation of either order in any of the Foreign Service agencies.

There is strength in unity, and as one Foreign Service we can better achieve our nation’s foreign affairs, national security and foreign assistance objectives. AFSA welcomes your ideas on how we can work to achieve the vision of one Foreign Service, in service to our country. As always, please let us know your thoughts at

Ambassador Eric Rubin is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.