Giving the MSI the Attention It Deserves

State VP Voice


Thanks to all who took part in our recent survey on the Meritorious Service Increase pilot program. AFSA has decided to extend this pilot for another year and use the survey’s results to make the process more efficient and easier to use.

We are currently negotiating with our colleagues in the Performance Evaluation division of the newly named Bureau of Global Talent Management (GTM/PE) with the goal of making the program a more accepted part of the award nomination process.

As we do this, we welcome your continued input. (See this article, which presents the survey results and the history of MSI in more detail.)

From the survey, we learned that supervisors and others are just not nominating their staff members and colleagues frequently enough. The top reaction to our survey question “Have you nominated someone under the pilot program?” was that nominations are too burdensome. It appears that this is due in part to the fact that a separate nomination form needs to be filled out.

Another reason appears to be the amount of time it takes to learn whether the nominated employee receives an award. We heard that nominators often choose to go with other more tried-and-true awards, such as a Meritorious Honor Award or Superior Honor Award, where the decision is made more quickly, either at post or at the bureau level.

These two factors, GTM told us, contributed to MSI money being left on the table.

A Different Kind of Award

The MSI is meant to be the highest monetary award given to FS personnel. It is different from the MHA or SHA in terms of prestige and financial benefit. It’s the next best thing to a promotion, financially speaking, as it is a permanent step increase that has come to be known as “the gift that keeps on giving.”

Because the award is unique, the MSI pilot program requires a separate nomination form, separate criteria and special MSI panels to determine the awards.

Until the launch of the pilot, the vast majority of MSIs were awarded automatically to people who were in the top 10 percent recommended for promotion but who did not reach the cutoff. (A small number of MSIs were also given to bureaus to be awarded based on nominations.)

It is a permanent step increase that has come to be known as “the gift that keeps on giving.”

While it is certainly easier to just let the selection boards handle this, when GTM/PE and AFSA looked at the MSI award more carefully, we realized that it was actually meant to reward high accomplishment in the current position and rank, not to be a measure of future potential.

With this realization, we worked to create an MSI award process that highlights the importance of the award but also “democratizes” the process by opening it up to everyone, not just those who are up for promotion.

Now, not only can supervisors nominate their staff, but subordinates can also nominate their supervisors, and peers can nominate peers. The pilot program also ensures that regardless of the number of promotion opportunities available, generalists and specialists are allotted MSI awards according to their percentage in the Foreign Service.

Our Plea: Submit Nominations!

AFSA is doing its part to make the process more efficient and understandable so that when an employee’s actions are deserving of an MSI, the nominator can confidently choose an MSI over other awards.

Working with GTM/PE, we will focus on ensuring:

• that the criteria for the award are clearly explained and understood—especially as to how these criteria differ from those for an MHA or SHA;

• that the period in which nominations are submitted is logical and is also clearly understood; and

• that MSI panel decisions are made and announced within a reasonable amount of time. This is important because some of our members have told us that nominators often want to see their nominees rewarded while at post, if possible.

As AFSA strives to ensure that the MSI award program stays true to the intent of the award while being “user-friendly,” we ask all of our members to take advantage of the pilot program and submit nominations.

The one-page nomination form is not time-consuming and can be submitted during the current open season (April 15 to June 15) for the award.

We can have the best pilot program ever, but it won’t make any difference if nominators, post leadership and bureaus do not give the MSI the attention it deserves.

Tom Yazdgerdi is the Department of State vice president of the American Foreign Service Association.