Our Priorities—and Yours

President’s Views


This is a time of positive and hopeful change. AFSA welcomes the public commitment of President Biden to work cooperatively and constructively with federal unions, federal employee groups and the entire federal workforce to deliver results to the American people we serve.

We have been pleased to see a significant number of active-duty career officers nominated for and appointed to senior leadership positions, and we hope to see many more in the months to come.

Our Service, across all six departments and agencies, faces a daunting set of challenges in the areas of morale, diversity, recruitment, inclusion, retention, resources, promotions, evaluations, assignments and benefits. Here I would like to highlight some of our top priorities for the rest of 2021 and beyond.

Morale and Retention: The best way to stem the uptick in attrition (which varies greatly by agency, specialty and grade) is to address the systemic problems our members report to us daily. We need to fix the problems in our workplace culture and in the way people are treated.

This is not just about bias and discrimination, although that occurs all too often. It is also about building a culture of respect, collegiality, mutual support, shared commitment and accountability.

The Foreign Service also needs to expand so it can get the job done properly for the American people. We need to resume our position as the world’s biggest and most influential diplomatic and foreign assistance corps.

We must ensure that we have sufficient time and resources for training and professional education throughout our careers. We need to address the concerns of all members of our Service: single, tandem, married, employees with children, and employees with disabilities, to name a few.

A Foreign Service that feels appreciated and well supported is a Service that will stay and do the best possible job for the American people.

Diversity, Inclusion and Equity: In recent months, AFSA has conducted a series of member town halls across the globe in addition to deep-dive consultations with employee affinity groups at both State and USAID, starting with the Thursday Luncheon Group, the first State Department affinity group (est. 1973). Our goal is to draw up a list of objectives and suggested reforms based on the best thinking and analysis from our membership and from the affinity groups.

We will be sharing our ideas with you, with members of Congress and with the leadership of all the foreign affairs agencies, with a view to making significant progress toward a Service that is truly representative of our country.

A Seat at the Big Table: The Foreign Service Act of 1980 was written at a time when it was assumed that career officers would make up a significant portion of our top policymakers. Senior career officers used to play a major role in policy formation, not only in the departments and agencies but also on the National Security Council staff. While the erosion of influence did not start with the Trump administration, it certainly was exacerbated under a president who saw career public servants as the “deep state.”

Our colleagues are now back at the table where they belong, offering the benefit of their extensive experience to our elected policymakers who ultimately make the decisions. We hope to see many more from the career Service named to senior positions this year, with the balance restored between political and career ambassadors.

We will also insist that all political appointees be fully qualified, not simply appointed in exchange for campaign donations.

Equality of Benefits: There is no reason why members of the Foreign Service should be denied full overseas comparability pay, denied in-state college tuition for their kids in their state of residence, denied their full pensions if they take a Civil Service position with the federal government after retirement, or denied the ability to break leases and cell phone contracts without penalty when they receive official change of station orders. We will work hard to get redress on these issues this year.

These are just some of the priorities on our agenda for the rest of 2021 and beyond. Please keep your ideas, thoughts and suggestions coming to member@afsa.org.

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