BY TOM YAZDGERDI
As I take up my duties as AFSA president, I first want to thank all the AFSA members who supported me and the other members of the new Governing Board. We will do all we can to earn the trust you’ve placed in us by continuing the fight to make Foreign Service life better for our members and their families. After all, that is the main reason AFSA exists.
Our Governing Board members bring a wealth of experience in and commitment to the Foreign Service, and some have worked on previous AFSA boards. And for the first time, AFSA now has a full-time elected State Department representative who will focus on the issues facing specialist members—from strengthening the office management specialist (OMS) corps to dealing with the difficulty Diplomatic Security agents have getting promoted to the FS-2 level.
I want to leverage that experience and commitment to achieve positive outcomes for members, both on a collective and individual basis.
As of this writing, our board is at work defining our priorities and how we should go about achieving them. We plan to hold a retreat in early October to further discuss these priorities and fashion the way forward.
In previous years, our congressional advocacy efforts have fallen into three broad categories: health of the Foreign Service as an institution, morale and retention, and parity with the military and other government employees.
To my mind, the overarching priority should continue to be getting an appropriation of at least $65 billion for the International Affairs Budget. That would allow our member agencies to properly staff both Washington and the field.
Too long have our agencies had to deal with personnel shortages that sap morale and cause burnout.
Some other priority issues include the perennial ask for the third tranche of overseas comparability pay (OCP) for members serving overseas; per diem for all hires, not just those joining from outside the Washington, D.C., area; and the elimination of caps on hours and salaries for reemployed annuitants.
I will also fight for consistency across AFSA’s six member agencies on how important initiatives related to issues like assignment restrictions reform and provision of benefits for members who suffer from anomalous health incidents (AHIs) are implemented.
The push for Foreign Service reform has kicked into high gear in recent months. One of the proposals is establishment of a diplomatic reserve corps—which AFSA strongly supports—that could more effectively manage the potentiality of having to surge our people, as was done in Afghanistan and Iraq. The idea to fund such a reserve corps has gotten some traction on Capitol Hill and is supported by the State Department.
A well-funded reserve corps would make a huge difference, because the State Department would not have to rely on pulling employees from current positions to staff emergency needs of the Service. The Foreign Service is still feeling the negative effects of dealing haphazardly with such contingencies in the past, as many of the jobs taken from other diplomatic posts to staff Afghanistan and Iraq were never given back to overseas posts.
Of course, none of this will be easy to achieve. Far from it. Given the debt ceiling agreement worked out earlier this year, our future appropriations are likely to be flat or close to flat, although thankfully they start from the 6 percent increase that the International Affairs Budget received in 2023. Partisan rancor will likely be even stronger next year, however, with the 2024 general election.
On the bright side, 2024 is the 100th anniversary of the modern Foreign Service and the creation of AFSA as a professional association. AFSA is planning a number of events to commemorate and celebrate these two milestones, including a gala dinner in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the State Department in May 2024. This gives AFSA a rare opportunity to raise our profile and priorities with high-level leaders in Washington and around the country throughout the year.
Please write us at email@example.com to let us know what you think the priorities of our 2023-2025 Governing Board should be. I look forward to hearing from you.
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