The Foreign Service Journal, January-February 2016

The Foreign Commercial Service promotes, on average, roughly 15 percent of its officer corps each year. THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2016 63 Back by Popular Demand: Promotions and Flow-Through I am often asked “What’s happening with promotions?” or “Why aren’t there more promotions at the X, Y or Z level?” It’s true we’ve made progress lately at the FS-1 level and above, but what does the future hold for those on the cusp of being (or striv- ing to be) promoted to these levels? Let’s look at the numbers. The Foreign Commercial Service promotes, on aver- age, roughly 15 percent of its officer corps each year. Promotion numbers vary depending on: (a) the num- ber of officers eligible and recommended for promotion, (b) the number of officers already at any given pay level and (c) the amount of time officers have (Time-in-Class) while waiting to be promoted or retire. One not-so-obvious factor is the budget. Management will tell you money doesn’t matter, but this defies logic. What sense would it make to continue to promote heavily if one knew that the organiza- tion had to downsize? Conversely, what if the nation, Congress or White House woke up one day and suddenly decided to double the size of the Commercial Service—as has been sug- gested? It simply wouldn’t make sense to hire only FS-4s and not continuously promote leaders to help lead such a workforce. Now consider the fact that, thanks in part to AFSA, FCS has recently been on the receiving end of two large operating budget increases: $15 million in fiscal year 2013 and $16 million in fiscal year 2014. Although it took a while (two years, in fact), manage- ment has begun to trans- late that good fortune into promotions (e.g., a sixfold increase into and beyond the FS-1 level and a 30-per- cent increase in promotions overall). If that is not enough to give you comfort, note that— based strictly on officer age— retirements are expected to double in the 2018–2020 timeframe, compared to the preceding three years, thus creating more promotion opportunities. In this context, we must keep in mind two things. First, there is a need to “smooth out” the promotion process so there is room to advance those who’ve done an amazing job but who only recently became eligible for promotion. No bulges or dry spells, in other words; and people get promoted when they “earn” it. Second, we need to ensure against undue politi- cal influence that manifests in management dipping way down the promotion list to advance a favorite or some- one who has impressed only one or two individuals ahead of others at grade who are higher-ranked. Granted, newly eligible officers can “reside” at their pay level for a number of years. Try telling that, how- ever, to the officer who just blew the doors off the win record for her or his office and hosted a record number of successful trade missions the year before, or to the per- son who is transferring out of some highly promotable assignment to something that is more work-life or fam- ily friendly for the next three to four years. Thankfully, I can report that the Office of Foreign Ser- vice Human Capital and man- agement have so far handled the situation carefully. Please know that AFSA has your back, is closely monitoring this issue for any development that could result in problems down the line, and has and will con- tinue to work for increased and equitable promotions at all levels always. n Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA FCS VP. Contact: or (202) 482-9088 FCS VP VOICE | BY STEVE MORRISON AFSA NEWS ANNUAL H I GH SCHOOL ESSAY CONTEST NOW ACCEPT I NG ENTR I ES The American Foreign Service Association’s 2016 National High School Essay Contest is now accepting entries. All students who are U.S. citizens and whose parents are not in the Foreign Service are eligible to participate if they are in grades nine through 12. The winner will receive $2,500, a trip to Washington, D.C., to meet the Secretary of State and tour the U.S. Institute of Peace, and a full-tuition scholarship for a Semester at Sea voyage. The runner-up will win a full scholarship to participate in the International Diplomacy program of the National Student Leadership Conference. The deadline for entry is 11:59 p.m. EST on March 15. Details and essay topic can be found at essaycontest. n NEWS BRIEF