The Foreign Service Journal, January-February 2016

64 JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2016 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL My initial columns discussed both the retail and wholesale dimensions of my respon- sibilities, namely, assisting individuals facing the com- plexities of the retirement system and defending our statutory retirement benefits in an economy fraught with fiscal problems. I call the third and final dimension “existential.” I chose this dramatic word purposefully. I believe that the very existence of an indepen- dent Foreign Service based on the merit principles of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 is threatened by current trends in the management of the State Department and the Foreign Service. The threats to the For- eign Service as an institu- tion and to the quality of American diplomacy have been thoroughly discussed in the American Academy of Diplomacy’s report “American Diplomacy at Risk,” published in April 2015 after two years of research and analysis (available at Saving the Foreign Service RETIREE VP VOICE | BY TOM BOYATT AFSA NEWS Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA Retiree VP. Contact: | (202) 338-4045 Politicization of the policy and appointments processes, multiplication of the Secre- tary’s special representatives (there are more than 60 at last count), efforts to homog- enize the Foreign Service and Civil Service, and the depart- ment’s apparent goal of nulli- fication of the Foreign Service Act (or “breaking down the legal barriers between the Foreign Service and Civil Service,” in the department’s phraseology) are all ongoing challenges. To understand how far the process of marginaliz- ing the Foreign Service has progressed, you need only contrast the situation in the mid-1970s leading up to the drafting and passage of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 with today. Then, only one of the regional assistant secretar- ies was a political appointee and all deputies were career officers. Ninety-nine percent of the officer-level positions in the regional bureaus were FSOs, as were more than 50 percent of the functional bureau positions. There were perhaps two special represen- tatives or ambassadors-at- large. Today, political appointees at the assistant-secretary level and above outnumber career officers, and political deputy assistant secretar- ies approach 30 percent. Meanwhile, the Civil Service occupies 40 percent of the officer-level positions in the regional bureaus and more than 80 percent in the func- tional bureaus. The Foreign Service cannot survive these trends indefinitely. The AAD made some 23 recommendations for reform in its report, and these are being discussed with the department. AFSA, of course, is in constant discussion, consultation and negotiation with management on a variety of matters that impinge on the future of the Foreign Service. Our Governing Board is committed to “a stronger For- eign Service.”We are commit- ted to building such a Service through comprehensive workforce planning based on transparent data and signifi- cant input from the people of the Foreign Service through AFSA as we engage manage- ment on these vital issues. Recently, there have been some positive “straws in the wind.”The department was misusing the Schedule B hir- ing authorities delegated by the Office of Management and Budget to employ those with political and personal connec- tions rather than experts. The AAD report made this practice public, and the previous AFSA Governing Board and ours took strong positions in the matter. The department is moving to rectify the situation. In a similar vein, the department has suspended its program to convert mid- level Civil Service personnel to Foreign Service officers at a time when the “pig” in the pro- motion “python” is composed of currently serving mid-level Foreign Service officers. The challenges facing the Foreign Service have accu- mulated over time, and it will take time and determination to resolve them. The threats to the Foreign Service and the Foreign Service Act are now recognized and have been brought into the public domain. The rest is up to us— all of us working together. n LAST CHANCE TO NOMI NATE SOMEONE FOR A S I NCLA I RE LANGUAGE AWARD Attention all language training supervisors, instructors and post language officers! The American Foreign Service Association is still accepting nominations for the 2015 Matilda W. Sinclaire Lan- guage Awards. These awards recognize foreign affairs agency personnel who have distinguished themselves in the study of Category III or IV languages and their associated cultures. The deadline to nominate students for outstand- ing study in 2015 is Jan. 15. Visit or contact Foreign Service Profession Awards Coordinator Perri Green at for more information. n NEWS BRIEF