The Foreign Service Journal, January-February 2022

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2022 51 USAID VP VOICE | BY JASON SINGER AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 712-5267 High on Priorities, Short on Details On Nov. 4, Administrator Samantha Power laid out her vision for USAID in a speech at Georgetown University, followed by an internal agency notice. Priorities most rel- evant to AFSA include: • Expanding the Civil Service and Foreign Service over the next four years, with a focus on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA). • Empowering Foreign Service nationals (FSNs) and seeking more equitable benefits for contractors. • Prioritizing locally led development. The Administrator’s speech came shortly after Secretary Blinken’s Oct. 27 address on the modernization of American diplomacy. I want to share some thoughts on the Administrator’s priorities and an observation on the two leaders’ presentations in the context of their understanding of the Foreign Service. Expanding the Career Workforce. I was heartened to hear the Administrator openly declare that USAID’s current career GS and FS numbers are insufficient. I applaud her acknowledgment that this shortage has led to “unsustainable workarounds,” as some 90 percent of our positions in bureaus for Global Health, Humanitarian Assis- tance, and Conflict Prevention and Stabilization are occupied by short-term contractors. Unfortunately, the Administra- tor did not address USAID’s long-term inability to under- take comprehensive strategic workforce planning. We cannot generate a timely picture of USAID’s entire workforce. I under- stand it’s complicated, but so is development.Without the capacity and commit- ment to strategic workforce planning—and connecting it with budget and policy— “unsustainable”workarounds are likely to remain the norm. The commitment to securing genuine workforce capacity must come from the Admin- istrator. DEIA. The Administrator emphasized the hiring and retention of staff that look like America. AFSA (and the Foreign Service Act) agrees. But U.S. direct hires make up only about one-third of USAID’s workforce. The most recent official report on diversity does not capture the balance, leaving us ignorant of the agency’s true degree of resemblance to the U.S. population.We must address this issue. Kudos to the Administra- tor for announcing a nearly 700-percent increase in the budget for paid internships and doubling the number of Payne Fellowships. These competitive initiatives broaden the recruitment range while respecting the mandate in the FS Act for a merit-based Foreign Service. And while AFSAwelcomes the plan for a chief diver- sity officer (CDO) and the continued strengthening of the Office of Civil Rights and Diversity, AFSAwould also like to see an emphasis on data transparency and a detailed DEIA barriers analysis, along with the naming of a career professional as CDO. Diversity and HR matters should not be politicized. Empowering FSNs and Seeking Equity for Contrac- tors. Our FSN colleagues are invaluable. AFSA looks for- ward to consultations about how FSOs can help bolster and support FSN empower- ment. As we know, there are myriad security, logistical, legal, cultural and manage- ment complexities. The Administrator made a commitment to equity among staff, citing as an example improved benefits for our contractor colleagues. But equity of individuals does not translate into equality of roles, benefits or responsibilities of hiring mechanisms. FSOs are subject to worldwide availabil- ity, high promotion and perfor- mance standards, security clearance mandates, and rig- orous health and safety pro- tocols. So, while all colleagues should be treated impartially, the agency should not seek to make these mechanisms interchangeable nor disregard its obligations—and President Biden’s commitment—to career FSOs. Locally Led Development. The Administrator reempha- sized the importance of local development, committing at least a quarter of develop- ment funds directly to local partners within the next four years. I would like to see the data and analysis undergird- ing this commitment, but I was pleased the Administra- tor acknowledged the heavy burden that local partnering places on staff. If the agency wants to get close to its target, it will need to expand the Foreign Service across all backstops and integrate career FSOs more effectively intoWashington operations. Like the Administrator, Secretary Blinken praised his institutions’ employees (and for good reason!). But I was struck by the difference. While the Administra- tor acknowledged USAID’s chronic FSO shortage and praised USAID employees in aggregate, the Secretary spoke of the unique chal- lenges to FS life (e.g., family sacrifices, hardship posts, clogged promotion pipelines and unaccompanied tours). I flag this not from bureaucratic envy, but because it is impor- tant for leaders to acknowl- edge the challenges facing their frontline workforce. Indeed, the Secretary noted that “there’s no substitute for face-to-face engagement. And there’s no one more courageous, more intrepid, more enterprising than the U.S. Foreign Service.” I am hopeful that the Administrator’s vision going forward will reflect this under- standing. n