The Foreign Service Journal, January-February 2023

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2023 33 FOCUS AFSA AS A UNION AT 50 “W hy in the world would the Foreign Service need a union?” This is a question I am asked occasionally, as unions are not generally associated with globe-trot- ting diplomats and development experts, and too many indi- viduals (inside and outside government) wrongly believe FSOs lead lives of glamour on the taxpayer’s dime. To be fair, as USAID FSOs we are lucky, and we are grateful for the privileges we have as career public servants with the agency. But a Foreign Service career brings unique personal and professional challenges and places demands on us and our families that become no less exacting over time; just the opposite. Since July 2019, I have served as AFSA’s vice president for The son of a USAID FSO, Jason Singer is a Foreign Service officer with more than 25 years of public and private sector experience, including with USAID, the Department of the Treasury, and the National Security Council. He has served in a range of USAID domestic and overseas posts including Indonesia, Afghanistan, and India. He has tremendous respect for his USAID and interagency colleagues and a deep appreciation for their service. A second-generation USAID FSO and AFSA vice president explains why the USAID Foreign Service needs a union and lays out workforce challenges facing the agency today. BY JASON S I NGER USAID, representing the agency’s more than 1,850 career For- eign Service (FS) officers and more than 400 non-career Foreign Service Limited (FSL) appointees. On the occasion of AFSA’s 50th anniversary as a union, I want to share a few thoughts on the value of AFSA’s role and the status of AFSA-USAID relations, including a few examples of problems that need to be addressed. We juggle and struggle to do our work, advance our careers, care for our families at home and abroad, navigate (or some- times hack through) the bureaucratic thicket, and maintain positivity. We are ever mindful of the trust and responsibility we carry, not just on behalf of our country writ large but our friends, neighbors, and communities, and those we seek to support. We want to focus on our work and the agency’s mission, confident that the agency has our back when it comes to our welfare, careers, and conditions of employment. We strive to sustain hope that the oft-cited mantra, “Our people are our most valu- able resource,” is more than a talking point in periodic testimo- nies and town halls. But regardless of agency rhetoric, policy, or good intentions, FSOs do find themselves in need of counsel, support, help, and advocacy, both as individuals and as part of the career Foreign Service. So, while USAID is not a textile factory floor, and I bear little resemblance to Norma Rae, there is no doubt that AFSA’s dual roles—as a union for individual officers and as Federal Unions and USAID The Challenge for AFSA