The Foreign Service Journal, January-February 2023

46 JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Focusing on Our Specialist Members STATE VP VOICE | BY TOM YAZDGERDI AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 647-8160 In March 2021, I wrote about AFSA’s initiative to obtain an additional full-time repre- sentative to focus mainly on the needs of our specialist colleagues. I am pleased to report that, with the new Director General (DG) in place, AFSA has moved ahead with this proposal. In October, we sent a formal notification memo to the DG asking for approval of the new position. To demon- strate the need for it, AFSA has proposed a two-year pilot program. At the end of this pilot, AFSA, in coordination with the DG and others, will evaluate the results to deter- mine whether the position should be made permanent. Why This Position Is Needed. The size of the Foreign Service at State has increased since AFSA’s 1987 Framework Agreement with the department, growing by more than 30 percent in the last 20 years. Despite this remarkable increase, there is still only one dedicated State Department FS employee— the AFSA State Department vice president—to assist our State members with labor-management issues and to cover the myriad top- ics affecting today’s Foreign Service. Many don’t know that most of the queries AFSA receives come from spe- cialist members. With an additional official full-time position, AFSA can more effectively represent the more than 5,000 specialists at the department, including 2,000 Diplomatic Security special agents and some 3,000 others spread across 19 skill codes, including information management specialists, office manage- ment specialists, general services specialists, medi- cal providers, and couriers, to name just a few. These employees have unique skill sets and unique needs for AFSA support, from promo- tion rates to overtime pay to professional development. This is not about case work. Individual cases would continue to be handled by AFSA’s Labor Management staff. Yet, as the exclusive representative of FS special- ists, AFSA needs to increase our elected leader bandwidth to more effectively represent their issues to management. The current AFSA Govern- ing Board has six elected State Department repre- sentatives. But, despite our best efforts to recruit more specialists to serve on the board, only one of the current representatives is a special- ist. Also, these six positions are volunteer jobs; the incumbents must take care of AFSA business outside their normal work hours. Having an additional full- time position that primarily addresses specialist issues would help AFSA enormously. It would also allow AFSA a surge capacity, should we be faced with another pandemic or global catastrophe that affects all our members. New M Specialist Advocate. We were gratified to hear recently that Under Secretary for Management John Bass (M) now has a specialist advocate on staff. Like AFSA, U/S Bass has realized that more attention needs to be paid to specialist issues, which are more varied and complicated than those affecting generalists. Doing so will build morale and help with retention of this critical part of the department’s workforce. AFSA has already reached out to this advocate and hopes to engage further. Next Steps. As of late November, our proposal, which has been nearly three years in the making, is on the DG’s desk. We are certainly not counting our chickens and assuming department approval, but we believe we have made strong arguments in favor, backed by supporting data. We also believe that this position will be in the depart- ment’s interest. AFSA can be a more knowledgeable and engaging partner if we have our own advocate for specialist issues. Of course, even if the position is not approved, we will continue to do our best to provide the highest level of service to all our members, including specialists. We have informed the department that if the full- time position is approved, AFSA will include it in the January 2023 call for nominations for the 2023- 2025 Governing Board term. Specifically, we would not create a new position, but use one of the existing six elected State representative slots. Any AFSA member in good standing would be able to run for this position, and, although membership elects the incumbent, we believe that knowledge of and inter- est in specialist issues would be a plus. We are also hoping that with this initiative we can cre- ate more interest among spe- cialists in running for State rep positions in general. I echo AFSA President Eric Rubin’s pitch for every AFSA member to consider serving on the Governing Board. It is a rewarding experience! And we are looking for candidates from all backgrounds. Please let us know what you think about AFSA’s initia- tive regarding this position at n With this additional official full-time position, AFSA can more effectively represent the more than 5,000 specialists at the department.