The Foreign Service Journal, January-February 2023

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2023 47 USAID VP VOICE | BY JASON SINGER AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 712-5267 USAID’s Workforce Report to Congress It’s not an international bestseller, but USAID’s 2022 “Transforming the Workforce Report to Congress” is a thoughtful 12-page read. It eschews the agency’s usual tagline, “Our people are our most important resource” (though they are!), and instead acknowledges that “USAID has long relied on a range of term-limited, non- career, and often NDH [non- direct hire] mechanisms to staff needs that are not limited in duration.” While it falls short on specific actions and commen- surate resources—human and financial—needed to achieve the goals, the report offers a succinct and frank assessment. It was prepared in response to a congres- sional request (thank you, Congress!) and, to its credit, avoids the temptation to be too Pollyannaish. Here are a few highlights. The report opens with: “USAID will use data and analytics to optimally align the workforce with our priori- ties and identify the optimal workforce composition.” The agency is making great strides to rebuild its workforce model and related capacities—no easy task. Management of USAID’s over- all workforce is fragmented, with authorities spread across multiple bureaus, missions, and offices. USAID colleagues are funded by various “fla- vors” of budgetary resources and managed through a multiplicity of contracts, appointments, agreements, and understandings. I hope that as the agency looks at additional reor- ganization efforts, it seri- ously considers unifying all things workforce under an empowered and robustly staffed Human Capital and Talent Management (HCTM) Office—a long-term but over- due step. Meanwhile, kudos to the understaffed but extremely committed teams working across the agency on this goal through “People Analyt- ics” and related strategic workforce planning efforts. Thank you! The report highlights the agency’s Global Develop- ment Partnership Initiative (GDPI), whose goals include growing the permanent FS to 2,500 and the CS to 2,250 by FY25—ambitious and welcomed! Indeed, the report acknowledges that “U.S. leadership starts with being present, being at the table, and having the right exper- tise. USAID’s presence over- seas has always marked the U.S. government’s compara- tive advantage as the global development leader.” We know too well that USAID does not have a deep bench of FSOs; it is hard to “be present” without people. And while we could not achieve our mission without Foreign Service National colleagues, there are roles, authorities, and actions that require the skills, experience, and presence of a career FSO; USAID is part of the U.S. national security apparatus and, per Congress, “a career foreign service, characterized by excellence and profes- sionalism, is essential in the national interest to assist the President and the Secretary of State in conducting the foreign affairs of the United States.” Increasing FSO numbers (and getting those FSOs trained, mentored, and deployed) would hopefully set a new permanent FSO baseline and provide the space for some long overdue efforts, such as establishing a permanent training float and enhancing long-term training and detail opportunities that our State Department coun- terparts enjoy. Although a welcome plan, GDPI will not succeed without congressional support. In that vein, I hope that agency leadership will demonstrate greater ownership and marketing of GDPI, including with the broader development stakeholder community. Finally, let me highlight the excerpt below, which might be the bureaucratic equivalent of saying, “The Emperor has no clothes!” “This reliance on a hodge- podge of non-career and term- limited mechanisms, such as Foreign Service Limited (FSL), U.S. Personal Services Contractors (USPSCs), Insti- tutional Support Contractors (ISCs), staff under Participat- ing Agency Service Agree- ment (PASA)/Interagency Agreements (IAAs), fellows, and others, puts at risk the institutionalization and over- sight of some of the agency’s highest-priority initiatives. “For too long, we have relied on USAID’s creative approaches to meet our staffing needs amid growing program budget and respon- sibilities. This has resulted in costly inefficiencies and staff who are working side-by- side under managers who must deal with different pay, benefits, and performance systems. The new approach presented in this report does not mean the elimination of these mechanisms, which can still support hiring special skills or limited-term needs. It means that USAID is prioritiz- ing the core capacities and functions required for our organization to operate.” Uncharacteristically, I have little to add! Transforming the agency’s workforce will not be easy. It will not be quick. It will require true ownership by agency leadership and support from Congress. But the same can be said for all our develop- ment work. I encourage you to read and share the report with your networks and keep it in mind as we all work to strengthen USAID’s effective- ness and impact. Please share your thoughts with me at singer@ n