The Foreign Service Journal, January-February 2023

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2023 49 Time to Modernize Our Collective Bargaining Agreement In 1995, was launched, allowing hopeful paramours to submit photos of themselves via fax. That year was also the last time the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between FAS and AFSA was substan- tially renegotiated (amus- ingly, it too references a fax machine). Since then, only changes to the CBA that were required by law have been made, leading to an outdated agreement begging for a refresh. Fast forward to 2023: We have an important opportu- nity to collaborate with FAS to modernize the structure and substance of our CBA— and to do so in a way that allows us to better serve our stakeholders, the agency, and its Foreign Service officers (FSOs). Which changes would help us achieve this lofty goal? AFSA is very thankful to the almost one-third of our small but mighty corps that has offered to help us tackle this large undertaking by provid- ing input, including on the following topics. Promotions. Like all Foreign Service agencies, ours operates under merit principles (known as the “up- or-out” system). It is essential that the process used by selection boards results in the promotion of those who are truly the highest perform- ers—and that management trusts that the rank-ordered lists they receive reflect this. We will need to consult on the competencies under which FSOs will be evaluated, ensur- ing that the boards can make clear linkages between the competencies and actual per- formance and achievement. Otherwise, we risk the dat- ing app pitfall in which some- one who initially appears to the boards to be Superman more closely resembles Homer Simpson in reality. Changes to the structure of the employee, rater, and/ or reviewer statements may help support merit principles and should be thoughtfully considered. In addition, the boards may benefit from additional guidance, such as what board members should be seeing from FSOs in each class and competency. For example, what constitutes demon- strating “leadership” in the Class of Counselor versus Class 1? Performance Manage- ment. Many have suggested creating a new section of the CBA focused on per- formance management to facilitate both performance improvement and account- ability, including via 360 reviews in the second year of each assignment. The 360s could be conducted prior to midyear reviews and involve everyone the FSO supervises (including locally employed staff), plus colleagues serving in specific posi- tions at the embassy, FAS Washington, D.C., and the interagency. At least one pro- fessional coaching session could help the FSO digest the feedback and suggest training options that would be beneficial. While 360s would not be part of the FSO’s Employee Evaluation Report or official record, they would provide additional data points for raters and reviewers. They would also increase account- ability for poor performance and encourage honest performance discussions throughout the year. TIC/TIS. A key aspect of a merit-based system is that FSOs must be promoted within a certain number of years or face mandatory retirement when exceeding time-in-class (TIC) or time-in- service (TIS) limits. This is an area where increased align- ment with other Foreign Ser- vice agencies may increase equity and consistency. At the State Department, FSOs have 27 years to get promoted to the Senior For- eign Service (SFS). However, in FAS, our TIC/TIS clocks start upon commission- ing. Therefore, our system unintentionally punishes high performers who get commis- sioned quickly and therefore only have a total of 25 years to reach the SFS. In addi- tion, State Department FSOs receive TIC/TIS exemptions for hard language training, which incentivizes service in typically harder-to-fill posts. Carefully considering whether—and how—to align with the State Department in these areas will be critical. Pay and Awards. There is a clear need to demystify pay calculations for SFS officers and to increase consistency with the processes used in other Foreign Service agen- cies and in USDA’s senior executive service. We will seek to clarify how FSOs are converted from Class 1 to Counselor and how perfor- mance pay and other adjust- ments are calculated. It’s also important to document the pay calcula- tions FAS uses when FSOs get promoted into Class 1, 2, and 3. This additional trans- parency will help increase understanding and avoid future pay issues. Other topics discussed recently in this column, such as the need for additional FSO-designated positions at headquarters as we rightsize our Foreign Service, and how to prevent a repeat of the attrition crisis from which we are currently rebuilding, will also be areas of interest. And finally, AFSA looks forward to weighing possible changes to the eligibility criteria for the SFS. Since 1995, has continued to modernize and innovate, reflecting gen- erational changes, increased efficiency, and ongoing improvement. AFSA looks forward to thoughtful discus- sions with FAS and its FSOs toward similar outcomes. n Contact: | (202) 841-7744 FAS VP VOICE | BY LISA AHRAMJIAN AFSA NEWS