The Foreign Service Journal, January-February 2023

AFSA NEWS 56 JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL View from Washington Challenges Facing the Foreign Service AFSAGoverning Board Meeting, November 16, 2022 The board met in person at AFSA headquarters. 2023 Budget: The Governing Board voted to approve the FY23 AFSA budget. Awards: At the recommendation of the Awards and Plaques Committee, the board approved the following change to the awards nomination criteria: “Unless a compelling justification is presented, self- nominations for awards, or nominations of immedi- ate family members, will not be accepted.” n During an Oct. 25 virtual “View fromWashington” meeting for FS retirees, AFSA President Eric Rubin outlined priority Foreign Service issues that AFSA is working to address. “We’re coming back to some semblance of nor- malcy,” he said, noting that AFSA was able to hold its constructive dissent and outstanding performance awards ceremony in person at the State Department in October for the first time in three years. He thanked Director General Marcia Ber- nicat for her attendance and efforts to make clear that she considers AFSA an important partner, and also saluted Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Director of Policy Planning Staff Salman Ahmed for their commitment to the dissent process. “We had a lot of nomina- tions for constructive dissent this year, in a change from the past five to 10 years,” Ambassador Rubin reported. “Many of the people we honored got policy changed. Recognition is due to this administration for taking [dissent] very seriously.” AFSA’s current priori- ties for the Foreign Service, Rubin said, include address- ing problems with the Office of Personnel Management’s Employee Express system, which has blocked many users from accessing their benefits statements, and improving the pace of nomi- nations and confirmations. “The idea that we’re so powerful and influential that we don’t need to staff our key jobs is infuriating, and it’s a problem on all sides: the Sen- ate and the administration. We’re pushing very hard on that,” he said. Since 1991, Rubin told the audience, U.S. spending on diplomacy and foreign assistance has decreased dramatically. “We’re not being funded to compete in the world, and it’s our job as AFSA to say that,” he said. “This is a bipartisan problem, and there seems to be no sense of urgency. Many of our embassies and consulates are desperately understaffed, and there’s a danger to having first-tour officers serve as section chiefs; that should never happen.” Because the Biden administration kept many ambassadors in place at the start of the presidential term, current figures are close to 30 percent political appointees and 70 percent career ambas- sadors, Rubin explained, and AFSA continues to demand that all new nominees be qualified for the role, as the Foreign Service Act of 1980 requires. He outlined other areas of concern for AFSA: An excess of Foreign Service Limited five-year appointments, particularly at USAID, has caused concern, and the slow rate of visa adjudications is “an absolute disaster,” Rubin said. AFSA believes the fund- ing model must be amended to address the backlog and to mitigate damage done to the U.S. economy and higher edu- cation by lagging visa rates. Assignment restrictions continue to unfairly limit some FS members, and the lack of due process in security investigations has prompted an active dialogue between the association and the Diplo- matic Security Service. Changes to the Foreign Service Officer Test, a key component of the entry process, caught AFSA off guard in 2022 when they were announced without any prior consultation. “At this point, we’ve been adequately briefed, and AFSA will treat this new approach like a pilot program,” Rubin said. “We’re prepared to push back if we see a situation that isn’t working.” Kim Greenplate, AFSA’s director for advocacy, presented the association’s congressional priorities. The outcome of those efforts will be described in her March FSJ column in AFSA News and in AFSA’s quarterly Advocacy Update to members. The discussion ended with a Q&A session. In response to a question about the U.S. embassy in Moscow, Rubin conveyed the dire conditions faced by employees on the mission’s skeleton staff. “We salute our colleagues and will continue to do everything we can to support them,” he said in closing. “I’m deeply appreciative of what our people are doing under really hard circumstances; this is the Foreign Service at its best.” AFSA hosts a “View from Washington” session with FS retirees every quarter. Watch the recording of this event at n AFSA President Eric Rubin.