The Foreign Service Journal, January-February 2024

10 JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2024 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL LETTERS Build a Leadership Culture Secretary Blinken’s Oct. 23 speech inaugurating the new Innovation building at the Foreign Service Institute was captivating, enthusiastic, and complete. The workforce should be inspired by the State Department’s commitment to a training float, expanded work to incorporate diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility into all we do, and renewed attention to locally employed (LE) staff. Now it falls to all of us to take that inspiration and redouble efforts to build a culture of leadership in the State Department. That is the only way the ideas laid out in the Secretary’s speech will be realized. We need to start asking tougher questions about the modernization effort, such as: How can such efforts succeed if they can be scrapped the moment a new high-ranking appointee walks in the door? We need to forge greater personal and professional ties with our greatest workforce asset, LE staff, and really listen to their concerns about workload, compensation, and recognition (beyond photo ops) of them as our institutional knowledge. We need to ask FSI’s high-ranking officers if FSI was their first bidding choice, and if not, why not. We need to create a culture where we expect some of the best officers to consider bidding on FSI jobs as an essential contribution to building the strength of our organization. We need to ask how employees will be guaranteed the learning/training time offered by the new “career-long training portal” if we do not have chiefs of mission or deputies who will respect the opportunities it offers. If post leaders say the workload does not allow for such training, we should ask what they are directing staff to do. Then we should analyze whether all that work is based on strategic thought or on the whims of those who have succeeded in an organization that has traditionally required only three weeks of leadership training. We should request meticulous transparency of the Secretary’s Policy Ideas Channel to see how ideas are submitted, considered, and implemented. The speech at FSI was amazing—we can bring those words to life with some hard-nosed, grassroots work. Let’s surprise the next crop of appointees and their staffers with a true culture of leadership. John Fer FSO Arlington, Virginia DETO Developments: A Glass Half Empty? Adam Pearlman’s letter, “The DETO Landscape: An Optimistic Caution,” in the October 2023 issue of The Foreign Service Journal attempts to warn of the threats to DETOs for Foreign Service spouses, but it is much more pessimistic than it is optimistic. With regard to Executive Order 14100, having participated in the White House’s Joining Forces interagency policy committee (IPC) meetings, I want to assure Mr. Pearlman and other FSJ readers that many agencies are actively participating and coordinating on DETO policy development and management; there is a sub-IPC specific to DETO with vocal State Department participants. While it’s true that E.O. 14100 refers only to military family members, the grim picture Mr. Pearlman paints does not reflect the breadth of these discussions or what anyone envisions for the DETO program. While I appreciate the issues Mr. Pearlman voices, I perceive his concern as arising from a general wariness of military spouses. I caution against Foreign Service families viewing military families with an “us vs. them” mentality. With involuntary transfers, overseas orders, an up-or-out system of promotion, and our relatively small percentage of the federal employee population, we are more alike than we are different. I appreciate the gains the Foreign Service community achieved in the FY22 and FY23 NDAAs, and that these wins were inclusive of all federal employees. However, there is a difference between military and Foreign Service spouses and other federal employees; other federal employees get to choose where they live and when/if they move. The READINESS Act, introduced in Congress this past November and of which I am a co-author, is an initiative which creates a retention path for federally employed military and Foreign Service spouses during permanent changes of station. (Thank you to AFSA for the endorsement.) In writing this legislation, our small group of federally employed military spouses (some of whom are Foreign Service officers) and a former federally employed military spouse aimed to be as inclusive as possible, but we have been pragmatic in our approach. Despite plenty of consternation surrounding remote work, military families have bipartisan support in Congress, which we are leveraging in pushing for the READINESS Act’s passage. As we aim to be inclusive of the Foreign Service community’s needs, I hope