The Foreign Service Journal, January-February 2024

FCS VP VOICE | BY JOSHUA BURKE AFSA NEWS Contact: As has been the case throughout much of the 44-year history of the Foreign Commercial Service, the budget for the coming fiscal year appears bleak. The likelihood of smaller budgets on the horizon will probably produce yet another round of organizational belt-tightening. We’ve already seen announcements about limiting work-related travel and reducing headcount through attrition. The proposed budget cuts will impact our Service and our ability to fulfill our mission. Tough decisions will need to be made under this austere budget. Will there be another hiring freeze? Will our metrics, mandated by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), be lowered to align with our reduced budgets? Will officers continue to be sent to post without adequate training? What does management believe will happen with fewer people doing more of the work? We’ve been doing more with less for decades— it’s simply no longer an option. Going forward, the reality is that we will have to do less with less. Here’s what we will be unable to do without an adequate budget: We’ll be unable to fully support the administration’s policy goals, to combat malign influence from the Bear and the Tiger, to advocate for American companies in geostrategic deals, to attract investment into the U.S., or to spearhead interagency commercial diplomacy. Will we have to halt our export promotion efforts—predominantly on behalf of small and mediumsized American companies? This work is mandated by our charter, and it is the primary reason we’re funded by our appropriators. A few decades back, when I was on the threshold of moving overseas for the first time as a Peace Corps volunteer, a friend who would later serve as the best man at my wedding gave me a kind and thoughtful gift—a brass compass. The enclosed note was equally as thoughtful: “To help you find your way, no matter how many times you get lost.” During my recent listening tour, I spoke with dozens of our officers and found there is consensus: The Commercial Service has no compass. Our fleet is depleted, our sails are torn, rudders damaged. We’re adrift with no destination. Many officers are planning to jump into lifeboats toward bluer skies. It’s been a few years since I swam from Asia to Europe, though I too may have to jump off a sinking ship. While we indeed have capable and well-intended leadership at the helm, it’s nearly time to make an SOS call. We need all hands on deck to fix our Service and set a course toward a brighter horizon. Perhaps our friends in Congress or the International Trade Administration (ITA) will deliver a windfall to produce the wind we need to sail onwards. Or maybe I’m just tilting at windmills. n AFSA Congratulates JSTP Graduates AFSA and DACOR joined forces to organize a reception for graduates of the Job Search and Transition Program (JSTP) at the Foreign Service Institute on Oct. 27, 2023. After being greeted by rousing applause from FSI, AFSA, and DACOR staff members and feted with a champagne toast, the graduates were congratulated by AFSA President Tom Yazdgerdi, who relayed to them the many benefits of keeping their AFSA membership in retirement. In addition to supporting advocacy for the Foreign Service and access to AFSA publications, retiree members can depend on AFSA to keep them abreast of critical issues affecting the Foreign Service, including changes to their federal benefits and life after the Foreign Service. Yazdgerdi mentioned two recent AFSA programs tailored to Foreign Service retirees: “So You Want to Be an REA?—Do’s and Don’ts from Those in the Know,” on State’s retiree hiring program; and “A View from Washington,” in which Yazdgerdi offered a tour d’horizon on current AFSA initiatives and perspectives. n THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2024 43 AFSA/CHRISTINE MIELE JSTP graduates mingle at a reception on Oct. 27. No Wind in Our Sails