The Foreign Service Journal, March 2020

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MARCH 2020 55 USAID VP VOICE | BY JASON SINGER AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 712-5267 The FSA: It’s More Than Just an Act If you’re like me, you like to settle down at night with your favorite drink and cozy up with a copy of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 ( usaid-fsa). In case you don’t share my reading tastes, I want to highlight some parts of the act and encourage you to take some time to read it. You may find it useful and quite often inspiring. Chapter topics include “Management of the Ser- vice,” “Promotions and Retention,” “Foreign Service Pension System” and “Labor Management Relations.” While not always directly pertinent to USAID, the act is a thoughtful, comprehen- sive piece of legislation that conveys the critical need for a well-functioning, well- resourced, accountable and professional Foreign Service and the responsibility of the foreign affairs agencies, including USAID, to achieve this goal. Section 101: Findings & Objectives. I could use this and all future columns to extoll Section 101. For example, “[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.” And, the Foreign Ser- vice “must be preserved, strengthened, and improved in order to carry out its mis- sion effectively in response to the complex challenges of modern diplomacy and international relations.” Clear and powerful. Another objective, near and dear to AFSA and its members, is “establishing a statutory basis for participa- tion by the members of the Foreign Service, through their elected representatives, in the formulation of person- nel policies and procedures which affect their conditions of employment, and main- taining a fair and effective system for the resolution of individual grievances that will ensure the fullest measure of due process for the members of the Foreign Service.” Fullest measure of due process—good stuff! Section 105: Merit Prin- ciples. Section 105 kicks off thus: “All personnel actions with respect to career mem- bers and career candidates in the Service (including applicants for career can- didate appointments) shall be made in accordance with merit principles.” Simple yet critical to keep in mind throughout our careers. Drilling a bit deeper into how the law defines “merit principles,” we find points such as this: “All employees should maintain high stan- dards of integrity, conduct, and concern for the public interest.” And further: “Employ- ees should be protected against reprisal for the lawful disclosure of information which the employees reason- ably believe evidences (A) a violation of any law, rule, or regulation, or, (B) misman- agement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.” As FSOs, we have a public trust to keep; and we have rights and protections to help us maintain that trust. Section 703: Career Development. The act recognizes that the FS is a career spanning many stages. The section opens: “The Secretary shall establish a professional development program to assure that members of the Service obtain the skills and knowl- edge required at the various stages of their careers. With regard to Foreign Service offi- cers, primary attention shall be given to training for career candidate officers and for midcareer officers, both after achieving tenure and as they approach eligibility for entry to the Senior Foreign Service, to enhance and broaden their qualifications for more senior levels of responsibility in the Service.” USAID has training—a lot of training. But the act recognizes the need for dis- tinct training targeted to the needs of the Foreign Service cadre. I think there are real opportunities to develop new trainings—and refocus exist- ing ones—to better meet FSO needs. Section 601: Promo- tions. (Do I have your atten- tion now?). This section lays out broad principles and details, including: “Decisions by the Secretary on the numbers of individuals to be promoted into and retained in the Senior Foreign Service shall be based upon a sys- tematic long-term projection of personnel flows and needs designed to provide (A) a regular, predictable flow of recruitment in the Service; (B) effective career develop- ment patterns to meet the needs of the Service; and (C) a regular, predictable flow of talent upward through the ranks and into the Senior Foreign Service.” This seems reasonable, logical and practical. How- ever, it also presupposes a regular and predictable flow of FSOs and rigorous work- force planning. With Congress’ strong encouragement, we hopefully will see this merit-based flow of new FSO colleagues enter- ing over the coming year and beyond, along with improved workforce planning for the agency. I hope these highlights inspire you to read the Foreign Service Act. It’s a relevant, sound—and legisla- tively mandated—reference for your career and for the USAID’s benefit. n