The Foreign Service Journal, March 2021

32 MARCH 2021 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL An extraordinary reservoir of diverse talent already resides in the midlevels of the Foreign Service. We have honed our diplomatic skills for years and years—resolutely, patiently, under Demo- cratic and Republican administrations—scoring foreign policy wins and securing U.S. interests in tough spots spanning the globe. Do not forget about us; we are your best asset. While a few high-profile Foreign Service departees have eloquently described State’s shortcomings from their soap- boxes, the rest of us—the engine of American diplomacy—have been busy in the field serving our nation day after day. Often operating with minimal resources and support, State’s frontline diplomats are the best at what we do—persuading foreign gov- ernments and audiences to do things and think in ways they otherwise would not. State is undeniably a struggling organization as you arrive … but not only for the reasons you assume. Many of our most intractable institutional problems—aversity to risk, plod- ding action on attracting and retaining a diverse workforce, acceptance of mediocre leadership, focus on process instead of results, assignment and advancement systems that lack credibility and too often put the wrong people in the wrong places—pre-date 2017. New initiatives and major reversals in the policy domain might help right the ship, but State will remain in long-term decline if you allow these organizational problems to continue festering. Working on these unwieldy bureaucratic challenges behind the scenes might not offer the allure of globe-trotting diplo- macy. Successfully doing so, however, will harness the full potential of our 75,000-employee-strong institution, especially our field-deployed Foreign Service personnel. Only then can State regain the ascendancy in formulating and executing U.S. foreign policy. FSO Ben Canavan is a senior adviser in the State Department’s Office of Management Strategy & Solutions. Recognize Family Members as Diplomacy Resource We encourage the new administration to recognize an untapped source of “diplomats” in addition to members of the Foreign Service—namely, their family members. It is important to gain a better understanding of the roles and achievements of diplomatic family members, ranging from bravery during crisis and long separations due to unaccompanied tours, to outstanding professional, artistic and volunteer achieve- ments abroad. Many of them engage in significant voluntary efforts in their host countries, which promotes understanding among peoples, demonstrates the highest American values and advances the cause of U.S. diplomacy. Since 1990, with the direct support of then–Secretary of State James Baker and Mrs. Susan Baker, the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) has managed the Secretary of State Awards for Outstanding VolunteerismAbroad (SOSA). These awards are presented each year to volunteers abroad, one from each of the six geographic bureaus, for projects that demonstrate public diplomacy at the grassroots level and show Americans at their generous best, demonstrating outstanding creativity and commitment to improving the lives of others in our host nations. Such dedication is especially striking in countries where volunteerism is not common. In May 2015, at the annual Chiefs of Mission Conference held in Washington, D.C., SOSA received official recognition as a diplo- matic “tool” for the first time. The final communiqué stated: “Pub- licizing SOSA projects to host-country populations can further Public Diplomacy goals by fostering a positive image of Americans and helping illustrate to the world who we are as a nation.” At this point in our nation’s history, we may need such public- ity more than ever. Family members can contribute greatly to this positive image of our country. Lara Center of Falls Church, Virginia, is president of AAFSW; Mette Beecroft of Bethesda, Maryland, is a past president of AAFSW, a nonprofit for Foreign Service family members and friends based in Arlington, Virginia. Simplify EERs and Bidding FSOs spend an enormous amount of time on employee evaluation reports (EERs)—easily 20 hours a year—and on bidding—easily another 40 hours a year. By simplifying those two processes, we can boost employee productivity and satis- faction while delivering more value to American taxpayers. o DIV E RSIT Y