The Foreign Service Journal, March 2022

68 MARCH 2022 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Reforming the Assignments Process STATE VP VOICE | BY TOM YAZDGERDI AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 647-8160 The bidding process is often said to be one of the most stressful aspects of Foreign Service life. In an effort to bolster employee confidence in the integrity and transpar- ency of assignments selec- tion, I’d like to explore how this process can be improved, including for senior leader- ship positions. Rationalizing the Bidding Process: iMatch. Because there is so much variability, uncertainty and inconsis- tency in the bidding process, many bidders come away feeling that they have not been treated fairly. To make the process more rational, the Bureau of Global Talent Management and the Office of Career Development and Assignments instituted a pilot program called iMatch for midlevel office manage- ment specialists and informa- tion management specialists for the 2022 assignments season. This program is based on an algorithm used to match medical residents with hospitals (see 21 State 80846). An AFSA State represen- tative (who is an OMS and iMatch bidder) and I met with CDA in November to learn about the pilot. CDA noted that where a match was possible, bureaus matched their positions with bidders 86 percent of the time in the first round. Of the jobs that matched, 84 percent of bidders and 90 percent of bureaus got their first or second choice. CDA and our State rep related some problems: the department’s information security rules did not allow taking full advantage of the iMatch software or communi- cating with TalentMAP or the CLC. Additionally, iMatch’s algorithm works better with larger cohorts, making it less effective with fewer than 50 bidders. Seventh-floor “plum” jobs were excluded from the list because of longstanding special staffing privileges. All in all, 95 percent of bidders who submitted 10 bids in the first round matched with one of their choices. CDA is con- currently canvassing bidder and bureau participant views on the pilot. AFSA supports a more transparent and equitable bidding process and appre- ciates the department’s initiative. But we will need further data and feedback to give a definitive opinion on the utility of iMatch, includ- ing whether it makes sense to extend it to more bidders for the 2023 assignments process. Bidding Reform in EAP. For the 2022 assignment sea- son, the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs stated its intent to bring greater trans- parency and diversity to what many see as an insular and male-heavy bureau. EAP had three main reforms: references would only be considered through the 360CLC system; bidders would submit a personal narrative in lieu of first-round interviews and lobbying; and a pilot program created for all FS-03 EAP positions would utilize a centralized bidding process (see 21 State 86784). EAP has said that after the bidding cycle, it will send out a cable to assess the success of these reforms, particu- larly the pilot. AFSA asked if the bureau had considered gender-neutral language for future changes and EAP responded that it wanted first to know more about GTM’s experiment with gender neu- tral language on MSIs. (Note: AFSA is currently working with GTM’s Office of Perfor- mance Evaluation to see what effect gender-neutral MSIs have had on diversity and will provide an update.) D Committee and DCM/ PO Committee. Reform of these two key committees, which decide on chiefs of mission and deputy assistant secretaries and deputy chiefs of mission and principal offi- cers, respectively, would be welcome as well. There is too little infor- mation about how these committees operate. Which bureaus and individuals are represented on them? Are decisions made by consen- sus or by majority vote? Are certain individuals and bureaus, especially regional ones, given more weight than others? What informa- tion is considered in making decisions and are there rules about what may be presented for review? In discussing these ques- tions with senior officers, some of whom have suc- cessfully gone through the D Committee process, I found that they are as mystified as the rest of us. I myself have gone through both commit- tees—one successfully, the other not—and still have no clear idea of what happened and why. Of course, committee deliberations need to be shielded from complete transparency to allow for an honest and open debate about the suitability of candidates. But the depart- ment could better explain and define the purpose and membership of these com- mittees and the process by which they choose some of our most senior leaders. Instituting more trans- parent procedures could also encourage more and improved communication between regional bureaus and prospective candidates; doing so would likely have a beneficial effect on the department’s diversity objec- tives as well. The depart- ment’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstan- ley, now sits on both com- mittees, which is a step in the right direction. But more needs to be done. Please let us know what you think about these issues at n