The Foreign Service Journal, March 2022

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MARCH 2022 69 USAID VP VOICE | BY JASON SINGER AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 712-5267 365 Days of Reality vs First “100 Days” Recommendations As I write this, we’ve reached the one-year mark for the Biden-Harris administra- tion—one quarter of the term! This milestone prompts me to reflect on AFSA’s “First 100 Days” recommendations to USAID’s new leadership and assess where we are. While I recognize that the Administrator wasn’t con- firmed until April 28, 2021, these recommendations were meant to send strong signals, boost employee morale and reinforce the administration’s focus on the career federal workforce. So, where are we? 1. Announce an agencywide initiative to review and reform the program budget / operat- ing expense budget division. No action, which is unfortu- nate given USAID’s perennial focus on transparency. Most of USAID’s challenges are linked to budget bifurcation and OE shortages. There is still time to undertake this long-overdue review. 2. Announce commitment to a major FS hiring push that reflects a strategic workforce planning process and, in work- ing with Congress, a regular FS hiring calendar. President Biden has been clear: “It is the policy of the United States to protect, empower and rebuild the career federal workforce.” Administrator Power’s Nov. 4, 2021, Georgetown speech also acknowledged that “over sev- eral years, USAID’s workforce has been sorely depleted, and our current numbers of Civil Service and Foreign Service staff are well short of our needs,” and therefore,“we will seek to increase our career workforce over the next four years.” But I am not aware of any multiyear strategic workforce plan. If there is one, AFSA welcomes the opportunity to be part of discussions. 3. Name a Senior For- eign Service officer to head Human Capital and Talent Management. Announce plans to return the director of the Office of Acquisition and Assistance position to the career FS. As of this writing, the act- ing chief human capital officer is a career senior FSO; AFSA hopes the agency will make this situation permanent. The Administrator has also created and named a political appointee to a new position, “Assistant to the Administra- tor for HCTM,”which sits between the CHCO and the Administrator. Career employ- ees have expressed concern at the optics of “politicizing” this role, given the previous administration’s efforts to cre- ate a “Schedule F” category of public servant. 4. Allocate a material number of Assistant Adminis- trator positions to career FSOs to reinvigorate USAID’s field focus. This emulates Secre- tary Blinken’s commitment to place career FS employees in senior positions. Per AFSA’s “Senior Official Appointments” tracker ( senior-appointments), two FSOs have been named to the 18 “senior official” positions at USAID—about 11 percent. At State, some 13 out of 39 (33 percent) are career FSOs. USAIDmust do better. 5. Reinstate the practice of designating a career FSO Deputy Assistant Adminis- trator as the Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator. They are “first among equals” and the first in line to serve as act- ing Assistant Administrator, as needed. This recommendation has not been adopted; decisions across bureaus appear ad hoc. 6. Formally create a Foreign Service deputy chief of staff position to support and inform the work of the administra- tively determined COS and others. AFSA has explained to agency leadership the value and optics of such a position for a foreign affairs agency. Unfortunately, USAID has not adopted this, yet did create the political Assistant to the Administrator for HCTM role. 7. Put Foreign Service Limited appointments on hold pending a comprehensive third-party strategic workforce review. FSL appointments con- tinue (no, they are still not hired through in a process usually serving as a workaround to caps on career employee hiring and OE budget limitations. 8. Announce the sched- ule to publish the agency’s Diversity and Inclusion Strat- egy (the draft strategy is “in review” at OMB). The Administrator signed the employee-developed strategy in her first week, and diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility is now an agency centerpiece. Unfortunately, USAID still has no public data on its 1,100 personal service contractors or numerous institutional service contrac- tors. And, as of this writing, the Foreign Service data in USAID’s official tables (bit. ly/workforce-data) is riddled with errors. Again, we must do better. 9. Update the framework agreement between USAID and AFSA (last updated in 2009). We now have plans to begin talks, and I’m hopeful we can negotiate a strong, clear agreement that bolsters the president’s vocal support for strong unions. 10. Establish a standing meeting between the front office and AFSA. AFSAnow has regular engagement with the Deputy Administrator for manage- ment and resources.While we may disagree at times, we share the goal of strengthening USAID as an institution. That said, we must see dialogue translate into positive action. My rough (but generous) assessment is that the agency has addressed 3.5 out of the 10 recommendations, for a score of 35 percent. Here’s hoping for more progress dur- ing year two. n