The Foreign Service Journal, March 2023

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MARCH 2023 47 AFSA NEWS USAID VP VOICE | BY JASON SINGER AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 712-5267 The Future of the Foreign Service at USAID: More Questions Than Answers I have written quite a few pieces on the “quantita- tive” challenges related to USAID’s Foreign Service, e.g., the relatively small size of the FS cadre, the dearth of senior FS positions at the assistant administrator, deputy assistant administra- tor, “senior adviser” level, and other Washington-based positions. These are not new chal- lenges. And to its credit, the agency is seeking to increase hiring of career FSOs, engag- ing in robust outreach to tra- ditionally underrepresented communities. But for this column, I want to move away from the num- bers and share a few thoughts and questions on more “quali- tative” aspects of USAID’s Foreign Service. Please share your feedback, insights, and ideas with me. Through the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (still my favorite act so far), Congress provides some clarity on the “why” of the Foreign Service: “The scope and complex- ity of the foreign affairs of the Nation have heightened the need for a professional foreign service that will serve the foreign affairs interests of the United States in an integrated fashion and that can provide a resource of qualified personnel for the President, the Secretary of State, and the agencies con- cerned with foreign affairs.” Congress further affirms that the Foreign Service “must be preserved, strengthened, and improved in order to carry out its mission effectively in response to the complex chal- lenges of modern diplomacy and international relations.” (A quick aside: On his sec- ond day in office, President Joe Biden declared: “It is the policy of the United States to protect, empower, and rebuild the career Federal workforce.” So, Congress in 1980: “Preserve, strengthen, and improve.” President Biden in 2021: “Protect, empower, and rebuild.”) USAID’s career site says this: “Our Foreign Service Offi- cers address global challenges in our overseas offices and inWashington, D.C. Foreign Service Officers apply their technical knowledge, pro- gram design, management, and evaluation expertise to promote and demonstrate democratic values abroad, and advance a free, peaceful, and prosperous world.” That sounds pretty good. But it is extremely broad; USAID has never had the luxury to prioritize, making defining FSO roles and career pathways challenging. What are the “best” roles for FSOs compared to other USAID colleagues, implementing partners, interagency colleagues, and other local and international stakeholders? How will increased local- ization change these roles, including for FSOs? These are good, neces- sary, and, in many cases, decades-old questions that do not have a fixed, single answer—and that is okay. We work in complex, ever- changing environments both at home and in the field, and as development experts, we are often change leaders. Currently, the agency is highlighting a “progress beyond programs” theme, as in Administrator Samantha Power’s May 2022 speech (see Speech522) .Within the context of AFSA’s role as the principal advocate for the long-term institutional well-being of the professional career Foreign Service, I was struck by a remark by Power: “Instead of working hand-in- hand with partners, com- munities, and governments, building the relationships that are so crucial to driving prog- ress, our teams these days are more often tied to their desks, robbed of the opportunity to leave their offices and do what they joined this field to do.” This sounds all too familiar to FSOs. So how do we get “out there,” or at least away from our desks? How do we move away from a USAID where too many FS policies, pro- cedures, and operations are designed around an assump- tion of shortages—shortages of career FSOs; operating expense (OE) funds; training slots and details; and profes- sional growth opportunities? Are we having meaningful discussions about the role of USAID FSOs? Should we be hiring FSOs for their technical expertise in health, gover- nance, climate, education, etc., only to require many to serve as contracting officer and agreement officer repre- sentatives (CORs/AORs)? Should USAID be repre- sented in countries by con- tractors, or should we name more FS senior development advisers to serve as “develop- ment diplomats”? Do we have robust suc- cession planning capacity as part of our nascent strategic workforce planning? Do we have too many backstops? Not enough? Does the USAID Foreign Service need to be “pyrami- dal-shaped” in terms of ranks, or does it not matter given our operating model? With a USAID seat at the National Security Council and an ever-expanding role, are we recruiting, training, and developing the right skillsets in FSOs to meet development challenges? Are we suffi- ciently supporting FSOs and their families as they carry out their duties? Whether with answers or simply more questions, I look forward to hearing fromyou. n