The Foreign Service Journal, April 2020

58 APRIL 2020 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Giving the MSI the Attention It Deserves Thanks to all who took part in our recent survey on the Meritorious Service Increase pilot program. AFSA has decided to extend this pilot for another year and use the survey’s results to make the process more efficient and easier to use. We are currently negotiat- ing with our colleagues in the Performance Evaluation division of the newly named Bureau of Global Talent Man- agement (GTM/PE) with the goal of making the program a more accepted part of the award nomination process. As we do this, we wel- come your continued input. (See the article on p. 37, which presents the survey results and the history of MSI in more detail.) From the survey, we learned that supervisors and others are just not nomi- nating their staff members and colleagues frequently enough. The top reaction to our survey question “Have you nominated someone under the pilot program?” was that nominations are too burdensome. It appears that this is due in part to the fact that a separate nomination form needs to be filled out. Another reason appears to be the amount of time it takes to learn whether the nominated employee receives an award. We heard that nominators often choose to go with other more tried-and-true awards, such as a Meritorious Honor Award or Superior Honor Award, where the decision is made more quickly, either at post or at the bureau level. These two factors, GTM told us, contributed to MSI money being left on the table. A Different Kind of Award The MSI is meant to be the highest monetary award given to FS personnel. It is different from the MHA or SHA in terms of prestige and financial benefit. It’s the next best thing to a promo- tion, financially speaking, as it is a permanent step increase that has come to be known as “the gift that keeps on giving.” Because the award is unique, the MSI pilot pro- gram requires a separate nomination form, separate criteria and special MSI pan- els to determine the awards. Until the launch of the pilot, the vast majority of MSIs were awarded auto- matically to people who were in the top 10 percent recom- mended for promotion but who did not reach the cutoff. (A small number of MSIs were also given to bureaus to be awarded based on nominations.) While it is certainly easier to just let the selection boards handle this, when GTM/PE and AFSA looked at the MSI award more care- fully, we realized that it was actually meant to reward high accomplishment in the current position and rank, not to be a measure of future potential. With this realization, we worked to create an MSI award process that high- lights the importance of the award but also “democ- ratizes” the process by opening it up to everyone, not just those who are up for promotion. Now, not only can super- visors nominate their staff, but subordinates can also nominate their supervisors, and peers can nominate peers. The pilot program also ensures that regardless of the number of promotion opportunities available, gen- eralists and specialists are allotted MSI awards accord- ing to their percentage in the Foreign Service. Our Plea: Submit Nominations! AFSA is doing its part to make the process more efficient and understandable so that when an employee’s actions are deserving of an MSI, the nominator can con- fidently choose an MSI over other awards. Working with GTM/PE, we will focus on ensuring: • that the criteria for the award are clearly explained and understood—especially as to how these criteria dif- fer from those for an MHA or SHA; • that the period in which nominations are submitted is logical and is also clearly understood; and • that MSI panel decisions are made and announced within a reasonable amount of time. This is impor- tant because some of our members have told us that nominators often want to see their nominees rewarded while at post, if possible. As AFSA strives to ensure that the MSI award program stays true to the intent of the award while being “user- friendly,” we ask all of our members to take advantage of the pilot program and submit nominations. The one-page nomination form is not time-consuming and can be submitted dur- ing the current open season (April 15 to June 15) for the award. We can have the best pilot program ever, but it won’t make any difference if nomi- nators, post leadership and bureaus do not give the MSI the attention it deserves. n STATE VP VOICE | BY TOM YAZDGERDI AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 647-8160 It is a permanent step increase that has come to be known as “the gift that keeps on giving.”