The Foreign Service Journal, April 2021

62 APRIL 2021 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL FCS VP VOICE | BY JAY CARREIRO AFSA NEWS Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA USAID VP. Contact: Our Biggest Untapped Resource In my January-February col- umn, I touched on the idea of working more with our vibrant alumni community. A few of my now retired col- leagues saw the piece, and one, Jim McCarthy, decided to contact me and make a contribution to this space. He has great ideas and, like almost all our retirees, would like to give something back. Here’s what Jim and I have put together for your consideration. We would love to hear more from you. To start with, we have all heard the jest that the Commercial Service is the “best kept secret in the U.S. government.” It’s the unfortunate outcome for a small, but highly successful business unit that gets only scattered attention from its very large parent agency, the U.S. Department of Com- merce. Of course, the 33,000- plus clients that we serve know differently, and as commercial officers, it gives us a great deal of pride to be on the receiving end of their praise and appreciation for what we do. A Good Story to Tell The basic point is that we have always had a good story to tell, but we rely on others to tell it. That works to a point, but we can do better. Our stakeholders should also be hearing from those who have been there and lived it—our alumni. Over the past decade, our numbers have shrunk by more than 10 percent, mainly due to attrition. Many senior officers have gone on to noteworthy careers in the private sector, while others have gotten into politics or even returned to government in some other capacity. Still, regardless of the next stage in life, these retired officers bring with them an immense amount of knowledge and interna- tional experience—some- thing that should not so easily be let go. One thing that still puzzles many of us is the fact that the Commercial Service does not do any sort of exit interview when an officer retires. There is no effort to gather their experiences and advice, little or no acknowl- edgment of their contribu- tions to the U.S. government as they leave and, perhaps most importantly, no attempt to maintain contact with retirees who would certainly have more to con- tribute to the Commercial Service if called on. More to Contribute Unencumbered by the restrictions of their former positions in government, our alumni—as members of the public, the corporate world, or even as political constitu- ents—can be forceful and effective advocates for the “best kept secret in govern- ment.” In addition, for the Com- mercial Service itself, they can be sounding boards for new ideas in the area of trade promotion, or as men- tors to new and midcareer active-duty officers. Their experiences can, and prob- ably should, be preserved in some form for the next generation to learn from and for the sake of the historical record of the Commercial Service. These are just a few of many ideas, just the start of what can be done. So, how to begin? It’s simple. Senior leadership in the Commercial Service need to endorse and initiate a formal program for reem- ployed annuitants. Foster Alumi Groups The Office of Foreign Ser- vice Human Capital should also designate someone, full- or part-time, to con- nect with the FCS alumni community. The good news is that several small alumni groups already exist, par- ticularly in the Washington, D.C., area. Further connec- tions can easily be made to those across the country, from Washington, D.C., to Washington state. It’s time to finally tap this important resource, get active and engaged, and allow our best experts to showcase that expertise for the benefit our organization, which contributes so much to the U.S. economy and still has much more to offer. Finally, I want to call your attention to an excellent piece written by my col- league Aileen Nandi on page 31 of this month’s issue. It talks about the pivot to virtual services and how the Commercial Service has stepped up for our clients during this past year, despite significant economic headwinds. I encourage you to give it a read! n Unencumbered by the restrictions of their former positions in government, our alumni—as members of the public, the corporate world, or even as political constituents—can be forceful and effective advocates for the “best kept secret in government.”