The Foreign Service Journal, April 2024

AFSA Advocates for FS Specialists Out of roughly 14,000 Foreign Service employees, more than 40 percent are specialists, with specialist work comprising a majority of AFSA’s labor management services. From construction engineers to Diplomatic Security agents, from o£ce management specialists to medical laboratory scientists, there are 19 di˜erent specialist types, all providing vital support to the department at home and abroad. But not all specialties have home bureaus looking out for their needs, and it can be challenging to develop policy that benefits all 19 specialties equally. To address these challenges, AFSA and the department established a pilot program in July 2023 to dedicate one of the six State AFSA Governing Board representatives to work full-time on specialist issues—a role I’m proud to be filling. This happens at a time of other improvements in specialist support from the department, including a pilot program placing a specialist advocate in the under secretary for management’s (M) o£ce. These two new positions marked the beginning of a great year for specialists. AFSA was delighted to see the development of an O£ce Management Specialist Program Unit in M’s O£ce of Strategy and Solutions. Similarly, AFSA worked with THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | APRIL 2024 47 the department on a new professional development plan for o£ce management specialists, ensuring a clear career trajectory for one of our largest specialist groups. We’ve also successfully engaged to protect security engineering o£cers, ensuring that new hiring incentives don’t disadvantage existing employees. And every day AFSA’s labor management team works on numerous individual issues involving specialist promotions, benefits, assignment reviews, discipline, pay and overtime, and other matters. But there is much more to be done. The specialistfocused AFSA State representative is only a pilot program until 2025, and we need to extend it. Similarly, the specialist advocate position in M’s o£ce will expire during the summer of 2024, but has not been extended. While the new O£ce Management Specialist Program Unit is a wonderful step in permanent support for one specialty, making the specialist advocate a permanent part of M’s o£ce will ensure that even the smaller specialties have a voice. In support of this goal, AFSA worked with employees enrolled in the Secretary’s Leadership Seminar, who recently met with the Director General, the under secretary for management, and others to recommend a new Specialist Advocacy Council, a permanent specialist advocate position, and the creation of professional development plans for all specialties. AFSA is also working on several targeted specialist topics. We are concerned about limited opportunities for advancement in some specialties and how that might a˜ect time-in-class (TIC) calculations. For instance, we were delighted to see that, after many years of AFSA advocacy, the TIC for FS-4 diplomatic couriers was extended to 20 years. Likewise, we enthusiastically supported extending the TIC for FS-3 DS agents to 20 years. In the coming months we will review TIC limits for other specialists to see if similar changes are warranted. AFSA supports the department exercising its authority to extend TICs for those who were recommended for promotion but not ultimately promoted. Specialists who perform well should be retained, benefitting the Foreign Service with their expertise, regardless of the lack of available promotion slots. AFSA is also concerned that some specialists reach pay and overtime caps quickly when working in high threat posts, but do not have access to the same di˜erential pay as generalists. It isn’t acceptable to provide specialists fewer benefits than generalists when they work in the same dangerous environments, often in the same positions. We need new recognition packages for specialists, or we send the wrong message about their comparative value to the Foreign Service. AFSA is also advocating for a better FS entry path for consular fellows. Fellows have already demonstrated successful service overseas, and those who have performed well represent a diverse, secure, well-established pool from which we should aggressively recruit to fill our generalist ranks. AFSA has requested consular fellow inclusion in the Mustang Program, which exempts eligible Civil Service employees and specialists from the Foreign Service O£cer Test. AFSA is also reviewing proposals for the use of consular fellow evaluations as an alternative to the qualifications evaluation panel during the Foreign Service testing process. In these and dozens of other issues, AFSA has been working steadfastly for its specialist members, something we will continue to do. In the meantime, please feel free to reach out to us at or floyd@ if you have any questions or suggestions related to AFSA’s specialistfocused work. n OF SPECIAL(IST) CONCERN | BY AFSA STATE REP. GREGORY FLOYD AFSA NEWS