The Foreign Service Journal, May 2018

64 MAY 2018 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL WHERE WE STAND | BY JULIE NUTTER, PROFESSIONAL POLICY ISSUES DIRECTOR EER Season: Thinking About the Precepts It’s EER season again. The first step in crafting a persuasive EER is a review of the Foreign Service promo- tion precepts, or “competen- cies”—the skills, knowledge and abilities required to advance to the next level. Two characteristics of the current precepts stand out—their flexibility and their comprehensiveness. The precepts apply to many different circumstances, and the sub-categories under each skill group are numer- ous enough to capture widely diverse accomplish- ments. These characteristics are not random. AFSA negoti- ates with management every year on its procedures to implement the promotion system—for example, on the Bureau of Human Resources’ instructions to promotion panels. Every three years AFSA negotiates the sub- stance of the precepts. We review the procedures and content of the precepts to ensure fairness and general applicability, and to mini- mize circumstances that could prompt grievances. Taking advantage of the precepts’ flexibility and their comprehensive nature is probably the wisest course of action when confronted with that blank EER form today. Composing a compelling evaluation does not just ful- fill an obligation to yourself or to your employees. It forges a link in a long chain of responsibility Foreign Ser- vice members have as stew- ards of the Service. Tying your day-to-day work or that of your employees to mis- sion, bureau or overall U.S. foreign policy goals makes it clear that the annual promo- tion panel process not only maintains high standards of corps performance, but it binds our work to our foreign policy priorities. If EER drafting feels like an unwelcome distraction, take a deep breath and remem- ber you are serving everyone by doing your best. For some of you, this year’s report might be more about the journey than the destination. One important function of diplomacy is to create a bank account of trust with foreign inter- locutors. When crises occur, diplomats draw on those accounts to partner with others to address the challenges and find solu- tions. Part of any diplomat’s job is building up those accounts, and you may have done more of that recently. It’s valuable but not high-profile work, often leading to insights on how to strengthen the U.S.-host country relationship. Similarly, when your career takes an unwanted detour, or a busy policy account is suddenly quiet, it might be time to build up other types of accounts— bulwarks of substantive knowledge, deep wells of language expertise or a foray into mentoring that will pay off in future tours. Accomplishments this year might be skewed towards how you used that new knowledge or your men- toring role to guide newer employees or inter-agency colleagues, rather than how you used your skills to change the world. That’s okay—the precepts highlight the importance of mentor- ing employees in multiple places and using horizontal management (e.g., with peer-level colleagues). Finally, don’t forget “com- munity service and institu- tion-building”—key precepts in times of change. This is not to say that recent management deci- sions have not put some Foreign Service members in possible jeopardy, espe- cially those members who have opened their windows to compete to cross the threshold. Drastically lower promotion numbers have serious consequences, and we are doing all we can at AFSA to raise the alarm about the potentially grave damage continued lower promotion numbers will cause. Our promotion system, modeled on that of the military, is unusual in the federal government. The Foreign Service Act of 1980 mandates that Foreign Ser- vice promotions be decided by independent panels, and the system has served the Foreign Service well. A 2010 State Department Inspector General report examined the panels, their work and their findings and concluded that the system is “fundamen- tally fair and trustworthy.” A 2013 Government Account- ability Office report con- curred with the IG’s conclu- sion, noting that although there are still improvements to be made, State had addressed deficiencies well. Because we believe in the integrity of the promotion system and see it as inte- gral to the strength of the Service, AFSA opposed the Bureau of Human Resources’ recent change to criteria for applying to cross the senior threshold. Given the limited number of greater hardship positions available, only a subset of FS-1s will be able to meet the new require- ments for multiple greater hardship tours or obtain a waiver from HR. AFSA supports stream- lining the Professional Development Program—the fewer boxes to check, the better—but we favor keep- ing independent promotion boards to select the next generation of Senior Foreign Service leaders. The promotion system belongs to members of the Foreign Service—its stew- ards. EER time is another chance to refine that stew- ardship. Happy drafting! n