The Foreign Service Journal, May 2019

58 MAY 2019 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA USAID VP. Contact: | (202) 712-5267 This is the first time since I joined USAID as an FSO in 2001 that I am worried about the future of the agency’s Foreign Service. From a strictly numbers perspective there are fewer than 1,700 FSOs at USAID, far fewer than the 1,850 autho- rized by the Foreign Service Act of 1980. But the future of FSOs at USAID is also about retention, which comes from incentives and job satisfac- tion. At a recent AFSA stake- holder meeting, in addition to concerns about numbers, members expressed appre- hension about Transformation (T3) and its potential impact on retention. Changes at USAID from administration to administration, from crisis to crisis even, are not new. However, the timing and the Washington, D.C., focus of T3, is cause for concern. About two-thirds of USAID’s current FSO work- force was hired under the Development Leadership Initiative from, roughly, 2005 to 2015. These officers were told they are the “rebuilding blocks” for USAID’s future FSO workforce. They were hired for their particular skill sets and competencies—as economists, engineers, democracy officers and oth- ers—and they understood that as future leaders they would be applying these skills. T3 has multiple objectives, but two were of particular concern in our discussions. First, while long overdue, USAID VP VOICE | BY JEFFREY LEVINE AFSA NEWS USAID’s new performance management reform leaves FSOs wondering how to dem- onstrate their skills when the need for those abilities is less clear. How will the learning curve of the new performance reform not delay their chance for promotion? T3’s “Work- force” pillar has the stated goal of creating “a more agile and mobile workforce with the ability to work anywhere, anytime, under any condi- tions.” FSOs, who are already expected to be worldwide available, ask: What more is expected? Taken together, these issues fuel AFSA’s worry about retention of FSOs at USAID. The second concern raised at our stakeholder meet- ing is how T3 will reorganize USAID’s Washington struc- ture—for example, expanding the Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Bureau into the family of 3Rs (Relief, Resilience and Response). DCHA is known as a predominantly non-FSO bureau—only 10 percent are direct hires. FSOs are ask- ing: Will the 3R family have the same workforce split as DCHA? Along with USAID’s focus on health, the perception is that T3 will transform USAID from a development to an assistance agency. While DCHA is expanding, T3 pro- poses consolidating nearly all the non-conflict/non-health sectors into a new mega-tech- nical Bureau for Development, Democracy and Innovation. This might be acceptable if the agency’s programs and resources continued to reflect historical development— as opposed to assistance— trends. But America has been in a “war on terrorism” since 2001, influencing the division of resources and programs between development and crisis/conflict/health. And as USAID’s conflict, crisis and related programs increased, many countries paid a “tax” on their other programs. In 1999 humanitarian assistance programs were 7 percent of USAID’s budget. By 2017 the figure had risen to approxi- mately 30 percent of USAID’s program budget. At the same time, bud- get resources for programs such as economic growth, agricultural development, democracy and governance, environment and other areas of human capacity develop- ment dropped from 65 per- cent to 42 percent of USAID’s program budget. USAID’s FSOs have also suffered, to the point that as much as 25 percent of some technical positions are inWashington as opposed to the field. According to the Foreign Assistance Act: “Congress declares that a principal objective of the foreign policy of the United States is the encouragement and sus- tained support of the people of developing countries in their efforts to acquire the knowledge and resources essential to development and to build the economic, political and social institu- tions which will improve the quality of their lives” (italics are mine). Congress deemed these measures key to sustain- ing “the individual liberties, economic prosperity, and security of the people of the United States.”That is why the DLI program hired a diversely skilled workforce. I’m not arguing against USAID’s conflict, crisis and health work. However, history shows that failing to address the gap between assistance and development assures that there will be future conflicts or disasters. That is why the Foreign Service Act emphasizes development, why the DLI program was designed as it was and why only one-third of USAID’s workforce today are health and conflict officers. Will T3 reverse the “tax” on development as USAID con- templates “rightsizing” pro- grams in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan?Will T3 address the workforce planning needs of a career Foreign Service, both retention and hiring, to ensure that “development” as a part of U.S. national security succeeds in contributing to the welfare of Americans? If the answer to any of these is “No,” then we all need to keep asking: What is the future of USAID’s career Foreign Service? n The Future of USAID’s Foreign Service