The Foreign Service Journal, June 2018

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JUNE 2018 49 Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP. Contact: | (202) 647-8160 STATE VP VOICE | BY KENNETH KERO-MENTZ AFSA NEWS A Fresh Start Well, that was fast. With the drop of a tweet, Secretary Rex Tillerson was out. As this column goes to press, Mike Pompeo has just been confirmed. It’s a good time to reflect on a number of the issues AFSA has been working on over the past year, and what we hope can be resolved once the 70th Secretary of State and his team are up and running. Redesign: Do it right, or don’t do it at all. When Secretary Tillerson arrived, despite the fact that he admitted that he did not “know anybody in the State Department,” he decided that we were long-overdue for an “employee-driven” redesign. We’re not sure what will happen with all the ideas considered by the since-renamed “Impact Initiative,” but I’ve met with a lot of people who either gave suggestions or actually worked on the redesign. A lot of ideas were put forth by a lot of really earnest folks working to make the depart- ment a better place. And while the roll-out, roll-back and reworking of the rede- sign was messy, the depart- ment should always strive to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our work to achieve our global mission. Hiring Freeze: Lift it, please. Let’s face it, the freezes and partial thaws have been a disaster. The number of Foreign Service officers and specialists hired since February 2017 is at an all-time low. Employ- ment opportunities for civil servants, eligible family members (EFMs) and reem- ployed annuitants (REAs) were slashed, making the work of the State Depart- ment more difficult and more dangerous. One small example is MED, which is so under- staffed that the most courageous of efforts is insufficient to manage the backlog of work or even staff key posts overseas. And what about all those serving around the world who are spending parts of their days doing not just their own work, but also the work for which post would typically hire an EFM? It’s high time to end the freeze and return to planned hiring levels, period. Promote the Best: We’re an “up or out” system, after all. In 2017 promotion numbers were way down across the board, particu- larly for FSOs and especially for those entering or in the Senior Foreign Service. If last year was an aber- ration, the damage done (including to morale) from that one year should be minimal. If it continues, excellent officers and spe- cialists will begin to hit their “time in class” ceilings, and that will be a real loss to this institution we love. With low promotion rates and, in addition, the large number of retirements—especially from the senior ranks—over the past year, it is urgent that State promote the next generation of leaders. Make full use of their talents and experience; that’s what we’re here for. SNEA: It’s time for a change in how the Special Needs Education Allowance is managed. The most heart- breaking and hair-pulling stories we hear are from members whose families and careers have been turned upside down over the past two years due to MED’s non-review of this program, which supports the educa- tion of children with special needs. Simply put, we need a program that is family- friendly and supports parents and children so we can do what we were hired to do—serve overseas. Life in the Foreign Service is already tough, and MED should be providing assis- tance and support, not roadblocks. Engage AFSA: We’re here to help, honestly. AFSA and the department collabo- rate to resolve issues, both big and small. Whether it’s discussing post traumatic stress disorder or the need for lactation rooms at the Foreign Service Institute, or how to improve the 360-ref- erence program for bidding, or how to soften the blow to those pulled out of posts for myriad reasons, AFSA is here to help. We understand the nature of our business, the expected hardships and unexpected challenges. We can offer useful ideas, ensure our members’ con- cerns are heard and provide valuable insight. My list could go on, but our new Secretary already has a lot on his plate—criti- cal challenges on a global scale. We wish him well. I wish him well. Whether officer or specialist; whether married, part of a tandem couple or single; whether early in one’s career or getting close to retirement, the men and women of the State Department are here to work. We hunger for leader- ship, vision and purpose. Our department functions best when our employees are respected and engaged, from ambassadors to new hires. It’s what good leader- ship is all about, and it’s what the American people deserve. n Our department functions best when our employees are respected and engaged, from ambassador to new hire.