The Foreign Service Journal, June 2020

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JUNE 2020 49 Thoughts on USAID and the Coronavirus It’s mid-April as I write for the June edition of the Journal . Given how the entire world has transformed in just a month, it’s challeng- ing to imagine what work, school and life in general will look like by the time this piece is published. That said, USAID is adapting and planning, both internally and externally, to respond to the unique chal- lenges of COVID-19. Judging from news articles, conver- sations and analysis, there are signs of hope and prog- ress for the United States as a whole, albeit with varying geographical disparities, amid real concerns for most of the countries in which USAID works. There isn’t enough space to express my admiration for FSOs and the agency’s response, but I want to share a few thoughts and words of appreciation. First, on the operational and programmatic fronts, USAID systems, leadership and per- sonnel have risen to the chal- lenge in supporting employees and their families and advanc- ing USAID’s mission. USAID quickly estab- lished a COVID-19 Task Force focused on personnel. AFSA has worked with members and the task force to help address, clarify and resolve problems; bring about enhanced work-life flexibilities and administrative leave; and address per diem and benefit questions, TDY status exten- sions and myriad authorized/ ordered departure concerns and complications. Each AFSA member and post has a unique situa- tion, but what is clear is the agency’s commitment to the safety and security of its employees. AFSA applauds and appreciates the task force volunteers. FSOs worldwide are stepping up to face unprec- edented challenges, often in uncertain and daunting circumstances, many requir- ing separation from families. There has always been an element of adventure and sometimes risk to Foreign Service life, but the current context is surely unique. Our Global Health col- leagues stand front and center, but this pandemic leaves no sector untouched. USAID is already adapting to mitigate adverse effects and build resilience across sec- tors, including humanitarian response, economic growth, education, gender, good governance, democracy, the environment and more. Every day, we continue to see USAID success stories— we have not missed a beat. Our expertise as develop- ment practitioners is unpar- alleled, and the world’s need for this expertise has never been greater. Thank you. Years ago (I have lost count), USAID moved to a web-based mail system, and began orienting its IT systems and operations to better support a mobile, global workforce. As the agency moved to large-scale telework when we felt the impact of the COVID crisis in Washington, the Office of the Chief Information Officer and others mobilized with bolstered IT support, training and engagement. USAID’s IT operations have continued to function with relatively few hiccups. Kudos to the USAID teams that have made this happen (and that keep it going!). I am hopeful that this experi- ence will put to rest nascent anti-telework rumblings, and that the agency will embrace the positive telework lessons shown during this period. USAID’s Acquisition and Assistance team writ large has rapidly mobilized, providing guidance and support to USAID missions, partners and stakeholders, even as they operate in a complex and rapidly chang- ing landscape. The words “government procurement” and “nimble” are not often used in the same sentence, but USAID and our partners are demonstrating commit- ment, capacity and creativity, leading the way to reorient our assistance to combat COVID-19 while maintaining critical activities. Amazing. Countless other USAID employees are ensuring each day that the agency remains not just operational but on the front lines of mitigating, managing and resolving the global pandemic. At the same time, USAID’s workforce continues to advance the agency’s insti- tutional strength through “regular” work—FS promotion process webinars, Economic Growth Sector Council consultations, Staff Care sessions, USAID University coursework and Data Literacy hours, to name just a few ongoing agencywide events. All the colleagues involved in these and other efforts help ensure that the agency remains strong and con- nected, and that it continues to build its capacity. Finally, I want to highlight that AFSA remains opera- tional, active and here for you. The amazing AFSA staff are working each day to support the Foreign Service. Please reach out and share concerns, thoughts, stories of hope, lessons learned, anecdotes and ideas. Our shared passion for USAID’s mission and our commit- ment, skills and teamwork will prevail. n USAID VP VOICE | BY JASON SINGER AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 712-5267 USAID quickly established a COVID-19 Task Force focused on personnel. AFSA has worked with members and the task force to help address, clarify and resolve problems.