The Foreign Service Journal, June 2022

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JUNE 2022 53 AFSA NEWS USAID VP VOICE | BY JASON SINGER AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 712-5267 When Is a Presidential Priority Not a Priority? The agency has responded in starkly divergent ways to two specific presidential priori- ties: (1) advancing diversity, equity, inclusion and accessi- bility (DEIA), and (2) empow- ering the career federal workforce and engaging with their unions. These prominently figure in the President’s Manage- ment Agenda and are also poles apart from the previous administration’s position. Yet to date, USAID has champi- oned one and discounted the other. Administrator Samantha Power has made “Inclusive Development” the center- piece of her USAID vision, building on President Joe Biden’s executive order (EO) on DEIA in the federal workforce. The Administrator signed USAID’s DEIA strat- egy, created a front office DEIA unit and recently swore in its first chief diversity officer. DEIA concerns are now actively considered in virtu- ally all aspects of agency operations, and colleagues across the world are dedi- cated to advancing the agenda. Search “DEIA” on the site, and you’ll get a series of press releases highlighting ongo- ing efforts including new partnerships with minority serving institutions (MSIs). Search on the intranet and you will find extensive resources, ways to engage and a range of agency actions addressing DEIA challenges. We have a valuable opportu- nity to make real change, and I will continue to partner with colleagues to champion the Biden-Harris DEIA agenda. On career federal employ- ees and their unions, the Biden-Harris administration has been unambiguous. On his second day in office, President Biden signed his EO on “Protecting the Federal Workforce,” clearly stating: “It is the policy of the United States to protect, empower and rebuild the career federal workforce. It is also the policy of the United States to encourage union organizing and collective bargaining.” And in April 2021, he signed the EO on “Worker Organizing and Empower- ment.” The administration has built on his policy declara- tions with high-level pro- nouncements and clear operational guidance. OPM directed agencies to nego- tiate with unions on “the numbers, types and grades of employees or positions assigned to any organiza- tional subdivision, work project, or tour of duty, and the technology, methods and means of performing work,” cautioning that “a failure by agency managers to engage in bargaining would be incon- sistent with the president’s directive.” OPM further explains: “It is not enough to carry out the specific directions in the EO. Rather, there needs to be a commitment to a new way of engaging employees and their unions, as an indica- tion of the contributions and expertise of the career Civil Service.” In February the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empower- ment, led by Vice President Kamala Harris, affirmed: “At its core, it is our adminis- tration’s belief that unions benefit all of us. …The federal government will promote broader labor-management engagement, as we know that such engagement helps to make the government more effective.” The report adds that the federal government should use “every available opportu- nity to include union voices in their formal advisory discus- sions and informal networks, outreach and other interac- tions.” The tone, spirit and intent are not subtle! But whereas USAID has rightly made DEIA a cen- terpiece, the agency has largely regressed on Foreign Service empowerment and union engagement. I was hopeful last November when the Administrator called for increased career hiring while calling out the “unsustainable workarounds” of the Bureaus of Conflict Prevention and Stabilization (CPS), Global Health (GH) and Humanitar- ian Assistance (HA) where some 90 percent of positions are short-term. And to the agency and Congress’ credit, the recent budget does envision increased FS and GS num- bers—great news. But no agency leader has acknowl- edged the presidential policies on federal employees and their unions. Furthermore, AFSA’s repeated requests to partner on strategic workforce plan- ning, “unsustainable work- arounds,” employee morale, mental stressors and the like have been largely rebuffed, often accompanied by claims of “management rights.” There has been no “new way of engaging employees and their unions.” Instead, AFSA members see business as usual, with bureaus and offices filling their staffing needs “by any mechanism necessary” in line with their budgets, position alloca- tions and, frankly, leadership biases. There is no address- ing workarounds in GH and CPS. And AFSA-agency relations remain charac- terized by an adversarial atmosphere. I am acutely aware that bureaucratic challenges years in the making will take years to address, and that changing agency-union dynamics is a major cultural shift. Yet the president’s instructions are clear, and USAID is failing to follow them. So, back to the riddle: When is a presidential prior- ity not a priority? When it is ignored. n