The Foreign Service Journal, June 2023

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JUNE 2023 47 AFSA NEWS USAID VP VOICE | BY JASON SINGER AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 712-5267 A Complicated Question with No Clear Answer In late March, USAID issued a solicitation for a Foreign Service Limited (FSL-2) procurement analyst position requiring a bachelor’s degree and four years of relevant experience, including one year of specialized experi- ence at the FS-3 level. AFSA career and career- candidate members, many of whom have served in mul- tiple missions, hold warrants, have advanced degrees, and are still serving at the FS-3 (or below) class, saw the message and contacted us. They all recognize the urgent need for acquisition and assistance support and welcome new colleagues. But they expressed dismay at the disparity between the qualifications, class, and compensation for this FSL appointment and the treatment of career/career- candidate FSOs. I want to be clear: There was no resentment toward any colleagues, nor questions as to whether USAID needs more employees (spoiler: we do). Rather, this example is emblematic of an increas- ing number of inquiries that AFSA receives on the dis- parities between the required qualifications of career/ career-candidate FSOs and those of FSL appointees and the differences in respective compensation. It is a complex, impor- tant, and, yes, sometimes sensitive question with no clear answer. But it is worth attention as USAID continues to look at better strategic workforce planning. Similarities and Dif- ferences. While USAID has many hiring mechanisms, the U.S. government has only one Foreign Service Act of 1980, which outlines the rationale and the functions of the For- eign Service. It also outlines appointment parameters and policies for career, tem- porary, and limited terms; affirms merit principles; and covers qualifications and compensation. Career/career-candidate FSOs and FSL appointees fall under the act, but in practice have different authorities, roles, compensation and ben- efit packages, requirements, and time frames. FSL appointees are limited in their employment terms (though many seek career Civil Service jobs!). FSOs must maintain a Top Secret security clearance. FSL appointees are hired for a specific position and role and do not receive the FS pension. FSOs must be worldwide available; not so with FSLs. Different requirements and overall compensation packages are not surpris- ing. But as all fall under the Foreign Service Act, there are pertinent questions related to strategic workforce plan- ning efforts and equity goals. Class. Determining what class (and correspond- ing compensation range) someone should be assigned on entering USAID’s Foreign Service is complicated. The act’s “General Provi- sions Relating to Appoint- ments” state: “The Secretary shall prescribe, as appropri- ate, written, oral, physical, foreign language, and other examinations for appoint- ment to the Service.” The act devotes an entire chapter to compensation, noting: “The Secretary shall assign all Foreign Service Officers and Foreign Ser- vice personnel to appropri- ate salary classes in the Foreign Service Schedule.” “All” personnel suggests no differentiation among career, temporary, or limited appointments. The act does specify that career-candidates may not enter at higher than the FS-4 level, with limited exceptions, but provides no such speci- ficity for FSL appointees. So, taken together, the act suggests that all appointees should be held to some form of qualification benchmarks and should have an “appro- priate” salary class. What USAID Says. Guided by the act, USAID’s own policies (notably, ADS 414 on Appointments and ADS 470 on Pay under the FS) add granularity. Per ADS 470: “Foreign Service pay rates are fixed in accord with sections of the For- eign Service Act of 1980, as amended.” This applies to Foreign Service (FS) career, career-candidate, and non- career employees in classes FS-1 and below. On FSL appointments, USAID maintains qualifica- tion standards for each class and occupational specialty and uses these to screen applicants to determine which class level is appropri- ate for each. Applicants can be eligible to receive a higher rate of pay depending on their current or prior federal service and their nonfederal salary. So, What’s the Ques- tion? Well, there are several. A basic question is, Should FSO and FSL positions at the same rank have identical or differing education, overseas time, experience, and other qualifications? If differing, does this create, at a mini- mum, an appearance of pay equity concerns? How does the agency account for factors like a pension, security clearance, worldwide availability, USAID mission experience, etc.? How does this practice affect morale and strategic workforce planning? How can USAID address the qualifica- tions, ranks, and commen- surate salaries of career/ career-candidate FSOs and FSL appointees on a more equitable basis? AFSA is encouraging the agency to look at these ques- tions, and we welcome your thoughts and ideas. n