The Foreign Service Journal, June 2024

USAID VP VOICE | BY RANDY CHESTER AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 712-5267 Looking for inspiration in the archives of USAID vice president columns, I found, at least back to 2016, a recurring discussion of workforce planning. While there has been some progress on workforce planning over the past decade, the continued discussion points to larger questions about expectations and political realities. According to the recent AFSA-USAID Staff Care mental health survey, 80 percent of respondents reported an “excessive workload,” while 69 percent said “long work hours” were affecting their mental health. Supporting qualitative responses included long work hours, relentless deadlines, unrealistic expectations, pressure to perform, and managing multiple responsibilities simultaneously. These results represent everyday reality across backstops; at conflict and nonconflict posts; high crime and “safe” posts. What does this have to do with workforce planning? Everything. For context, the FY 2019 budget for USAID operating expenses (OE), which covers salaries, rents, and infrastructure, was $1.37 billion, versus a program budget—the part of the budget that funds development work through contracts and grants—of $16.8 billion. Answers for Our Overworked Workforce 46 JUNE 2024 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL The 2024 OE budget request was $1.9 billion (a 27 percent increase) versus a program budget of $31.9 billion (a 47 percent increase). Both are exclusive of any COVID-19 or Ukraine supplemental funding. As the program budget grew by 47 %, the number of USAID FSOs went from 1,675 to 1,920—a mere 12.7 percent increase. Simply put, the OE portion of the budget that allows us to hire new FSOs is not keeping pace with the overall budget, meaning there are not enough officers on the ground to do the work that the program budget needs to cover—and this is before new initiatives were added. What is the agency doing about the disconnect between budget and staffing numbers? The Global Development Partnership Initiative (GDPI) was well received by the Hill when it was introduced in late 2021. The GDPI’s goal was to expand the size of USAID’s Foreign Service to 2,500 officers by FY25 and, with early budget support in FY22 and continued funding in FY23, some 280 new officers were on-boarded. Sadly, this is when political realities hit. Training and funding decreased, and the odds of reaching the 2025 goal are long. With the current state of affairs on the Hill, we expect to meet the FY23 goal to have a total of 1,980 USAID officers this calendar year, but will likely see no new significant increases afterwards. Credit the agency; GDPI was well received by the Hill and kicked off overdue and much-needed strategic workforce planning. GDPI also set targets for CS and other staff mechanisms. Last year the Office of Human Capital and Talent Management (HCTM) undertook an exercise to “cull” long-term vacant overseas positions and began to explore “grade resizing” to better match the supply and demand of FSOs overseas, provide needed career pathways, and minimize stretch assignments. Additionally, they began testing a model to facilitate and determine overseas needs. This exercise to assesses where the needs are and how to best realign and respond to emerging crises and threats. Enter the Strategic Workforce Planning Committee (SWPC). Stood up in January 2024, the SWPC analyzes and recommends how the agency should deploy its workforce. Using the results of the HCTM model, as well as input from missions, bureaus/independent offices, and the Foreign Service Center, SWPC makes recommendations on allocating positions, rebalancing existing positions, new hiring, and projecting growth areas, not just for FS positions but for all hiring categories. While AFSA is not a member of the SWPC, we are briefed after each SWPC meeting. Why is this important? SWPC recommendations should help the agency better understand its workforce needs across mechanisms and indicate where those resources should be deployed. This addresses many of the workforce planning concerns AFSA has raised in the past and gets to the heart of many of the questions posed in last year’s letter from Senator Markey’s office regarding workforce needs and planning at USAID. Overall, GDPI and the SWPC constitute an effort to improve USAID’s workforce strategy, developed in response to a long-term ask from both AFSA and the Hill. Is it perfect? No. Could it be misused? Possibly. Will it lead to more FSOs and better work-life balance? That’s my hope. The broader question, however, requires more work, more resources, and continued support from leadership. I don’t agree with everything in this new approach, but it is a big step forward, and one that requires continued vigilance. n