The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2012

20 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / J U LY- A U G U S T 2 0 1 2 efforts to increase interagency training, especially with the Agency for International Develop- ment, and to make FSI’s online courses more user-friendly. Foreign Service employees who responded to AFSA’s survey had numerous suggestions to ad- dress training shortfalls. Stuart Denyer, for example, says that his own experience at State — he was a civil servant for a decade before joining the Foreign Service — shows that the department could make better use of Civil Service personnel by giving them short-term assignments overseas when it has staffing gaps, perhaps resurrecting the old idea of a Foreign Service Reserve. Lisa Swenarski suggests offering more foreign lan- guage training at post, creating an immersion experience that will help officers learn more efficiently. And she says the department would do well to add transfer seasons to the existing summer and winter peaks. Staggered trans- fers, she believes, would allow more time for training. AFSA has long argued that State leaders need to wrest more control over training from posts, whose interests are focused on their immediate needs rather than on the professional development of career officers. That hasn’t yet happened, but AFSA was successful in inserting lan- guage into the promotion precepts rewarding supervisors who think in terms of developing their subordinates’ skills. The surge of online course offerings, observes AFSA State VP Daniel Hirsch, is not the solution, unless offi- cers are given more incentive to take the classes. Given the strain on officers overseas, “time is a valuable com- modity,” he says. “People are unlikely to take online courses without compensation, such as overtime pay,” he comments. “That is not because they are lazy, or greedy, or unwilling to better themselves. It is because employees overseas have far less free time than those in Washington, and they have at least as much to do with that time — to take care of basic needs — as folks back home.” The American Academy of Diplomacy, in its 2010 re- port, offered other ideas to improve Foreign Service training. The department could make a clear statement about the value of training, for example, by simply re- quiring more of it, the report said — if the resources are available to carry out the training. In AAD’s view, given the large number of officers with less than a decade of experience, it’s crucial that training be given priority over other staffing requirements. Even with resource constraints, the Academy believes the depart- ment could strengthen the Office of Career Development and As- signments in its Bureau of Hu- man Resources by bringing on new staff to better coor- dinate assignment patterns with long-term strategic plans. “The personnel system needs to take a stronger hand to ensure proper training,” says Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann, the academy’s president. “Right now, it’s self- monitored by the officer.” Given the dearth of mid-career officers, a legacy of the hiring drought in the 1990s, the Academy also sug- gests creating a temporary corps of roving counselors, drawn from recently retired officers who can remain abroad for periods of several weeks or months, to pro- vide counseling, advice and career guidance to new offi- cers. Neumann says that State has been blessed by the fact that senior officers willingly mentor their juniors. But now, given the gap in the ranks of mid-career officers, even that approach is at risk. “We’ve essentially had an apprenticeship system,” he says. “But when two-thirds of your officers have less than 10 years of experience, it can’t work that way anymore.” Such challenges are real. Fortunately, FSI still has a sizable budget to work with as it seeks to expand language training and course offerings in leadership development, project management and public diplomacy. Likewise, the Foreign Service is still about 17 percent bigger than before Diplomacy 3.0 launched in 2008. At the same time, overseas staffing demands may finally be ebbing as the United States reduces its commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, perhaps the long-awaited training float will finally materialize. But Whiteside cautions it’s still too early for the For- eign Service to get its hopes up. “That’s not yet the world we live in,” she points out. ■ F OCUS About 160 FSOs are currently taking long-term training, while others are pursuing details outside State or taking after-hours seminars or other courses.