The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2020

90 JULY-AUGUST 2020 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL AFSA NEWS The State Department has eliminated a mandatory quota requiring selection boards to low rank a cer- tain percentage of Foreign Service officers each year. AFSA’s Labor Management team has been seeking removal of the quota for sev- eral years. The move takes effect in time for this year’s selection boards. The department instituted the mandatory quota in the 1990s, requiring that five percent of employees being reviewed be low ranked. The quota was lowered in 2010 to two percent, in part due to AFSA’s advocacy. A low ranking means that the selection board found the person reviewed did not meet the standards of his or her class and thus fell into the bottom five percent of the class of officers reviewed. When it was first imple- mented, State Depart- ment officials believed the low-ranking system would ensure a better flow of offi- cers through the up-or-out system, and that the selec- tion boards would be able to identify people who fell short of the standards. Selection boards issue a written low-ranking state- ment that is based on the procedural precepts that AFSA negotiates with the department each year. Those precepts govern the selection boards, including how they are composed, when and how State Department Drops Mandatory Low Ranking often they meet, and what the criteria are for promotion or low ranking. Traditionally, while a low ranking means only that a person is not recommended for promotion that year, it can also lead to an officer’s separation from the Foreign Service. If an officer receives two low rankings within five years, their case is sent to a Performance Standards Board that determines whether that person should be separated for failing to meet the standards of their class. Selection boards also have the power to directly refer someone via the low- ranking process to the PSB without having to wait for the two-in-five-year referral. Historically, around 80 to 100 people with low rankings have been referred to the PSB each year, and eight to 15 people might be recom- mended for separation. While selection boards will still be able to low rank officers, the boards no longer need to meet arbitrary quotas. AFSA believes this is a much more natural way for boards to proceed, and we hope it will reduce the number of grievances, as well as anxiety and stress in employees. —Zlatana Badrich, Senior Staff Attorney, Labor Management