The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2021

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JULY-AUGUST 2021 53 USAID and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion I am thrilled that this FSJ edition is again focused on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). It’s a complex issue that is too often either ignored or, perhaps even worse, addressed with strong rhetoric combined with one- off actions, only to fade from view. This time the conversa- tion feels different, and I welcome the agency’s new DEI Strategic Plan— though I wish AFSA had been invited to contribute. I’d like to flag a few areas for thought—some a bit outside the “traditional” DEI realm—and I welcome your feedback. Data. USAID is fantastic at providing accessible, fungible and (pretty) clear data on our projects. But we have very little up-to-date, much less transparent, usable or public data on USAID’s workforce. While respecting privacy and security, USAID should publish employee data including numbers by loca- tion, diversity, hiring mecha- nisms, backstops, promotion trends, ranks and funding streams and budget costs. Data alone won’t fix DEI challenges, but it will help us better understand them. Better data will enable the agency to review current recruitment, onboarding, retention and promotion programs and undertake rigorous DEI barrier analysis with commensurate actions to correct deficiencies. And it would empower employees, NGOs, universities, employee resource groups, Congress and others to support USAID’s own DEI efforts— including accountability—so that challenges aren’t ignored or minimized. Foreign Service Promo- tion Boards. In 2020, the agency surprised AFSA and many FSOs when it changed from an all-volunteer to an all- appointed model for Foreign Service promotion boards. Further, appointments are now made through a “random selection process” from a subset of eligible FSOs. AFSA has heard from members concerned that this model would limit diversity on many levels, particularly as it excludes all FS-2s from participation. AFSA put forward several ideas to bring some transparency to the agency’s processes, criteria and rationale. The agency did not engage to our satis- faction, and AFSA filed an implementation dispute with the Foreign Service Grievance Board. As that process proceeds, we have tried to discuss the 2021 board composition, but have been told that the agency considers its bargain- ing obligations fulfilled. We are hopeful that the agency will constructively engage to improve the 2022 boards, and particularly DEI components, in a collabora- tive and transparent manner. FSO Equity: Recruitment and Salary. I confess I have much to learn when it comes to how we can effectively apply “equity” at USAID. The agency has never had a standardized, consistent FS recruitment process, nor do we (yet) maintain a roster of cleared, qualified candidates we can draw on to streamline the hiring process. Instead, we’ve seen a series of hiring initiatives and mechanisms that have brought in varying numbers of people in disparate back- stops at varying ranks/steps. To be clear: there are many dedicated (and underappre- ciated) colleagues working hard to recruit, onboard, orient, train and mentor new FSOs. But the lack of strategic workforce planning and insti- tutionalized career hiring poli- cies yield too many variations on the situation where “FSO A” with a decade or more of experience is hired at an FS-6 one year, while “FSO B” with less experience starts as an FS-5 the next year. These decisions affect FSOs’ financial and profes- sional situations over entire careers, not to mention imperil morale. Chances are that FSOs hired at any grade end up working in stretch positions for several tours, which complicates the situation further. We must do better to strengthen and institutionalize the career Foreign Service at USAID and rationalize our approaches to FS “talent management.” Career FSOs. For decades, USAID has lacked sufficient numbers of career FSOs to achieve its broad develop- ment mandate. In FY 2016, career FSOs made up nearly 20 percent of USAID’s workforce—not spectacular, but historically better than FY 2020’s 17.5 percent. In addition to quantitative chal- lenges, career FSOs have not as a rule been appointed to senior leadership positions in Washington as often as State counterparts. This matters. Fortunately, President Joe Biden—on his second day in office no less—issued Execu- tive Order 14003, affirming: “It is the policy of the United States to protect, empower, and rebuild the career federal workforce.”The question now is how Administrator Saman- tha Power and her team translate this presidential policy at USAID. I am heartened by—if a little envious—of State’s elevation of career FSOs to senior leadership positions, many requiring Senate confir- mation. Will USAID follow with FS assistant Administrators? FS chief human capital offi- cer? FS director of acquisition and assistance? Will the agency take the steps needed to robustly empower and rebuild a career Foreign Service that is diverse, inclusive and equitable? If so, Administrator Power will find no more willing and engaged partner than AFSA. n USAID VP VOICE | BY JASON SINGER AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 712-5267