The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2021

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JULY-AUGUST 2021 57 AFSA NEWS AFSA Retention, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Recommendations In recent months, AFSA invited members to com- plete both a survey on bias in the workplace and a survey on retention in the Foreign Service. Using the feedback we received from these two surveys and from an exten- sive round of consultations with employee affinity and resource groups, AFSA has identified a list of priority advocacy items to promote improved retention, diversity, equity and inclusion in the U.S. Foreign Service. We chose to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion as retention issues because a lack of attention to these principles corrodes the integrity of the Foreign Ser- vice and, eventually, drives individuals to leave prema- turely. This vicious cycle ends up disrupting the lives of our Foreign Service families, ulti- mately damaging the founda- tions of the institution. The composition of the list reflects AFSA’s unique strengths as a union and professional association. The proposals stem from the responsibilities inherent in our role as the sole bargain- ing agent for the Foreign Service. As much as possible, we based our recommenda- tions on existing data or made them contingent on the results of ongoing pilot projects. In some instances, our advocacy will be used to support the initiatives of other groups better placed to execute them.    AFSA recommends that the measures below be taken to arrest the problem of declining retention and to restore and repair morale in the Foreign Service. A Larger Foreign Service. AFSA recommends that Foreign Service staffing be increased, that a combined total of up to 1,000 State Department Foreign Service officer and Foreign Service specialist positions be added, as well as 650 additional USAID FSO positions. We understand some of the position growth would be in support of capacities to address larger personnel numbers. We recommend that the Foreign Service element at AFSA’s other constituent agencies—the Department of Commerce, Agriculture, the Animal and Plant Inspection Service and the U.S. Agency for Global Media—should also be enlarged. A larger Service would mean the United States could better meet 21st century global diplomatic challenges. More positions would add to promotion opportunities at some grades and within larger specialties such as Diplomatic Security and office management spe- cialist; increase diversity; help achieve a more family- friendly work culture; and realize a training float. Creation of New Foreign Service Specialties. Along with a larger Service, AFSA recommends creation of new categories of specialists in fields needed to fill expertise gaps such as cybersecurity and data science. We recom- mend that hiring for the skills gaps recognize the need for specialized advanced degrees and a high skill level, with entry at classes FS-2 or FS-1. A More Flexible, Family- Friendly Foreign Service. Family issues are paramount if retention is to be strength- ened. • Foreign affairs agencies should adopt clear policies in domestic and overseas environments that permit appropriate telework and remote work agreements and streamline the Domestic Employees Teleworking Over- seas assignment process. • Agencies should immediately authorize a modernization of the Foreign Affairs Manual’s technology and security policy to better support mobile/remote work, and an improved technol- ogy and telework subsidy for all employees to support blended work environments and remote work. • Agencies should focus on more equitable treatment of tandems in assignments; permanent clearances for family member employees; and increased fungibility between agency positions (e.g., State economic FSOs working as Economic Growth USAID FSOs or Commerce FSOs and vice versa). A More Transparent and Streamlined Assignments System. Respondents to the AFSA bias and retention surveys point to the bidding and assignments process as prone to bias and one of the leading reasons why FS members would seriously consider leaving the Service. AFSA recommends: • the use of a central- ized, algorithmic preference matching system; • the standardization of all aspects of the assignments process, from interview ques- tions to position descriptions; and • a much more trans- parent and independently reviewed assignment preclu- sion (restriction) decision- making process. A Less-Biased Employee Evaluation Report and Promotion Process. EERs, the pace of promotions and the promotion process reli- ably appear as the top three drivers of discontent in the Foreign Service. In summer 2021, AFSA will negotiate the core precepts with State Department management. • AFSA will support transi- tion of the current perfor- mance pay box on the EER for the SFS to one focused on institution building, includ- ing creating an institutional culture that values diversity and inclusion. Continued on page 60