The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2023

AFSA NEWS 60 JULY-AUGUST 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Looking Back on Four Years as State VP STATE VP VOICE | BY TOM YAZDGERDI AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 647-8160 legislation that provided ben- efits to those suffering from Anomalous Health Incidents (AHIs)—I realize that access was critical to those results. We continue to have regu- lar meetings with the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources (D-MR), the Under Secretary for Manage- ment (M), and the Director General and her staff, among many others. Many of these senior officials are also AFSA members. They realize the importance of AFSA and respect what we do, not least because more than 80 percent of active-duty FS members have joined our ranks. Of course, we may not always come to agreement, but there is an open dialogue and willingness to engage. Freedom to engage with Congress and the media. When we engage with Capitol Hill or the media or any out- side organization, there is no need to clear anything with anyone—a liberating depar- ture from State Department policy. As an AFSA elected offi- cial, I speak for AFSA and not the department. AFSA pur- sues its own agenda for our members in a way that we deem most likely to succeed. Of course, we are careful to comment only on personnel issues and not on matters of foreign policy, which is not our writ, although admittedly it is sometimes difficult to find that dividing line. When AFSA President Eric Rubin, an old friend who I had known since joining the State Department in 1991, called me in January 2019 and asked if I would consider running for AFSA State vice president, my first impres- sion was: His timing is great … how does he know that I still don’t have an onward assignment? I am so glad he called. Without that call, I would not have had the incredible and rewarding experience of the last four years working with such a talented and commit- ted group of elected officials representing AFSA’s six member agencies and with the amazing AFSA profes- sional staff that makes it all happen. Access is key. AFSA is a service organization whose goal is to achieve good outcomes for our members on both a collective and individual basis. For that to happen, we need access not only to high-level depart- ment officials but to influen- tial members of Congress and the national media. When I look at our big wins—a much better Special Needs Education Allowance (SNEA) process; getting 20 hours of administrative leave per pay period during the COVID-19 pandemic; ensuring funding for the legal expenses of our members who had to testify during the Ukraine impeachment hearings; and HAVANA Act Influential members in Congress from both parties want to know what AFSA thinks should be included in legislation that affects For- eign Service work, as well as our opinion on critical issues such as the department’s assignment restrictions policy and if members suffer- ing from AHIs are getting the treatment they need. Now that we have started to have annual State Depart- ment authorization bills, this engagement is more impor- tant than ever. AFSA engages with major media to communicate our views and help get the changes we need. Like Con- gress, the media wants to know what AFSA thinks and has often sought us out for comment. We used this to good effect to spur the depart- ment, for example, to devote more people and resources to resolving the myriad problems caused by the 2021 introduction of a new payroll system. I am con- vinced that this engagement produced a better outcome for members, ensuring that all affected were made whole by receiving interest on back pay. Looking forward. As of this writing in mid-May, I have just learned that I was elected AFSA president for the 2023-2025 Governing Board term. I am deeply hon- ored and appreciative of the trust placed in me. I hope to follow the example of AFSA President Rubin, whose wise counsel and collegial outlook led us through some tumul- tuous and unprecedented times. I look forward to work- ing with the new Governing Board and using the experi- ence and contacts I have gained in the last four years to earn even more wins for members. (More to come on that in my September 2023 President’s View column.) In the meantime, have a great summer and please keep your comments, ques- tions, and requests for assis- tance coming to member@ n Influential members in Congress from both parties want to know what AFSA thinks should be included in legislation that affects Foreign Service work.