The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2023

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JULY-AUGUST 2023 61 AFSA NEWS USAID VP VOICE | BY JASON SINGER AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 712-5267 (Best) Places to Work—Let’s Do Better Each day, we are inspired by our agency’s mission, even as we and our families face professional and personal challenges over the course of our careers. As we strive each day to improve the lives of others, we also seek to improve USAID’s operations and systems. In this context, the Partnership for Public Service’s (PPS) annual “Best Places to Work” 2022 rankings point to some very real challenges that war- rant our attention, includ- ing that USAID is ranked 23 out of 27 on the overall “Engagement and Satisfac- tion Score” among mid-size agencies. I am hopeful that we can use this data to learn and rededicate efforts toward the shared goal of strengthening our agency. A quick technical note: The “Best Places to Work” rankings are based on the scores of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and are produced by PPS in conjunction with the Boston Consulting Group. Per the site, “the rank- ings and data give leaders a way to measure employee engagement and satisfaction across the federal work- force.” For those interested in more details, methodol- ogy, and comparisons to other agencies, please visit the PPS website. And keep in mind that the past few years have been unusual (!) for all public servants and our places of work, no doubt influencing scores and perceptions. A range of challenges are reflected in the select set of USAID scores and ranking for the past two years, as shown in the chart. The “Empowerment” subcategory measures the extent to which employees feel empowered with respect to work processes, and how satisfied they are with their involvement in decisions that affect their work. USAID’s score decline here is concerning, particu- larly in light of President Joe Biden’s oft-repeated dec- laration: “It is the policy of the United States to protect, empower, and rebuild the career federal workforce.” To be clear, I firmly believe the agency wants employees to feel empowered; more frequent and deeper consul- tations with employees and active listening will help, and I am hopeful that USAID’s “burden busting” initiative will further engage employ- ees and strengthen their sense of empowerment. “Pay” is always a sensi- tive issue, particularly in the Foreign Service, where we are paid based on a “rank-in- person” versus “rank-in-posi- tion” basis. Many, if not most, USAID FSOs serve large portions of their careers in positions of higher rank than their personal grades, with no extra pay or recognition come promotion time. Colleagues in USAID’s Human Capital and Talent Management (HCTM) Office are looking at this dynamic, but the agency’s myriad hiring mechanisms make “pay equity” a particularly complex and thorny issue. Our rank and score-drop in “Teamwork” warrants agency attention. No doubt remote work, telework, hybrid meetings, and chang- ing workplace dynamics have complicated commu- nications, collaboration, and camaraderie. Nonetheless, our mission cannot be achieved without strong, sustained teamwork, and we need to get to the root causes and do better. What will be the effect if and when the agency moves toward increased in-person work? Stay tuned. Finally, worrisome to me both as an FSO and as AFSA’s VP, is our rank of “23 out of 24” in “work-life bal- ance,” measuring “the extent to which employees consider their workloads reasonable, and managers support a bal- ance between work and life.” This has long been a con- cern at USAID, where many sacrifice self-care in pur- suit of the agency’s goals. Understaffing and inability to prioritize and bureaucrati- cally triage our work, despite periodic attempts, leave people overstretched and under-resourced. It is not in USAID’s nature to say no or postpone action—but we must take care of our people. The “Best Places to Work” results highlight a lot of con- cerns—and that’s OK. USAID does not shy away from challenges, and I am hopeful that we can come together, openly acknowledge the issues, dedicate necessary resources to them, and continuously improve our agency for all. n Category Rank 2022 2021 2022 vs 2021 Score Effective Leadership: Empowerment 16 of 24 54.3 59.1 -4.8 Effective Leadership: Supervisors 20 of 24 82.9 84 -1.1 Pay 16 of 24 60.4 65.4 -5 Teamwork 21 of 24 73.3 74.6 -1.3 Work-Life Balance 23 of 24 66.7 67.3 -0.6 Performance: Agency 19 of 23 77.1 78.9 -1.8