The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2024

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JULY AUGUST 2024 51 FAS VP VOICE | BY LISA AHRAMJIAN AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 841-7744 Ushering in the Next Chapter As I prepare to settle into my next assignment on the world’s most populous island, Java, my tenure as FAS vice president is drawing to a close. When reflecting on the past two and a half years, I’m proudest of being a strong and diplomatic advocate for change at a time when such a voice was needed. For each of the following priorities, I ensured that AFSA’s proposed solutions would provide long-term benefits to FAS and its FSOs. Correction of payroll issues: After being elected, I quickly sought to address pervasive and complex payroll issues stemming from organizational changes at headquarters. As a result of AFSA’s persistent advocacy, including to Secretary Tom Vilsack, FAS has reportedly resolved more than 100 complex errors affecting FSOs, with interest on back pay. In addition, FAS has implemented significant process improvements to prevent future payroll issues during FSO transfers. Senior Foreign Service (SFS) pay: Based on member requests, AFSA requested and negotiated an agency directive with FAS that outlines how USDA’s executive pay policy is applied to its SFS officers. USDA’s performance pay cash awards (only 33 percent of SFS officers can receive these by statute) are now decoupled from performance-based salary adjustments, which allows more SFS officers to receive higher salary adjustment percentages. The agency directive is also a big step forward in transparency, allowing current and aspiring SFS members to understand the nuances of SFS pay. Renegotiation of our collective bargaining agreement (CBA): Last substantively renegotiated in 1995, our CBA includes procedures on the key topics for FAS FSOs: assignments, selection boards, and timein-class/service limitations. Reaching agreement to renegotiate the CBA was transformational; after so many years, changing the foundation of our system is monumental, divisive, and unmooring for many. I negotiated the ground rules and portions to be reworked or created, including 37 articles and several agency directives. To ensure FSO viewpoints were incorporated, I formed FSO teams for the more contentious articles and provided regular progress updates. Ongoing negotiations continue to build upon this bedrock. FS-designated positions: It is no secret that the biggest change AFSA is seeking through CBA renegotiations is the establishment of Foreign Service–designated positions at headquarters, as required by the Foreign Service Act. In alignment with other Foreign Service agencies, this would reserve influential seats at the table for FSOs at headquarters and allow FSOs to bid on them in our annual cycle. Most FSOs are temporarily assigned to Civil Service positions just before returning to HQ, which does not provide necessary predictability in our up-or-out system. Currently, there is also no mechanism by which FSOs can apply for a different headquarters position while stationed in D.C. These topics remain active areas of negotiations. Future of the Foreign Service: Throughout my term, I have focused on protecting the long-term health of the FAS Foreign Service. My advocacy has spanned the FSO lifecycle, including diversity-focused recruitment, sufficient hiring via a rigorous and impartial assessment process, and multipronged morale and retention improvements. In addition, when faced with unexpected Fiscal Year 2024 cuts, AFSA asked USDA leadership to prioritize increased budgetary flexibilities. Without sufficient personnel, funding, and other resources, we risk the doors we’ve opened to U.S. agricultural exports being slammed shut. These remain active topics of focus and engagement. It has been an honor representing the small but mighty FAS Foreign Service. None of the above would have been possible without our member engagement to help me navigate these complexities while staying true to the goal of pursuing changes that provide long-term benefits to FAS and its FSOs. Beyond FAS, it was immensely rewarding to chair the Legal Defense Fund, which provides financial support to members experiencing legal issues of significant institutional importance to the Foreign Service. I’m proud to have helped provide such assistance to several AFSA members unfortunate enough to need it. Succeeding me will be Evan Mangino, a dedicated and experienced advocate who will maintain our momentum on these topics while tackling emerging opportunities and challenges. You’ll be hearing from him in subsequent issues (which I may be reading as I sit in Jakarta’s legendary traffic jams). To all AFSA members, thank you for your membership and for your outstanding service safeguarding our nation’s security. In addition, many thanks to my fellow Governing Board members and AFSA’s excellent team for your collaboration and support. Cheers to the next 100 years! n