The Foreign Service Journal, September 2006

S E P T E M B E R 2 0 0 6 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 5 A year ago the Foreign Service was abuzz about then- Director General W. Robert Pearson’s signature initiative, the State Department’s highly- touted new Career Develop- ment Programs. The CPDs were, inter alia, the depart- ment’s solution to the challenges of staffing unaccompanied and severe hardship posts, creating “a Foreign Service for the 21st century.” There was strong support throughout the Service for the CDPs. They were viewed as bringing the system into sync with reality, improving the assignments system’s fairness, and finally putting some teeth into the long-ridiculed “fair share” rules for service at hardship posts. In a town hall meeting, DG Pearson agreed that the CDPs obviat- ed the need for fair-share rules in the future. It is now clear, however, that the department views the CDPs as a medi- um- to long-term solution that is not relevant to its acute short-term staffing needs. Because unaccompanied tours are for only 12 months and, at almost 800, they now represent over a quarter of all positions opening next year, the pressure to staff them is relentless as the same jobs reappear every cycle. Secretary Rice has started saying the Foreign Service is becoming “more expeditionary.” It is hardly surprising that she wants to bring the assignments system into conformance with her transformational diplomacy concept. As I write in early August, AFSA is in the process of negotiating elements of a major State Department ini- tiative to re-engineer the assign- ments process. The first shoe to drop was a ban, with a few limited exceptions, on tour-of- duty extensions at posts below the 15- percent hardship differential level. Other department proposals in- clude: turning the cycle’s timing inside out so that the toughest positions to staff are addressed first; minimizing and delaying “handshake” commit- ments between bureaus and individu- als; tightening up the still-on-the-books fair-share program by eliminating low- differential posts and ending further consultations before paneling; CDOs becoming much more aggressive in arm-twisting and jawboning; and, in what is easily the most sensitive pro- posal, changing the 6/8 year limits on Washington service to 5/6 years. AFSA and State share a strong desire to maintain the present system of staffing all positions for tenured per- sonnel on a voluntary basis. We recog- nize the Secretary’s authority to move to directed assignments if she chooses. In an era when the department places great emphasis on sound management practices, though, the advantages of having personnel where they want to be are obvious in productivity and morale terms. We in AFSA have decided to work closely and constructively with the department to support its assignment objectives while preserving a system that lives up to State’s publicly articu- lated priorities of being employee- and family-friendly. We all agree that getting the best qualified personnel to the highest pri- ority positions is a worthy objective. The reality, though, is that neither State nor any other part of the USG have anywhere near the number of qualified people they need for Iraq or other war-zone service. The recently released GAO report on foreign-lan- guage shortfalls reveals this starkly. We simply do not have enough Arabic speakers with Middle East experience for the 300 positions at Embassy Baghdad and the PRTs every summer, much less the rest of the region with similar needs. The FS assignment system needs to remain a fair, effective mechanism for staffing all posts around the world, not just Iraq. It would be dangerous and wrong to allow short-term exigencies to undermine the department’s long-term ability to meet its broader mission, regardless of the wildly inappropriate allegations by some in certain other USG departments that the state of Iraq today is somehow due to State’s “failing to step up.” The department is in a huge rush to make these changes, which amount to an “Iraq tax” on all personnel akin to what the bureaus have paid in bud- getary terms over the past few years. We need to make sure that we all understand their implications and that unintended consequences are mini- mized. AFSA urges the department to allow the CDPs and all the special Iraq service incentives approved over the past year to have their desired effect. P RESIDENT ’ S V IEWS Square Pegs, Round Holes B Y J. A NTHONY H OLMES J. Anthony Holmes is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.