The Foreign Service Journal, September 2009

A FSA has a new board, and the dramatic recent suc- cesses regarding overseas comparability pay and do- mestic partner benefits remind us that the State Department, and our nation, have a new, more supportive leadership. That leadership has made it clear that it values our mission, and has demonstrated its willingness to in- crease support for the people essential to perform that mis- sion. The air is pregnant with potential. Our task is to realize that potential and develop it into a relationship with management that will serve the Foreign Service not only in the good times, but in the bad. As in strengthening any relationship, this requires us to look hard at who we are, what we want and what we bring to the table. The Foreign Service is a selfless group. Ours is a profession of national service. We serve our country, and in serving one’s country, one does not think of oneself. So when a matter arises that we perceive as unfair to our interests, we tend to suffer in silence. That is as it should be in our relationship to our nation. But it is not the basis for a healthy relationship with man- agement. Our willingness to subjugate our needs, in an ef- fort to stress our readiness to serve, allowed the past administration to develop procedures and practices preju- dicial to the members of the Service, and even to make po- litical hay at our expense. It is therefore important to redefine our relationship with management: to abandon old taboos, to establish bet- ter patterns of communication and to make it clear that we know the value of our own skills. We must build a rela- tionship with management in which both sides, including our own, understand the one thing that we must under- stand in order to interact on a more equal basis: The State Department is not the Foreign Service. We are. We, the people of the Foreign Service (and our col- leagues in the Civil Service), are not merely the State De- partment’s greatest resource; but in a very real sense, we are its only unique resource. Our abilities, our skills and our experiences are what the State Department brings to the table, whether that table is in the ministry of foreign affairs of an overseas nation, in another agency, in Congress or in the White House. And if we are distracted — if beneath our outward and legitimate pride of service there is an inner nagging sense that somehow, in some way, we are being wronged — then we, the tools through which the State Department’s mission is performed, will not operate as we should. A happier, more effective Foreign Service will be better able to repre- sent our country to the world, and our agency to the Amer- ican people and to Congress. This does not mean that we should be coddled, or that we should expect the department to give in to every individual desire. But it does mean that we should insist that the department follow its own rules and procedures, hold itself as accountable as it holds us, and review or revise procedures that yield biased or unfair results. AFSA should hold itself accountable, as well, and make itself more responsive to its membership. We are perceived by some as elitist, unresponsive and irrelevant. My imme- diate goal as State VP is to make AFSA more responsive to you: to make our activities and decisions more transparent. I intend to provide you with a greater opportunity to com- municate directly to me and to the State representatives on the board, to place agenda items before AFSA’s board, and to serve (by e-mail if necessary) on advisory committees dealing with issues of interest to you. Toward this end, I have redesigned the State vice presi- dent’s page on AFSA’sWeb site. It is a work-in-progress that will be updated continually; but I want it to serve as a means of two-way communication, as a resource for information and as a bulletin board for AFSA members. On it you will find ways to contact your State representatives, links to use- ful information and even a space to post messages to other AFSA members. In the coming weeks and months, I will be reaching out to you to ask for your thoughts and your participation as we work on issues important to you. Together, we will make AFSA a more responsive, more ef- fective representative of the State Foreign Service. ❏ The State Department is not the Foreign Service. We are. S E P T E M B E R 2 0 0 9 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 57 A F S A N E W S Toward a More Perfect Union V.P. VOICE: STATE ■ BY DANIEL HIRSCH