The Foreign Service Journal, September 2011

P age 168 of theQuadrennial Diplomacy andDevelopment Reviewreport states that “years of understaffing have pro- duced a significantmid-level experience gap at both State and USAID.” The “solution” proposed for USAID is to triple mid-level hiring from 30 to 95 per year. This is an example of the wrong solution for the wrong problem. This simplistic approach ignores the realityat the agency. Were it not for a dearth of promotions, there would be no need to fill mid-level positions. To join theForeignService,a significant num- ber of junior officers took a substantial cut in salary — in the tens of thousands of dollars—due to self-imposedUSAIDrules restricting new entries to the FS-6 grade. These are profession- alswith advanceddegrees,many of whomhave seven to10 years of previous relevant experience. The State Department, by contrast, has a much more rea- sonable junior officer policy, hiring talent up to the FS-4 salary level. Themain difference between the two systems is that State considers education and experience in setting starting salaries, while USAID insists on using complicated formulas to eval- uate previous earning history. In almost all cases, USAID’s entry-level FS employees getmuch lower starting salaries,which almost seems to be a punishment for those who took the time and spent the money to get advanced degrees or gain valu- able experience working for low-paying organizations such as the Peace Corps or nongovernmental organizations. We have heard reports of newUSAIDFSOs sleeping in their cars, seeking roommates, or asking friends, families and banks for loans just to survive during their time in Washington, D.C. junior officers are constantly visitingmyoffice,reporting that they are close to bankruptcy due to the fact that they, their spouses (unemployed),and their childrenmust liveonabarebones income while waiting to be deployed overseas. Many have families who pulled up roots from other parts of the country, tried to sell or rent their former homes, had spouses quit their jobs, and gave up day-care or education options for their children to move to this new environment. The question has to be asked — why don’t USAID junior officers receivemanyof the same employment benefits and rights conferredonState colleagueswithwhomweworkmoreandmore closely? We have tried to get the agency to,at aminimum,adopt the same criteriausedby theStateDepartment todetermine entry level salaries for junior officers — start at the FS-5, Step 5 level, and thenconsiderhigher salary steps dependingonrelevant expe- rience and previous salary, if applicable. Inmy opinion,continuing topay junior officers substandard salaries borders on institutionalized abuse. Ironically,theQDDR and USAID Forward reports both address talent management and retention of talent at the agency. However, current USAID policies do not support the latter objective. The agency’s solution to solve the misperceived problem of a gap in mid-level talent is to hire a huge number of new offi- cers at the FS-2 and FS-3 levels. This will only add salt to the wounds of those who sacrificed and accepted lower grades and are now being leapfrogged by others with the same or, in some cases, even less previous professional experience. In addition,the policy of hiringmid-level professionals from outsideUSAIDwill blockpromotionopportunities for thosewho have beenpatientlywaiting their turn,because the agency strives to maintain a staffing pyramid with fewer salary grades at the top. AFSA,of course,supports all ForeignService employeeshired by the agency, including those at mid-levels. In fact, the mid- levelswho are currently hiredwere brought into the agencywith the full support of AFSA, based on an analysis of hiring needs at that time. But again, the problem at USAID is not a gap of mid-level talent — the talent it is already there. Rather, USAID needs to promote more of those who are already on staff and deserving of promotion. This addresses the right problemand is the right solution. AFSA recently sent a letter to the director general of the Foreign Service, Ambassador Nancy Powell, requesting that the Board of the Foreign Service take up this issue but was deferred back to the agency. We will continue meeting with USAID management to change this unacceptable situation. In themeantime, I welcome your comments; please send them to V.P. VOICE: USAID BY FRANCISCO ZAMORA QDDR: Closing the Experience Gap? 50 F OR E I GN S E R V I C E J OU R N A L / S E P T EMB E R 2 0 1 1 A F S A N E W S