The Foreign Service Journal, September 2017

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | SEPTEMBER 2017 67 FAS VP VOICE | BY KIMBERLY SAWATZKI AFSA NEWS Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA FAS VP. Contact: | (202) 720-3650 As a second-generation FAS Foreign Service officer, embassies and the Foreign Agricultural Service have been a major part of my entire life. They are not just places of employment, but the foundation of who I am today. Since my earliest memo- ries, they have instilled in me a sense of purpose, duty, joy and pride. My love and loyalty to my country, the Foreign Service and FAS’ mission have driven me to serve as the AFSA Vice President for FAS. I want to work alongside AFSA colleagues from all of the foreign affairs agencies to be the face of the Foreign Service, demonstrate that strong diplomacy is critical for U.S. interests, publicize Seeking Solutions and Sustainability the great work we do to the new administration and the public, and protect our retirement benefits that are currently under threat. I am excited for the opportunity to advocate on behalf of FAS Foreign Service officers and build a strong, sustainable and compassionate Foreign Service. My “to-do list” includes fixing the time-in-service issue (22 years vs. 27 years) that penalizes top perform- ers; ensuring that there are good job opportunities for Washington-bound FSOs; exploring issues such as giving credit for long-term training and limited career extensions; improving training opportunities; engaging with manage- ment to strengthen FAS; and ensuring that we all work in a diverse and inclusive work- place. Foreign Agricultural Ser- vice officers are a creative, passionate and dedicated bunch, and I am confident that we can come up with innovative ways to solve the challenges facing us, both current and future. One of the first challenges I would like to address is the current shortage of FO-1s and FO-2s, which means that we do not have enough officers to fill our positions overseas. Forced assign- ments may help fill those slots, but at what cost? The practice of forced assignments encourages more retirements, thereby exacerbating the problem, and sends the message to all FSOs that the agency may “reward” your decades of dedicated service with a forced assignment. So how do we fill the positions? As a start, I suggest that FAS management pursue a Re-Employed Annuitants (REA or When Actually Employed) program for retirees to come back to work temporarily to fill gaps, including during transitions so FSOs can take the home leave and training they need for onward assignments. I am eager to talk with FAS Foreign Service officers, to hear your concerns and suggested solutions. Send your thoughts and ideas to me at kim.sawatzki@usda. gov. n groups in urging Congress to moderate that package of cuts. Education: As director of State’s Office of Retirement, I spent a lot of time helping employees and retirees get out of holes they had dug for themselves due to their lack of knowledge of the laws and regulations govern- ing retirement benefits. As Retiree VP, I plan to expand AFSA’s efforts to educate members so they can avoid such problems. Member Services: When members do encounter problems with retirement benefits, I will work with AFSA’s retiree counselor and Labor Management Office to assist them. To resolve issues, I will meet with the Office of Retirement and, if needed, travel to Charles- ton, South Carolina, to meet with the Retirement Accounts Division. Outreach: Retirees play an important role in speak- ing out in defense of the career Foreign Service and in supporting funding for diplomacy and development. Toward that end, I will work with AFSA’s new retiree out- reach coordinator to expand advocacy efforts by retirees with a goal of developing a domestic constituency for the Foreign Service. Community: As a mem- ber of the Foreign Affairs Retirees of Northern Vir- ginia, I see the value of such groups around the nation in bringing together Foreign Service veterans to continue the camaraderie we felt while on active duty. I will encourage AFSA to assist those groups in expanding their membership. If you need assistance or have suggestions, you can reach me at naland@afsa. org. AFSA’s Retiree Counselor Todd Thurwachter can be reached at thurwachter@afsa. org and (202) 944-5509. n Retiree VP Voice, Continued from page 66