The Foreign Service Journal, September 2023

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | SEPTEMBER 2023 55 AFSA NEWS USAID VP VOICE | BY RANDY CHESTER Contact: | (202) 712-5267 Advancing the Best Interests of USAID FSOs Many thanks to the USAID Foreign Service community for putting its trust in me to be your AFSA representative. I want to thank Jason Singer for his exceptional leadership these past four years, for helping my transition to vice president, and for his continued support of AFSA and USAID. Additionally, I want to thank all the staff at AFSA, especially Sue Bremner, for their efforts supporting USAID FSOs. Finally, I want to recognize the efforts of the USAID FSOs and their role in organizing, educating, and promoting an inclusive work environment, work-life balance, and most importantly, USAID’s development agenda. Returning to the U.S. after 17 years overseas, I know my concerns and some of yours, but by no means do I know the entirety of USAID FSO concerns. When this column goes to print, my transition to VP will still be underway, as I take the time to learn, listen, meet, and understand the issues facing USAID FSOs. As I said during the election, my priorities as vice president include: • Improving transparency, accountability, and effectiveness of the promotion and assignments process; • Advocating for a strategic workforce plan addressing Foreign Service staffing requirements, recruitment, and retention; • Promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) in leadership, teleworking, alternative work schedules, entitlement and official travel, and eldercare/ childcare; • Engaging leadership on other work-life balance and workplace issues; • Recruiting and empowering FSOs for senior domestic positions, currently vacant or held by political appointees; and • Ensuring the rights of FSOs are protected and promoted in all matters. Many of these issues will always be works in progress, a fact that only underscores the need for continued advocacy and dialogue. The pandemic highlighted the importance of promoting work-life balance and assisting FSOs to reach their professional goals. Now, as Washington, D.C., moves into a post-pandemic work posture, it is essential that we diligently protect the workplace gains we made. We must work with management to: institutionalize workplace flexibilities; improve effective technology use for the hybrid environment; and enhance a positive workplace environment built on trust and mutual respect while maintaining our collective high standards and productivity, demonstrating cost savings, and increasing staff morale. It is also important that we continue to dialogue with the leadership on needed changes to the hiring, promotion, and assignments process. Unilateral actions often have negative results and increase mistrust. For example, in March, the Office of Human Capital and Talent Management (HCTM) announced the addition of a new DEIA core skill requirement for FSO evaluations, without any meaningful discussion with or input from the FSO community. This prompted a strong reaction from FSOs around the world, with more than 600 FSOs signing a letter requesting dialogue and discussion—a reaction that highlights the need for management and staff to listen, communicate, and understand. As a result, full implementation of the new core skill has been delayed until the 2024-2025 rating period, and HCTM is now working with a community of FSOs to develop the needed guidance, tools, and training materials for a smooth rollout. This successful effort shows how rank-and-file and AFSA can work together to promote change and dialogue. Working together with a single strong voice, we can ensure that all employees, regardless of hiring mechanism, are provided equitable opportunities to succeed in an inclusive, accessible, and supportive environment. Finally, it is important that we maintain vigilance, protecting and promoting our agency’s core values, no matter the tenor or tone of the administration in power. But without constant dialogue and advocacy, policies and practice can and will change. Currently, certain activity on the Hill gives me pause, namely efforts to: force all federal employees to return to the office full-time, reduce Foreign Service pensions and restructure the Thrift Savings Plan; and replace the current salary step structure with a “merit-based” structure. As USAID VP, I will work with you to strengthen the current system, promote and protect the balance between career and personal lives, provide support navigating the promotion and assignments processes, lead or assist FSOs in our collective dialogue with leadership, aid employees struggling through the grievance process, and address your other concerns. Together, we will meet the challenges facing a 21st century post-pandemic workforce. Thank you again for entrusting me with the role of AFSA USAID VP. You can reach me at rchester@, or by stopping at our AFSA office in the Ronald Reagan Building. We are here to support you. n