The Foreign Service Journal - October 2017

50 OCTOBER 2017 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Getting the Job Done (During Chaotic Times) Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP. Contact: | (202) 647-8160 STATE VP VOICE | BY KENNETH KERO-MENTZ AFSA NEWS There’s no doubt that these are difficult times at State. We’ve heard that we are “not a highly disciplined organi- zation,” and that the State Department “was broken” when the current adminis- tration took office. The “Lis- tening Report” by Insigniam stated that the “system… treats people as tools, not human beings.” Concurrently, the depart- ment froze hiring for most positions in the Foreign and Civil Services, suspended several fellowship programs, slashed our promotion rates to historic lows and halted filling positions tradition- ally held by eligible family members (EFMs). Our daily work has become more difficult as a result of these actions. Yet, we are being told that somehow we are the prob- lem. Now, we all know that the State Department can improve, and would warmly welcome efforts to enhance efficiencies and streamline operations. But we are not the problem. Indeed, despite the swirl of these unprecedented challenges, the work of State continues. We hear from our members that you all continue to do your jobs, do them well, and have adapted to the administra- tion’s new policies, where they’ve been enunciated. We rightly take great pride as we head home each day. And deep down, we know that our work remains as important to the U.S. national interest and the American people as ever. After all, there is no B Team. Here at AFSA, as both your association and your union, we are continuously promoting the Foreign Service as the preeminent force that can most effec- tively advance diplomacy in the current complex global environment that we face today. For those of you who haven’t, please read the For- eign Service Act of 1980, or (if you don’t have time) Julie Nutter’s column reviewing the Act, on page 52. The FSA provides a statu- tory basis for the Foreign Service to participate– through AFSA–in the formu- lation of personnel policies and procedures affecting conditions of employment, as well as the grievance sys- tem to ensure due process for our members. Congress recognized the importance of AFSA, your union, as the entity which guards the For- eign Service—and you—in ways big and small. For instance, in response to the decision to suspend EFM hiring, we pushed long, loud and hard against that decision. As of this writing, the Secretary has autho- rized more than 800 posi- tions worldwide—still too few, but a vast improvement. In addition, we’ve been working to understand the impacts of new Fair Share requirements on tandem couples, those with medi- cal issues or whose family members cannot receive privileges and immunities. We’re also working with the employee group Balancing Act to convince the depart- ment to pay for non-concur- rent travel for the children of expecting mothers—which saves money and is less disruptive to families. And we’re pushing the Bureau of Medical Services to find creative ways to get Foreign Service employees to post while ensuring individual health, education and well- being concerns are appro- priately considered. While there are limits on what we can do, like you, we all work creatively to get the job done, even in the most chaotic of times. AFSA is also working on some of the bread-and-but- ter issues for our member- ship. AFSA’s labor manage- ment team receives about 75 requests for assistance weekly, ranging from routine inquiries to more serious matters. Some requests can be resolved through a few emails or phone exchanges, while others become longer- term cases involving a great deal of legal and technical skill to resolve. The cases run the gamut, but recent additions to the LM workload focus on employee evaluation reports and work place conflict, as well as tenure, assignment, financial debt, medical and security clearance issues. It’s a lot, but the great thing is that the AFSA staff and I really love trying to find solutions that can help our members. We know that at any point in our careers, things can go awry. Prob- lems arise. Mistakes are made. Bureaucracies falter. When that happens, when- ever possible, we’re here for you. And we’ve got the knowledge, experience and the law to back us up. So keep doing your work. Keep doing your best. Know that we’ve got your back. The American people continue to support us and the world still needs us. Be proud, and watch out for one another. Because it’s who we are, and it’s what makes us great. n Our work remains as important to the U.S. national interest and the American people as ever. After all, there is no B Team.