The Foreign Service Journal, October 2022

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | OCTOBER 2022 55 AFSA NEWS USAID VP VOICE | BY JASON SINGER AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 712-5267 Promoting an Improved Process Most institutions have some form of employee evaluation, and some may argue that our promotion system, with all the anxiety, reflection, and confusion it sometimes causes, is simply one “cost” of a Foreign Service career. But this doesn’t mean that it should not be improved, made more transparent, and implemented with a focus on FSOs both as people who grow and change and as agency “human capital.” While promotion boards are an annual event, USAID must work toward centering the overall promotion process around an FSO’s more than 20-year career pathway and broader agency strategic workforce planning. The process in a nut- shell. Each year promotion boards review the perfor- mance files for promotion- eligible FSOs to assess which are ready for immediate promotion (A rating), which are meeting the standards of performance of their class but are not competitive for promotion (B rating), and which are failing to meet the standards of performance of their class (C rating), in accordance with ADS 463 and ADS 463mai, Precepts for Foreign Service Promotion Boards. The boards are not limited in how many As, Bs, or Cs they award, nor do they know how many promotion slots are available for each rank. They take their roles seri- ously, digesting huge amounts of current and prior-year information such as annual accomplishment records (AARs) and associated oper- ating unit context statements, annual performance evalua- tions (APEs), and multisource ratings (MSRs). Five-year performance evaluation files also include: an employee’s training record, awards, assignment history, disciplinary actions (decision letters), and language scores. Challenging scores and board results . As AFSA’s Labor Management site notes: “Probably the most frequent cause of complaints in the grievance system is the unfairness which Foreign Ser- vice employees often perceive in the evaluations periodically written on their performance.” Understanding the reasons for a board’s rating of a given employee can be challenging. Promotion board members rightly do not discuss specifics; and since both board members and the cohort of promotion-eligible FSOs change each year, it can be difficult to determine individual trends and identify recurring strengths and weaknesses. A successful challenge of promotion results is both rare and difficult. The Foreign Affairs Manual (3 FAM 4412) clearly states that simply disagreeing with a board’s finding is not grounds for a grievance. But a procedural violation may well be. Errors of both process and sub- stance do happen, and the Office of Human Capital and Talent Management (HCTM), AFSA, and the boards themselves are committed to addressing these. What’s next? The agency strives to manage a fair, efficient process, and promo- tion board members—most of whom are senior USAID FSOs—take their roles extremely seriously. HCTM has bolstered its support for the process, including creation of an ad hoc task team dedicated to improv- ing policies, procedures, and practices. Unfortunately, the task team is not yet permanent; its operational status is unclear, and it is under-resourced, overstretched, and subject to short-term influences and external pressures. The agency has taken some positive steps: HCTM introduced individualized report cards, conducts a growing number of webi- nars, and produces ample supplemental guidance and materials. A highly anticipated report on historical promotion data should be released soon, clarifying some macro-level promotion trends. And the agency has enhanced— though not enough—the roles and authorities of assign- ments and career counselors (ACCs) and backstop coordi- nators (BCs). The agency should do more to clarify and refine the report card process and findings; increase the numbers and empowerment of ACCs and BCs to provide deeper, more individualized support for FSOs in career management and planning; provide more robust training for supervisors, particularly non-FSOs; and structure the performance and promotion processes within a strategic workforce plan, based on the concept that the Foreign Ser- vice is a career—not simply one of USAID’s many (many!) hiring mechanisms. Under the previous administration, USAID committed to conducting a third-party assessment of the promotion system. This commitment has disappeared. Too often, the agency speaks of being a “learning organization,” yet does not dedicate resources to assessing its own sys- tems. AFSA urges USAID to undertake the third-party assessment, drawing upon its findings and AFSA consul- tations to make adjustments and improvements to the system. The promotion process is critical to the careers and lives of FSOs and their families. It requires us all to learn and improve. AFSA seeks to collaborate on refin- ing processes and policies based on objective analysis, data, and evidence. We owe this to FSOs, the Foreign Service as an institution, and the American people. n