The Foreign Service Journal, November 2006

N O V E M B E R 2 0 0 6 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 5 You know the drill. It’s decades-old and occurs multiple times every year: Well-qualified, in-cone, at-grade bidders are denied a plum job. Word quick- ly spreads that it’s been “wired” for some under-grade 7th-floor staffer or they never found out about it in the first place. Business as usual in FS assignments. Numerous employees have told AFSA recently that in their eyes the lit- mus test of the department’s serious- ness about its newly re-engineered assignments system and related calls for increased service discipline will be the degree to which the rules are applied to 7th-floor staffers. Will HR and the regional bureaus stand up to the most senior appointees, both political and career, and resist the pressure for spe- cial treatment and preferred onward assignments for their favorites? Based on the first case to come to our atten- tion in this new, “expeditionary” envi- ronment, the answer is a disappointing “no.” AFSA recently learned that a mid- level Civil Service officer on Under Secretary Karen Hughes’ staff had been given the Senior Foreign Service PD “hub” director position in Brussels, a newly-created job that is part of the Secretary’s “global repositioning” exer- cise at the heart of her transformational diplomacy initiative. This position might have been a perfect fit for a vet- eran FSO coming out of an unaccom- panied post like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia. The department recently banned tour-of-duty extensions in Eur- ope in part, it said, to open up jobs for those who had answer- ed the call to such service. But despite the lure of a high pro- file, cutting-edge position in a comfortable European capital, the de- partment would have us believe that it could not find a single qualified Foreign Service officer for the job. Go figure. We had gotten wind of this unlikely deal months earlier and urged both HR and the under secretary’s office to desist. But instead of being deterred, the process played out in a way that minimized the number of SFS mem- bers aware of this job. Only the most cursory steps were taken to conform to the assignment rules. Not a single one of the normal procedures to find suit- able candidates for priority jobs was fol- lowed. To those familiar with “business as usual,” the entire process looked awfully familiar. Amazingly, State made this assign- ment a mere two months after we had told it that AFSA would set aside its serious concerns and reluctantly refrain from appealing the naming of a civil servant as DCM in Baghdad—despite the fact that a number of qualified, at- grade FSOs had bid on the position. We reminded the department’s senior leaders that, per the Foreign Service Act and department regulations, such assignments should occur only when there is no one in the FS able to do the job and the outsider has unparal- leled qualifications. Such a rare case requires an advance “Certificate of Need” to justify the assignment, something the department did not do. Not a single one of the policy impera- tives or personal qualifications that led us to decide not to appeal the Baghdad DCM case are present in the Brussels PD mess. This assign- ment is an affront to the Foreign Service and to AFSA. Over and above the striking breach of faith with the Foreign Service, what I find so incomprehensible about this assignment is that it directly under- mines the message Secretary Rice and Director General Staples have been so determined to send about the need for service discipline and their call for sac- rifice. I wrote to Sec. Rice in October on this issue and assured her the Foreign Service is indeed answering that call. But I also stressed that the FS expects this same discipline on the part of State management in terms of fol- lowing its own rules. This assignment is devastating for morale and creates a cynicism that only certain employees are subject to Service discipline while others can thumb their noses at it — and at them. AFSA has long cooperated with the department to develop and operate two open, transparent programs in which qualified Civil Service employees can serve overseas. But as I have said before in this space, personal loyalty is not a qualification for any job in the entire Foreign Service. The assign- ment rules apply throughout the department and must be followed –- and our leaders must have the disci- pline to stick to them. P RESIDENT ’ S V IEWS Bad Faith and Business As Usual in FS Assignments B Y J. A NTHONY H OLMES J. Anthony Holmes is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.