The Foreign Service Journal, November 2011

E very member of the Foreign Service, to a greater or lesser degree, engages in the fine art of persuading other people to do what we want them to do— it’s called negotiation. For some, this formof communication is a component of their daily duties; for others, anoccasional necessity. We are all aware of the importance of tact, timing, strategy and, often, discretion, in the success of any negotiation. Strategy is particularly important forAFSA’s lobbying efforts, especially with regard to issues like overseas comparability pay, where success is not assured, and failure would be calamitous to a large segment of ourmembership. Despite suchobvious “sell- ingpoints” as its value for recruitment and retention, basic issues of fairness and a 20-year history of similar pay for all other non- DOD civilian employees, OCP is a politically charged issue that has alreadybeenrepeatedlymischaracterizedby thosewhooppose the State Department or Foreign Service generally. It is a fiscal issue in a climate in which cutting government expenditures — regardless of the consequences — is a rallying cry for many. It is a government salary issue in an era in which somepoliticianswouldportray all federal employees as overpaid. It affects only a tiny number of Americans, representing a com- paratively small number of voters from any politician’s district. It is esoteric and poorly understood, even by some in our own Service. Inshort,therearemanyaspectsoftheissuethatarebeyond AFSA’s control, making this particular battle a difficult one. Strategy, in this case, is particularly important. Devising that strategy andcommunicating it toourmembers has been frustrating. We are acutely aware that AFSA is amem- bership organization, and that we represent our members. Our goals, priorities andstrategiesmust represent yourviews and incor- porate your input. We are aware that ourmembers havediverse views, and that there aredifferent levels of understandingandpri- oritizing of the issues involved. We follow discussions in the Secretary’s Sounding Board and other venues with interest. At the same time, we are limited in what we can share and howwe can share it. AFSAdoesnotusetheSecretary’sSoundingBoard,andisreluc- tant to utilize any medium primarily designed as a conduit for employee communicationswithmanagement. While I amoften tempted to jump into a Sounding Board discussion, or reply to a listserv posting, the principle of separation between manage- ment andAFSA—reinforced in lawand regulation—must be respected. Electroniccommunicationinall forms involves additional con- cerns. An e-mail, telegramorWeb posting can easily be shared, making securecommunicationwithourmembersdifficult. Many who cooperate with AFSA and support OCP do so quietly — sharing information in confidence and, occasionally, at political risk. In the current climate, even longtime friends of the Foreign Service don’t always want to be named, and newer supporters may want to choose the terms of their support. In politics, dis- cussions can assume a meaning or go in directions that nobody everimaginedtheywould,andsupportersoropponentscanchange with the circumstances. An e-mail, which finds its way into the press, or simply onto the wrong desk, can damage our efforts. Our recent AFSA Governing Board retreat confirmed that improvingcommunicationwithourmembers is amongourhigh- est priorities. Many of you already communicate with us by e- mail or throughourWebsite. Others simplywalk intoouroffices for an impromptu chat. We pay close attention to sentiments and opinions expressed by members—as well as from the for- mal State Standing Committee and the informal advisory com- mittees, each of which inform the State VP’s positions. In addition, we have started involving AFSA post reps more closelyinmemberoutreach,andintendtoincreasepostreprespon- sibilities and inclusion in our member communication efforts. I would like to encourage each of you, if you have not done so, to consider participating in these efforts. One of the primary motivations behind the recent upgrade toourWebsitewas communication. Wewill continue toexplore ways touse theWeb sitemore effectively, for bothopenandcon- trolled dialogue with our members. Wewill bemakingbetter, anddifferent, useof surveys—pos- siblymovingaway fromthe longer, annual variety toshorter,more focused and more frequent polls. OCP is not, of course, our only lobbying focus. We are look- ing at security overseas, larger budget issues, family leave, retire- ment issues, and residency-relatedwaivers andexemptionswhile deployed overseas, among others. In all of these issues, we try to act in accordance with member wishes and input. Please keepcommunicatingwithAFSA, evenaswe refine the ways we are communicating with you. It’s All About Communication and Negotiation V.P. VOICE: STATE BY DANIEL HIRSCH NOV EMB E R 2 0 1 1 / F OR E I GN S E R V I C E J OU R N A L 67 A F S A N E W S