The Foreign Service Journal, November 2019

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | NOVEMBER 2019 91 USAID VP VOICE | BY JASON SINGER AFSA NEWS Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA USAID VP. Contact: | (202) 712-5267 Workforce Planning: The Horse That Should Pull the Reorganization Cart Foreign affairs agencies— and I still count USAID as one despite some worrying trends—are complex institu- tions. There are a lot of mov- ing people, shifting timelines, complicated technical chal- lenges, multiple stakeholders and competing priorities that can turn on a dime (or rupiah, piaster, afghani, pula, dinar, peso, birr…)—and, of course, plenty of rules and regula- tions. For Foreign Service offi- cers, much of the complexity centers on the merit-based nature of the Foreign Service and the need to chart a multi- decade career path while managing assignments, family demands, trainings, promo- tions and the like.We find our- selves sharing a passion for mission and also competing with one another for assign- ments and promotions. And, regardless of back- stop, we know there simply aren’t enough FSOs to achieve the agency’s goals. So the agency’s capacity—and commitment—to workforce planning to address these challenges is crucial to main- taining a strong, sustainable USAID and critical to an effec- tive reorganization. “Workforce planning” is a self-defining term, but since we’re bureaucrats (and I say that with pride), let me offer the Office of Personnel Man- agement’s definition: Workforce planning is the systematic process for identifying and addressing the gaps between the workforce of today and the human capital needs of tomorrow. Effective workforce planning enables the organization to: Align workforce require- ments directly to the agency’s strategic and annual business plans; Develop a comprehensive picture of where gaps exist between competencies the workforce currently pos- sesses and future competency requirements; Identify and implement gap reduction strategies; Make decisions about how best to structure the organiza- tion and deploy the workforce; and, Identify and overcome internal and external barriers to accomplishing strategic workforce goals. But for years now, USAID has had little to no ability to conduct this critical func- tion. This condition persists even as we Transform. How can this be? A lot comes down to agency leadership com- mitment and institutional capacity. Or, more specifically, the agency choosing not to dedicate adequate financial and human resources to build and sustain this fundamental workforce planning capacity— be it for FSOs, Civil Service colleagues or people hired through other mechanisms. For many years, we have heard the refrain,“USAID’s largest and most valuable asset is our people: their skills, their knowledge and their experience.”But instead of focusing on building the strong workforce planning capacity to support our people, we rely on dedicated backstop coordinators, most of whomwork full time in other positions, to maintain informal records on “their” backstop staff. We rely on a few (too few!) committed individuals in the Human Capital and Talent Management and Admin- istration and Management Support offices to keep track of who’s going where when, and who’s not going there and why, and who is tandem, and so forth. I know HCTM and other colleagues are working hard (and sometimes burning out), and I know the technology and legacy systems they deal with are old, but there’s a reason for this: agency leadership has chosen not to allocate the resources, management bandwidth and staff to effec- tively tackle these issues. And, as a result, the effectiveness of both the agency and FSOs is hurt. In February, State pub- lished its “Five-Year Workforce and Leadership Succession Plan Fiscal Years 2018-2022.” I don’t know if my State col- leagues would agree with all of its findings, but the report and recommendations are driven by data, analysis, identified gaps and priorities. Right now, USAID has Bureaus and Independent Offices trying to navigate myriad systems to encourage staff to get the job done. The Hiring Review and Reassignment Board assesses Civil Service–related requests, and B/IOs submit “Foreign Service Limited” appoint- ments, largely to convert Participating Agency Service Agreement positions or in response to HRRB denials. Congress has told us to hire more Foreign Service officers (we welcomed 22 in September; great, but where are the rest?). Personal services contractors continue to fill the bulk of some B/IOs, and missions continue to seek more FSOs to ease their staff burdens and implement the USAIDAdministrator’s vision. Where is the workforce “corporate”-level planning, even as new bureaus, centers, hubs, gears, spokes and the like are being stood up? There are many develop- mental reasons why the pro- posed reorganization struc- tures make sense (though as development professionals I’m sure we could debate the details ad nauseam). But the big question remains: How can we forge ahead with the biggest reor- ganization in decades without fundamental workforce planning in place for staff (our most valuable resource)? AFSAwelcomes an agency response. n