The Foreign Service Journal, November 2022

AFSA NEWS 68 NOVEMBER 2022 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL The Foreign Service Reform Agenda STATE VP VOICE | BY TOM YAZDGERDI AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 647-8160 Since the last time I address- ed Foreign Service reform in my column (see the July/ August 2021 FSJ ), there have been several major develop- ments. First, AFSA has submit- ted to the State Department and all AFSA foreign affairs member agencies its list of reform priorities, the most important of which are calls for funding “to launch and sustain growth in positions and personnel” and estab- lishing a permanent “training float” of 15 percent. Second, Congress has signaled its intent, in a bipar- tisan manner, to increase Fiscal Year 2023 funding to the department and other foreign affairs agencies. Third, in early September the American Diplomacy Project (ADP), led by former high-ranking department officials, including Ambas- sadors Marc Grossman and Marcie Ries, issued its Phase II report, “Blueprints for a More Modern U.S. Diplomatic Service” (viewable at https:// . AFSA generally supports the blue- prints, many of which reflect what we would like to see done. No Overhaul of the FS Act of 1980. While there had been talk in 2021 of com- pletely overhauling the For- eign Service Act of 1980, the consensus within AFSA and, I believe, elsewhere in the foreign policy community is now to advocate for more tar- geted and discrete changes. This would focus attention on the most urgent needs in the near term and have a better chance of gaining support and being implemented. The same is essentially true of the ADP final report, which helpfully includes detailed legislative language to amend the FS Act and other laws and regulations. There are no revolutionary provisions, such as abolish- ing the coning system or revamping the EER process to include, for example, man- datory 360-degree reviews that are standard practice in the private sector. Focus on Training. The ADP report advocates man- datory training at all career points, especially the critical mid-level. It further notes that while the department now has a one-week “core” mid-level course, it should be made mandatory and last at least two to three weeks. To support this and other proposed training, the report argues that a training float, or complement, of 250 more personnel in each of the next four years would be needed. (The request in the original draft of 15 percent more per- sonnel was cut to 8 percent in the final report over fears that too many positions too quickly might create another “pig in the python” phenom- enon.) AFSA agrees with the thrust of these proposals, especially the emphasis on changing department culture so that training is truly val- ued, including in EERs and by promotion boards. I like the provision man- dating that employees on long-term details outside the department, where there is no suitable Foreign Service rating or reviewing officer, have their EERs prepared by a senior department official who is knowledgeable about the subject matter of the detail. This would typically be an office director as rater and deputy assistant secretary as reviewer. We were also pleased that the report cited and sup- ported an AFSA proposal that would make a professional development tour manda- tory for entry into the Senior Foreign Service and would extend it to the Senior Execu- tive Service, as well. The Military as a Model. A common theme that runs through the report is its focus on training and ensuring a broad, well-rounded career experience—hallmarks of the U.S. military’s approach to grooming its next generation of leaders. In particular, the section titled “Creating a Diplo- matic Reserve Corps (DRC)” borrows heavily from this approach. Creating such a corps is not a new idea, but this is the most elaborate blueprint for it, including detailed legislative language. The plan is to establish a 1,000-member ready reserve of trained, on-call State Department professionals appointed for three years. Like the military reserve, DRC members who are not retired from the department would participate in one weekend per month and one two-week session per year of training. Those who are retired would participate in new subject matter and refresher training as necessary. Lots of questions still need to be answered, includ- ing whether there is appetite in Congress to fund what is estimated to cost $8 million in year zero to $42 million in year five, when the corps would be at full strength. But there could be tan- gible benefits to creating this body. No longer would surge capacity have to occur in an ad hoc and costly manner, at the expense of training and jobs left vacant by those FS members who volunteer. We are still feeling the negative effects of the surges in Iraq and Afghanistan—effects that might have been mitigated had such a corps existed back then. I encourage you all to read the ADP report, and let us know your thoughts by writing to us at member@ . n