The Foreign Service Journal - December 2017

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | DECEMBER 2017 51 Talking About Communication Gaps What is behind the lack of communication at USAID? Are our offices overwhelmed or confused by the current political situation? Or could what may seem like obfusca- tion be a purposeful attempt to avoid clarity? Many members of the USAID Foreign Service have made requests or asked questions to the agency that go unanswered for months. For example, AFSA con- tacted USAID Human Capital and Talent Management in September to request that the useful charts analyzing Foreign Service workforce numbers and backstop trends (as of 2015) on the My USAID/HCTM website be updated. As of this writing in late October, there still is no update, or even a response. As USAID VP, I pose the following questions to management in the inter- est of keeping USAID FSOs informed of what to expect: Who in the HCTM office is responsible for the informa- tion updates? Who is respon- sible for analyses and prom- ulgation of FSOs’ promotion numbers and guidance for evaluations, workforce infor- mation and so on? My best summary observation is that there is no broad strategy of commu- nication-evasion at USAID. Many FSOs are exasperated, but no one person or office is to blame. Bureaucracies can be faceless like that, and things fall through the admin- istrative cracks. One underlying cause could be that HCTM has been suffering from turmoil for several years. Many fine For- eign Service and Civil Service employees have left, some in frustration. Those who remain are try- ing to shoulder a bigger bur- den, alongside USAID’s new Civil Service and institutional contract professionals who are striving toward compe- tence during this tumultuous period. The hiring freeze of 2017 has put further strain on remaining employees. There are far too many vacancies, and this causes overload. We have too many layers of “acting” leaders, who lack the necessary experience, authority and gravitas to command sufficient respect. When considering the present issues, recall that in early 2013, HCTM changed from Foreign Service leader- ship to Civil Service leader- ship. Among the objectives of this change were increased consistency and more profes- sionalism in the agency’s human resource manage- ment. Now, almost five years down that road: how are we doing? There are some bright spots: HCTM’s Foreign Ser- vice Assignments team has revived and updated an old favorite tool for FS bidders, “Myth Busters”—internal communications that address common misconceptions. And there are perceptive, intelligent and hardwork- ing FS and CS professional employees and consultants working in or with the Foreign Service Center who have identified needs and orga- nized an excellent initiative to update the Foreign Service Assignments procedures and priorities. Their proposals dem- onstrate great promise for a streamlined, bidder- and manager-friendly system. We look forward to seeing these ideas implemented. However, it appears that too often we have been guided by a revolving door of consultants without allegiance to the agency or awareness of its core values. Some of the well- packaged ideas of this group are deemed useful and are implemented, but other ideas seem ill-fitted to any foreign affairs agency—with vicis- situdes, complexities and surprises. There often seems to be a shallowness of knowledge of how the Foreign Service func- tions and a lack of focus on the people working to carry out USAID’s overseas mis- sion, including FSOs, FSNs and contract staff living and working around the globe. Headquarters-based staff go on temporary assignments (TDYs) to different countries but still do not really under- stand living and working conditions of FSOs and their families overseas. The agency needs a strong and respectful bond with good communication between its Washington headquarters and overseas posts. This partnership is neces- sary for interagency and congressional liaison, policy development and budget formulation—and for USAID’s overseas staff, who formu- late and carry out mission strategies while adjusting to changes on the ground. Foreign Service employees understand this interchange and all the intricacies that create the global aspect of USAID. It is time to review the impact of the change from Foreign Service leadership to Civil Service in HCTM. In doing so, we must ask this question: Is there a better way to focus on our world- wide mission and places where we actually do our work? n Too often we have been guided by a revolving door of consultants without allegiance to the agency or awareness of its core values. USAID VP VOICE | BY ANN POSNER AFSA NEWS Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA USAID VP. Contact: | (202) 712-1631