The Foreign Service Journal, December 2021

66 DECEMBER 2021 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL 2021: A Year of Unrealized Potential? STATE VP VOICE | BY TOM YAZDGERDI AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 647-8160 I think we can say that 2021 has been a year of unrealized potential for AFSA’s efforts to take on the overarching issue of Foreign Service reform. Looking back at my col- umn in the January-February edition, the tone was hopeful that with the advent of the new administration we could reverse the previous four years of executive branch dis- dain for the Foreign Service and implement, or at least seriously discuss, FS reform with senior department leaders: overhauling or doing away with the coning system; greatly expanding the time for training, especially at the entry level; further rational- izing the assignments and promotion processes; and increasing the size of the Foreign Service and putting more FSOs overseas, to name just a few critical issues. Thankfully, the disdain has been replaced with respect and recognition. But the surprisingly slow pace of nominations and confirma- tions has left the ship of State with little wind in its sails. Reform Effort Stalled. As of this writing there is still no confirmed under secre- tary for management (M) or Director General, the very officials with whomAFSA would need to engage on this fundamental effort. To be fair, partisan politics has held up many confirmations, but that doesn’t explain everything. Even if these two key positions are confirmed in the next two months, it will likely be early 2022 before we can have this engage- ment. As AFSA President Rubin and I have discussed in our periodic meetings with the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources (D-MR), this is the most important policy priority for AFSA at this time. No Movement on Second Full-time LM Position. This situation has also affected AFSA’s ability to support its members more effectively. AFSA’s Governing Board gave its approval a year ago, in November 2020, for Labor Management to negotiate with the department to secure a second full-time position in LM so that AFSA could better serve our members, particu- larly specialists. (Please see my column in the March 2021 FSJ that discusses this pro- posed position in detail.) Unfortunately, these negotiations have also been put on hold until nominees for DG and M are confirmed. While we cannot predict the outcome, we are confident we can demonstrate the need for this position and want to get started as soon as possible so we can move forward. The position is not necessarily permanent but will be established for a defined period of time. If it is approved by the department, AFSA is also confident that this defined period will prove that the position should be made permanent. Still, Some Good News for AFSA. Despite these disappointing developments, AFSA has had some wins and successes in 2021: MSI 2015 and 2016 Pay- ments. In January 2021 the Foreign Service Labor Rela- tions Board ruled in AFSA’s favor that the department is legally required to retroac- tively pay the 2015 and 2016 meritorious service increases (MSI)—with interest—to the approximately 450 affected employees. (See April 2021 FSJ for more details). In October, AFSA and the department signed a settle- ment agreement paving the way for these payments, esti- mated to be about $6 million. By the time this issue goes to print, we expect that our members will have received this money, which is rightfully theirs. CDC Dog Ban. While we had urged the Centers for Disease Control and Preven- tion to provide a general exemption to the dog ban for U.S. government personnel on official travel orders, that did not happen. Neverthe- less, direct advocacy with the CDC head by AFSA President Rubin and, at our encour- agement, Deputy Secre- tary (D-MR) Brian McKeon resulted in more overseas testing sites and more ports of entry into the U.S., making the process less burdensome. Professional Liability Insurance. At AFSA’s urging, the department agreed in August to increase its profes- sional liability insurance reim- bursement amount from $175 to $250, or 50 percent of the premium, whichever is less. New Core Precepts Will Hold Only for Next Rating Period. As of this writing, AFSA is negotiating with the department on fundamental changes to the Core Pre- cepts, the criteria by which promotion panels determine whether FS members are ready for the next rank. AFSA fought hard to ensure that these precepts will hold only for the next EER rating period (2022-2023), so that there is sufficient time for our members to under- stand and internalize these changes, which for the first time include a stand-alone precept on diversity and inclusion. Assignment Restrictions Policy. As of this writing, we are still awaiting the official change in assignment restric- tions policy that we expect will make the process more transparent and equitable. We are convinced that AFSA advocacy with high-level department officials has made a difference. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a number of current restric- tions, perhaps even a major- ity of them, have already been lifted. Please send your concerns to us at . Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy holiday season! n