The Foreign Service Journal, December 2022

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | DECEMBER 2022 67 2022: A Year of Engagement and Progress STATE VP VOICE | BY TOM YAZDGERDI AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 647-8160 In the December 2021 FSJ , I titled my column “2021: A Year of Unrealized Potential” because of the lack of con- firmed high-level department officials. Now that we have in place a Director General of the Foreign Service and an under secretary for manage- ment with whom we engage constructively, I would characterize 2022 as a year in which AFSA has been able to achieve progress on a host of issues. Foreign Service reform agenda. For the reasons discussed in my November column, I believe we have a way forward to realize impor- tant points of this agenda, which is based in part on the recommendations outlined in “The American Diplomacy Project (ADP)—Phase II.” AFSA engaged with ADP leaders in 2021 to provide input for this set of blue- prints, including sharing our principal reform priorities and the results of our peri- odic surveys on what matters most to our members. Now the focus has shifted to Congress to amend the Foreign Service Act and other legislation to incorporate these reforms. AFSA, along with the American Academy of Diplomacy and others, is advocating on Capitol Hill for these changes. At the same time, AFSA will begin to look at more profound reforms—such as those involving the assign- ments and evaluation pro- cesses—which we know our members would like to see addressed. New hires. At events we host for new Foreign Service hires—which have resumed in person at AFSA headquarters—I have heard many express concern about two issues: equity and health benefits. AFSA was proud that in 2022, with department support, language provid- ing equity for local hires was included, for the first time ever, in the House version of the FY23 State Department Authorization (SDA) bill. The new language would ensure that new hires, regardless of where they are hired, are treated the same. This language does not appear in the Senate version of the bill, although there is still a chance the House version will be included when the two chambers (hopefully) meet to attach the SDA to a larger legislative vehicle, the FY23 National Defense Authorization Act. In 2022, AFSA also pushed the State Department to advocate with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to make health ben- efits available immediately for new hires, rather than four to six weeks after they are hired. We learned in October that OPM has agreed to change this practice, which has apparently existed since the 1960s, and that no legislation is required. The not-so-good news is that OPM estimates it will take 18 months for the change to go into effect. The department has told us that it will urge OPM to shorten this time- frame. Bullying and toxic work environments. We know from AFSA surveys that eliminating bullying in the workplace is a top priority for members. In the past year, and at AFSA’s prodding, department leaders have begun to address this insidi- ous issue. As of this writing, AFSA understands that new Foreign Affairs Manual regulations on bullying are being drafted and should be disseminated by the end of the year. AFSA has also learned that a new office, appropri- ately staffed and resourced, will be established in the Bureau of Global Talent Management (GTM) that deals specifically with bully- ing behavior and toxic work environments. (It will also be firewalled from other GTM offices, particularly those with disciplinary responsi- bility, and will have its own deputy assistant secretary.) For this office to be fully effective, it must compel both sides of a workplace conflict to engage, and it must have investigatory authority. Only in this way can we begin to change a workplace culture that has often turned a blind eye to toxic behavior. Anomalous health incidents (AHIs). In June the department published its interim rule in the Federal Register implementing the HAVANA Act, which provides benefits to those who have experienced AHIs and suf- fered traumatic brain injuries. AFSA noticed that the rule was too narrow and would have excluded most claimants, because it relied on diagnoses and treatment only from doctors with an obscure accreditation. We raised this issue immediately with department officials and submitted our concerns during the comment period. As a result, the department expanded the terms of the requirement to include doc- tors who have diagnosed and treated AHI patients in State Department–recommended facilities. As of late October, AFSA is aware of several claims that have already been approved for payment and has asked for statistics on how claims have been processed. This is good news, but more needs to be done, including pushing back the date of eligibil- ity and making the claims process easier and more transparent. Please let us know what you think of these issues at . Thanks for being an AFSA member, and happy holidays! n