A source told me that the AFSA election town hall meeting from last week will be carried by BNet today, May 13, noon EST. Watch it if you can. Vote now and mail that ballot if you have not done it already.
You can read the opening statements of David J. Firestein for the CLEAN Slate here and Susan R. Johnson for Team AFSA here. The short statement by State VP candidate Daniel Hirsch is also here. I can’t locate the transcripts for the rest of the candidates’ speeches from that town hall meeting. If you have them, zap me an email and I will add the links here.
The countdown is on but … why vote?
My neighbor has been in the FS for some 15 years, this is the first time he’s voting. Why? Because nothing is a given — what the agency giveth, it can taketh away (Coach travel for 21 hours flight, anyone? How about canned SNAP coordinators due to budget crunch for lunch? ).
Seriously — I think the reason is simple. The world is changing fast and the Service is not changing quite fast enough. You hear folks talk about the Foreign Service for the 21st century – everybody wants that – a better resourced, trained, professional diplomatic service prepared for the complex challenges of this century. We like to think that it’s all about the underfunding of the agency that keeping this place in a rut. Money is important – but for all that transformation to really, really happen, one key ingredient must be present; it’s called employee engagement.
The FS as part of the State Department is a bureaucracy steeped in old culture and tradition. Wasn’t it dragged to the courts on more than one occasion to force it to change its ways? It’s not because it is dark or evil, but simply because it is an old cumbersome entity that is slow to adapt. I am quite fond of it, frankly, but that does not mean I can’t see where it needs changing.
People do make up this entity, this organization that sends our loved ones into the far corners of the globe. Doesn’t it follow then that its lack of agility and adaptability is partly a reflection of the people in it? The tension point in organizations always belong to those who desire to protect the status quo and those who desire to change it, and then — somewhere in the sidelines are the bystanders – those who either did not know enough to care, or have become disappointed that they have stopped caring.
Just an example — every year for the last few years, AFSA has conducted its annual polls. In 2005, almost 1,829 employees took the survey. In the 2006 survey, that figure nearly doubled to 3,416. In 2007, there were 4,311 respondents. In last year’s survey, more than 5,500 Foreign Service employees at State—nearly half of the entire active-duty ranks —completed the survey.
The respondents’ trend looks good as it creeps up the chart, but “nearly half” gives management an excuse to simply sit on some of these important issues for the corps. And we have seen that happen in the recent past, even the validity of the survey questioned by senior officials.
There are two things worth remembering, I think.
One — nearly half is not good enough if you want to affect change.
Two — the other half is always wrong if they are absent.
The AFSA election — okay, here is what I think if you care …
Passion is good
The FS needs to find its grove back. That won’t happen with people afraid to speak up or afraid of rocking the boat (Well, there goes my African ambassadorship down the drain). Somebody wondered why some candidates are investing so much energy on this? And I say, but I want that energy! I want that passion working for the men and women of the Foreign Service.
Responsiveness, engagement, transparency – all good
I track the election forum for a couple of reasons. I want to see what issues are important enough for folks to write about, and what types of response they get from the candidates. I’m sorry –sending prospective voters over to a website just doesn’t cut it. I want to see that engagement online. If somebody is too busy to answer queries in the public election forum, what happens to constituent email queries after the election? One household elected a State VP once on name recognition. Wife was pissed when she did not even merit a courtesy response to a subsequent query afterwards. Public queries responded to with personal email do not cut it for me either. That seems to me like Dick Cheney’s secret energy meeting; they all knew what happened in there but I don’t. I hate that.
Experience is good but …
Advocacy for self and advocacy on behalf of a group of people are not the same, is it? I expect somebody who is passionate about the state of the FS to have had a good prior record of advocating for the FS either through involvement with AFSA, AAFSW, at post, or with other similar groups. I’d like to get a sense that these individuals have given substantial thought, time and energy on FS matters prior to running – community service, articles in FSJ or elsewhere, etc. Absent that kind of record, I’d like to see a game plan going forward. Absent a game plan, well, what is there to talk about?
What else? FS folks should turn out in full force for this election. Give AFSA a mandate, then stay engage and hold the winning slate accountable for its actions on behalf of the men and women of the Foreign Service.
PSA for AFSA:
If you have not seen your ballot yet, contact AFSA at firstname.lastname@example.org. Completed ballots must be mailed to the AFSA post office box in the envelope provided with the election mailing and must be received by AFSA by close of business June 11, 2009. Ballots returned to any other location will not be accepted or counted. Members may not mail their ballots in anything but the provided envelope in order to be counted.
Ballots will be opened and counted by the Election Committee on June 12, 2009. The results will be announced on June 15, 2009. The new AFSA Governing Board will take office on July 15, 2009.