May 3, 2013: Foreign Affairs Day to Honor Eight Employees Killed in the Line of Duty

Via the State Dept:

Each year on the first Friday of May, the Department of State observes Foreign Affairs Day, the annual homecoming for our Foreign Service and Civil Service retirees. This day also commemorates the members of the Foreign Service who made the ultimate sacrifice and lost their lives serving the United States overseas. Both a solemn occasion and a celebration, Foreign Affairs Day recognizes employees of foreign affairs agencies and their dedication and service as they address foreign policy and development challenges around the world.

Over 400 retirees are expected to return to the Department of State on May 3 to participate in a morning program of remarks and seminars with senior officials to discuss key foreign policy issues, with a special keynote address from Secretary of State John Kerry. Hosted by the Director General for Human Resources, the Department will also present the Director General’s Foreign Service Cup to W. Robert Pearson and the Director General’s Civil Service Cup to Janice S. Clements, both of whom have distinguished themselves in their State Department careers and afterwards in service on behalf of their communities.

Alongside the seminar program, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the professional association and union of the Foreign Service, is hosting its annual ceremony honoring colleagues who were killed overseas in the line of duty or under heroic circumstances. Known as the AFSA Plaque Ceremony, the event centers around the plaque in the Department lobby that lists the names of 236 fallen colleagues going as far back as 1780.

This year AFSA is honoring eight individuals whose names are being added to the plaque, bringing the total to 244 names. The family and friends of these eight heroes will be in attendance as the engraving of the names of their loved ones will be unveiled for the first time. Relating events in Vietnam in the 60’s and 70’s to more recent terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and Libya, this year’s honorees on the AFSA plaque are: Anne T. Smedinghoff, J. Christopher Stevens, Sean Patrick Smith, Ty Woods, Glen A. Doherty, Ragaei Said Abdelfattah, Joseph Gregory Fandino, and Francis J. Savage.

Vice President Joe Biden will preside over the ceremony and will be joined by Secretary of State Kerry and AFSA President Susan Johnson. Finally, on behalf of President Barack Obama, the Department is conferring the Thomas Jefferson Star Awards and Medals, as well as the Secretary’s Awards, in a private ceremony the same day. This year’s Foreign Affairs Day programs are a particularly special tribute to the increasingly challenging nature of diplomacy and development.

image from afsa.org

screen capture from afsa.org

Per 22 USC § 2708a, the  Thomas Jefferson Star for Foreign Service is awarded to any member of the Foreign Service or any other civilian employee of the Government of the United States who, while employed at, or assigned permanently or temporarily to, an official mission overseas or while traveling abroad on official business, incurred a wound or other injury or an illness (whether or not the wound, other injury, or illness resulted in death)—as the person was performing official duties; as the person was on the premises of a United States mission abroad; or by reason of the person’s status as a United States Government employee.

The first two names on this list, Francis J. Savage and Joseph Gregory Fandino died in Vietnam in 1967 and 1972 respectively. We have not been able to find anything on Mr. Fandino, but on April 18, Congressman Tom Reed of New York spoke about the late Mr. Savage in the House of Representatives:

Mr. REED. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize the life of Francis J. Savage. A resident of Olean, New York, Mr. Savage served his country admirably across the world for the better part of two decades as a member of the Foreign Service and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Mr. Savage’s career in the Foreign Service began with an assignment in Iceland in 1950, but he was subsequently transferred to Marseilles, France where he met his wife, Doreen. The two continued to serve across the world, specifically Greece, Trinidad, Tripoli, and Libya.

Following his tenure with the Foreign Service, Mr. Savage began to work for the USAID. It was during this time that his work took him to Vietnam as a Provincial Representative. Tragically, Mr. Savage was mortally wounded at the My Calm bombing in 1965. To honor his sacrifice, President Lyndon Johnson posthumously awarded Francis Savage with the Secretary’s Award at the White House with his surviving wife, Doreen, and two children in attendance.

It is with great privilege that I announce Francis J. Savage will be honored on May 3, 2013, Foreign Affairs Day, at the Department of State in Washington, D.C. Mr. Savage’s service and sacrifice to this great nation deserves such recognition and I am proud to represent the district Mr. Savage once called home.

Mr. Reed’s statement is on the Congressional Record here.
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AFSA Elections 2013: Thin Candidate Selection Sends Troubling Sign of Persistent Indifference

One of our readers prompted us recently to check out the upcoming AFSA elections … and so we did. Here is part of the election announcement:

AFSA Committee on Elections has approved the following candidates (see below) for positions on the ballot for the AFSA Governing Board for the 2013-2015 term. All regular voting members of AFSA will be emailed or mailed a ballot and the special election edition of AFSA News on or about April 15, 2013. 

Completed ballots must be received by 9:00 a.m. June 6, 2013 in order to be counted. The new AFSA Governing Board will take office on July 15, 2013.

According to the announcement, for the first time ever, members with valid email addresses already available to AFSA will be afforded the opportunity to ditch the paper ballot and vote online. The announcement also says that “Any position for which there is no candidate will be filled by the eligible AFSA member who receives the most write-in votes. If no one is elected on this basis, the new Governing Board will fill the vacancies.”

You may check out the names of the candidates here but be warned that the selection is rather sparse. Except for State VP, State Representatives (15 candidates for 11 positions), Retiree Reps (8 candidates for 4 positions), all positions on the ballot are  unopposed.

Where are the AFSA candidates?

The American Foreign Service Association is the professional association and labor union of the Foreign Service. It has 16,000 dues-paying members. It says that it represents more than 30,000 active and retired Foreign Service employees of the Department of State, USAID, FCS, IBB and APHIS.

This is not a healthy sign.

Back in January, the outgoing two-termed AFSA president Susan Johnson penned an AFSA Needs Strong Leaders (pdf) column.  I understand that this was widely disseminated to FS-01s and the Senior Foreign Service. Excerpt below:

If you want to give back to a career that has enriched you immeasurably, AFSA offers that opportunity. If you want a stronger professional Foreign Service, better equipped for the challenges of contemporary diplomacy, better professionally educated and trained, better led and managed, and better resourced by Congress, then service on the Governing Board gives you an opportunity to advocate for these goals.
[…]
Now, more than ever, AFSA needs to speak with a clear, strong voice. We need the best of the Foreign Service to step forward to lead and govern our association and union, and to fortify our advocacy with management, our political leaders in the executive and legislative branches, and with the American public.

We’d like to know if she ever got any response back.

We heard that somebody  from State’s eDiplomacy office was a candidate but dropped out on the last day of the nomination. Tried to reach out to that individual on Twitter but we don’t think we’ll hear anything back.

In any case, that leaves one sole candidate in the running for AFSA president – Robert Silverman.  According to his Linkedin profile, he served in Riyadh as Economic Counselor (1 year, 1 month), as DCM in Stockholm (2 years, 11 mos), as Political Counselor in Tel Aviv (2 years, 3 mos) and is currently an advisor at the Bureau of Legislative Affairs.

Since the presidential slot is uncontested, it looks like Mr. Silverman is slated to succeed Ms. Johnson on July 15. Unless, of course, a strong write-in candidate pops out of the magic box.  Is that even possible?


The continuing indifference of the Foreign Service majority

We’re told that out of the last ten elections or so, about half have been unopposed for most of these positions. We have no reason to disbelieve that.

Is it that people do not feel connected to AFSA?

Is it that most people do not feel that service in this organization is worth doing?

Or is it that in the grand scheme of things, people do not think it makes a whole lot of difference who gets elected?

We cannot avoid but think that the thin line of candidates in this year’s elections is just one more manifestation of member disengagement.

It is not just fewer people are coming forward to serve but this disengagement with AFSA was also reflected in the 2011 election where only 17% of the members turned out to cast their ballots, 7% less than the 2009 elections. We understand that in 2007, 80% of the members also did not bother to vote.

In 2010, David T. Jones, a retired Senior Foreign Service officer dissected the 2009 election and came out with the troubling conclusion:

“The essential conclusion must be AFSA members regard the effect on their lives as so ancillary and/or the consequences from AFSA efforts so ineffectual that voting was not worth the few minutes to review candidates/platforms (or the cost of postage to return the ballot).  The result of this indifference was predictable:  those few who cared gained and held control of AFSA abetted by de facto abdication/ indifference of the Foreign Service majority. “

Mr. Jones also has a new must read article on Unionization, AFSA and the FS in the April issue (pdf)  of the Foreign Service Journal (p16):

“Although AFSA is legally barred from employing the strongest weapon a union can wield—the ability to take direct action/strike to defend its members’ interests—there are many other steps it could take. Instead, we whine, importune and send the equivalent of a flaccid note of protest when management tromps on our toes. 
[…]
An ambassador doesn’t like you? Out you go. Someone more powerful has a “favorite” in mind for a position? Even a director general’s decision can be reversed, without recourse.  Oversight is a joke, as well. State hasn’t had a permanent inspector general in more than four years, yet AFSA has taken no action to pressure the department or the administration to rectify the situation. Has it even issued a blistering press release deploring the signal this glaring dereliction of duty sends?”

And this we heard recently:

“It’s sad but perhaps reflects the perceived realities of today’s Foreign Service and its culture with a strong and perhaps excessive emphasis on personal career development, meaning  climbing the career ladder as fast as one can scramble.”

Tenure at AFSA is essentially a time out, or perhaps the better description would be a time freeze for the full-time AFSA officer positions.  That means time-in-class (that is, time in a single salary class) is suspended. And there are no EERs for the two-year tenure. Which also means the promotion prospects is nil.

So, there’s a reason right there, both good or bad depending on how you look at it.

We were going to suggest that the election rules be updated to require that the top four Governing Board positions should have at a minimum two candidates to give the AFSA membership a choice. But given the apparent difficulties recruiting candidates, that probably is a ‘dead as soon as read’ suggestion.

While it looks like majority of the candidates in this election cycle will get the positions they want, AFSA members have several weeks to get to know them better (unless, of course, you already knew them from prior posts). You can still learn about the candidates’ vision and reasonable goals for the organization, and inquire about their previous jobs and how well those positions and tenures prepare them for representing the Foreign Service not just before State management, but also to the Congress, and to the American public.

So ask questions. And then ask follow-up questions.

What did you say?

We should encourage all voting AFSA members to look into the conditions under which candidates left their previous post?!?

Wait a minute – were you the one who sent that to the burn bag? No?

Well, can’t you ask them that question during their debate, town hall meetings, or election forums? No?

¡Ay, carumba!

Dear AFSA election candidates, some people (we have more than a few emails) are interested on why you left your previous posts. Presumably you all have left one post or another since you’re now in DC.  Can you please, please talk about this in your election forum so people would stop sending us these anonymous and cryptic emails?

Now where were we?

Oh, as an interested bystander who sits on the wall, we cannot really nudge AFSA voters to vote if they don’t want to. But perhaps voters might look at it this way:

If you don’t vote because of limited choices, or for whatever reason — you are sending a signal that you do not care. You don’t want to be like those folks who boycott elections or threaten to move to Canada (but don’t) then come out with placards when they’re unhappy about one thing or another, do you?

If you do care, then ought you not consider voting? Even if you have to vote for [INSERT NAME]  as a write-in candidate? Why? Because then perhaps your organization might learn to read your smoke signals better and work harder to engage with you … well, try and think about it ….
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