Foreign Service Labor Relations Board Rules For @StateDept in 2014 MSI Case

AFSA has recently informed its members that the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board (FSLRB) has ruled for the State Department in the 2014 Meritorious Service Increase (MSI) dispute. The ruling affects approximately 270 Foreign Service employees: 

AFSA regrets to inform our members that on September 21, 2018, the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board (FSLRB) granted the Department of State’s exceptions (i.e., appeal) and set aside the Foreign Service Grievance Board’s (FSGB) December 8, 2017 Decision, which had found that the Department violated the procedural precepts by not paying Meritorious Service Increases (MSI) to approximately 277 Foreign Service employees who were recommended but not reached for promotion by the 2014 Selection Boards.  AFSA argued that the Department was required to confer MSIs on all eligible employees (up to the 10% limit set forth in the precepts) who were recommended but not reached for promotion.  The Department argued that it had the unilateral discretion to give MSIs to only 5% of employees ranked but not reached for promotion, since 5% was below the 10% limit.

Rather than give substantial deference, as is normally the case, to the FSGB’s interpretation of the parties’ agreement (i.e., the promotion precepts), two of the three FSLRB members (including the Administration’s appointee to the FSLRB) agreed with the Department’s arguments and found that the FSGB had misinterpreted the precepts.  The third member, Retired Ambassador Herman Cohen, dissented from the majority decision.  When a party seeks to establish that an arbitrator (in this case, the Grievance Board) misinterpreted an agreement, the party must provide that the decision “fails to draw its essence from the agreement.”  This is an extremely high burden to meet.  According to the case law, “great deference” is given to the arbitrator’s interpretation of the agreement “because it is the arbitrator’s construction of the agreement for which the parties have bargained.”   In this case, however, the FSLRB chose not to defer to the Grievance Board, ignoring the “great deference” practice.  Unfortunately, the FSLRB’s decision is not subject to judicial review.

AFSA says that it is “extremely disappointed by this decision.” Its notice to members notes that it prevailed in two earlier cases, the 2013 and 2014 MSI disputes. It also informed members that despite this ruling, it plans to proceed with the 2015 and 2016 MSI cases before the Grievance Board.

Excerpt from FSLRB ruling says:

The Grievance Board stated that it was “indisputably true” that, by its plain terms, the phrase “no more than [10%]” in the agreement means that the Agency may award MSIs to “10% or less” of eligible employees.29 As discussed above, the Grievance Board should have ended its analysis there, with the agreement’s plain wording. Instead, the Grievance Board found that, because the parties had different interpretations, the wording was ambiguous.30 But wording that is clear on its face does not become ambiguous simply because the parties disagree as to its meaning.31 Rather, a contract is ambiguous if it is susceptible to two different and plausible interpretations, each of which is consistent with the contract wording. 32 The interpretation adopted by the Grievance Board – that “no more than [10%]” means the Agency must award MSIs to no less than 10% of eligible employees33 – is not consistent with the plain meaning of the agreement’s wording. Consequently, it is not a plausible interpretation of the agreement.

FLRA Chairman Colleen Duffy Kiko who was confirmed by the Senate in November 2017 serves as the Chairperson of the FSLRB. The two other members of the FSLRB are Stephen Ledford, who previously served as the Director of Labor and Employee Relations at the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) and was sworn on his third term with FSLRB in 2015, and Ambassador (ret.) Herman J. Cohen, a career diplomat and specialist in African and European affairs who was appointed to his first term with the FSLRB in October 2015.

In his dissent, Ambassador Cohen writes:

For five years prior to 2014, the year covered by this case, the promotion precepts, negotiated between management and the union, were always the same: MSIs will be awarded to those recommended for promotion at a maximum of ten percent of those on the list, in rank order. With this practice having been followed year after year, it is quite normal that the union had the right to believe that the number would never be less than ten percent pursuant to the negotiated precepts. Ten percent was not part of a sliding scale. It was an agreed amount.

If management had changed that number from year to year, the situation for 2014 would have been totally different. The union would have demanded the right to negotiate that number.

For this reason, management’s decision to unilaterally change the number of MSIs was contrary to the precepts, despite the ambiguous language. Historical practice said that ten percent of those recommended, but not promoted, would receive MSIs. Secondly, management gave a reason for awarding only five percent MSIs in 2014. Management said it was “exercising its budgetary authority” to make the reduction. In other words, the funds were needed elsewhere.
[…]
In the specific year 2014, it appears that the need to save money by reducing MSIs had no relationship to overall budgetary needs. In short, management was saving money on MSIs, and using that “salary money” to pay for 35 sets of ambassadorial furniture, as one possible example. In 2014, management provided no reason to justify this reduction in this highest priority “salary” by higher priority needs elsewhere. Neither, to my knowledge, was there an overall government-wide freeze in MSIs that year.

The case is U.S. State Department v. AFSA. The FSLRB decision is available to read here or see this link: FS-AR-0007Dec 9-21-18

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2018 Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy Award For Amb. Ronald E. Neumann

On October 10, at 4pm, the American Foreign Service Association will honor Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann with its Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy Award for 2018. Congratulations to Ambassador Neumann!

Ambassador Ronald Neumann delivers remarks at the Economic Leadership Day Ceremony, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on March 29, 2011. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Via afsa.org:

AFSA proudly announces that Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann will receive the association’s 2018 award for Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy in honor of his distinguished career and lifelong devotion to the long-term well-being of a career professional Foreign Service. Past recipients of this award include George H.W. Bush, Thomas Pickering, Ruth Davis, George Shultz, Richard Lugar, Joan Clark, Tom Boyatt, Sam Nunn, Rozanne Ridgway, Nancy Powell and William Harrop. The award will be presented on October 10 at 4:00 p.m. during a ceremony in the Benjamin Franklin Diplomatic Reception Room at the Department of State.

Ambassador Neumann was born in Washington, D.C. but grew up in California. He earned a B.A. in history and an M.A. in political science from the University of California at Riverside and is a graduate of the National War College. He is married to the former M. Elaine Grimm. They have two children.

Neumann served three times as Ambassador: to Algeria, Bahrain and finally to Afghanistan from July 2005 to April 2007. Before Afghanistan, Ambassador Neumann, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, served in Baghdad from February 2004 with the Coalition Provisional Authority and then as Embassy Baghdad’s liaison with the Multinational Command, where he was deeply involved in coordinating the political part of military actions.

Prior to working in Iraq, he was Ambassador in Manama, Bahrain (2001-2004), Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Near East Affairs (1997-2000) with responsibility for North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and Ambassador to Algeria (1994 to 1997). He was Director of the Office of Northern Gulf Affairs (Iran and Iraq; 1991 to 1994). Earlier in his career, he was Deputy Chief of Mission in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and in Sana’a in Yemen, Principal Officer in Tabriz, Iran and Economic/Commercial Officer in Dakar, Senegal. His previous Washington assignments included service as Jordan Desk officer, Staff Assistant in the Middle East (NEA) Bureau, and Political Officer in the Office of Southern European Affairs.

Neumann speaks some Arabic and Dari as well as French. He has received State Department Superior Honor Awards in 1993 and 1990. He was an Army infantry officer in Vietnam and holds a Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal and Combat Infantry Badge. In Baghdad, he was awarded the Army Outstanding Civilian Service Medal. Neumann retired in 2007 and serves as the President of the American Academy of Diplomacy, an organization of former senior U.S. diplomats dedicated to improving American diplomacy. At the Academy he has focused particularly on efforts to maintain adequate State and USAID budgets and staffing to enable these institutions to carry out their responsibilities. Ambassador Neumann is on the Advisory Board of a non-profit girls’ school in Afghanistan, the School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA) and the Advisory Board of Spirit of America. He is on the board of the Middle East Policy Council and the Advisory Council of the World Affairs Councils of America.

 

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AAFSW Secretary of State’s Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad

Posted: 1:25 am ET
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The annual Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide AAFSW/Secretary of State’s Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad (SOSA) recognizes the outstanding volunteer activities of U.S. Government employees, spouses, family members over the age of 18, EFM domestic partners, and members of household who are living and working overseas.  The winners of the Secretary of State’s Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad (SOSA) are selected by a panel of representatives from AAFSW, FLO and the Executive Director or representative from each State Department geographic bureau.

The awards will be given on Tuesday, November 7, 2017 at 11:00 a.m. at the Department of State. Deputy Secretary John J. Sullivan will deliver the remarks. The awardees are as follows:

AF – Grace Anne Turner, Dakar, Senegal

Upon arriving in Dakar and viewing the severe poverty and inadequate medical care around her, Grace Anne Turner looked for opportunities to work as a clinician. She joined the staff of the House of Hope, a large primary care clinic that sees 35,000 patients per year. Impressed by her dedication and commitment to quality of care, the clinic asked her to oversee a staff of physicians, nurses, and auxiliary staff that provided care to 50 children a day.

Grace Anne focused on two areas for immediate improvement: patient intake and treatment of dehydration. Dr. Grace formed a cadre of expat volunteers and designed a screening and training program for them to administer; with the help of these volunteers, the previous slow patient processing sped up dramatically. Regarding dehydration, a common and serious ailment among Senegalese children, Grace Anne devised an ingenious way to train mothers to rehydrate their ill children at home.

She also trained House of Hope staff to use a version of the World Health Organization triage system, designed to prioritize those at greatest risk of death or disease transmission. In its first operating 18 days, the new system identified 45 critically ill patients (26 of them children). The new procedures were instrumental in identifying and stopping a potentially dangerous outbreak of measles throughout urban Dakar. Noticing several patients who met the definition of suspected measles, Grace Anne immediately contacted the health ministry. An intervention team (including Grace Anne) found a large number of cases in a marginalized (and unvaccinated) community. That same team conducted an intensive education and vaccination campaign that stopped the outbreak in its tracks.

”Dr. Grace” raised the profile of the clinic in the local community and internationally, drawing in thousands of dollars in donations, medicines, and materials. During her time at House of Hope, Dr. Grace improved its training programs, its material and human resources, its treatment algorithms, and its strategic planning for the future.

EAP – Craig Houston, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Working entirely without compensation, staff, or a budget, Craig Houston created a multi-faceted website (http://www.chiangmaiair.org/) to promote air quality awareness during northern Thailand’s annual agricultural burning seasons, provide sustainable solutions to the problem, and support information sharing. He partnered with local government air quality experts, NGOs, schools and film directors to tackle this issue.

To increase awareness and reporting of seasonal high pollution levels, Craig met with local schools and small businesses to provide training on the use of air quality monitors, and by the end of 2017, he will have assisted eight schools and local businesses to obtain and install air quality monitors.

In addition to his work on air quality awareness, Craig is the Chair of the Consulate’s Green Team. Under Craig’s leadership, the consulate has screened films raising awareness of air quality issues, partnered with local U.S. government grant recipient NGOs who work closely on the issue, and participated in numerous community service endeavors including tree planting and city cleanup projects.

Craig’s selfless dedication to this vitally important issue has helped improved the health and lives of northern Thailand’s residents and visitors.

EUR – Alesia Krupenikava, Kyiv, Ukraine

As the first ever Regional Ambassador of the Technovation Challenge in Ukraine, Alesia was able to recruit more than 150 girls from all over Ukraine to participate in the program, find 50 mentors to coach them, raise over $20,000 to send a team to the finals in San Francisco, sign up partners like Microsoft and the Ministry of Education, and recruit a team to take over and grow the program when she departs post.

This was the first time Technovation, the world’s largest tech and entrepreneurship contest for girls ages 10-18, had been conducted in Ukraine. When the original Regional Ambassador stepped down, Alesia was asked to take her place. Alesia was a tireless recruiter and promoter for Technovation, holding numerous meetings and information sessions and spent countless hours answering calls and emails to explain the program. The most meaningful thing for Alesia was that teams were signing up from all over Ukraine and from all backgrounds, including a team made up of girls with HIV, and others from orphanages and centers for families in crisis. Supporting the teams became an almost full time job by itself, and Alesia was a constant motivator and cheerleader for the girls.

The culmination of the program is a live event where the teams present their projects in demo sessions and give a “pitch” to a panel of judges and the audience. Alesia recruited the top technical university in Ukraine to host the event and another university for housing. She formed partnerships with organizations such as Microsoft to support the program, and was able to raise over $20,000 to pay for travel to Kyiv, prizes for the teams, and for one team to attend the World Pitch Event in San Francisco.

SCA – Lisa A. Hess, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Lisa Hess created and leads the U.S. Embassy Colombo community outreach team that provides great benefits to Sri Lanka while also providing the U.S. mission community an opportunity for service.

Many of Lisa’s actions engaged U.S. Navy sailors visiting Sri Lanka. In 2016, the Captain of the USS Blue Ridge, command ship of the 7th Fleet, requested two days of community relations activities involving 30 U.S. and 10 Sri Lankan sailors. Lisa volunteered for this task and identified a community center in a poor area that provides education, food, medical treatment, and much more. Lisa raised the funds to pay for paint and materials needed for the sailors to conduct a renovation project at the center and make a contribution towards new playground equipment. The American and Sri Lankan sailors, community center patrons, and Embassy staff worked together to paint desks, tables, benches, classrooms, and playground equipment.

Lisa also organized outreach for U.S. and Sri Lankan sailors from the USS Hopper and USS Comstock to, including an activity at dental clinics in which children practiced their tooth-brushing skills on a sailor wearing a giant alligator costume, as well as cleaning debris from children’s playing fields. Other community outreach included repairing a local no-kill animal shelter, and cleaning and painting rooms at a local school for the deaf and blind.

Within the Mission, Lisa coordinated bake sales; helped prepare food for and serve our entire embassy community at our Black History Month breakfast; helped manage the U.S. booth at the overseas School of Colombo fun fair; and led a book drive for the school library. Funds raised in the bake sales and fun fair were used to establish a library for an under-privileged local school.

WHA – Maritza V. Wilson

As a Nicaraguan who practiced medicine in her native country before becoming a U.S. citizen, Maritza Wilson has been uniquely equipped to make a significant contribution as a volunteer in Nicaragua.

Maritza focused her efforts through a non-profit organization called Amos Foundation (Fundación Amos), a group that serves a local community (barrio) in Managua via a walk-in clinic, home visits, and health education. Maritza became one of the regular volunteer doctors at the clinic, participating in home visits and home surveys to better understand the needs of the barrio and train members of the community in basic home health care–ensuring the sustainability of her efforts. Maritza’s work with Amos Foundation also extended to Nicaragua’s rural areas, including a remote village on the opposite side of the country in the impoverished Caribbean Coast. Serving that community for one full week, she instructed villagers in basic community health concepts, such as how to use (and clean) filters to avoid water-borne illness.

Maritza’s work also involved the hosting of training teams, known locally as brigades, from the U.S. Maritza’s knowledge of both cultures and languages has enabled her to integrate many of these teams seamlessly into the local context, maximizing their effectiveness. Maritza has organized and led training sessions for more than 1,000 high school students at four schools, offering instruction that covered reproductive health and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. She has also worked alongside U.S. neurosurgeons visiting Nicaragua each year to provide training and assistance in neurology treatment at the main public hospital in Managua.

Maritza has also worked to develop economic opportunities for families in her home village of San Juan de Oriente, a community famous for a unique type of pottery. Maritza started a non-profit venture to expand marketing opportunities for local artisans’ pieces and to create new ceramics products. Maritza plans to leave the business in the hands of the families she is serving—ensuring her volunteer efforts will have an enduring impact on this community.

For more information about the award, please visit: http://www.aafsw.org/services/sosa

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American Academy of Diplomacy Opposes Nomination of Stephen Akard as @StateDept Personnel Chief

Posted: 2:10 am ET
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In a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Chairman Bob Corker and Ranking Member Ben Cardin, released publicly on October 30, the American Academy of Diplomacy (AAD) requests that the senators oppose the nomination of Stephen Akard to be Director General of the Foreign Service:

The American Academy of Diplomacy requests that you oppose the nomination of Stephen Akard to serve as Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources at the State Department. We have concluded that voicing our concerns with Mr. Akard’s nomination is required if the Academy is to meet its most important mission: to promote and protect America’s interests in a dangerous world by supporting an effective American diplomacy based on a strong Foreign Service and a strong Civil Service.

It looks like the AAD requested to meet with the nominee but had not been successful. The letter authored by former senior diplomats Ambassadors Tom Pickering and Ronald Neumann on behalf of the group says about Mr. Akard, “We hold no personal animus toward him.”  But added that ” … we have concluded that Mr. Akard lacks the necessary professional background to be the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources at the State Department. His confirmation would be contrary to Congress’s long standing intent and desire to create a professional American diplomatic service based on merit.

The letter further adds: “While Mr. Akard is technically eligible for the position, to confirm someone who had less than a decade in the Foreign Service would be like making a former Army Captain the Chief of Staff of the Army, the equivalent of a four-star general.”

The full letter is available to read here (pdf).

We’ve previously blogged about the Akard appointment on October 17 (see Trump’s Pick For @StateDept Personnel Chief Gets the Ultimate “Stretch” Assignment).

With the exception of noting this nomination on Twitter, and separately urging FS members “to embrace their roles as stewards of the institution”, we have not seen any public position on this nomination by the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the professional association and labor union of the Foreign Service since 1924.

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Former Senior Diplomats Urge Tillerson to Make Public @StateDept’s Reorganization Plan

Posted: 2:14 pm PT
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On September 18, the American Academy of Diplomacy released a letter from Ambassadors Thomas Pickering and Ronald Neumann asking that Secretary Tillerson make to the State Department’s reorganization plan public.  Below is the text of the letter, the full letter is posted at www.academyofdiplomacy.org.

We understand that the State Department reorganization plan forwarded to OMB has been deemed “pre-decisional” and will therefore not be made public.

On behalf of the Board of the American Academy of Diplomacy, a non-partisan and non-governmental organization comprising senior former career and non-career diplomatic practitioners, we ask that you reconsider this decision and make your recommendations available for public comment.  The Academy, whose only interest is in strengthening American diplomacy, is already on record supporting many needed changes in the State Department’s structure and staffing.  Indeed, we would hope to make the Academy’s extensive experience available and relevant to any conversations about the future of the Department so that we might be able to support the outcome of this process, just as we supported your decision on reducing special envoys.  We cannot do so if your vision and plans remain publicly unavailable.

As the recent report prepared by your consultants very properly highlighted, the Civil Service and Foreign Service employees who work for you are patriotic, dedicated, public servants.  Many have gone in harm’s way and more will do so.  For nearly eight months these employees, and many of their families, have lived in a state of suspended animation, not knowing how reorganization will affect their lives and careers.  In light of their sacrifices for our Country, it strikes us as unfair to ask them to remain in this limbo for additional months while the Administration considers in private your recommendations for change.

Keeping your decisions from public view will only fuel the suspicion and low morale which now affects so many in the Department.  We ask that you be transparent with those most affected by your efforts to build efficiency and expertise.  Not doing so prejudices their future support.  Your leadership and America’s diplomacy would be better served by allowing public comment.  It is on that basis that we respectfully ask that you reconsider this decision.

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Related to this, Politico reported last week that “as part of his plan to restructure the State Department, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is pledging not to concentrate more power in his own hands — for now.” See Tillerson vows State Dept. redesign won’t concentrate power in his hands. Click here or image below to see the State Department-USAID Redesign Overview Capitol Hill Brief via Politico’s Nahal Toosi. Note the slide titled “What Redesign is Not.” There is no intention at this time to dismantle State or USAID at this time. Whewww! That’s a relief, hey?

Click on image to view the document.

Click on image to view the document: Redesign Overview Capitol Hill Brief, September 2017 via Politico

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What’s That Sound? That’s AFSA Drilling a Hole In Search of Its Missing Backbone

Posted: 2:14 pm PT
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Via Politico: Barbara Stephenson, the president of the American Foreign Service Association, the diplomats’ union: “America’s leadership is being challenged by adversaries who would like to see us fail. We cannot let that happen,” she said. “With all the threats facing our nation, we need a properly resourced and staffed Foreign Service more than ever, and we need them where they do the most good—posted abroad, delivering for the American people.”

AFSA on Twitter:

–Nine in 10 Americans support strong American global leadership. (1/5)
— That’s unthinkable without a strong/professional FS deployed around the world protecting/defending our people, interests & values. (2/5)
— America’s leadership is being challenged by adversaries who would like to see us fail. We cannot let that happen. (3/5)
— With all the threats facing our nation, we need a properly resourced and staffed Foreign Service more than ever (4/5)
— and we need them where they do the most good—posted abroad, delivering for the American people. (5/5)

AFSA added “At this point, President Trump’s ambassadorial nominees have taken an average of 42 days to be confirmed. (GW Bush 62 days, Obama 101 days.)”

Heard anything yet from Secretary Tillerson? From Deputy Secretary Sullivan?

O.K.

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FS Labor Relations Board on AFSA Dues, Foreign Service Retirees, and Annuities ≠ Salaries

Posted: 4:22 am ET
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Last month, the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board (FSLRB) rendered a decision about AFSA dues and Foreign Service retirees.  AFSA filed with the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board (the Board) a “request[ for] . . . interpretation and guidance of § 1018(b)(2) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980. This provision concerns the termination of payroll deductions for union dues when “the individual ceases to receive a salary from the [Agency] as a member of the Service.”

When Agency employees wish to have their Union dues automatically withheld from their paychecks, the employees complete a form that authorizes the Agency to withhold those funds and remit them to the Union.6 According to the Union, the Agency automatically terminates dues withholding when a foreign-service employee retires. The Union asserts that this practice is based on an erroneous understanding of § 1018(b)(2) of the Foreign Service Act …
[…]
[T]he Union argues that the automatic termination of dues withholding causes it to lose dues and, therefore, asks the Board to find that § 1018(b)(2) does not require automatic termination of dues withholding upon retirement.
[…]
The Union contends that the Agency should continue withholding dues from an individual’s retirement benefits based on the same dues-withholding-authorization form that applied to the individual’s salary while in active service.17 We disagree.

Section 1018(b)(2) of the Foreign Service Act requires the Agency to terminate an existing dues-withholding assignment when an “individual ceases to receive a salary from the [Agency].”18 As explained below, retirees generally receive “annuities,” not salaries, upon retirement.19

The FSLRB says it find that § 1018(b)(2) requires the State Department to terminate an existing dues-withholding assignment when a retiring employee stops receiving a salary.

The Department deducts union dues from salaries on the basis of a voluntary act by the Foreign Service employee. The employee has the right to revoke his/her decision at any time. Whenever an employee who has had his/her union dues deducted from salary arrives at the moment of retirement, it must be assumed that he/she continues to believe it had been in his/her interest to maintain both their membership in the union, and the automatic deduction of union dues.

The Board notes that “when a foreign-service employee retires, that “individual ceases to receive a salary from the [Agency].”30 Consequently, under § 1018(b)(2), the Agency must terminate the individual’s previous dues-withholding assignment.”
AFSA has over 10,000 active paying FS members. Its dues range from $95.00 to $400.00 annually based on four employee brackets.  Read the full decision below:

 

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Open Forum Furor: An Attempt to Neuter Retiree Complaints About AFSA?

Posted: 1:44 am ET
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AFSA’s Open Forum enables Foreign Service retirees to stay in touch with their Foreign Service colleagues on FS issues and maintain their FS legacy. Out of some 16,000 paying members, a sub-group of retiree-members use the online forum, and they are pretty vocal and not always complimentary to AFSA or its leadership. AFSA previously opted-in all members to the forum in 2014 so everyone gets to read the online conversation.

An Open Forum user said that all those who get the Open Forum digest daily benefits from being part of a dynamic discussion/debate of Foreign Service topics of interest, whether or not they chose to post in the forum themselves.

AFSA Director of Communications Asgeir Sigfusson recently told members that “We have heard from members asking us to do our best to stem the flow of emails and help with inbox clutter. In response, we are now opting everyone out of that daily email, which will reduce the number of weekly AFSA emails by up to seven.”

We were informed by our sources that “When asked, AFSA staff indicated they have no knowledge of any complaints about the Forum.”

AFSA’s President and State VP, and their communication shop are notoriously unresponsive to our inquiries, so um … pardon us if we no longer waste our time over there.  

The Open Forum mechanism to opt-in is reportedly not onerous, and we can certainly understand decluttering the inbox but some AFSA members are outrage, especially as the change was announced just a few days before it took effect.  More importantly, there is a strong suspicion that trimming access to the forum (or what members read even passively from the forum) and the requirement to opt-in are just ways to trim the unfavorable views expressed by the retired members.

Former AFSA Vice President for Retirees Larry Cohen who oversaw the creation of the forum did not minced words and said, “This as an attempt of AFSA leadership to neuter retiree complaints about AFSA.”

Ouch! What are they talking about in there, do tell!

A close AFSA observer notes that changes at AFSA that could have lead to this kerfuffle includes communication issues like Governing Board meeting agendas and approved minutes that should be available on the AFSA website for any interested member but are not.

“Overall AFSA leadership seems to want a tight control on information.  They do not share enough or ask enough.  The current communications policy divides up the Service by not sharing communications across all constituencies so that  all interested, whether active or retired, can be better informed.  Boards and staff continue to ignore the bylaw provision for constituency Standing Committees.  Now is a time to enlarge the tent, not restrict it.  Standing committees have an advisory function and allow for a broader range of perspectives.  The results or main themes or take-always from the  “focused conversations” organized by rank cohort are not shared with the membership with the degree of specificity needed to be useful.  It is not clear how focus group conversations are announced or participants selected.  What about retirees – are they included?”

That sounds almost as bad as the information control generated by the 7th Floor.

The AFSA observer also notes that elected representatives are accountable to members and every member deserves a respectful and timely response to any request for information.

Just yesterday, an Open Forum user complained that the three items he/she submitted have not been published nor acknowledged and asked, “What in the name of AFSA openness is going on?”

The AFSA election results for the 2017-2019 AFSA Governing Board had a total of 4,130 valid ballots cast or 25% of the eligible voting membership (note that the new Governing Board was seated last week, so old Prez but new State VP). That’s the same percentage of voters who participated in the 2015-2017 elections. A few years back, we sliced and diced the AFSA voting numbers and at that time, we noted that active-duty employees were the largest voting bloc in AFSA at over 60% of the total membership, but only about 16% of this constituency vote. Foreign Service retirees on the other hand, the second largest constituents of AFSA make up something like 26% of the total membership but almost half the total AFSA retiree members cast their votes (2016 membership is currently 10,792 active employees and 3,710 retired employees). The retirees also bring in about $260K in AFSA dues annually.

As a side note, did you hear about the ruling from the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board (FSLRB) about Foreign Service retirement and witholding of union dues? (Separate post to follow).

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Burn Bag: 2017 S-III Selection Board – Who Volunteers … Who Volunteers as Tribute?

Via Burn Bag:

“Given the lack of action by either the DG, HR/PE or AFSA, it is evident all support cronyism and undue influence on the 2017 S-III Selection Board given that a single individual has been chosen by HR/PE to represent DS 50% of the time over the past 6 years. This, despite other qualified candidates volunteering time & again. This wreaks of favoritism, undue influence and undermines the credibility of the Foreign Service promotion process.”

via giphy

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Related item:

3 FAM 2326.1 Selection Boards
3 FAM 2326.1-1 Composition:
f. All selection board members must be approved by the Director General and must not serve on a selection board for two consecutive years.

 

 

Foreign Affairs Day Memorial Plaque Ceremony: John Brown Williams Still Missing

Posted: 2:42 am ET
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Last year, we blogged about John B. Williams who was  appointed on 10 March 1842 by President Tyler to be United States consul at the Bay of Islands, New Zealand (see Missing From the AFSA Memorial Plaque: John Brown Williams, First American Consul to Fiji (1810-1860).  He was born in Salem, Massachusetts on 20 September 1810, the seventh of nine children of Israel Porter and Elizabeth (Wait) Williams.  In 1860, J.M. Brower, the United States vice consul in Fiji, informed his family that John B. Williams had died of dysentery on 19 June 1860.  Read more herehere and here.

History.state.gov lists him as follows:

Establishment of Consul at Lauthala1844.
Commercial Agent John B. Williams was appointed the first Consul to the Fiji Islands on August 19, 1844. He was resident at Auckland, New Zealand.

On May 5, the new Secretary of State offered remarks at the Foreign Affairs Memorial Day and said he took “solace in the fact that we did not have to add any names to this plaque this year.” Yup, they forgot again to add John Brown Williams’ name on that wall.  We should note the first U.S. envoy to the Far East, Edmund Roberts, who is  listed on the Memorial Plaque also died of dysentery in Macau, China in 1844.

Excerpt from Secretary Tillerson’s remarks.

It’s been my great privilege to take part in the American Foreign Service Association’s Memorial ceremony honoring the service and sacrifice of the men and women who did not make it back. Even amidst the non-stop business of the State Department, and while we work at a pretty torrid pace, I think it is always important to set aside time to pay tribute to our fallen colleagues.

Although he was unable to be here today, President Trump also released a statement sending his greetings and sincere gratitude to all members of the United States Foreign Service and Civil Services at federal agencies here at home as well as at embassies and consulates around the globe. As I have gotten to know the President, I have seen firsthand how much he appreciates – and that appreciation is growing, I assure you – for the work of our hard-working public servants here, and those who serve on behalf of the nation around the world.

Each of the 248 fallen heroes and heroines whose names are engraved on the Memorial Plaque represents a unique individual life, and I think we can never lose sight of that. These men and women had families, they had loved ones they left behind, dreams unlived, plans unrealized. These names span our country’s history. From the beginning of our young republic, Americans have gone abroad representing our country, advancing our interests and values, and raising our flag. Today, I’d like to share with you some of their stories.

The first name on the plaque is William Palfrey. In 1780, this Revolutionary War veteran and former aide to George Washington was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate to be U.S. consul general to France.
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I do take solace in the fact that we did not have to add any names to this plaque this year, but I know our men and women always put mission first, and though they are judicious and they take the necessary security precautions, there are inherent risks in all we do to advance America’s interest and values to keep our nation safe. As your Secretary, I promise you I will do all I can to make sure we are not forced to add another name to this wall, by making the safety of our people my highest priority, and by asking all of you to do the same, and taking action to bolster the protection of our people around the globe.

We’re tried to locate President Trump’s statement but have been unable to find it. The White House posted four statements on May 5 on its website; there’s nothing there in reference to Foreign Service Day.

05/05/17 Remarks at the Foreign Affairs Day Memorial Plaque Ceremony;  Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson; Washington, DC

April 2016: Missing From the AFSA Memorial Plaque: John Brown Williams, First American Consul to Fiji (1810-1860)

 

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