AFSA Shouts “Fire!” and a @StateDept Spox on Background Asks, “Fire, What Fire?”

Posted: 2:58 pm PT
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The piece below, in case you have not read it yet, is an advance copy of AFSA President Barbara Stephenson’s opinion essay on the depletion of the Foreign Service career ranks. Not NYT or the Washington Post but for a December 2017 column in the Foreign Service Journal, the group’s trade publication with a reported circulation of 17,500 and approximately 35,000 readers (this column was also circulated via an email marketing service). We’ve been watching the departures from the State Department since January, and this is the first time we’re seeing these numbers. And frankly, the first time we’re hearing the alarm from the “voice of the Foreign Service.” We have some thoughts below after the piece.

 

Time to Ask Why
December 2017 Foreign Service Journal
President’s Views

By AFSA President Ambassador Barbara Stephenson

I begin with a reminder that we, the members of the career Foreign Service, have an obligation as stewards of our institution to be effective advocates for why diplomacy matters. That requires some skill in explaining how diplomacy works.

While raising awareness of and appreciation for the Foreign Service is a longstanding goal, one AFSA has pursued with renewed vigor and impact over the past couple years, the need to make the case for the Foreign Service with fellow Americans and our elected representatives has taken on a new urgency. The cover of the Time magazine that arrived as I was writing this column jarred me with its graphic of wrecking balls and warning of “dismantling government as we know it.”

While I do my best, as principal advocate for our institution and as a seasoned American diplomat, to model responsible, civil discourse, there is simply no denying the warning signs that point to mounting threats to our institution—and to the global leadership that depends on us.

There is no denying that our leadership ranks are being depleted at a dizzying speed, due in part to the decision to slash promotion numbers by more than half. The Foreign Service officer corps at State has lost 60 percent of its Career Ambassadors since January. Ranks of Career Ministers, our three-star equivalents, are down from 33 to 19. The ranks of our two-star Minister Counselors have fallen from 431 right after Labor Day to 369 today—and are still falling. 

These numbers are hard to square with the stated agenda of making State and the Foreign Service stronger. Were the U.S. military to face such a decapitation of its leadership ranks, I would expect a public outcry. Like the military, the Foreign Service recruits officers at entry level and grows them into seasoned leaders over decades. The talent being shown the door now is not only our top talent, but also talent that cannot be replicated overnight. The rapid loss of so many senior officers has a serious, immediate, and tangible effect on the capacity of the United States to shape world events.

Meanwhile, the self-imposed hiring freeze is taking its toll at the entry level. Intake into the Foreign Service at State will drop from 366 in 2016 to around 100 new entry-level officers joining A100 in 2018 (including 60 Pickering and Rangel Fellows).

Not surprisingly, given the blocked entry path, interest in joining the Foreign Service is plummeting. I wrote with pride in my March 2016 column that “more than 17,000 people applied to take the Foreign Service Officer Test last year,” citing interest in joining the Foreign Service as a key indicator of the health of the institution. What does it tell us, then, that we are on track to have fewer than half as many people take the Foreign Service Officer Test this year?

As the shape and extent of the staffing cuts to the Foreign Service at State become clearer, I believe we must shine a light on these disturbing trends and ask “why?” and “to what end?”   

Congress rejected drastic cuts to State and USAID funding. The Senate labeled the proposed cuts a “doctrine of retreat” and directed that appropriated funds “shall support” staffing State at not less than Sept. 30, 2016, levels, and further directed that “The Secretary of State shall continue A-100 entry-level classes for FSOs in a manner similar to prior years.”

Given this clear congressional intent, we have to ask: Why such a focus on slashing staffing at State? Why such a focus on decapitating leadership? How do these actions serve the stated agenda of making the State Department stronger?

Remember, nine in ten Americans favor a strong global leadership role for our great country, and we know from personal experience that such leadership is unthinkable without a strong professional Foreign Service deployed around the world protecting and defending America’s people, interests and values.  Where then, does the impetus come from to weaken the American Foreign Service?  Where is the mandate to pull the Foreign Service team from the field and forfeit the game to our adversaries?

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AFSA says that the Foreign Service officer corps “has lost 60 percent of its Career Ambassadors since January.” We winced when we saw that one. Not all career diplomats attain this rank; in fact, only a handful of individuals are nominated by the President to become Career Ambassadors but this is the very top rank of the Foreign Service, equivalent to a four-star general. Imagine if the Pentagon lost 60 percent of its 0-10 but way, way worse because the Foreign Service is a much smaller service, and the loss of one or two officials have significant impact to the leadership ranks.

When we saw the AFSA message Tuesday night, we noticed that social media started latching on to the 60 percent loss.  AFSA could have used actual numbers as it did with the break down of the second and third top ranks in the FS, but for its own reason, it used the percentage instead of actual numbers for the career ambassadors. So that caused a mild feeding frenzy that’s not helpful because when folks realize that 60 percent is really 3 out of 5 career ambassadors, they won’t be happy.

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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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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.

 

 

AFSA Elections 2017: Three of Four Top Elected Posts Are Uncontested. Again.

Posted: 12:10 am ET
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It’s that time of year again. AFSA is having an election for the 2017 Governing Board.  For the second time in four years, three of the four top elected posts are again, unopposed: President, Secretary, Treasurer.  As in 2013, only the State VP position has two candidates.  Also uncontested slots are: USAID VP, FAS VP, APHIS Rep, BBG Rep, FAS Rep and USAID Rep.  The Foreign Service had seen this movie before in the 2013 elections.

Barbara Stephenson is running unopposed for reelection as AFSA’s president. In her latest FSJ column addressing the 30% funding cut, she writes that she has become over the years, a “cheerleader for making the most of transitions to reexamine priorities.” In hedging off potential criticisms for AFSA’s noticeable silence over these budget cuts, she cites “AFSA’s record-high membership levels and the response and feedback from our “structured conversations” (now in their second year) and other communications tell me that many members are open to a sophisticated approach by AFSA that draws on our core competencies as diplomats.”

Following Secretary Tillerson’s recent address to State Department employees, WaPo’s Joe Davidson writes“Tillerson seems more in touch with the tension reorganization can generate among employees than the union representing them. A statement from American Foreign Service Association President Barbara Stephenson didn’t address worker apprehension as she said “this reorganization effort offers a rare opportunity to make American diplomacy stronger.”

Former Ambassador Tom Boyatt running unopposed for AFSA Secretary says in his campaign message that he “registered the unprecedented uncertainties in the current budget proposal, the reorganization and “streamlining” being considered and the possible RIF flowing therefrom.”

First time candidate for AFSA office, former Ambassador Tony Wayne running in an uncontested seat for the Treasurer slot says that he “cannot recall a period when the misunderstanding was so serious regarding the vital role that American diplomats and American diplomacy play.  AFSA must be as effective as possible in explaining the importance of the non-military tools in America’s international policy. The proposed budget cuts are deeply concerning.” 

Ken Kero-Mentz running for State Vice President under the Stephenson slate writes, “I believe we must forge new alliances, build new bridges, and plan for a stronger future, together. […] I believe AFSA must be a place where everyone can share concerns and ideas, safely. I know how to work with senior management, and I know how to advocate for our Foreign Service and our Department.”

Joe De Maria, an independent running for State Vice President says, “I have served 26 years in the Foreign Service. I’ve served at six posts and in five functional bureaus with many fine generalists and specialists. I’ve served as a consular officer, a Pearson Fellow, HRO, Labor Officer and Congressional Advisor. I know the Department well.[…] I know what works well and what doesn’t, and what motivates us to keep plugging away year after year. Let me put this experience and knowledge to work for you and your families.”

Ann Posner for USAID Vice President in an uncontested seat writes: “As USAID Contingency VP, I want to press onward to assure that the Agency streamlines systems that affect FSOs’ work and careers.”

Daniel Crocker running for FCS Vice President as part of the sole slate: “I’ll help ensure that FCS’s role in promoting U.S. economic security is a core component of your country team at post. I’ll challenge Commerce to support a first-tier Foreign Service. And my communication with you will be transparent and timely.”

Independent Steve Morrison is running for FCS Vice President says that he “Cannot be promoted, SFS “window” not open so ONLY WORKS FOR YOU AND YOUR INTERESTS!”

The contested Retiree VP slot is between Bill Haugh who is running as part of the only slate and John Naland running as an independent. Haugh writes: “I want to strengthen AFSA’s capacity to help you transition to retirement. Every retirement is unique, so I propose to strengthen AFSA casework. I am a career management officer with decades of experience navigating the bureaucracy.”

AFSA President twice and former AFSA VP John Naland writes that he is the “only retiree candidate who has pledged to dedicate 20 hours per week to AFSA, I have the time to apply my experience and knowledge to advancing AFSA’s agenda.  As an independent candidate, if the need arises to urge our AFSA President to speak out more strongly in defense of the Service, I will be freer to do so than her fellow slate candidates whose elections she made possible.”

As an aside — we have not made a habit of endorsing AFSA candidates and we are not about to start now, but we will always remember John Naland as an AFSA president who was willing to address members’ concerns long before we had this blog. He was accommodating and sensitive to the issues of Foreign Service members and their spouses, even those who were not paying members of the organization.  He certainly talked the talk and walked the walk.

Frankly, we are sorry to see that he is not at the top of the ticket.

Former Ambassador Alphonse F. La Porta for Retiree Representative talks about “another and lesser known threat: the gutting of employee rights and the labor-management system for which AFSA is responsible as the exclusive representative of the Foreign Service. The law-based and carefully-negotiated rights of federal unions are under attack on the Hill to limit due process, employee protections, and AFSA advocacy.”

Philip A. Shull for Retiree Representative as part of the sole slate writes that “If elected as your Retiree Representative, I will use my skills and 30+ years of experience in marketing and coalition building to win over even more converts.”

George Colvin is running as an independent for Retiree Representative. In his campaign statement, he writes:

According to prominent legal theorist Jack Goldsmith, the Trump administration is conducting “the greatest presidential onslaught on international law and international institutions in American history,” including “trying to gut State Department capacity across the board.” News stories feature bewildered Department staff fearful of budget cuts that could produce a Foreign Service RIF, as well as a drastic and damaging reorganization. The Secretary is a taciturn recluse and policy bystander.

Faced with conditions that threaten both the national interest and the future of the Foreign Service, Barbara Stephenson and her colleagues have nothing to say.

I am running as an independent candidate for retiree representative because I believe AFSA must engage on these concerns, and must be seen to do so. We are the Foreign Service, not the Silent Service; and it is past time for the “Voice of the Foreign Service” to start speaking.

Oh boy! Mr. Colvin might just stir things up on the Board!

Several folks are also running for State Representatives. Some candidates’ statements do not talk about what they hope to accomplish  as AFSA representatives but about the um… “true appreciation of the work” of AFSA President Ambassador Stephenson or Stephenson’s “leadership.”  

Below is a list of nominees.

 

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U.S. Consulate General Istanbul: Post On Evacuation Status With a “No Curtailment” Policy?

Posted: 1:49 am ET
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In October 2016, the State Department updated its Travel Warning for Turkey to announce the mandatory departure of family members of employees assigned to the Consulate General in Istanbul. The announcement says that the Department of State made this decision “based on security information indicating extremist groups are continuing aggressive efforts to attack U.S. citizens in areas of Istanbul where they reside or frequent” but adds that “the Consulate General remains open and fully staffed.”

The mandatory evacuation order issued in October meant that family members departed Turkey for temporary housing typically in the Washington, D.C. area without their household effects or personal vehicles. And like all posts on mandatory evacuation, the children had to be pulled out from their schools and temporarily enrolled in local schools in the DC area. We are not sure how many family members were evacuated from post but the last data we’ve seen indicates that USCG Istanbul has approximately 80 direct-hire US employees.

By law, an evacuation cannot last longer than 180 days so after the Under Secretary of State for Management (“M”) approves the evacuation status for post (authorized or ordered), the 180-day clock “begins ticking”. The order can be lifted at any time but if family members are not allowed to return to post, and no reassignment decision has been reached, the post status could change to “unaccompanied”.  For those not in the FS, that means, family members will not be allowed to return to post and incoming employees will no longer be allowed to bring their family members to their diplomatic assignment.

The latest evacuation order for USCG Istanbul could potentially last until April 2017 unless terminated earlier, or could be extended with a new order. Note that a previous evacuation order for US Mission Turkey was terminated in September 2016 and about five weeks later, the current evacuation order was issued. Who would have thought that Istanbul would become more restrictive than say, Beirut, where employees can still bring adult family members to post?

In any case, we understand that US Mission Turkey’s DCM had a meeting recently with the staff to let them know that post and HR/EX had agreed to halt all curtailments. Apparently, employees were told they cannot leave post until they have incoming replacements. But see — if they’re not allowed to send in their requests, or if the jobs of the curtailing employees are not listed anywhere, how will folks know about these job vacancies?  How will incoming replacements come about?  We understand that the hold placed on all curtailments apparently has “no stated expiration.”

We asked the State Department about this “no curtailment” decree specific to USCG Istanbul. Below is the full official response we received:

We cannot comment on the status of individual requests, but we can confirm that it is incorrect that a “no curtailments” policy is in effect in Mission Turkey. The Department adjudicates curtailment requests on a case by case basis, in line with established regulations and procedures. In doing so, we take into account the well-being and the individual circumstances of our employees and their family members, as well as the need to ensure sufficient staffing to undertake the important work of our diplomatic posts.

We should note that we did not inquire about individual curtailments; and our question was specific to Istanbul, and did not include Ankara or Adana. You are welcome to interpret “Mission Turkey” in the most convenient way, of course.

We’ve learned that this is not the first instance of a decree issued on specific posts. In one NEA post, the Front Office reportedly made it known that it “would not accept” curtailment requests until further down the “ordered departure” road.  During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the Director General was also reportedly asked to implement a policy that no curtailment requests from those affected posts would be allowed until senior management decided it was “appropriate.”

We can see where the State Department is coming from; it certainly would not like to see mass curtailments from staffers but  — there is no authority in the books that prohibit curtailment requests. And as somebody familiar with the bureau puts it, “HR knows this damn well.”  

Curtailment is the shortening of an employee’s tour of duty from his or her assignment.  It may include the employee’s immediate departure from a bureau or post.  The statutory authority for curtailment is found in the Foreign Service Act of 1980.

In the Foreign Affairs Manual, 3 FAM 2443.1 allows an employee assigned abroad to request curtailment of his or her tour of duty for any reason.  The regs say that the employee should submit a written request for curtailment that explains the reasons for the request to the appropriate assignment panel through his or her counseling and assignment officer. Post management must state its support for or opposition to the employee’s request.  The Foreign Affairs Manual makes clear that a curtailment is an assignment action, not a disciplinary one.

The FAM provides any employee the right to request a curtailment for any reason at any time, regardless of where the employees are serving.  It’s been pointed out to us that this does not/not mean that the assignment panel will approve the request. We understand that the panel’s decision typically depends on the argument made by the CDO (Career Development Office) at panel and whether ECS (Employee Consultation Service) strongly supports the “compassionate curtailment.”

A source familiar with the workings of the bureau observed that if post is refusing to send out the curtailment request via cable, the employee needs to connect with his/her CDO and go the DGDirect route. If necessary, employees can also go to AFSA, as there are precedence for this in prior attempts to declare no curtailment decrees at other posts under “ordered departure” or where there were outbreaks of diseases (Ebola, Zika).

Note that 3 FAM 2446 provides the Director General of the Foreign Service the authority to propose curtailment from any assignment sua sponteAccording to the FAM, the Director General may overrule the assignment panel decision to curtail or not to curtail if the Director General determines that to do so is in the best interests of the Foreign Service or the post.

Related posts:

 

 

Ring in 2017 By Gutting the Ethics Office: Here and There

Posted: 1:01 pm ET
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Last night, House Republicans voted quietly to gut their own independent ethics watchdog, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). House Republicans adopted a proposal by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) to put the Office of Congressional Ethics under the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee. According to Politico, under the Goodlatte proposal, the OCE would be renamed the “Office of Congressional Complaint Review,” citing a summary of the House rules amendment obtained by POLITICO. It “places the office under the oversight of the Committee on Ethics.”  The provision would “provide protection against disclosures to the public or other government entities,” essentially sealing accusations against lawmakers. Currently those investigations are made public several months after the OCE refers the matter to the Ethics panel.  After an uproar, House Republican leaders have now reportedly pulled the Goodlatte amendment on OCE changes and the ethics office rules won’t change.

A related item —

Last month we asked what happened to AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics?  Retired Ambassador Charles A. Ray who was the first chair of AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics (‘PEC’) offered an answer. It looks like eliminating the PEC was also quietly done.

After we published the blogpost, one of our readers pointed us to a “Professionalism in the U.S. Government” talk with Dr. Don Snider posted on YouTube.  On May 29, 2014, AFSA welcomed Dr. Don Snider of the Strategic Studies Institute to AFSA headquarters to discuss “Professionalism in the U.S. Government”. Dr. Snider used his experiences and expertise as a widely respected scholar and speaker on issues of professionalism writ large, to pose the question of how systems of professionalism affect the U.S. government and whether the Foreign Service might be able to learn some lessons on this subject from the U.S. Army. Have a look.

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Whatever happened to AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics?

Posted: 11:03 am PT
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We received the following note from retired Ambassador Charles A. Ray who was the first chair of AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics (or simply ‘PEC’). Ambassador Ray previously served as U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe and Cambodia. He is also a retired U.S. Army officer who was decorated twice for his actions in combat during the Vietnam War, and later served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs.  We understand that there was a brief mention in the Foreign Service Journal (Board Meeting Notes) to the effect that the PEC was not continued, but that its work products would be retained for future use.  We have not been able to locate those work products on the AFSA web site even on its “professionalism and ethics” page.

We are republishing Ambassador Ray’s letter in full. You are welcome to add your thoughts in the comment section.

In your Dec. 13, 2016 post, @StateDept Launches Inaugural Leadership Day – Who’s Missing? (Updated), you end with the following question, ‘Also, hey, whatever happened to AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics?’

This is an excellent question, and one that I’m sure many of your readers would like an answer to, so if I may, I’d like to offer an answer.

Let me begin first with some background. The concept of an AFSA committee to deal with issues of professionalism and ethics began, I believe, in 2010, under the leadership of then AFSA president, Susan Johnson. The committee was officially formed in the Fall of 2012, and I, having just returned from my final overseas tour as ambassador to Zimbabwe, and retired from the Foreign Service, was asked to be the committee’s first chair.

First known as the Professionalism and Ethics Committee (PEC), it was subsequently named the Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics, but we kept the PEC acronym because it was familiar to people. The stated purpose of the committee was to enhance the professional nature and status of the Foreign Service, officers and specialists, across all the foreign affairs agencies.

One of the first things we did was conduct a survey of attitudes about ethics and professionalism. With the assistance of the Institute for Global Ethics (IGE), we focused initially on the culture of the Foreign Service. What we discovered was interesting, and somewhat disturbing. While most Foreign Service personnel consider the work we do a ‘profession,’ our survey found that very few could actually articulate just what constitutes a profession. Our analysis of the survey results showed that the Foreign Service was fragmented into ‘cones and interest groups,’ lacking a core institutional culture or identity. While many respondents could identify values essential to an effective Foreign Service, there was no common acceptance or clear understanding of what the core values of the Foreign Service institution are. In addition, whenever discussions of the Foreign Service arose, too often, they centered mainly on the Department of State, ignoring the other foreign affairs agencies to which Foreign Service personnel are assigned.

Once we recognized this, in 2013, the committee began a comprehensive survey to determine what most Foreign Service personnel thought of as core institutional values (or what the institution’s core values should be). We also requested feedback from AFSA members on a memo on management and leadership issues that the IG sent to the DG, which resulted in over fifty comments and examples from the field of unprofessional and unethical behavior at posts abroad. The results of our survey and subsequent focus groups were posted on AFSA’s web site (http://afsa.org/), but I couldn’t find them during a recent search of the site. Unfortunately, the AFSANET message summarizing the survey and our other research was not sent out to members by the AFSA Board that took office in 2013.

We also began the task of developing a draft code of professional conduct for the Foreign Service. Our aim was not to replace the extensive compliance codes that already exist in the various agencies, but to create a sense of institutional identity for Foreign Service Personnel; to develop an aspirational code of behavior focused not on what ‘not’ to do, but what we ‘ought’ to aspire to be. This was an exciting, but daunting, task that came to an end in the summer of 2016 when the current AFSA Governing Board decided that the PEC had achieved its aims and was, therefore, abolished.

The draft code of conduct, however, was not the only initiative that was pushed aside. In addition to a values-based culture as a foundation to a professional Foreign Service, we also identified the need for career-long professional education (as opposed to technical training or trade-craft), and had begun working with FSI and other organizations in that regard. One of the products of that effort was a white paper, ‘A Professional Education for a Professional Foreign Service,’ which was approved by AFSA in 2014 and shared with the QDDR Office and FSI. Another PEC initiative was the Expert Speakers Forum, which brought experienced speakers on leadership, professionalism, ethics, government effectiveness, and diplomatic art and practice to the AFSA membership.

In the summer of 2016, the PEC was asked to nominate new members, and then in a parliamentary move that was never made clear, the AFSA Governing Board decided that the PEC had reached the end of its mandate, and the committee was abolished. The explanation for this decision was never clear to me, nor do I think it was ever made clear to the membership—in fact, I think that it’s only the absence of the PEC in the list of committees on AFSA’s web site that informs the membership that the committee no longer exists. As far as I can establish, AFSA did not consult its membership about this decision, something I feel, as a member, should be done considering the interest the membership showed in the PEC and its activities.

Since it’s unlikely that AFSA will poll members about this, it might be interesting to hear what your readers have to say.

 

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