Foreign Service Staffing Gaps, and Oh, Diplomacy 3.0 Hiring Initiative to Conclude in FY2023

The GAO just released its June 2012 report on the Foreign Service staffing gaps (GAO: Foreign Service Midlevel Staffing Gaps Persist Despite Significant Increases in Hiring (June 2012). Here are the main take aways:

  • The Department of State faces persistent experience gaps in overseas Foreign Service positions, particularly at the midlevels, and these gaps have not diminished since 2008.
  • According to State officials, midlevel gaps have grown in recent years because most of the new positions created under Diplomacy 3.0 were midlevel positions and State only hires entry-level Foreign Service employees. In prior reports, we found that midlevel experience gaps compromise diplomatic readiness, and State officials confirmed that these gaps continue to impact overseas operations.
  • The State Department’s Five Year Workforce Plan does not include a specific strategy to guide efforts to address midlevel gaps.

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Details, Details

  • GAO found that 28 percent of overseas Foreign Service positions were either vacant or filled by upstretch candidates—officers serving in positions above their grade—as of October 2011, a percentage that has not changed since 2008.
  • Midlevel positions represent the largest share of these gaps. According to State officials, the gaps have not diminished because State increased the total number of overseas positions in response to increased needs and emerging priorities.
  • Among generalists, the consular section has the largest gaps, in terms of the total number of positions that are vacant or filled with upstretch assignments, because it is the largest generalist section. According to our analysis, about 170 consular positions were vacant as of October 31, 2011, and about 250 consular positions were filled with upstretch assignments.
  • [T]he Public Diplomacy section has a relatively high upstretch rate, with nearly one-quarter of all Public Diplomacy positions filled with upstretch assignments. State officials noted that gaps within the Public Diplomacy section, particularly at the midlevels, have persisted since the late 1990s, when the U.S. Information Agency—which had responsibility for public diplomacy—was integrated into State.

Hiring Initiatives

  • State implemented the “Diplomatic Readiness Initiative,” which resulted in hiring over 1,000 new employees above attrition from 2002 to 2004. However, as we previously reported, most of this increase was absorbed by the demand for personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • In 2009, State began another hiring effort called Diplomacy 3.0 to increase its Foreign Service workforce by 25 percent by 2013. However, due to emerging budgetary constraints, State now anticipates this goal will not be met until 2023.

Hiring Projections

  • State increased the size of the Foreign Service by about 17 percent in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, but overseas experience gaps—the percentage of positions that are vacant or filled with upstretch assignments—have not declined since 2008 because State increased the total number of overseas positions in response to increased needs and emerging diplomatic priorities. These gaps are largest at the midlevels and in hardship posts.
  • [D]ue to budget constraints, hiring has slowed significantly, and State only added 38 new Foreign Service positions above attrition in fiscal year 2011. In that year, it also modified its hiring projections to reflect a downward revision of future budget estimates for fiscal year 2012 and beyond. State now projects it will add 150 new Foreign Service positions above attrition in fiscal year 2012 and 82 new Foreign Service positions above attrition in each of the following 6 years.

Mind the Gaps – Location, Location

  • [P]ositions in posts of greatest hardship are 44 percent more likely to be vacant than positions at posts with low or no hardship differentials.
  • Additionally, when positions are filled, posts of greatest hardship are 81 percent more likely to use an upstretch candidate than posts with low or no hardship differentials (“upstretch” assignments—assignments in which the position’s grade is at least one grade higher than that of the officer assigned to it).
  • State has created a wide range of measures and financial and nonfinancial incentives to encourage officers to bid on assignments at hardship posts. (Foreign Service employees may receive favorable consideration for promotion for service in hardship posts. Additionally, State uses Fair Share bidding rules, which require employees who have not served in a hardship location within the last 8 years to bid on at least three positions in hardship posts).

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Mind the Gaps – Where the New Jobs Are

  • State officials noted that AIP posts—State’s highest-priority posts—account for much of the increase in new positions. As figure 3 shows, regionally, the largest share of new positions is in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, primarily because of increases in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the majority of new positions are in a small number of countries where State has high levels of engagement.
  • [A]bout 40 percent of all new positions are in AIP countries and an additional 20 percent are in 5 other countries: Mexico, Brazil, China, India, and Russia. State officials noted that this distribution of new positions reflects the department’s changing foreign policy priorities.

Foreign Service Conversion Program

  • [E]fforts to increase the number of Civil Service assignments to Foreign Service positions must be consistent with State’s human capital rules, which state that the department’s goal is to fill Foreign Service positions with Foreign Service employees except under special circumstances.
  • The QDDR stated that, while all State personnel can apply to enter the Foreign Service through the traditional selection process, it is in the department’s interest to offer more and quicker pathways for qualified and interested Civil Service employees to join the Foreign Service. However, State’s Foreign Service Conversion Program has strict eligibility requirements, which limit the number of conversions. The program’s application and review process resulted in only three Civil Service applicants recommended for conversion in 2010 and four in 2011.

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Accelerated Promotion, Anyone?

State’s Five Year Workforce Plan, officers hired in fiscal years 2009 and 2010 under the first wave of Diplomacy 3.0 hiring will begin to be eligible for promotion to the midlevels in fiscal years 2014 or 2015. In recent years, State has accelerated the average time it takes for officers to be promoted into the midlevels, in part to fill gaps. However, officials from State’s regional bureaus and AFSA expressed concerns that this creates a different form of experience gap, as some officers may be promoted before they are fully prepared to assume new responsibilities.

A few striking things here besides the obvious —

State created new positions under Diplomacy 3.0, all midlevel positions. Instead of hiring midlevel personnel to fill those positions, it continued to hire entry level personnel. Why? Because “State only hires entry-level Foreign Service employees.” Gocha! Because that makes perfect sense.  Read this on why the State Department’s hiring philosophy needs an extreme makeover.

State has 10,490 Civil Service employees and was only able to convert four employees to the Foreign Service. That’s like what – 0.03813 percent conversion rate to help bridge the gap? That’s not going to make any dent whatsoever.

Given the number of FS retirees, some forced out in the up or out system, others  through mandatory retirement, State has not put those experience to effective use.  In FY2011, some 350 retirees were given WAE (When Actually Employed) appointments.  These retirees who return to work have a cap of 1,040 hours of employment per calendar year.  But as GAO notes, individual bureaus maintain their own lists of retirees and hire them as WAEs from their own budgets. State has no initiatives currently under way to expand its use of WAEs.

So there. We’ll be extremely relieved come FY 2023.

Domani Spero

Anonymous FSO: AIP Posts Not the Only Places Where FSOs Are At Risk

On June 4, we posted an excerpt from a USIP interview of an FSO who served at an Iraq PRT (read Insider Quote: AIP Fatigue and a Little Hostility). That post generated the following comment, which I am reposting up front because the writer brings up important issues about the realities of service in the Foreign Service, particularly in the post 9/11 world.

Maybe there should be a little resentment from some quarters. The AIP posts aren’t the only places where FSOs put, or have put, themselves at risk to serve their country. Yes, we should honor and reward the service of FS personnel serving in AIP. But let’s not forget those who serve, or served, in other war zones.

Not to be morbid, but has anyone compared the mortality rate for USG personnel in stationed in Ciudad Juarez to those in Kabul and Baghdad? What “incentives” do we give people currently in the Mexican border posts or Yemen (where its so dangerous that Embassy personnel are not allowed to sleep in their homes)? Or until recently in Libya and Syria?

How about officers who’ve served in Angola, Congo, DROC, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Mali, Chad, Sudan, Somalia, Zimbabwe etc. Sierra Leone and Liberia were particular garden spots. Remember when President Taylor’s troops strafed Embassy Monrovia? How about the 50 mm shells embedded in the Ambassador’s desk in Freetown after the AFRC coup (or was it the Nigerian invasion, or the RUF coup, or the Strasser coup)? We had FS personnel staffing a makeshift Embassy in Sierra Leone when DOD would not let its people visit on TDY because it was too dangerous.

Bosnia. (Just the word is enough.)

When I was in Angola, our DOD colleagues were getting combat pay; that wasn’t too long after UNITA attacked the Embassy compound. When we hitched rides into the interior on 40 year old C-130s chartered to WFP, the pilots corkscrewed into landings to make it harder for anyone with a SAM to take aim.

And what about the FS personnel who’ve lost family members, including children, because of medical, safety, traffic conditions in third world posts. When we honor service at AIP above all else, we diminish the sacrifice of those who put themselves, and sometimes their families, at risk to serve the USA in other dangerous places.

Folks might remember that State’s personnel system fell into a crisis in the post Vietnam years. At the height of the CORDS program, more than 400 FSOs were in the field with the CORDS (Civil Operations and Rural Development Support) program with over a hundred more were in language training.  According to Kopp and Gillespie, a number of those officers were “thoroughly dismayed” and left the service; those who remained with their operational skills received rapid advancement in their careers. But as they moved up the ranks, there were not enough positions to accommodate them all.  The up or out system had grown lax and midlevel officers resented the senior officers glut which frustrated the officers’ (many of them veterans of CORDS) chances for promotion.

A former FSO who recently wrote about the CORDS program (which he calls the Civil Operations and Revolutionary
Development Support) for the May 2012 issue of State Magazine, and who calls it as a success had the following tidbit:

At the FSO pre-employment oral exam, male applicants were told they stood every chance of going to war if accepted. Midcareer and senior FSOs were also sent to the front.[…] “You had a simple option,” he recalled. “If you were assigned to Vietnam and didn’t take it, you resigned your commission and left the service. It was as simple as that.”

It seems to me that early on in the Iraq War junior officers were sent to Baghdad straight out of FSI but that did not last long.  The vacancies in Iraq and Afghanistan and later Pakistan, as other assignments in the Foreign Service continued to be filled with volunteers (first tours excepted, of course).  There was that threat for “directed assignment” in 2007 with the accompanying brouhaha but that did not materialized. There was that “prime candidate” exercise, too, with letters sent out, but later died a natural bureaucratic death.

I’m tired digging up my yard to put up an edible garden today so I may be going around this in a convoluted way.  But what I think is a concern is the fracturing of the Foreign Service.  There have always been hardship and dangerous assignments in the Foreign Service.  But in the past, members of the FS can point to that collective experience of serving in places that were great, not so great, and really gadawful places on earth.  But in the years following our war of choice in Iraq, and our war of necessity in Afghanistan (I don’t know what you’d call what we’re doing in Pakistan, or Yemen, etc.), folks would be hard pressed to point to  one collective experience for all the Foreign Service.  Some FSOs with less than five years in the Foreign Service have already done two tours in the war zones. Some are heading to non war zones posts that are as perilous as any red zone.  Before too long, they will come back to a normal embassy operation, reporting in some cases to midlevel or senior officers who may have served in difficult assignments but have never done a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan where as one FSO calls it like “everything is rushing at you at 110 miles an hour.” How will that organizational relationship pans out?
Just a quick point while I’m thinking about this.  There is a distinction that is being made in the Foreign Service today: there are those who went to the war zones and there are those who did not. In a perfect world, one is either an effective officer or one is not. But we do not live in a perfect world.  Should a so-s0 Political Officer who goes to the war zone on a Hail Mary pass to get a promotion get all the carrots as opposed to a stellar Political Officer in say, the Marshall Islands?  Never mind asking why a stellar PolOff is in the Marshall Islands.  But — how does the system weigh mediocre performance in a war zone as opposed to a solid performance elsewhere in the worldwide available universe?
Then there’s this other thing.  The State Dept provides a lot of carrots to get people to go to the war zones and also hardship assignments. But the pool of volunteers is drying up. The world is getting more dangerous every day. The number of hardship and danger assignments is going up exponentially. The interviewee who talked about AIP fatigue and hostility has some unhappiness about getting the follow on or linked assignments nailed down.  Presumably, he is not the only one.
There won’t be enough carrots to go around, period.  And that will divide the Foreign Service as much as the war zone assignments.
Domani Spero

 

 

Insider Quote: AIP Fatigue and a Little Hostility

The following is an extract from an interview conducted by the U.S. Institute of Peace for its lessons learned project from the PRTs in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The previous years, USIP did similar interviews as part of its oral history project. The interviewee, a State Department Foreign Service Officer, was the team leader of PRT Wasit, Iraq, from March 2010 to March 2011. The interview notes say “He understood the PRT mission to be one of serving as a mini-consulate while pursuing capacity building in governance, rule of law and agricultural development. He was the last team leader as the PRT was closing out soon after his departure.”

Q. In closing let ask you if there any other comments you want to make? Any ideas that you want to share about your experience with the PRT, how it worked and how it could have been made more effective or how other PRTs in other countries could be made more effective?

Senior Agricultural Advisor for the Wasit, Iraq Provincial Reconstruction Team George Stickels from Arlington, Va., surveys a field in the Al Abara village in the Badra District of Wasit, Iraq to see where a center pivot irrigation system should be placed into the field to help in the growing of crops, Nov. 20, 2010. The Wasit PRT and 1st Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment are in Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn.
(Photo by Spc. Charles Willingham via dvidshub.net)

A. What a great management/leadership experience! [But] our system is bad when it comes to vetting people for assignments like this. I think that old adage about playing nicely with others is particularly important in a high pressure, kind of “out there” assignment like a PRT. It’s not a place to send screw-ups, it’s not a place to send people looking to rehabilitate bad careers. I think it’s important to be choosy even when there are assignments where you are maybe a little desperate about “will I get this job filled?” So I think that is important, I think the people who can deal with the pressure, who have got a good sense of humor, who are versatile, who like working with the military, who can function well in a environment where State is a tiny minority, all of that is important and I think that improves the effectiveness of your PRT.

I don’t know whether this is what you are after, but I thought the financial incentives were quite good and certainly worthwhile. I thought the system did a horrendously poor job of taking care of many of us with follow on assignments. I’m very happy with my follow on, ultimately, but I spent an inordinate amount of time during my tour chasing a follow on assignment. I mean time that was robbed from me focusing on PRT-related stuff. That is not something specific to Iraq tours; I think that speaks more to the general breakdown in our assignments process.

A more general observation, not PRT specific – I think we are at a real crossroads in these sorts of assignments. I think there are those of us — a third or a quarter of the Foreign Service — who have done them. And I think there are a lot of people who haven’t, don’t want to, don’t want to be reminded that there are those of us out there who’ve done them, don’t feel like they should be disadvantaged in any way because they haven’t done them, or don’t want to do them. I sense there is a what I like to call AIP (Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan) fatigue out there and even a little hostility towards those of us who have done these assignments. I’m not necessarily advocating — because I know there are some people who aren’t that good at doing these assignments and I don’t want to advocate that we should all be given our absolute priority assignments and our top two choice assignments and instant promotion—but I think this is a stated top priority goal of the Secretary of State and reiterated by the DG (Director General) and that is not always reflected in the way the system reacted to those of us who’ve done these assignments.

— Foreign Service Officer (Interview #152)
Team Leader of PRT Wasit, Iraq (2010-2011)
Excerpt from Iraq/Afghanistan Provincial Reconstruction Teams: Lessons Learned, USIP
Interview date: April 15, 2011

We certainly can understand the AIP fatigue but have you heard about that “little hostility” he’s talking about?  You’d think that if there is some kind of hostility or resentment, it would come from those who have been pressed for more than one tours to Afghanistan, Iraq or Pakistan, instead of the other way around.  All assignments are voluntary, of course, even those who are left with no other option on their lists but Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan. Or the reverse hostility is for getting first dibs on assignments (AIP assignments have its own cycle), getting priority/onward assignments, breaking current assignments to relocate to any AIP posts, etc.etc.?

Are there really folks who “don’t feel like they should be disadvantaged in any way because they haven’t done” the war zone tours?

Domani Spero

Officially In: Jay N. Anania – from Iraq to the Republic of Suriname

On April 11, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Jay N. Anania to be the next Ambassador to the Republic of Suriname. The WH released the following bio:

Jay N. Anania, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister-Counselor, currently serves as Management Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.  From 2009 to 2011, he served at the State Department as Executive Director of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.  From 2006 to 2009, Mr. Anania was the Minister-Counselor for Management Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, where he served for seven months as Acting Deputy Chief of Mission.  Prior positions in Washington include Acting Chief Information Officer in the Bureau of Information Resource Management (2005-2006) and Director of the Office of Management Policy (2002-2005).  Additional overseas posts include assignments at the U.S. Consulates General in Hong Kong and Tijuana, Mexico; U.S. Embassies in Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, and at the U.S Interests Section in Havana, Cuba.  

Mr. Anania holds a B.A. from Kenyon College and an M.B.A. from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

The Kabalebo Dam project is already indicated ...

The Kabalebo Dam project is already indicated on this CIA World Factbook map. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If confirmed, he would succeed career diplomat, John Nay who was appointed chief of mission at the US Embassy in Paramaribo in 2009. Mr. Anania, who joined the Foreign Service in 1985, holds a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s in business administration. He began his career as a consular and management officer handling visas in Tijuana. According to Government Executive, as acting CIO, he helped realign the Bureau of Information Resource Management to hew to the goals of the President’s Management Agenda. In 2003, he also established and led the department’s Office of Rightsizing the U.S. Government Overseas Presence.

Domani Spero
Related item:
April 11, 2012 | President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts