Snapshot: Historical and Projected Foreign Service Attrition

Posted: 3:39 am  ET
Updated: Feb 14, 2:18 pm PT: Notification reportedly went out o/a 9 pm on Feb 13 that the FSO/FSS March classes are on.
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According to the State Department, Foreign Service (FS) and Civil Service (CS) attrition is categorized as either non-retirements or retirements and as voluntary or involuntary.  Nearly all retirements in the CS are voluntary; however, in the FS, retirements may be either voluntary or involuntary.  Between FY 2016 and FY 2020, the Department projects that close to 5,400 career CS and FS employees will leave the Department due to various types of attrition.

Via state.gov:

Involuntary retirements include those due to reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65, which cannot be waived unless an employee is serving in a Presidential appointment, and those who trigger the “up-or-out” rules in the FS personnel system (e.g., restrictions in the number of years FS employees can remain in one class or below the Senior Foreign Service threshold).

Voluntary non-retirements include resignations, transfers, and deaths.

Involuntary non-retirements consist of terminations, as well as “selection out” of tenured employees and non-tenured decisions for entry level FS employees.

Overall attrition in the FS increased from 485 in FY 2014 to 539 in FY 2015. Most FS attrition is due to retirements. In FY2015, over two thirds of all separations in the FS were retirements. For the FY 2016 to FY 2020 period, the attrition mix is expected to be 81 percent retirements and 19 percent non-retirements.

FS Generalist Attrition in FY2014 is 242; in FY2015 the humber is 279. The number of retirements increased from 169 in FY 2014 to 186 in FY 2015 and the number of non-retirements increased from 73 in FY 2014 to 93 in FY 2015. FS Generalist attrition rates increased only slightly from 3.3 percent in FY 2014 to 3.8 percent in FY 2015. Most of the non-retirements were at the entry-level.

FS Specialist Attrition in FY2014 is 243;  and in FY 2015 the number is 260. The number of retirements decreased from 179 in FY 2014 to 178 in FY 2015 and the number of non- retirements grew from 64 in FY 2014 to 82 in FY 2015. FS Specialist attrition rates increased slightly from 4.7 percent in FY 2014 to 4.8 percent in FY 2015. (Counts exclude conversions within the FS and into the CS. Rates include conversions.)

attrition

|>> Attrition in the FS workforce is projected to average 491 employees per year between FY 2016 and FY 2020, nearly nine percent lower than last year’s projected average annual attrition of 541. This projection represents a two percent decrease per year when compared to the annual average attrition of 500 for the past five years.

|>>As detailed in Tables 11 and 12, the projected average annual attrition over the next five years for FS Generalists is expected to essentially mirror the average annual attrition of the previous five years, 261 vs. 257, and the average for the FS Specialist workforce is expected to decrease by five percent, 230 vs. 243.

|>>The two largest FS Specialist groups – Security Officers and Office Management Specialists – account for over 40 percent of the average annual Specialist attrition. As the attrition trends change, attrition projections will be revised next year to further reflect the changes in separations.

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Why Did Diplomatic Security Compile a Short-List of DS Agents Leaving For the U.S. Marshals Service?

Posted: 3:30 am ET
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On October 4, we wrote about DS agents fleeing Diplomatic Security in droves for the U.S. Marshals Service.  On October 14, we did a follow-up piece, Is Diplomatic Security, the State Department’s Law Enforcement Arm Trying to Break the Law? Today, we’ll talk about the list.

As we’ve previously reported, in addition to the alleged warning that DS agents who leave for the U.S. Marshals will not be allowed back into the agency (contrary to 5 USC § 2302(b) and 3 FAM 2130), a State Department official speaking on background shared with us a short-list of DS agents leaving the bureau for the U.S. Marshals Service. The list is allegedly compiled at the direction of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Front Office. We were given the names of the people allegedly involved in this mess but we do not have a paper trail of who said what to who, or who did what for whom so we are not publishing those names at this time. There should be record emails if/when Inspector General Linick decides to look into this matter.

The List:  Where did it come from?

A source with detailed knowledge of the USMS lateral hiring program told us that USMS HR sent out an email but did not blind carbon copy (BCC) the distribution.  It was therefore easy to recognize many names as well as identify agency affiliation as some folks did use their state.gov email addresses. Our source suggested that this same email could have made its way to the DS Front Office and may have been the origin of the list. Even granted that this might have been what actually happened, somebody still had to compile that list.

The 30 names on the list includes 19 Special Agents (SA) assigned domestically, 6 Assistant Regional Security Officers (ARSO) assigned overseas, 1 agent from an unidentified office and 4 agents with the Mobile Security Deployments (MSD).  We don’t know how many agents from this list have now successfully transferred to USMS but we’ve since learned that two of the first agents to leave were just given Superior Honor awards for a human trafficking case. So let’s dispel with the notion that these folks walking out the door are  low-performers.

The list is on a 6-column spreadsheet, and includes each DS agent’s name, current assignment, future rotational assignment and/or TED dates.  While there is great concern that the list has a retaliatory intent, we have to grant that there could be other reasons for the bureau to compile such a list. But what? That’s why we asked Diplomatic Security 1) why this list was compiled, 2) what is its purpose, and 3) why DS/IP is reportedly consulting this list during pre-assignment deliberations? But the bureau was mum on this and we received the same non-response to our questions:

“Thank you for your query. We will have no additional comments on this.” 

We’ve sharpied out the last names and all locations outside of DC from the list below because these folks could be easily identifiable in overseas posts and non-DC domestic locations.  If the list was born from a USMS HR email, the other details below particularly rotation information could have only come from State Department systems.

recd_usmsapplicantlist

 

The List: What is it for?

It is alleged that the purpose of this list is retaliation. Whether real or perceived, we understand that there are agents with conditional offers who are now considering withdrawal from the USMS process for fear of being blacklisted or blackballed when it comes to promotions and assignments.  The State Department official who shared the list with us also mentioned assignments and promotions as real concerns and said that though this may sound petty, the bureau can retaliate against these agents through denial of domestic assignments to areas where their families live, denial of overseas assignments, denial of extensions to those assignments, as well as denial of tenure or promotions, etc. The official admits that there is “nothing concrete to support this assumption, just the overall experience of how the game goes.”  That comment in itself is concerning.  It indicates that retaliation is not an isolated action within the bureau, but something that employees view as part of the system and even come to expect as part of a “normal” institutional reaction.

We’ve learned that as concerns for this list mounted later this summer, one official associated with the compilation of this list was removed from his position and a DS Broadcast announced that “effective immediately” a new agent was filling his position. Whether the removal was just coincidence, it did not seem to abate the concerns and fears about the list.

One might argue — and we’re trying hard to find a good argument here — that perhaps the list is just a heads up to the top leadership about folks the bureau is losing to the U.S. Marshals Service.  Or maybe the list was just a harmless “hey look at these co-workers we have to send congratulation cards to.” Okay. Fine. But as far as we know, no one from the top leadership has explained the reason for the list even as it has roiled its rank and file. And there was that alleged warning at UNGA.

Also two things:

#1.  The compiled list is not/not of all DS agents leaving the bureau, but specifically, of all agents leaving the bureau for the U.S. Marshals Service. So they’re not looking at say, a projected attrition data but at a clearly defined group of employees.

#2. DS/IP, the office who has a final say on where agents end up overseas is allegedly consulting this list during pre-assignment consultations/deliberations. Whether true or not, that’s the story racing down the corridors.

So why did Diplomatic Security compile a short-list of DS agents leaving for the U.S. Marshals Service?  We have no good answer. And Diplomatic Security refuses to say. If  there’s a perfectly good reason for all this, the top leadership at Diplomatic Security has not done anything to address the real concerns that people have.

Blowing Up the Security Officers’ Attrition Rate

We were previously told by PA that the overall Special Agent attrition rate for 2015 was 3.66%.  We have since learned that this attrition rate is incorrect as this does not include the number of agents who leave DS for other federal agencies.

According to the State Department’s recently published data, the average annual attrition rate for security officers between 2011-2015 is 58 employees. This is the highest among Foreign Service specialists, by the way, followed by Office Management Specialists (OMS).  With a total force of approximately 2,000 special agents (including nearly 800 special agents posted in regional security offices at over 250 posts worldwide) that makes the average attrition rate in the last five years at 2.9%. The State Department projected that it will have an overall attrition of 296 (retirements and non–retirements) from FY2016 to FY2020; an annual average the next five years of 59 individuals or 2.9%. Note that since we’re using approximate and not the exact number of security officers, these numbers may be slightly off.

The departures for the U.S. Marshals Service would certainly spike that attrition number.  The USMS departures if/when concluded this year would already constitute 55% of the average annual attrition rate and could bump up this year’s attrition rate to 4.4%.  Except that if unconfirmed reports are true, these departures could go higher.  Apparently, there are also agents taking GS-9 and GS-10, entry-level positions with other law enforcement agencies.  We believed that the largest pool of security officers is in the  FS-03 rank which is equivalent in pay to GS-12/13. So if true that folks are taking a pay cut just so they could transfer to other agencies, there’s an even bigger problem at play here. Also how Diplomatic Security handle these departures could potentially have an impact on its projected attrition in the next five years.

ds-attrition-number

via state.gov

 

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Why Are DS Agents Fleeing Diplomatic Security In Droves For the U.S. Marshals Service?

Posted: 2:17 am ET
Updated: 12:21 pm PT
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We’ve heard from multiple sources that some 30-40 DS agents are leaving the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (State/DS) to join the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) and that there may be other group departures for other agencies.

One DS source speaking on background told us that the USMS Director reportedly called his counterpart at Diplomatic Security to inform the latter that he would be extending job offers to over 40 agents.  Another bureau source told us that during the “huddle” involving the DS agents prior to the start of the recent UNGA event in New York, the bureau’s second highest ranking official reportedly told the assembled agents that the departing agents would not be allowed back.

Does this mean that in addition to the shortage of approximately 200 agents discussed at the worldwide RSO conference this past May, there are 40 or more agent positions that will soon go vacant?

Whoa!

Our DS source speaking on background said that “there’s an overall discontent amongst mid-level DS agents and the main reason seems to stem from the current DS leadership.”

The DS insider cited the following main complaints that have reportedly bounced around the corridors:

  • “DS promotes the “good ol’ boys” and not necessarily the smart, motivated agents who are capable of leading the bureau. This leaves us with a lot of incompetent top-level DS agents and a lot of disgruntled lower lever DS agents.”
  • “DS is incapable of managing their promotions and assignments and, as a result, agents are frustrated with the lack of transparency. Also, there’s no one to complain to as AFSA seems to disregard DS completely. Almost as if the bureau is too far gone to save.”
  • “DS agents spend most of their time domestically, but DS does not allow DS agents to homestead, or stay in one field office for longer than one tour. This creates a lot of unnecessary hardships for families.”
    (A separate source told us that those serving on domestic assignments want to stay more than one tour in cities other than the District of Columbia and estimate that this would not only serve the U.S. government money from relocation costs but also allow agents to build continuity with prosecutors and other agencies).
  • “Regardless of gender, DS leadership is not concerned with family and does not provide a healthy work/life balance for any of their agents.”

We should point out that one of the bureaucratic casualties in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack was Charlene Lamb, who was then the Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs. In that capacity, she was responsible for managing and directing all international missions and personnel.

Back in August 2013, we wrote this:

The DS bureau has been described as in a “hell of hurt” these days.  Not only because it lost three of its top officials in one messy swoop, but also because one of those officials was an important cog in the assignment wheel of about 1,900 security officers.  If the assignments of DS agents overseas have been a great big mess for the last several months, you may account that to the fact that Ms. Lamb, the person responsible for managing and directing all Bureau of Diplomatic Security programs and policies including personnel, had been put inside a deep freezer.  While planning has never been a State Department strength, succession planning is altogether a foreign object.

Note and question of the day:  “Diplomatic Security is under intense pressure following Benghazi so now all resources are put towards “high threat” areas.  Nevertheless, experienced and well regarded DS officers at overseas posts are finding it impossible to stay out – even when they are the first choice for the receiving post.  

We should note that there are only 170 embassies, 78 consulates general and 11 consulates overseas.  There are not enough positions for all DS agents to fill overseas and majority of them do serve at domestic locations.

If it is true that the bureau has been “incapable of managing their promotions and assignments” in the last three years, then we can see why this could be frustrating enough to make agents decamp to other agencies.

Of course, the bureau can replace all those who are leaving, no matter the number. There is, after all, a large pool of applicants just waiting to be called to start new classes. (Note: There’s a rumor going on that DS reportedly had difficulty filling the last two DS agent classes because they were short of people on the list. We don’t know how this could be possible if DS has always had a full roster of qualified applicants on its list.  In 2015, it claimed to have 10,000 applicants but only assessed slightly over 500 applicants.)  

But that’s not really the point. Training takes time.  Time costs money. And above all, there is no instant solution to bridging the experience gap. If people are leaving, does the bureau know why?  If it doesn’t know why, is it interested in finding out the whys?  Is it interested in fixing the causes for these departures?

That low attrition rate

We were also previously told by a spokesperson that the overall Special Agent attrition rate for 2015 was 3.66%.  We have since been informed by a bureau source that this is an inaccurate attrition stats, as the figure released did not count agents who transition to other agencies, only those who leave U.S. Government service.

We’ve been trying to get a comment from Diplomatic Security since last week on agent departures. We’ve also requested clarification on the attrition rate released to us.  As of this writing, we have not received a response.

 

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A Joke That Wasn’t, and a State Department Dialogue That Is Long Overdue

Posted: 2:41 am ET
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Apparently, there was a recent Sounding Board (SB) post about how “a DS agent made a rape joke in front of a whole class (60+) without thinking anything of the joke.”

It took us a while but we finally got the SB post dug up what was said during the Security Overseas Seminar (SOS), which is designed to meet the security awareness needs of U.S. Government personnel and their families going overseas.

An employee posted on the Secretary’s Sounding Board that she first attended the SOS seminar five years ago and felt that the “Sexual Assault  & Rape” session was “both incomplete and demeaning to sexual assault victims (who the instructor largely assumed were always female).” During her most recent attendance, she writes that she was “disappointed by the same message: there are ways to prevent sexual assault/rape, no mention of what the Regional Security Officer can/will do,” and “no mention of the Health Unit’s, etc. involvement.”

The majority of the course is said to be focused on what employees and family members can do to prevent sexual assault: institute the “buddy system,” avoid isolated areas, dress like a local, etc.  The employee asks what about the 84% of all reported sexual assault/rapes being committed by someone that the victim trusted, or women who were raped in an open and crowded area in Germany or “are we saying that women from cultures where they are required to cover from head to toe never get raped because they are entirely hidden?” The SB post says that the employee asked the instructor “why were we not discussing the main cause of sexual assault/rape: gender socialization, particularly focusing on male privilege and entitlement to women’s bodies?”   The instructor reportedly responded that “we cannot change an entire culture in an hour” to which the employee agreed but urge that “we nevertheless begin a dialogue on this topic.”

That’s not, of course, the end of this story.  The following is from the same SB writer sent to us by a Foggy Bottom nightingale:

“The next day, I overheard four people (3 men and 1 woman) exchanging pejorative comments about what I had said. One of the men (a DS [Diplomatic Security] agent who as RSO [regional security officer] will be a victim’s first recourse in the event of a crisis) exclaimed that he would like to “see how I do in Port Moresby.” Allow me to break down this hurtful comment: he wants to see how I do in a country where women can still be tortured to death on charges of witchcraft when a natural death occurs in the family; a country where the Australian health attach showed up at a diplomatic reception after abandoning her car when she was randomly targeted in a mob rush while driving. Because I wanted to begin a dialogue on male privilege, its effects on rape culture, and how I found “tips” on “sexual assault/rape prevention” to be a covert form of victim-shaming, this man, this Diplomatic Security agent, commented on how he wanted to see me, a woman, fare in a country that is known for its hight incidents of rape against ex-pat women. And this gentleman is my colleague, not an obnoxious drunk man at a local dive bar. When I turned around and asked if they wanted to discuss what I had said, one said he didn’t see the point, the other told me how my comment was inappropriate in an one-hour session. No further comments made. How is this dialogue not overdue? (Note: I am not seeking to shame or put-down my colleagues for saying what they assumed was far and away from my hearing range. This is more to highlight the amount of tension surrounding this topic.”

Hey — if one cannot talk about this topic in an SOS session, where are you supposed to discuss this?

We wrote to the Office of Civil Rights under Secretary Kerry’s office (S/OCR) asking what response it made (if any) to the Sounding Board post. That was, oh, weeks ago so we figure we’re not going to hear from S/OCR.

The nightingale also said that “any time a female coworker brings up EEO, rape culture, or feminism in general,” DS agents the employee worked with allegedly make comments like “Ugh, don’t work with her, she’ll EEO you.” or “She probably has a ton of files on men”.   Our correspondent told us that she could think of a number of situations “with bullying, harrasment, and such” that were all documented by supervisors but nothing was done about them.  Our writer also alleged that “a good portion joke about rape or sexual assault on a daily basis.”

Which is why we wanted to hear from the State Department office tasked as the main contact point for questions or concerns about sexual harassment and EEO matters.

But hey, nada. Yok.

What’s even more troubling is when we see these reviews for the State Department over at InHerSight.com:

“I, and a lot of other females, are considering leaving, or have left, because of the misogyny. Diplomatic Security is the absolute worst.” – See more at: https://www.inhersight.com/company/us-department-of-state#sthash.5rVrFJHX.dpuf

“Working in a predominately male field means tacky and disrespectful jokes regardless if the two females (who are of equal or higher grade) are in earshot or not. 50% of the men who work in this office are prior military folks who have a disrespectful attitude towards females and men without military experience. Despite being the “State Department” which is usually more liberal and tolerant, the Bureau that I work in is the exact opposite. It shows through upper management all the way down to the bullpen workers.” – See more at: https://www.inhersight.com/company/us-department-of-state#sthash.5rVrFJHX.dpuf

We asked the State Department about the gender composition of DSS agents in Diplomatic Security: 90.18% male and 9.82% female.  We also asked about the attrition rate by gender at the bureau. Below is what we’re officially told:

DS reports that they do not have information related to special agent attrition rate by gender. They do not keep those statistics, but note that the overall Special Agent attrition rate for 2015 was 3.66%.

The State Department’s DGHR should be able to run these numbers. That’s a very low attrition rate but — don’t you want to know who and why these employees are leaving?  If a bureau is overwhelmingly male, and if the entire attrition rate is, for instance, composed of all female employees, aren’t you going to wonder why?

But how would you know if you’re not even looking?

The InHerSight reviews are pretty broad but are troubling nonetheless. The first step in fixing a problem is recognizing that there is a problem.  Is there?

Who’s going to volunteer to look into this if we can’t even get S/OCR to respond to a public inquiry?

 

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Congress to require @StateDept to report on diversity recruitment, employment, retention, and promotion

Posted: 12:12  am ET
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About time, too!

For years we’re been looking at the State Department to make available publicly its diversity statistics, most particularly the gender and race component of its promotion statistics (see related posts below). Somebody from Secretary Kerry’s office once told us he would look into it and then we never heard anything back despite periodic reminders.  For whatever reason, the State Department has no interest to make its gender and race promotion statistics available publicly. Data is available annually, but it remains behind the firewall. Which is rather curious.

Congress has now included a reporting requirement for the State Department’s diversity recruitment, employment, retention, and promotion.  The requirement is included in S.1635 Department of State Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act, Fiscal Year 2016 which was passed by the Senate by unanimous consent on April 28, 2016. (See Whoa! Senate Passes @StateDept Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act, FY2016). Since this reporting requirement is mandated by Congress, if this becomes law, the promotion stats, can no longer be shielded behind the firewall.  The report has to be submitted no later than 180 days after the Act is enacted, and the information required includes the 3 fiscal years immediately preceding the fiscal year in which the report is submitted.

Sec. 218. Report on diversity recruitment, employment, retention, and promotion.

(a) In General.–Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, and quadrennially thereafter, the Secretary of State shall submit a comprehensive report to Congress that–

(1) describes the efforts, consistent with existing law, including procedures, effects, and results of the Department since the period covered by the prior such report, to promote equal opportunity and inclusion for all American employees in direct hire and personal service contractors status, particularly employees of the Foreign Service, to include equal opportunity for all races, ethnicities, ages, genders, and service-disabled veterans, with a focus on traditionally underrepresented minority groups;

(2) includes a section on–

(A) the diversity of selection boards;

(B) the employment of minority and service-disabled veterans during the most recent 10-year period, including–

(i) the number hired through direct hires, internships, and fellowship programs;

(ii) the number promoted to senior positions, including FS-01, GS-15, Senior Executive Service, and Senior Foreign Service; and

(iii) attrition rates by grade, civil and foreign services, and the senior level ranks listed in clause (ii);

(C) mentorship and retention programs; and

(3) is organized in terms of real numbers and percentages at all levels.

(b) Contents.–Each report submitted under subsection (a) shall describe the efforts of the Department–

[[Page S2590]]

(1) to propagate fairness, impartiality, and inclusion in the work environment domestically and abroad;

(2) to eradicate harassment, intolerance, and discrimination;

(3) to refrain from engaging in unlawful discrimination in any phase of the employment process, including recruitment, hiring, evaluation, assignments, promotion, retention, and training;

(4) to eliminate illegal retaliation against employees for participating in a protected equal employment opportunity activity;

(5) to provide reasonable accommodation for qualified employees and applicants with disabilities;

(6) to resolve workplace conflicts, confrontations, and complaints in a prompt, impartial, constructive, and timely manner;

(7) to improve demographic data availability and analysis regarding recruitment, hiring, promotion, training, length in service, assignment restrictions, and pass-through programs;

(8) to recruit a diverse staff by–

(A) recruiting women, minorities, veterans, and undergraduate and graduate students;

(B) recruiting at historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic serving institutions, women’s colleges, and colleges that typically serve majority minority populations;

(C) sponsoring and recruiting at job fairs in urban communities;

(D) placing job advertisements in newspapers, magazines, and job sites oriented toward women and people of color;

(E) providing opportunities through the Foreign Service Internship Program and other hiring initiatives; and

(F) recruiting mid- and senior-level professionals through programs such as–

(i) the International Career Advancement Program;

(ii) the Public Policy and International Affairs Fellowship Program;

(iii) the Institute for International Public Policy Fellowship Program;

(iv) Seminar XXI at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for International Studies; and

(v) other similar, highly respected, international leadership programs; and

(9) to provide opportunities through–

(A) the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship Program;

(B) the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship Program; and

(C) the Donald M. Payne International Development Fellowship Program.

(c) Scope of Initial Report.–The first report submitted to Congress under this section shall include the information described in subsection (b) for the 3 fiscal years immediately preceding the fiscal year in which the report is submitted.

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