A Look at @StateDept Staffing Losses Between FY2016-FY2017 #ThisCouldGetWorse

Posted: 12:28 pm PT
Updated: Feb 13, 2:02 pm PT

 

We’ve written previously about staffing and attrition at the State Department in this blog. We’ve decided to put the staffing numbers in FY16 and FY17 next to each other for comparison. The numbers are publicly released by State/HR, and links are provided below.

Since the State Department had also released an update of its staffing numbers dated December 31, 2017 for the first quarter of FY2018, we’ve added that in the table below.

FY2016 saw a high water mark in the total number of State Department employees worldwide at 75,231.  There were 13,980 Foreign Service employees (officers and specialists), 11,147 Civil Service employees and 50,104 locally employed (LE) staff members at 275 overseas posts.

The Trump Administration took office on January 20, 2017. On February 1, 2017, Rex W. Tillerson was sworn in as the 69th Secretary of State. With the exception of the month of January, note that Secretary Tillerson was at the helm at State for eight months in FY2017 (February-September 30, 2017), and the first three months of FY2018 (October 2017-December 2017).

With 75,231 overall number as our marker, we find that the State Department overall was reduced by 351 employees at the end of FY2017.  On the first quarter of FY18, this number was reduced further by 476 employees.  Between September 30, 2016, and December 31, 2017 — 15 months — the agency was reduced  overall by 827 employees (including LE employees).

FY2017 did see six, that’s right, six new FS specialists, and 256 LE staffers added to its rolls (see That FSS Number for additional discussion on that six FSS gains). Note that LE staffers are generally host country nationals paid in local compensation plans with non-dollarized salaries.

Data also shows that there were 68 more FS/CS employees overseas. We interpret this to mean 68 more FS/CS employees assigned overseas, and not/not necessarily new hires. The FSO ranks were reduced by 107 officers, and the Civil Service corps was reduced by 500 out of a total of 25,127 American employees by September 2017. The Foreign Service was further reduced by 197 employees, and the Civil Service reduced by 144 employees by December 31, 2017.

Tillerson on Track

Mr. Tillerson goal is reportedly to reduce the department’s full-time American employees by 8 percent by the end of September 2018, the date by which Mr. Tillerson has purportedly promised to complete the first round of cuts. A November 2017 report  calculated the 8 percent as 1,982 people with 1,341 expected to retire or quit, and 641 employees expected to take buyouts. The data below indicates that the State Department’s American FS/CS employees at 25,127 in FY2016 was reduced by 948 employees by December 31, 2017, a reduction of 3.8 percent.  If the buyouts, as reported, occurs in April 2018, Tillerson would be at 6.3 percent reduction by spring, with five months to get to the remaining 1.7 percent to make his 8 percent target by September 30. And this is just the first round.

Projected Attrition

In 2016, the State Department already projected that between FY 2016 and FY 2020, close to 5,400 career FS and CS employees (21 percent) will leave the Department due to various types of attrition (non-retirements, retirements, voluntary, involuntary). That’s an average of 1,080 reduction each fiscal year from FY2016-FY2020.  Even without a threat of staff reduction, it was already anticipated that the State Department was going to shrink by 1,080 employees every year until 2020.  We think that part of this estimate has to do with the graying of the federal service, and the mandatory age retirement for the Foreign Service, but also because of the built-in RIF in the Foreign Service with its “up or out” system. Anytime we hear the State Department trimming its promotion numbers, we also anticipate more departures for people who could not get promoted.

It’s Not a RIF, Just Shrinking the Promotion Numbers

Tillerson made the staff reduction his own by announcing a staffing cut and a buyout. This was obviously a mistake, but what do we know? What this signals to us is a lack of understanding of how the system was intended to work most especially in the Foreign Service. This is a mistake that he could have easily avoided had he not walled himself away from career people who knew the building and the system that he was trying to redesign.

Yes, the reduction in State Department workforce was in the stars whether Tillerson became Secretary of State or not. There is a regular brain drain because the Foreign Service is an “up or out” system. Some diplomats who are at the prime of their careers but are not promoted are often forced to leave.  But to get more people to leave, Tillerson does not even need to announce a RIF, he only need to shrink the promotion numbers. A source familiar with the numbers told us that in 2017, 41 FSOs were promoted from FS01 to the Senior Foreign Service (SFS), down from an average over the past five years of 101, or a 60% decrease. Across the Foreign Service, we understand that the average decrease in promotion numbers is about 30% percent.

In the rules books, the Director General of the Foreign Service is supposed to determine the number of promotions of members of the Foreign Service reviewed by the selection boards by “taking into account such factors as vacancies, availability of funds, estimated attrition, projected needs of the Service, and the need for retention of expertise and experience.” This decisions is based on “a systematic, long-term projection of personnel flows and needs designed to provide: (1)  A regular, predictable flow of recruitment into the Service; (2)  Effective career development to meet Service needs; and (3)  A regular, predictable flow of talent upwards through the ranks and into the SFS.”

The State Department does not even have a Senate-confirmed DGHR. The last Senate confirmed Director General Arnold Chacon left his post in June 2017 (see DGHR Arnold Chacón Steps Down, One More @StateDept Office Goes Vacant). Bill Todd who is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary is now acting Director General of the Foreign Service & acting Director of Human Resources, as well as “M” Coordinator. The Trump Administration has nominated ex-FSO  Stephen Akard to be the next DGHR (see Ten Ex-Directors General Call on the SFRC to Oppose Stephen Akard’s Confirmation).

Burning Both Ends of the Candle

The surprise is not that people are leaving, it is that people that you don’t expect to leave now are leaving or have left. An ambassador who retires in the middle of a three-year tenure. The highest ranking female diplomat who potentially could have been “P” retired. A senior diplomat retiring while at the pinnacle of his diplomatic career five years short of mandatory age retirement. A talented diplomat calling it quits while there’s a whole new world yet to be explored. The highest numbers of departures are occurring at the Minister Counselor level, and at the FS01s and below level (PDF). That said, these numbers as released and shown below, are still within the previously projected attrition numbers for FY2017. The FY2018 numbers is the one we’re anxious to see.

Tillerson’s staff reduction is not even the most glaring problem he gave himself. Basically, Tillerson’s State Department is burning both ends of the candle. The diplomatic ranks were reduced by 225 in December 31 last year but State will reportedly only hire a hundred in FY2018. There are rumors of only hiring at 3 for 1 to attrition. If this is the plan, Tillerson will surely shrink the diplomatic service but by not ensuring a smooth flow of new blood into the Service, he will put the institution and its people at risk. For instance, there are about 2,000 Diplomatic Security agents. Let’s say 21 percent or 420 agents leave the agency between now and 2020, and the State Department hires 140 new agents during the same period. The work will still be there, it will just remain unfilled or the positions get eliminated. A three-person security office could shrink to two, to one, or none. In the meantime, the United States has 275 posts overseas, including high threat/high risk priority posts that require those security agents.  What happens then? Are we going to see more contractors? Since contractor numbers are typically not released by the State Department, we won’t have any idea how many will supplement the agency’s workforce domestically and overseas.

The Foreign Service Specialists (FSS) Count

So if we look at the first table below (thanks JR), note that the total Foreign Service Specialists (FSSs) number is 5,821. A State Department release in November 29, 2017 confirms the 5,821 figure. But this figure as you can see here (PDF) includes Consular Fellow gains (previously known as Consular Adjudicators) in FY2017 (231), FY2016 (141), FY2015 (70), FY2014 (35) and FY2013 (37). The numbers are not clear from FY13 and FY14 because the counts were not done at the end of the fiscal year but midyear and end of the year. As best we can tell, the State Department HR Fact Sheet counts Consular Fellows as part of its FSS count in fiscal years 2015-2017.

The result is that the career FSS count is artificially inflated by the inclusion of the Consular Fellows in the count. While the first table below shows an FSS gain of six specialists, in reality, the CF inclusion in the count hides the career FSS losses in the last three fiscal years that ended. Why does that count matter? Because the Consular Fellow LNA appointments max out at 60 months.

11/29/17  Department of State Facts About Our Most Valuable Asset – Our People (September 30, 2017 Counts) 

Consular Fellows are hired via limited non-career appointments (LNAs). The Consular Fellows program, similar to its predecessor, the Consular Adjudicator Limited Non-Career Appointment (CA LNA) program, is not an alternate entry method to the Foreign Service or the U.S. Department of State, i.e. this service does not lead to onward employment at the U.S. Department of State or with the U.S. government. In fact state.gov notes that Consular Fellows are welcome to apply to become Foreign Service Specialists, Foreign Service Generalists, or Civil Service employees, but they must complete the standard application and assessment processes. So for Congressional folks keeping track of the career Foreign Service numbers, this would be a notable distinction.

Trump’s 2019 Budget and the Next 27% Cut

Trump’s fiscal 2019 proposed budget includes a 27% cut to the State Department. This potentially could get a lot worse; when the Administration starts shrinking programs, and priorities at this rate, it will inevitably create a cascading effect impacting overseas presence and personnel. State Department officials may say no post closures, and no reduction-in-force now but we probably will see those down the road, even if not immediately.  Remember when State was shrunk in the early 1990’s? It took a while before people could start picking up the pieces, and the replenishment for the workforce did not happen until almost a decade later. (see The Last Time @StateDept Had a 27% Budget Cut, Congress Killed ACDA and USIA).

Still, we have to remind ourselves that the budget proposal is just that, a proposal, and that Congress has the power of the purse. Is it foolish to hang our hopes on our elected reps?

HR Fact Sheet as of December 31, 2017 (PDF)

HR Fact Sheet as of 9/30/2017 (PDF)
Oops, looks like this file was subsequently removed after post went up.
See copy via the Internet Archive

HR Fact Sheet as of 9/30/2016 (Archived PDF)

HR Fact Sheet as of 9/30/2015 (PDF)

Below is a bonus chart with the FY2015 staffing numbers (yellow column#1), and the gains/losses between September 2015 to December 2017 (yellow column ##2). We’re sure that Mr. Tillerson’s aides would say that yes, there are staffing losses but look, the State Department’s overall workforce is still larger at the end of 2017 when compared to 2015. And that is true. Except that if you look closely at the numbers, you will quickly note that the gains of 1,346 employees are all LE staffers on local compensation.

 

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@StateDept Spox Talks Foreign Service Retirement Numbers, Paris vs. Pakistan

Posted: 5:02 am ET

 

According to a State/HR workforce document, the actual retirements and retirement projections for the Foreign Service are as follows:

  • FY2015: 186 FSOs/178 FSSs retirements (or a total of 364) – actual
  • FY2016: 229 FSOs/185 FSSs (or 414 total, average 34 retirements/month) – projection
  • FY2017: 219 FSO/187 FSSs  (or 406 total/ave 34 retirements/mo) – projection
  • FY2018: 195 FSOs/193 FSSs (388 total/ave of 32 retirements/mo) – projection

For non-retirement separations (including resignations), the actual number for non-retirements separation and non-retirement separation projections for the Foreign Service are as follows:

  • FY2015: 93 FSOs/82 FSSs (a total of 175) – actual
  • FY2016:  61 FSOs/43 FSSs (104 or 9 ave separations/month) – projection 
  • FY2017: 56 FSOs/39 FSSs (95 or  8 ave separations/mo) – projection
  • FY2018: 57 FSOs/36 FSSs (93 or 8 ave separations/mo) – projection

The spokesperson gave the press an update on retirements, but the numbers did not include non-retirement separation (this includes resignations, transfers, and deaths, as well as “selection out” of tenured employees and non-tenured decisions for entry level FS employees).  If journalists simply ask for the resignation number, that number would only be one component of the non-retirement separation data.

The State Department’s DGHR has the actual numbers of retirements/non-retirement separations of Foreign Service officers and specialists for FY15, FY16, FY17, and FY18-todate. It should release those numbers. It will allow us to get a comparative view of attrition in the State Department. It will also allow us to see if the retirement/non-retirement separations are within the projected numbers made by its HR professionals in late 2016. Why? Because the agency’s own HR folks projected that the average annual FS attrition over the next five years will essentially mirror the average annual attrition of the previous five years. Obviously, that will no longer be the case with the looming staff reduction and buyouts but FY16-FY17 would still be useful markers to look at.

Since the State Department has pushed back on the narrative that the State Department has been gutted, here is its chance for some real show and tell. Somewhere in DGHR’s bullpen, somebody has these numbers and can potentially see a trend if there is one. But if we have those numbers, we, the public can also look for ourselves and decide if the “sky is falling” or if this is just a normal part of the plan.

But you know, even if the numbers show that State is not “gutted” now, even if the numbers are at par with last year’s, at some future time when the staff reduction and buyouts are fully in effect, over 2000 positions will still be eliminated from the State Department. We understand that State/HR has been sending “some serious signaling” — making reps available, sending links to necessary forms for retirements, transfers or reassignments, links to retirement courses at FSI, contact info for employee benefits, etc. So we can talk about retirement numbers all we want, that staffing reduction plan is marching on.

The State Department needs about 1,700 employees to leave through attrition, and some 600 to leave via buyouts. If the spokesperson is right, that the retirement in 2017 is “roughly on par with the number that retired in 2016” then … wait — does that mean that it’s staff reduction plan has not moved the needle?  Which is it? Can’t have it both ways, folks.

Via DPB, December 12, 2017:

QUESTION: — I was interested in listening to hear for updated figures, if you all have them, about retirements, resignations over the course of the past 11 months. He didn’t really address that. There was one brief mention of the size of the Foreign Service being roughly the same as it was at this point last year.

MS NAUERT: I do have some numbers for you, some updated numbers for you. But I want you all to keep in mind that these numbers are constantly changing. As people make decisions about retiring, we may see some new changes – or some new numbers in the coming weeks. But I do have an update for you. But go ahead, finish – if you want to finish the question —

QUESTION: Well, that’s – I just —

MS NAUERT: That’s it? Okay. So —

QUESTION: I’d like one more, but that’s the – but not about the numbers.

MS NAUERT: Okay. All right. I’ll take the numbers first and then we’ll go to your next one and get to everybody else. In terms of our career Foreign Service officers and specialists, here are some of the preliminary accounts that we have – counts, pardon me. From February the 1st to October the 31st of 2017, 274 career Foreign Service officers and specialists have retired during that time period. That is roughly on par with the number that retired in 2016. That number was 262. So 274 this year, up till October the 31st, that same time period last year was 262.

QUESTION: What about resignations?

MS NAUERT: Uh, let’s see. Retirements – I’m not sure that I have anything on actual resignations.

QUESTION: Well, you’re probably aware that in recent days there’s been a flurry of new reports about the – about mid- to lower-level people resigning out of frustration, anger —

MS NAUERT: I saw one news article about —

QUESTION: — disappointment.

MS NAUERT: — a woman who retired in Africa, or decided to step down.

QUESTION: Well, she didn’t retire; she resigned.

MS NAUERT: She resigned; pardon me.

QUESTION: So I’m curious to know about numbers of resignations rather than retirements because if you look – if someone resigns rather than retires, and doesn’t have benefits, is not vested, that’s – it’s a little bit different than a retirement. So I’d be curious, if it’s possible, to get the numbers of resignations of —

MS NAUERT: I will – I will certainly check in with our human resources people and see what I can find for you in terms of the number of resignations that we’ve had.

QUESTION: Okay. And then the last one, which will be also very brief, was that the Secretary, in response to some question, I believe, made a mention of how staffing at posts, some posts in Europe – and I think he named London, Paris, and Rome – might go down as people are repositioned. I’m wondering if this is in any way analogous to what former Secretary of State Rice put in place with this – her concept of transformational diplomacy, where she also talked about shifting significant numbers of diplomats from European capitals to places of – India, Indonesia, Pakistan, rising places. And if it is analogous, how? Because it – her initiative was not combined with a goal of reducing staffing by 8 percent.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Well, first of all, I wouldn’t compare what the Secretary mentioned today to what Secretary Rice had done in the past. And I say that because the Secretary now – Secretary Tillerson – has looked at some of our posts, some of our very, very well-staffed posts in places like Paris and London and elsewhere, and certainly they do great work there. But we also have posts where perhaps more people are needed, where there are perhaps issues that are very pressing that need a lot more attention.

So I think as the Secretary looks at some of these bigger posts in very well-off countries, industrialized countries where the issues aren’t as grave as in other places, he’s looking to maybe see if we can reconfigure things to put more people in posts where there may be more people needed.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MS NAUERT: So that’s why I wouldn’t compare it to Secretary Rice’s. Yeah, hi, Nick.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, he said that there would be no office closures. Does – is he saying now that there will be no closures of consulates in countries in Europe as part of this shift in resources?

MS NAUERT: I don’t think so. I think – and we’ve spoken about this in the past. I think he’s just looking at it, saying, hey, look. Look at Paris. Look at London, where – I don’t know what the numbers are, and you know we don’t announce those numbers anyway. But they’re – it’s a huge staff in some of these places. And if you look at that and compare it to – and this is just me saying this – if you compare it to a place like Pakistan, they might need more people in Pakistan. They might need more people in Venezuela. They might need more people elsewhere than they have in these beautiful postings like Paris.

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@StateDept/USAID Staffing Cut and Attrition: A Look at Real Numbers and Projected Attrition

Posted: 3:32 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’]

 

In late April, Bloomberg reported that Secretary Tillerson is seeking a 9% cut in State Department staffing with majority of the job cuts, about 1,700, through attrition, while the remaining 600 will be done via buyouts.

9% Staffing Cut: A Look at the Numbers

The following is the best numbers we could come up with for the State Department and for USAID. The State Department data is from its HR Fact Sheet as of March 31, 2017, while the USAID data is from the Semi-Annual USAID Worldwide Staffing Report from September 30, 2016.

The 3% personnel cut mentioned in some media reports is if the staffing cut is applied to the entire State Department workforce  (2300/75,555).  If we include USAID’s workforce in this calculation, the staffing cut would be 2.7% (2300/84,048). More than half of the total combined workforce, some 55,148 employees are Foreign Service Nationals, also known as Locally Employed Staff (LES) in over 275 posts around the world. One notable thing about FSNs is their compensation. Almost all of them are paid under local compensation plans. Unless the State Department is slashing FSN positions in high-income economies where local compensations are as high as in the U.S., the savings realized from eliminated local positions would barely register.  The reported staff reduction does not specify if FSNs will be affected.  However, if there are post closures in the next 2-3 years, the likelihood for a reduction-in-force for local employees would inevitably follow. So far, we have not heard of post closures, but we suspect that with the kind of cuts projected in FY2018 funding, and potentially in the fiscal years after that — it will only be a matter of time before this dog bites.

The 9% personnel cut reported by some media outlets is if the staffing cut is applied to the State Department’s U.S. direct-hire employees to include Foreign Service and Civil Service employees only (2300/25,007). If we include USAID’s direct-hire workforce in this calculation, the staffing cut would be 7.9%.

1,700 Through Attrition: A look at the Numbers

The Bloomberg report also says that the personnel cuts which includes 1,700 through attrition may be phased in over two years. We don’t have the attrition projection for USAID but there is one for the Foreign Service which projects the total Foreign Service attrition at 2,450 for the next five years.  The average annual attrition for Foreign Service Officers is 261 and 230 for FS Specialists from FY2016-2020 or 490 per year.

Note that the highest projected attrition for FSOs is in the Political and Economic career tracks. Among FSSs, the highest projected attrition occurs in the security officer, office management, and information management skills group.

So, if the State Department is phasing in this personnel cuts of 1,700 through attrition over two years, the projected attrition for FSOs/FSSs for the next two years is only 980.  That means they have to find the rest of their attrition number of 720 from a combination of State Department Civil Service (and USAID/FS-CS, if USAID is part of the calculation), and Foreign Service Nationals (locally hired employees).  They also have to find 600 who are willing to take a buyout to get to 2,700.

If you know anything more about where this is going, get in touch!

 

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