The following account of possible interest to our readers has been furnished by the American Foreign Service Association in Washington, D.C., John Naland, President.—Ed.
At Secretary Powell¢s invitation, AFSA President John Naland and AFSA State Vice President Louise Crane met with the Secretary on January 28. Director General Ruth A. Davis and the Department’s Chief Labor Management Negotiator Susan Moorse also participated. Because AFSA had attended a larger meeting the previous Friday at which the Secretary detailed the program changes and management reform initiatives that he has initiated since taking office, the Secretary began this meeting by saying that he wanted to use it to listen to AFSA’s concerns and issues.
We began by presenting the Secretary with a coffee mug with AFSA’s core values imprinted on the outside (i.e., responsiveness, effectiveness, integrity, efficiency, community, courage, empowerment, and patriotism). The Secretary responded enthusiastically, saying, “those are the right values.”
We then thanked him for all that he and his team have already accomplished to improve diplomatic readiness. That list includes: a) obtaining a first-year infusion of resources, b) putting career Foreign Service employees in many key leadership positions, c) opening the FSI child care center and implementing the Morella child care subsidy program, and d) beginning the push for overseas comparability pay. The Secretary commented that the current percentage of career Chiefs of Mission (already above the historical average) would likely go up a bit more in the next few years.
He stated that he was determined that old problems would not be allowed to languish under his watch. He said that nothing angered him more than to find some issue that had been stuck without resolution for a long period of time. He said that he was not afraid to make decisions.
We gave the Secretary a document giving excerpts from articles appearing in major media outlets quoting AFSA officials lauding his first-year accomplishments. We presented that document not to kiss-up, but to set the stage for making the point that AFSA’s main duty is not to pat senior managers on the back, but rather to give them frank, constructive criticism when we believe it necessary to advance the interests of our members. Secretary Powell said that he fully understood and highly valued the role of constructive critic played by AFSA. “I never lose sight of the fact that you represent your members, not me,” said the Secretary. “You’re supposed to represent your members.”
Next on our agenda was diplomatic readiness. We reported that AFSA’s top priority this year is to make the case to Congress and the American people for passage of the President¢s FY2003 budget request for international affairs to provide additional resources for people, security, operations, and infrastructure. We outlined AFSA’s numerous efforts to accomplish that goal. We highlighted the urgent need to institute overseas comparability pay. On these issues, the Secretary pledged to continue to work hard to get the Department the resources it needs to accomplish its vital missions.
We detailed for the Secretary the mail problems being encountered by overseas employees due to irradiation and other post-9/11 factors. The Secretary indicated that he would be glad to weigh in to request special consideration from other agencies (for example, the IRS) if the problems remained unresolved. We also raised the issue of overseas housing, commenting how critical adequate housing is to Foreign Service families. We noted with approval that OBO Director General Williams shows a personal interest in employees’ housing when he visits posts. We also praised the energy and effectiveness that Assistant Secretary for Administration Bill Eaton is demonstrating.
We then raised the issue of Foreign Service reform. We noted that the Secretary, in his introductory letter in the State Department¢s FY2001-02 Performance Plan, cites the “critical” necessity of achieving the “reinvigoration of our Foreign Service.” We said that AFSA completely agrees and is working hard to suggest reforms that will permit the Foreign Service to most effectively discharge its indispensable role in the active promotion of American interests abroad. We said that we strongly endorse the Director General¢s push to require leadership and management training.
We highlighted the need for cultural changes in order to produce a Foreign Service work force exhibiting the outlooks, values, and abilities required for the successful conduct of 21st century diplomacy. The Secretary agreed, but said that culture change comes slowly. He pointed at us and said that much of the responsibility for achieving culture change lies with Foreign Service members themselves. Point well taken. During this discussion on the Foreign Service culture, the Secretary noted that he was not happy with the extremes to which some employees go in calling on their protectors to help them secure onward assignments. He added that “we killed such ‘Old Boyism’ in the Army.”
AFSA concluded by raising a number of other issues. On Foreign Affairs Day, the Secretary said that it was also his day and that he would attend again this year. He agreed to AFSA’s request that the day be moved back to its traditional month of May. On building a constituency for the foreign affairs agency, the Secretary agreed that, at the appropriate time, it would be valuable for the American public to learn more about the key role played by front line diplomats in building and maintaining the coalition against terrorism. We also touched on unique concerns faced by Foreign Service specialists.