By Tommye L. Grant
In 2021, the Civil Service Association (CSA) celebrated 10 years as an officially chartered non-union employee association at the Department of State. CSA’s mission is to express views and share information to enhance the civil service branding in the furtherance of the mission of the Department.
When CSA initially formed in 2011, they had a dozen or so founders, officers, and committee chairs. In addition to a Department Notice announcing their new organization, CSA was able to utilize the Department’s social intranet platform, Corridor, to build momentum and gain members. By creating the page on Corridor, CSA immediately gained 50 followers, which snowballed to almost 1,000 by 2019.
“When CSA started posting and collecting followers, many joined saying, ‘It was about time the Civil Service received some recognition’,” said Tommye L. Grant, who is one of the founders of CSA and serves as their president.
The premise for the Corridor page was to collect followers and thereby, boost support for the Civil Service. CSA also collaborated with other employee affinity groups and employee organizations on their page, which would help to get the word out on events, or relevant news. CSA would post articles, sometimes on an hourly basis regarding their annual seminars, quarterly teleconferences, and newsletters. Their seminars were typically held in the Burns Auditorium of the Harry S Truman Building, and they usually ran for 4 hours, hosting subject matter experts on a myriad of topics from personnel to foreign affairs. CSA has hosted speakers from the Bureau of Global Talent Management (GTM), employee organizations such as Balancing Act, and other Department programs such as the Virtual Student Federal Service. CSA also valued Civil Service presenters who could share experiences on assignments abroad or domestically in a school. Before the creation of the Department’s Disability Action Group, CSA hosted an individual who was blind to encourage diversity and inclusion throughout the workforce. In May 2014, CSA was one of the first organizations to host a presentation with the National Museum of American Diplomacy, DACOR, and the Mansfield Fellowships in support of these programs, encouraging Civil Service employees to pursue communication and participation in their endeavors. All of these programs were filmed for BNET and downloaded on the Civil Service Association page.
In addition to CSA’s internal web presence and in person seminars, they sponsored teleconferences which came out of direct requests received in Corridor to hear testimonials of Civil Service employees who served abroad in programs such as the Hard-to-Fill or Civil Service Abroad Program (now The Overseas Development Program) in a more intimate setting—unlike the Burns seminars. These teleconferences were scheduled at noon to be only 15 minutes, to allow attendees flexibility to attend on their lunch breaks. During each teleconference, a Civil Service employee presenter was paired with the Department manager responsible for the program. They would present for about 5-7 minutes and then open the call to questions. These were meant to give just enough information to capture interest which could then be pursued later with the program manager one-on-one. In one call, CSA helped to clarify program parameters, such as the Department’s Pathways Program, to interested parties.
CSA also served as a key player in the beginning stages of the Department’s Flex Connect program, which helps employees gain varied experiences by serving in other capacities on a detail assignment. The Flex Connect program, now called Agility@State, originally debuted as a project by employees challenged to create a program to encourage employee development.
Despite the advantage of Corridor, CSA would not have advanced as it did without the guidance of its mentors or senior advisors. Susan Johnson, who served as the president of the American Foreign Service Association was CSA’s first leadership mentor, followed by Ambassador Linda Taglialatela—who was a deputy assistant secretary in GTM (formerly Human Resources) at the time, and most recently, Deputy Assistant Secretary Phil Lussier served in the role. All mentors provided valuable advice which beyond a doubt led to CSA celebrating ten years in existence.
CSA continues to work on increasing awareness of the approximate 11,000 Civil Service workforce who primarily work in domestic locations, making sure their voices are heard at the highest levels and not left behind. In addition to their current internal communication channels such as BNET, Diplopedia, and CSA’s Listserv, CSA recently added a Microsoft Teams Channel which has approximately 300 followers. Their external platforms—including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter—not only serve Department employees by keeping them informed on the Department’s mission but also let taxpayers know through reposts of open-source material that civil servants serve them. The public can rest assured that their dollars are being responsibly allocated by civil servants on their behalf.
Recently, CSA polled their members; the results revealed that their members want to know more about the performance and promotion systems, and opportunities that differ from the Foreign Service. For example, eligible family members (EFMs) who previously served overseas in temporary positions have a particular challenge to obtain quality information when they convert to Civil Service. EFMs who may not have worked domestically before, may lack the knowledge to locate available resources on how to navigate the employment and performance evaluation system. That’s where CSA comes in to help. CSA’s president can initiate discussions with key stakeholders from the Office of the Secretary of State to GTM, as well as peers in the employee affinity groups to seek answers and solutions. The recent survey of CSA members also revealed that they are on the right track and CSA will continue to host or publicize programs which give information about personnel issues and career management. From the beginning, CSA has sought to assist in providing insights and highlighting relevant innovations that are happening in the Department, and they hope to continue for the next 10 years and beyond. For more information on CSA, or to find out how to get involved, send CSA an email.
Tommye L. Grant is a program coordinator for the managing director for issuance operations in the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ Passport Services and president of the Civil Service Association.