oversight

Department of State: Foreign Service Midlevel Staffing Gaps Persist Despite Significant Increases in Hiring

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2012-06-14.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

             United States Government Accountability Office

GAO          Report to the Chairman, Subcommittee on
             Oversight of Government Management, the
             Federal Workforce, and the District of
             Columbia, Committee on Homeland Security
             and Governmental Affairs, U.S. Senate
June 2012
             DEPARTMENT OF
             STATE
             Foreign Service
             Midlevel Staffing Gaps
             Persist Despite
             Significant Increases
             in Hiring




GAO-12-721
                                              June 2012

                                              DEPARTMENT OF STATE
                                              Foreign Service Midlevel Staffing Gaps Persist
                                              Despite Significant Increases in Hiring
Highlights of GAO-12-721, a report to the
Chairman, Subcommittee on Oversight of
Government Management, the Federal
Workforce, and the District of Columbia,
Committee on Homeland Security and
Governmental Affairs, U.S. Senate

Why GAO Did This Study                        What GAO Found
In 2009, GAO reported on challenges           The Department of State (State) faces persistent experience gaps in overseas
that State faced in filling its increasing    Foreign Service positions, particularly at the midlevels, and these gaps have not
overseas staffing needs with                  diminished since 2008. In fiscal years 2009 and 2010, State increased the size of
sufficiently experienced personnel and        the Foreign Service by 17 percent. However, these new hires will not have the
noted that persistent Foreign Service         experience to reach midlevels until fiscal years 2014 and 2015. As shown in the
staffing and experience gaps put              figure, GAO found that 28 percent of overseas Foreign Service positions were
diplomatic readiness at risk. State is        either vacant or filled by upstretch candidates—officers serving in positions
currently undertaking a new hiring            above their grade—as of October 2011, a percentage that has not changed since
plan, known as “Diplomacy 3.0,” to
                                              2008. Midlevel positions represent the largest share of these gaps. According to
increase the size of the Foreign
                                              State officials, the gaps have not diminished because State increased the total
Service by 25 percent to close staffing
gaps and respond to new diplomatic
                                              number of overseas positions in response to increased needs and emerging
priorities. However, fiscal constraints       priorities. State officials noted the department takes special measures to fill high-
are likely to delay the plan’s full           priority positions, including those in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.
implementation well beyond its
intended target for completion in 2013.       Overseas Foreign Service Positions Filled at Grade, Filled with Upstretch Assignments, and
In addition, State’s first Quadrennial        Vacant, 2008 and 2011
Diplomacy and Development Review
highlighted the need to find ways to
close overseas gaps. GAO was asked
to assess (1) the extent to which
State’s overseas midlevel experience
gaps in the Foreign Service have
changed since 2008 and (2) State’s
efforts to address these gaps. GAO
analyzed State’s personnel data;
reviewed key planning documents,
including the Five Year Workforce
Plan; and interviewed State officials in
Washington, D.C., and at selected
posts.

What GAO Recommends
                                              State has taken steps to increase its reliance on Civil Service employees and
GAO recommends that State update
its Five Year Workforce Plan to include       retirees, as well as expand mentoring, to help address midlevel experience gaps
a strategy to address midlevel Foreign        overseas; however, State lacks a strategy to guide these efforts. State is
Service gaps and a plan to evaluate           currently implementing a pilot program to expand overseas assignments for Civil
the success of this strategy. State           Service employees. Efforts to expand the limited number of these assignments
reviewed a draft of this report and           must overcome some key challenges, such as addressing new gaps when Civil
agreed with GAO’s recommendation.             Service employees leave their headquarters positions and identifying qualified
                                              Civil Service applicants to fill overseas vacancies. State also hires retirees on a
                                              limited basis for both full-time and short-term positions. For example, State used
                                              limited congressional authority to offer dual compensation waivers to hire 57
                                              retirees in 2011. As a step toward mitigating experience gaps overseas, State
                                              began a pilot program offering workshops that include mentoring for first-time
                                              supervisors. State acknowledges the need to close midlevel Foreign Service
View GAO-12-721. For more information,        gaps, but it has not developed a strategy to help ensure that the department is
contact Michael Courts at (202) 512-8980 or
courtsm@gao.gov.
                                              taking full advantage of available human capital flexibilities and evaluating the
                                              success of its efforts to address these gaps.
                                                                                           United States Government Accountability Office
Contents


Letter                                                                                     1
               Background                                                                  2
               Even with Increased Hiring, State Faces Persistent Midlevel
                 Experience Gaps Overseas                                                  7
               State Has Taken Steps to Address Midlevel Experience Gaps
                 Overseas but Has Not Included These Steps in Its
                 Workforce Plan                                                          17
               Conclusions                                                               26
               Recommendation for Executive Action                                       26
               Agency Comments                                                           26

Appendix I     Objectives, Scope, and Methodology                                        28



Appendix II    Analysis of Factors Associated with Vacancies and
               Upstretch Assignments                                                     32



Appendix III   Comments from the Department of State                                     41



Appendix IV    GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments                                     43



Tables
               Table 1: Civil Service Conversions to Foreign Service Generalist
                        Positions in 2010 and 2011                                       21
               Table 2: WAE Appointments, by Bureau, in Fiscal Year 2011                 24
               Table 3: Percentages of Positions with Different Characteristics
                        That Were Filled and Vacant, and Odds and Odds Ratios
                        Indicating the Differences between Categories                    34
               Table 4: Unadjusted and Adjusted Odds Ratios Indicating the
                        Differences in the Odds on Positions Being Vacant
                        between Positions with Various Characteristics                   36
               Table 5: Percentages of Positions with Different Characteristics
                        That Were Filled by Employees Below Grade Level Versus
                        at or above Grade Level, and Odds and Odds Ratios
                        Indicating the Differences between Them                          39



               Page i                               GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
          Table 6: Unadjusted and Adjusted Odds Ratios Indicating the
                   Differences in the Odds on Positions Being Filled with
                   Below-Grade Employees between Positions with Various
                   Characteristics                                                                  40


Figures
          Figure 1: State’s Workforce by Employee Type, as of June 30, 2011                         3
          Figure 2: Overseas Foreign Service Positions Filled at Grade, Filled
                   with Upstretch Assignments, and Vacant, 2008 and 2011                            9
          Figure 3: Locations of Overseas Positions 2008 and 2011, as of
                   October 31, 2011                                                                 10
          Figure 4: Position Levels Filled at Grade, Filled with Upstretch
                   Assignments, and Vacant, as of October 31, 2011                                  11
          Figure 5: Generalist Positions Filled at Grade, Filled with Upstretch
                   Assignments, and Vacant, as of October 31, 2011                                  14
          Figure 6: Positions within the 10 Largest Specialist Skill Groups
                   That Are Filled at Grade, Filled with Upstretch
                   Assignments, and Vacant, as of October 31, 2011                                  15




          Abbreviations
          AFSA               American Foreign Service Association
          AIP countries      Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan
          BSRP               Bureau Strategic and Resource Plan
          GEMS               Global Employee Management System
          LNA                Limited Non-Career Appointment
          OMS                Office Management Specialist
          QDDR               Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review
          State              Department of State
          WAE                When Actually Employed



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          Page ii                                        GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
United States Government Accountability Office
Washington, DC 20548




                                   June 14, 2012

                                   The Honorable Daniel Akaka
                                   Chairman
                                   Subcommittee on Oversight of Government
                                     Management, the Federal Workforce,
                                     and the District of Columbia
                                   Committee on Homeland Security
                                     and Governmental Affairs
                                   United States Senate

                                   Dear Mr. Chairman:

                                   The Department of State (State) staffs U.S. Foreign Service employees to
                                   more than 270 posts worldwide to carry out American foreign policy. In
                                   2009, we reported on challenges that State faced in filling its increasing
                                   overseas staffing needs with sufficiently experienced personnel and noted
                                   that persistent Foreign Service staffing and experience gaps put
                                   diplomatic readiness at risk. 1 State has acknowledged that the priority it
                                   places on meeting huge staffing demands in Afghanistan, Iraq, and
                                   Pakistan—referred to as AIP countries—has contributed to gaps
                                   elsewhere, despite efforts to hire Foreign Service employees at levels
                                   above attrition. State is currently undertaking a new hiring plan, known as
                                   “Diplomacy 3.0,” to increase the size of the Foreign Service by 25 percent
                                   to close staffing gaps and respond to new diplomatic priorities. However,
                                   fiscal constraints are likely to delay full implementation of this increase
                                   well beyond its intended target for completion in 2013. State also
                                   recognizes that it will take a number of years before entry-level officers
                                   hired under Diplomacy 3.0 gain the experience needed to fill the shortfall
                                   in midlevel positions. State’s first Quadrennial Diplomacy and
                                   Development Review (QDDR), released in 2010, highlighted the need to
                                   find additional ways to close overseas experience gaps at the midlevels,
                                   including drawing on the expertise of the department’s Civil Service
                                   employees and Foreign Service retirees, and expanding mentoring
                                   programs.




                                   1
                                    GAO, Department of State: Additional Steps Needed to Address Continuing Staffing and
                                   Experience Gaps at Hardship Posts, GAO-09-874 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 17, 2009).




                                   Page 1                                      GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
             In response to your request, we assessed (1) the extent to which State’s
             overseas midlevel experience gaps in the Foreign Service have changed
             since 2008 and (2) State’s efforts to address these gaps.

             To address these objectives, we analyzed State’s personnel data from
             the department’s Global Employee Management System (GEMS), as of
             September 2008 and October 2011. We did not validate whether the total
             number of authorized overseas positions was appropriate or met State’s
             needs. We also analyzed State data on the use of retirees and Civil
             Service employees in overseas posts; key planning documents, including
             State’s Five Year Workforce and Leadership Succession Plan, the
             QDDR, the Bureau of Human Resources’ Strategic and Resource Plan,
             and other relevant documents; and our previous reports on human capital
             challenges at State and effective strategic workforce planning at other
             federal agencies. We also interviewed State officials at the Bureau of
             Human Resources, as well as the Bureau of Consular Affairs and the six
             regional bureaus; the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA); and
             the American Academy of Diplomacy. In addition, we interviewed
             management officers at selected overseas posts. Appendix I contains a
             more detailed description of our scope and methodology.

             We conducted this performance audit from June 2011 to June 2012 in
             accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.
             Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain
             sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our
             findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that
             the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and
             conclusions based on our audit objectives.


             State is the lead agency responsible for implementing American foreign
Background   policy and representing the United States abroad. It staffs over 270
             embassies, consulates, and other posts worldwide. Figure 1 shows the
             number and share of State’s Foreign Service, Civil Service, and Locally
             Employed staff. According to State, about two-thirds of the Foreign
             Service serves overseas at a given point in time, whereas almost all Civil




             Page 2                                GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
                            Service employees serve domestically. 2 Locally Employed staff serve
                            overseas. 3

                            Figure 1: State’s Workforce by Employee Type, as of June 30, 2011




Foreign Service Workforce   Foreign Service employees serving abroad fall into two broad
                            categories—generalists and specialists. Generalists help formulate and
                            implement the foreign policy of the United States and are grouped into
                            five career tracks: consular, economic, management, political, and public
                            diplomacy. Specialists serve in 18 different skill groups to support
                            overseas posts worldwide or in Washington, D.C. These skill groups are
                            grouped into eight major categories: Administration, Construction
                            Engineering, Facility Management, Information Technology, International




                            2
                             Civil Service employees work in a variety of areas at State domestically, including Budget
                            Administration, Contract Procurement, Foreign Affairs, General Accounting and
                            Administration, Information Technology Management, Legal Counsel, Management
                            Analysis, Passport Visa Services, Personnel Management, and Public Affairs.
                            3
                             Locally Employed staff include foreign nationals and U.S. citizen residents employed via
                            direct-hire appointments, personal services agreements, and personal services contracts.




                            Page 3                                         GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
                           Information and English Language Programs, Medical and Health, Office
                           Management, and Security.

                           State typically hires Foreign Service employees at the entry level. Among
                           Foreign Service generalists, the entry-level consists of three position
                           grades—06, 05, and 04. 4 Midlevel positions include grades 03, 02, and
                           01, and senior-level positions include career minister, minister counselor,
                           and counselor positions. Officers compete annually for promotion to the
                           next higher grade. It typically takes about 4 to 5 years for an officer to
                           move through the entry-level grades to a midlevel grade. The levels
                           associated with Foreign Service specialist position grades vary across
                           specialist function. For example, a senior-level office management
                           specialist position is a 04 grade, whereas a senior-level medical
                           technician position is a 02 grade.

                           State requires its Foreign Service employees to be available for service
                           anywhere in the world and reserves the ability to direct officers to any of
                           its posts overseas or to its Washington headquarters. However, the
                           department does not generally use this authority, preferring other means
                           of filling high-priority positions, according to State officials. The process of
                           assigning Foreign Service employees to their positions typically begins
                           when they receive a list of upcoming vacancies for which they may
                           compete. Foreign Service employees then submit a list of positions for
                           which they want to be considered, or “bids,” to the Office of Career
                           Development and Assignments and consult with their career development
                           officer. The process varies depending on an officer’s grade and functional
                           specialty, and State uses a variety of incentives to encourage Foreign
                           Service employees to bid on hardship posts, including the high-priority
                           posts in AIP countries.


Five Year Workforce Plan   State has a Five Year Workforce Plan, which it updates annually. This
                           document describes State’s strategic workforce planning process, which
                           includes the following five elements:

                           •   Establish strategic alignment: links human resources to strategic
                               goals.




                           4
                           Within the Foreign Service, grade numbers decrease as a position’s level rises.




                           Page 4                                       GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
                            •   Identify gaps by analysis of requirements and talent pool: compares
                                estimated staffing requirements to projected workforce levels to
                                identify workforce gaps and strength.

                            •   Develop management plans: develop plans related to recruitment,
                                hiring, promotion, training, and career development.

                            •   Implement management plans: implement plans related to
                                recruitment, hiring, promotion, training, and career development.

                            •   Evaluate strategies: evaluate plans, strategies, programs, and
                                initiatives.


Overseas Staffing Model     State uses an Overseas Staffing Model, which it updates every 2 years,
                            to ensure that the department’s personnel resources are aligned with its
                            strategic priorities and foreign policy objectives. The model uses a variety
                            of inputs—such as the priority level of overseas posts, visa processing
                            requirements, and security needs—to estimate the required Foreign
                            Service staffing levels at each overseas location. The model includes
                            seven categories of embassies based primarily on the level and type of
                            work required to pursue the U.S. government’s diplomatic relations with
                            the host country. For example, the lowest-level category includes special-
                            purpose small embassies with limited requirements for advocacy, liaison,
                            and coordination in the host country’s capital. The highest-level category
                            includes the largest, most comprehensive full-service posts where the
                            host country’s regional and global role requires extensive U.S. personnel
                            resources.


Recent Hiring Initiatives   State has sought to rebuild the size of its Foreign Service after a period of
                            hiring below attrition levels during the 1990s that contributed to staffing
                            gaps overseas and endangered diplomatic readiness, according to the
                            department. To address these gaps, 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. 5 In 2009, State began another hiring effort called


                            5
                             GAO, Department of State: Staffing and Foreign Language Shortfalls Persist Despite
                            Initiatives to Address Gaps, GAO-06-894 (Washington, D.C.: Aug. 4, 2006).




                            Page 5                                       GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
                         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.


Findings from 2009 GAO   In 2009, we reported that State faced persistent staffing and experience
Report on Staffing       gaps at overseas posts, particularly at the midlevel. 6 The report’s analysis
Hardship Posts           of State’s personnel data, as of September 2008, found that posts with
                         the greatest hardship levels had higher vacancy rates than posts with no
                         or low hardship levels. 7 Posts with the greatest hardship also were more
                         likely to fill positions through “upstretch” assignments—assignments in
                         which the position’s grade is at least one grade higher than that of the
                         officer assigned to it. The report also found that these staffing and
                         experience gaps can compromise posts’ diplomatic readiness in a variety
                         of ways. For example, gaps can lead to decreased reporting coverage;
                         loss of institutional knowledge; and increased supervisory requirements
                         for senior staff, detracting from other critical diplomatic responsibilities.

                         In addition, we reported on a variety of measures and incentives that
                         State used to help ensure that Foreign Service employees bid on
                         hardship posts. These ranged from monetary benefits to changes in
                         service and bidding requirements. In response to our recommendation,
                         State evaluated these measures and incentives in 2011. According to
                         State officials, this evaluation found that officers used the entire range of
                         incentives available—financial and nonfinancial—based on preferences
                         and priorities and that career stage and family status were key to affecting
                         the officers’ decisions.




                         6
                          GAO-09-874.
                         7
                          State defines hardship posts as those locations where the U.S. government provides
                         differential pay incentives—an additional 5 percent to 35 percent of basic salary,
                         depending on the severity or difficulty of the conditions—to encourage employees to bid
                         on assignments to these posts and to compensate employees for the hardships they
                         encounter. For the purposes of this report, we refer to these differential pay incentives as
                         hardship differentials. We define hardship posts as those posts where the hardship
                         differential is at least 15 percent. We define posts of greatest hardship as those where the
                         hardship differential is at least 25 percent. We define posts with low hardship differentials
                         as those where the hardship differential is 5 percent or 10 percent. We define posts with
                         no hardship differentials as those where the hardship differential is 0 percent.




                         Page 6                                          GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
                          State increased the size of the Foreign Service by about 17 percent in
Even with Increased       fiscal years 2009 and 2010, but overseas experience gaps—the
Hiring, State Faces       percentage of positions that are vacant or filled with upstretch
                          assignments—have not declined since 2008 because State increased the
Persistent Midlevel       total number of overseas positions in response to increased needs and
Experience Gaps           emerging diplomatic priorities. These gaps are largest at the midlevels
Overseas                  and in hardship posts. According to State officials, the department takes
                          special measures to fill high-priority positions.


State Increased Hiring    State made substantial progress in fiscal years 2009 and 2010 toward the
under Diplomacy 3.0 but   Diplomacy 3.0 goal of increasing the size of the Foreign Service by 25
Revised Its Targets for   percent by 2013. In those years, State hired about 1,900 Foreign Service
                          employees above attrition, increasing the total size of the Foreign Service
Future Years              by about 17 percent, or over two-thirds of its total 5-year goal. According
                          to State, in addition to expanding overseas staffing, the increase in hiring
                          allowed the department to double the size of the training complement,
                          which provides flexibility to enroll Foreign Service employees in language
                          courses—some of which require up to 2 years of training—without
                          increasing the size of overseas gaps.

                          However, due 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. As a result, State revised
                          its estimate for when it will complete the Diplomacy 3.0 hiring initiative. In
                          April 2011, State estimated it would complete the increased hiring called
                          for in Diplomacy 3.0 in fiscal year 2018; however, State now estimates it
                          will not complete the hiring initiative until fiscal year 2023. State officials
                          noted that these estimates may be revised again based on future budget
                          environments.


Experience Gaps at        Our analysis of State staffing data shows that State faces experience
Overseas Posts Have Not   gaps in over one-quarter of Foreign Service positions at overseas posts,
Declined                  a proportion that has not changed since 2008. The largest gaps are in
                          midlevel positions, while hardship posts and some position categories,
                          such as Office Management Specialist positions, also have large gaps.




                          Page 7                                  GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
Vacancy and Upstretch Rates   According to our analysis of State staffing data as of October 31, 2011,
Are Unchanged Since 2008      State faces experience gaps in 28 percent of overseas Foreign Service
                              positions. Specifically, 14 percent of overseas Foreign Service positions
                              are vacant and an additional 14 percent of positions are filled through
                              upstretch assignments. 8 Both percentages, as well as the total percentage
                              of positions facing experience gaps, are unchanged since 2008.

                              Our analysis indicates that State has not met its goal for reducing the
                              overseas vacancy rate. In its fiscal year 2013 Bureau Strategic and
                              Resource Plan (BSRP), State’s Bureau of Human Resources established
                              a goal of reducing the vacancy rate for overseas positions to 8 percent by
                              the end of fiscal year 2011. However, we found that State had an
                              overseas vacancy rate of 14 percent 1 month after the end of that fiscal
                              year. 9 Further, our comparison of data from 2008 and 2011 shows that,
                              while the number of officers serving overseas increased following the
                              Diplomacy 3.0 hiring surge, the number of authorized positions overseas
                              has also increased. Consequently, the overall vacancy rates have not
                              declined. In 2008, approximately 7,000 of about 8,100 total Foreign
                              Service positions were filled. Comparatively, in 2011, nearly 7,800
                              Foreign Service positions were filled—or 11 percent more positions than
                              in 2008—but the total number of positions increased to over 9,000,
                              resulting in the same vacancy rate.

                              The overall proportion of overseas positions filled by upstretch
                              assignments is also essentially unchanged since 2008, with
                              approximately 14 percent of all positions assigned to officers with grades
                              below the position’s designated grade. State officials noted that some of
                              these upstretch assignments are in midlevel positions that were
                              temporarily downgraded—or ceded—to a lower grade, so that they could
                              be filled by entry-level officers. According to State officials, the work
                              requirements of ceded positions are revised to make the positions more
                              appropriate for an entry-level officer and the department provides training
                              and mentoring to help prepare officers for the position. Therefore, State


                              8
                               In filling positions, State does not count any assignments within entry-level positions as
                              upstretch assignments. However, for the purposes of our analysis, we defined an
                              upstretch assignment as any assignment in which the grade of the position is higher than
                              the grade of the incumbent.
                              9
                               The BSRP also set overseas vacancy rate targets of 10 percent in 2010 and 6 percent in
                              2012. The BSRP stated that the department did not meet its 2010 target with an actual
                              vacancy rate of 16.7 percent.




                              Page 8                                         GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
does not consider an entry-level officer in a ceded position to be in an
upstretch assignment. 10 However, officials at overseas posts and in
regional bureaus noted that these positions may still suffer from
experience gaps. Figure 2 shows that the number of authorized positions
and Foreign Service employees serving overseas has increased, but the
proportion of positions with experience gaps has not changed.

Figure 2: Overseas Foreign Service Positions Filled at Grade, Filled with Upstretch
Assignments, and Vacant, 2008 and 2011




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


10
  In State’s staffing data, ceded positions appear at their original grade and, therefore, we
were unable to differentiate entry-level assignments to ceded positions from upstretch
assignments.




Page 9                                          GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
                                         the majority of new positions are in a small number of countries where
                                         State has high levels of engagement. Specifically, about 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. For example, positions were added in
                                         Brazil and China in response to presidential directives to expand consular
                                         capacity in those countries. According to State officials, the department has
                                         also created positions to address emerging diplomatic priorities, such as
                                         climate change and global health. Additionally, State officials noted that
                                         most Foreign Service employees hired in fiscal year 2010 would not have
                                         been placed in overseas assignments as of October 31, 2011, when we
                                         acquired staffing data. State anticipates that overall vacancy rates will drop
                                         to approximately 9 percent as officers hired in recent years are fully
                                         deployed by the end of 2012.

Figure 3: Locations of Overseas Positions 2008 and 2011, as of October 31, 2011




                                         Page 10                                  GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
Midlevel Gaps Persist   Although State intended to eliminate gaps in midlevel Foreign Service
                        positions by the end of fiscal year 2012, these gaps have only diminished
                        slightly since 2008. Specifically, experience gaps currently exist in about
                        26 percent of midlevel Foreign Service positions—only 2 percent lower
                        than in 2008. About 60 percent of all vacancies and upstretch
                        assignments are in midlevel positions because they make up the largest
                        share of all overseas positions. Figure 4 shows the numbers and
                        percentages of positions filled at grade, filled with upstretch assignments,
                        and vacant for the various position levels.

                        Figure 4: Position Levels Filled at Grade, Filled with Upstretch Assignments, and
                        Vacant, as of October 31, 2011




                        Notes: Numbers may not add to 100 percent, due to rounding. According to State officials, senior-
                        level upstretch assignments may be overstated because promotions of officers into the senor levels
                        might not have taken effect as of October 31, 2011.


                        State has acknowledged that midlevel gaps are a persistent problem.
                        State has faced midlevel gaps for years and, according to the August



                        Page 11                                            GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
                             2011 Five Year Workforce Plan, the midlevel gap grew from 2010 to
                             2011. 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.

                             State officials noted that midlevel gaps will decrease as recent hires are
                             promoted. According to 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 Post’s Hardship Level      Our analysis shows that a post’s hardship level continues to be one of the
Continues to Be One of the   most significant factors for predicting whether a position is filled, remains
Most Significant Factors     vacant, or is filled with an upstretch assignment. We found that over 35
Affecting Gaps               percent of all positions in posts of greatest hardship are vacant or filled
                             with upstretch assignments compared to about 22 percent for posts with
                             low or no hardship differentials. Further, our analysis of the likelihood of
                             positions being vacant or filled with an upstretch assignment shows that—
                             controlling for other factors, such as a position’s level, type, or regional
                             location—a post’s hardship level is one of the most consistent factors for
                             predicting where experience gaps will occur. Specifically, we found that
                             positions 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. This is consistent with our findings in prior work,
                             which found that hardship posts faced larger gaps than posts with low or
                             no hardship differential. 11 Appendix II describes our analysis of the
                             likelihood of various positions being vacant or filled with an upstretch
                             assignment in further detail.




                             11
                              See GAO-09-874.




                             Page 12                                 GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
Generalist and Specialist         We found no significant difference between the rates at which generalist
Positions Are Filled at Roughly   and specialist positions are filled. However, the likelihood of generalist
Equal Rates, but Some Position    positions being filled with upstretch assignments is somewhat higher than
Categories Are More Difficult     for specialist positions. We also found that there are differences in
to Fill                           vacancy and upstretch rates for specific functions within both the
                                  generalist and specialist fields and that some position categories are
                                  more difficult to fill.

                                  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. State officials noted that demand is high for entry-level
                                  consular officers to adjudicate visas, particularly in countries that have
                                  seen dramatic increases in demand for visas in recent years. 12 In
                                  addition, the 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. Figure 5 shows the
                                  proportion of positions that are filled at grade or better, filled with
                                  upstretch assignments, or are vacant for generalist positions.




                                  12
                                    To help address this gap, State recently introduced a pilot program in Brazil and China
                                  to fill entry-level consular positions with non-Foreign Service employees hired on a limited
                                  5-year term.




                                  Page 13                                         GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
Figure 5: Generalist Positions Filled at Grade, Filled with Upstretch Assignments,
and Vacant, as of October 31, 2011




Note: “Other” includes positions designated as “Executive” or “International Relations” which,
according to State officials, may be filled by officers from any generalist discipline.


Within specialist skill groups, Office Management Specialist (OMS)
positions have the largest overall gaps, both in terms of the number of
positions and the relative percentage of the gap. Over one-third of all
OMS positions, or nearly 300 positions, are either vacant or filled with
upstretch assignments. Regional bureau and post officials cited OMS
positions as being among the most difficult to fill. For example, officials in
Brazil noted that both the embassy in Brasilia and the consulate in Sao
Paulo had OMS positions that were vacant for 2 years. Security specialist
skill groups also face substantial gaps. The Security Technician and
Security Engineer fields have fewer positions than some of the larger
specialist fields, but about 30 percent of positions in both fields are vacant
or filled with upstretch assignments. Further, security officers have one of
the highest vacancy rates among specialist fields, with about 17 percent



Page 14                                              GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
                         of those positions unfilled. Figure 6 shows the proportion of positions that
                         are filled at grade, filled with upstretch assignments, or vacant for the 10
                         largest specialist skill groups.

                         Figure 6: Positions within the 10 Largest Specialist Skill Groups That Are Filled at
                         Grade, Filled with Upstretch Assignments, and Vacant, as of October 31, 2011




                         Note: In total, there are 18 specialist skill groups, many of which are small. We only show the 10
                         largest specialist skill groups.




State Takes Special      According to State officials, the department takes a number of steps to
Measures to Fill High-   help fill high-priority positions. State staggers the assignments process
Priority Positions       over several months and seeks bids for high-priority areas—including
                         Chiefs of Mission, Deputy Chiefs of Mission, and positions in AIP—before
                         the regular bid cycle. Officials noted that in the most recent cycle for
                         assignments starting in the summer of 2012, State filled about three-
                         quarters of all positions in AIP posts before the regular bid round began.



                         Page 15                                              GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
Regional bureau officials noted that this should have a positive effect on
staffing elsewhere because it limits the number of people pulled from
other assignments. State continues to fill AIP positions year-round and
often uses people from other posts on temporary assignments in AIP
posts. According to State, as of February 2012, approximately 91 percent
of AIP positions were filled. 13 State also holds an “urgent vacancies” bid
round in the spring to fill positions that were not filled in earlier cycles.

State uses a decentralized process for prioritizing and filling overseas
positions, which officials stated helps ensure important positions are filled.
While AIP posts are the only official department priority for staffing, State
officials said regional bureaus informally set their own priorities by
determining which of the positions within the bureau that are up for bid are
most critical and actively recruiting candidates for those positions. Officials
from State’s Office of Career Development and Assignments stated that
the regional bureaus are in the best position to assess the needs across
posts and prioritize positions accordingly. Regional bureau officials stated
that, in order to minimize the impact of experience gaps, they will consider
factors such as the size of the post or the availability of upper-level support
in addition to the needs of the position itself when determining whether a
position can remain vacant or be filled through an upstretch assignment.
For example, officials stated they may prefer to fill a single position in a
small, difficult-to-fill post ahead of multiple positions in a much larger post.
Similarly, they may be more likely to allow an upstretch assignment for a
lower midlevel position in a large post because larger posts are likely to
have more layers of upper management support.

As we reported in 2009, State has created a wide range of measures and
financial and nonfinancial incentives to encourage officers to bid on
assignments at hardship posts. For example, 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


13
  This calculation includes all positions except those that are assigned outside of the
regular recruitment and assignments process. State officials noted that a fill rate of 91
percent in AIP does not necessarily indicate that State has been unable to find bidders for
9 percent of AIP positions. For example, State has not sought bids for some positions that
are reported as vacant because they are being considered for elimination. In addition,
officials noted staffing data are unlikely to show fill rates of 100 percent at any given time
because positions are routinely added and removed due to changing needs of the
Missions.




Page 16                                         GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
                           years to bid on at least three positions in hardship posts. Officials in the
                           bureaus of Near Eastern Affairs and South and Central Asian Affairs
                           stated that they regularly collect feedback on the impact of incentives in
                           encouraging officers to bid on positions in AIP posts. One official noted
                           that, in addition to financial incentives, nonfinancial incentives, such as
                           additional opportunities or the feeling that they are doing something
                           important, often help to attract bidders. According to State officials,
                           through this system of incentives and bidding rules, State has always
                           been able to find volunteers to fill critical needs. While the department has
                           the authority to direct Foreign Service employees to specific assignments
                           if it does not have adequate bidders for a position, according to State
                           officials, the department has not used these directed assignments—
                           outside of assigning Foreign Service employees in their first or second
                           rotation. State officials noted that use of directed assignments could
                           potentially result in a less motivated or productive workforce.


                           State has taken steps to implement goals highlighted in the QDDR to
State Has Taken Steps      increase its reliance on Civil Service employees and retirees, and expand
to Address Midlevel        mentoring to help address midlevel experience gaps overseas. To
                           expand the limited number of Civil Service employees filling overseas
Experience Gaps            positions, State began a pilot program to offer additional opportunities for
Overseas but Has Not       overseas assignments and eased requirements for conversions from Civil
Included These Steps       Service to Foreign Service. State also hires retirees on a limited basis to
                           help fill gaps overseas. In addition, State began a pilot program offering a
in Its Workforce Plan      workshop with mentoring for first-time supervisors overseas. However,
                           State’s Five Year Workforce Plan does not include a specific strategy to
                           guide efforts to address midlevel gaps.


State Has Taken Steps to   State’s first QDDR, released in 2010, highlighted the goal of expanding
Expand the Use of Civil    the use of Civil Service employees to help close the midlevel experience
Service Employees in       gap. The QDDR noted that State has a base of Civil Service employees
                           with significant experience and called for increasing opportunities for Civil
Midlevel Overseas          Service employees to fill overseas Foreign Service assignments and
Positions                  increasing the number of Civil Service conversions to the Foreign
                           Service. A February 2011 report by the American Academy of Diplomacy
                           and the Stimson Center also recommended expanded use of Civil




                           Page 17                                 GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
Service employees to fill midlevel gaps. 14 As a first step, State recently
conducted a survey of its Civil Service employees and found a high level
of interest in serving overseas. About 75 percent of respondents
expressed interest in serving in some type of overseas assignment in
their careers and about 25 percent expressed interest in eventually
converting to Foreign Service, according to State officials.

The extent to which State currently draws on its pool of Civil Service
employees for overseas assignments is limited. From fiscal years 2009
through 2011, State placed 159 Civil Service employees in overseas
Foreign Service positions in temporary assignments. These are known as
“Limited Non-Career Appointments” (LNA). According to State officials,
many of these assignments fill midlevel positions. State’s human capital
rules enable Civil Service employees (and other non-Foreign Service
employees) to serve as LNAs, normally for up to 5 years. 15 However, the
duration of these assignments typically ranges from 1 to 3 years,
according to State officials.

Many of these LNA assignments are for positions that the department has
identified as “hard-to-fill,” meaning they lack sufficient qualified bidders
from among the ranks of the Foreign Service. In an announcement to the
department each May, State identifies hard-to-fill positions for which Civil
Service employees may apply. 16 Most of these positions are at the
midlevel. State listed 36 hard-to-fill positions in 2009, 74 in 2010, and 55
in 2011. Other common types of overseas LNA assignments for Civil
Service employees include positions in AIP countries, developmental
opportunities, and positions requiring specific expertise.

State Human Resources Bureau officials we met with identified several
key challenges to assigning Civil Service employees to overseas
assignments. In particular, these assignments can create gaps in the



14
  Henry L. Stimson Center, American Foreign Service Association, and American
Academy of Diplomacy, Forging a 21st-Century Diplomatic Service for the United States
through Professional Education and Training (Washington, D.C.: February 2011).
15
  Rules governing LNAs are covered in the Foreign Affairs Manual (3 FAM 2290) and
federal law (22 U.S.C. §§ 3943, 3949).
16
  These positions continue to be available for Foreign Service employees to bid on. Local
eligible family members may also bid on these positions and would have priority over
Washington-based Civil Service employees.




Page 18                                       GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
positions Civil Service employees leave behind. Affected bureaus must
guarantee that applicants will be placed into permanent Civil Service
positions within the same bureau when they return from their overseas
assignments. This requirement creates some reluctance on the part of
bureaus to approve applications for overseas assignments, according to
State officials. In addition, department officials noted that Civil Service
employees have concerns about losing future opportunities for desirable
Civil Service positions while serving overseas. Another challenge is that
State cannot always identify a sufficient number of qualified Civil Service
employees to apply for the overseas vacancies it seeks to fill. State
officials noted that hard-to-fill positions are typically not in the more
desirable locations, which they said contributes to limited interest among
qualified Civil Servants. In addition, it can often be difficult to match Civil
Service employees’ qualifications with the needs of the open positions.

The Human Resources Bureau began a pilot program in November 2011
to expand opportunities for Civil Service employees to serve in overseas
positions. It was intended to support goals highlighted in the QDDR to
enhance career development for midlevel Civil Service employees and
ease Foreign Service midlevel staffing gaps. The department identified 11
overseas positions at various posts to which qualified Civil Service
employees could apply. Most of these assignments are for midlevel
positions. The assignments in the pilot differ from the hard-to-fill
assignments in two key ways. First, these are not positions that Foreign
Service bidders initially passed over. Second, the re-employment rules
are more flexible, according to Human Resources Bureau officials;
affected bureaus do not have to hold a position for the Civil Service
employees who participate in the pilot. Instead, returning Civil Service
employees can be placed in a bureau different from the one they vacated.

According to State officials, the department has agreed with AFSA to limit
the total to about 20 assignments at any one time during the pilot to
ensure that the program does not limit career development opportunities
for Foreign Service employees. 17 The officials noted that Foreign Service
employees operate in an “up-or-out” personnel system, which requires
them to have sufficient experience and responsibilities to progress in their


17
  State plans to offer additional overseas assignment opportunities to Civil Service
employees on a rolling basis to keep the total number of these assignments within 20 at
any one time. State indicated in April 2012 that the program would soon offer five
additional positions.




Page 19                                       GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
careers. In addition, efforts 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. 18 The overseas positions in the pilot program
continue to be designated as Foreign Service positions and can be filled
by Foreign Service employees after the Civil Service employees complete
their assignments.

Human Resources Bureau officials stated that they expect this pilot
program to help the department assess its ability to identify overseas
positions that match the skills and experience of potential Civil Service
applicants. It will also identify potential staffing impacts on affected
bureaus and posts, as well as career development needs of the Foreign
Service. However, according to the officials, the department has not
finalized plans for evaluating the results of the pilot program. They also
noted that it will be more than 2 years before the first set of assignments
is completed and they can begin to survey participants and stakeholders
to assess results of the pilot program.

State’s QDDR also included a goal of expanding opportunities for Civil
Service employees to convert to the Foreign Service to help fill
experience gaps overseas. 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.

State only opens positions for conversion that it projects to be in deficit or
otherwise approved by the Director General and lists them in an annual




18
  This goal is articulated in the Foreign Affairs Manual (3 FAM 2293). In addition, 22
U.S.C. § 3982 states that the Secretary of State shall assure that positions designated as
Foreign Service positions normally shall be filled by the assignment of members of the
Foreign Service to those positions.




Page 20                                        GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
cable that it circulates throughout the department. 19 The department
convenes a review panel to confirm that applicants meet minimum
qualifications, which include 24 months in Foreign Service positions
abroad out of the previous 6 years; and 30 months of service—
domestically or overseas—in the desired skill code in the previous 6
years. The panel then determines if applicants have the skills and
experience necessary to perform successfully in the positions for which
they are applying. Applicants offered an opportunity to convert based on
the panel review must then submit a proctored writing sample, which
must earn a passing grade from the Foreign Service Board of Examiners
to be recommended for conversion. 20

According to Human Resources Bureau officials, in 2011, State identified
88 Foreign Service generalist positions as open for conversion from Civil
Service, as well as Foreign Service generalist and specialist. Twenty-six
Civil Service applicants applied. Ultimately, the process resulted in seven
applicants given the opportunity to convert and four of the seven passing
the writing test requirement. Table 1 shows the number of applicants who
qualified at key stages in the process in 2010 and 2011.

Table 1: Civil Service Conversions to Foreign Service Generalist Positions in 2010
and 2011

                 Number of applicants        Number of applicants         Number of applicants
                   who met minimum           offered opportunity to        passing writing test
    Year               qualifications                      convert                requirement
    2010                               30                             8                           3
    2011                               26                             7                          4a
Source: State.
a
 Number includes two applicants not required to take the writing test because they previously passed
the Foreign Service Oral Assessment.


Human Resources Bureau officials noted that in 2011, the department
sought to ease the qualification requirements somewhat, including
reducing the number of months served overseas from 30 months to 24


19
  This cable articulates the rules governing its Foreign Service Conversion Program.
Foreign Service specialists may also apply for conversion to open generalist positions and
generalists may apply to convert to a different generalist job category.
20
 Applicants are not required to take the writing exam if they have previously passed the
Foreign Service Oral Assessment.




Page 21                                             GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
                           months; however, the number of qualified applicants actually dropped
                           from 30 in 2010 to 26 in 2011. Beginning in 2012, the assessment
                           process will include a structured interview, along with the writing test, to
                           give candidates an additional means of demonstrating their skills and
                           competencies.


State Hires Retirees for   Retirees can fill key roles at overseas posts, bringing with them a high
Both Full-Time and         level of skills and experience, according to State officials. The department
Temporary Overseas         has limited authority to hire retirees for full-time positions and also for
                           temporary assignments. State’s QDDR noted that the department should
Assignments, but Their     draw on its pool of retirees to help address its overseas midlevel gap. In
Use Is Limited             addition, the Stimson Center and American Academy of Diplomacy report
                           also recommended that State increase reliance on retirees.

                           State hires retired Foreign Service and Civil Service employees to work
                           full-time with waivers from federal dual compensation rules, under certain
                           circumstances, to help fill workforce gaps overseas. In calendar year
                           2011, State approved 57 dual compensation waivers for 35 Foreign
                           Service retirees and 22 Civil Service retirees for overseas assignments.
                           Federal law requires that payment of a retiree’s annuity terminates on the
                           date of re-employment except under circumstances in which State has
                           the authority to grant a dual compensation waiver. 21 These circumstances
                           include staffing needs in AIP countries and emergency situations
                           involving a direct threat to life or property, or other unusual
                           circumstances.

                           State officials stated that they would make greater use of dual
                           compensation waivers to draw from the pool of retirees to fill experience
                           gaps if their legal authority were expanded. However, other than State’s


                           21
                             22 U.S.C. § 4064 specifies dual compensation restrictions related to hiring Foreign
                           Service retirees and gives authority to the Secretary of State to waive these restrictions
                           under certain circumstances. 5 U.S.C. §§ 8344 and 8468 provide similar restrictions
                           related to hiring Civil Service retirees and gives authority to the Director of the Office of
                           Personnel Management (OPM) to waive these restrictions at the request of the head of an
                           Executive agency, on a case-by-case basis. OPM has delegated this waiver authority to
                           State every year since 2001 in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks. The National
                           Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2010 also provided the Secretary of State (along
                           with other specified Federal Agency heads) with authority to grant a limited number of dual
                           compensation waivers to Civil Service retirees, if the head of the agency determines that
                           reemployment is necessary to “fulfill functions critical to the mission of the agency” or to
                           “respond to an emergency involving a direct threat to life or property.”




                           Page 22                                         GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
Office of Inspector General, the department has not formally sought
expanded congressional authority to offer waivers to hire Foreign Service
retirees. 22 The Office of Inspector General is seeking separate
congressional authority for additional dual compensation waivers to help
meet its staffing needs, including filling positions at its overseas posts in
hardship locations, such as Amman, Jordan; Cairo, Egypt; and Kabul,
Afghanistan.

State hires many more Foreign Service retirees for temporary, part-time
work than it does for full-time assignments. These retirees work on a
“When Actually Employed” schedule and are commonly referred to as
“WAEs.” WAEs do not fill vacant positions overseas but are an important
means of addressing workforce gaps, according to State officials. For
example, posts often rely on WAEs to fill staffing gaps during summer
rotations of Foreign Service employees, according to State officials.
Officials also noted that WAEs can be particularly helpful when short-term
needs arise requiring special skills and expertise, such as helping posts
prepare for a presidential visit or evacuating an embassy during a crisis.
Newer staff also can benefit from the experience and expertise that
WAEs share during their assignments.

Federal rules, and high salary and travel costs, limit the extent to which
State uses WAEs. State bureaus typically hire them for short assignments
of 1 to 3 months. Federal law enables Foreign Service retirees to earn a
salary while continuing to receive their retirement annuity as long as their
total earnings do not exceed the greater of an amount equal to the basic
pay they earned when they retired or the highest annual rate of basic pay
for full-time employment in the position for which they have been re-
employed. 23 This limits the amount of time they can work in a calendar
year. According to State officials, WAEs also have a cap of 1,040 hours of
employment per calendar year. 24 In addition to rules in federal statute that
limit their use, WAEs are also a relatively expensive option because of
their high salaries and travel costs, according to State officials from the


22
  OPM is responsible for policy related to Civil Service annuitants.
23
  22 U.S.C. § 4064(b).
24
  State employs these WAEs under their authority to make a temporary limited
appointment. As an exception to the general time limits for such a position, State fills the
position with WAEs provided that each appointment does not exceed 1,040 hours in a
calendar year. 5 C.F.R. § 316.401.




Page 23                                         GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
                        geographic bureaus and the Bureau of Consular Affairs—the primary
                        users of WAEs. Table 2 shows the number of WAE appointments these
                        bureaus used in 2011 and the average duration of each appointment.
                        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.

                        Table 2: WAE Appointments, by Bureau, in Fiscal Year 2011

                         Bureau                                      Number of WAEs                Average duration
                         African Affairs                                              86                   3.4 months
                         European and Eurasian Affairs                                25                   2.3 months
                         East Asian and Pacific Affairs                               16                   2.1 months
                         Near Eastern Affairs                                         52                   2.5 months
                         South and Central Asian Affairs                              28                   2.2 months
                         Western Hemisphere Affairs                                   19                   1.8 months
                         Consular Affairs                                           119                    1.4 months
                        Source: GAO analysis of State data.

                        Note: Number of WAE appointments includes instances in which the same individual had more than
                        one appointment.




State Began a Pilot     As part of its effort to address Foreign Service experience gaps, State’s
Training Workshop for   QDDR included the goal of expanding existing mentoring programs and
Overseas First-Time     piloting a new mentoring program for first-time supervisors. State
                        currently offers mentoring for entry-level Foreign Service employees and
Supervisors to Help     situational mentoring, which offers advice for any State employee on a
Mitigate Midlevel       specific activity or issue. In addition, State officials noted that less
Experience Gaps         experienced Foreign Service employees are increasingly being asked to
                        fill supervisory roles earlier in their careers than in the past, which raises
                        the need for targeting this group for additional mentoring.

                        In September 2011, the Human Resources Bureau began a pilot program
                        offering training workshops designed to improve the skills of first-time
                        supervisors overseas. Mentoring, both at and following the training, is a
                        key component of the pilot workshops, according to bureau officials. The
                        pilot involved two 5-day workshops—one in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and
                        another in Frankfurt, Germany, delivered to a total of 49 first-time
                        supervisors from three of the department’s geographic regions. The
                        workshops focused on performance management and basic leadership
                        skills. Retirees served as class mentors and established relationships
                        with the participants at the sessions. The mentors are expected to follow


                        Page 24                                          GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
                            up with the attendees for 1 year, with the possibility to travel to their
                            overseas posts, if warranted.

                            According to Human Resources Bureau officials, the program included
                            follow-up surveys of attendees and their supervisors to assess the
                            usefulness of the workshops in improving participants’ management style
                            and skills. The officials noted that the response among the participants
                            and their supervisors has been positive. State plans to conduct two more
                            sessions in September 2012 for first-time supervisors from the
                            department’s other three geographic regions. State officials noted that the
                            pilot needs to be completed before they can determine the effectiveness
                            of the program. A potential constraint is the cost of sending officers to
                            these workshops.


State Has Not Developed a   Although State has undertaken efforts to carry out QDDR goals to
Strategy to Address         address midlevel gaps, the department has not developed a strategic
Midlevel Gaps               approach to guide these efforts. We have found in prior work that
                            developing a strategy to address staffing gaps and evaluating its success
                            contribute to effective workforce plans. 25 State’s Five Year Workforce
                            Plan outlines its human capital strategies; however, the plan lacks a
                            specific strategy for addressing midlevel experience gaps. In our prior
                            work, we developed a workforce planning model that suggests that, when
                            considering a strategy to address workforce gaps, agencies consider the
                            full range of flexibilities available under current authorities, as well as
                            flexibilities that might require additional legislation before they can be
                            adopted. State’s efforts to draw on its pool of retirees and Civil Service
                            employees to fill midlevel gaps are examples of the use of such
                            flexibilities; however, it is not clear that State has developed a strategy to
                            take full advantage of its authority to use them.

                            In addition, our workforce planning model suggests that, to evaluate
                            human capital strategies, agencies develop performance measures that
                            can be used to gauge progress toward reaching human capital goals.
                            State’s Five Year Workforce Plan does not indicate how it will evaluate
                            efforts under way to address midlevel gaps. State plans to assess its two




                            25
                             GAO, Human Capital: Key Principles for Effective Strategic Workforce Planning,
                            GAO-04-39 (Washington, D.C.: December 2003).




                            Page 25                                      GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
                     pilot programs, but it has not developed performance measures to gauge
                     the potential impact of these efforts on midlevel gaps.


                     State faces persistent Foreign Service experience gaps at overseas
Conclusions          posts, particularly at the midlevels, and these gaps put its diplomatic
                     readiness at risk. State has traditionally relied on hiring new Foreign
                     Service employees to fill overseas gaps and significantly increased hiring
                     in fiscal years 2009 and 2010. However, those new hires will not be
                     eligible for promotion to the midlevels until at least fiscal year 2014 and
                     projections for future annual hiring increases have been reduced due to
                     budgetary constraints. As a result, State likely will continue to face
                     staffing and experience gaps for the foreseeable future. These gaps will
                     continue to affect diplomatic readiness as positions remain unfilled or are
                     staffed by Foreign Service employees whose experience does not match
                     the position requirements. In the meantime, State has taken steps to
                     implement goals highlighted in the QDDR to address midlevel overseas
                     gaps, including developing pilot programs for increasing the use of Civil
                     Service employees overseas and providing new workshops with
                     mentoring for first-time supervisors overseas. Although these efforts are
                     currently small in relation to the size of the overall gaps, their impact and
                     the extent to which they can be expanded in the future have yet to be
                     analyzed by State and are, therefore, unclear. Since State has not
                     developed a specific strategy for addressing midlevel gaps, it can neither
                     fully assess the success of its efforts to close these gaps nor determine
                     the optimal course of action for enhancing diplomatic readiness.


                     To help guide State’s efforts to address midlevel gaps in the Foreign
Recommendation for   Service, we recommend that the Secretary of State direct the Bureau of
Executive Action     Human Resources to update its Five Year Workforce Plan to include a
                     strategy to address these gaps and a plan to evaluate the success of this
                     strategy.


                     We provided a draft of this report to State for comment. In its written
Agency Comments      comments, reproduced in appendix III, State agreed with our
                     recommendation. State also provided technical comments, which we
                     incorporated throughout the report, as appropriate.




                     Page 26                                 GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
As agreed with your office, unless you publicly announce the contents of
this report earlier, we plan no further distribution until 30 days from the
report’s date. At that time, we will send copies to the Secretary of State
and other interested congressional committees. In addition, the report is
available at no charge on the GAO website at http://www.gao.gov.

If you or your staff have any questions about this report, please contact
me at (202) 512-8980 or courtsm@gao.gov. Contact points for our Offices
of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on the last
page of this report. GAO staff who made key contributions to this report
are listed in appendix IV.

Sincerely yours,




Michael J. Courts
Acting Director
International Affairs and Trade




Page 27                                GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
              Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
              Methodology



Methodology

              In this report, we assess: (1) the extent to which the Department of
              State’s (State) overseas midlevel Foreign Service experience gaps have
              changed since 2008 and (2) State’s efforts to address these gaps.

              To assess the extent of the State’s overseas midlevel Foreign Service
              experience gaps and how these gaps have changed since 2008, we

              •   reviewed GAO and State Office of Inspector General reports, as well
                  as State workforce planning and budget documents and its Diplomacy
                  3.0 initiative;

              •   collected and analyzed staffing data on all overseas Foreign Service
                  positions from State’s Global Employees Management System
                  (GEMS) as of September 30, 2008, and October 31, 2011; 1 and

              •   interviewed officials in State’s Bureau of Human Resources, Bureau
                  of Consular Affairs, and six regional bureaus regarding overseas
                  experience gaps.

              To determine the extent of overseas Foreign Service experience gaps,
              we analyzed State staffing data. We compared the number of positions
              that were vacant, filled with upstretch assignments, and filled at grade or
              higher with the total number of authorized overseas positions. We did not
              validate whether the total number of authorized overseas positions was
              appropriate or met State’s needs. We calculated total vacancy and
              upstretch rates across all overseas Foreign Service positions for both the
              2008 and 2011 data. We also calculated vacancy and upstretch rates for
              both data sets by each of the following characteristics: level (i.e., entry-,
              mid-, or senior-level); type (i.e., generalist or specialist); and function
              (e.g., consular or information management). For 2011 data only, we
              supplemented the GEMS data with additional State data on hardship
              differentials and embassy and nonembassy rankings from State’s
              Overseas Staffing Models and also calculated vacancy and upstretch
              rates by each of these characteristics.



              1
               We obtained position data as of October 31, 2011, because, according to State officials,
              most employees moving on to their next assignments have arrived at their new posts by
              that time and most promotions have taken effect. However, State officials noted that some
              positions may appear vacant in GEMS because incoming incumbents have not yet arrived
              at their new posts. We used data as of the end of fiscal year 2008 obtained for a prior
              GAO report at that time for similar reasons.




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Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology




To calculate vacancy rates, we divided the total number of positions by
the number of vacant positions. To calculate upstretch rates, we divided
the total number of positions by the number of upstretch assignments. We
considered any assignment in which the grade of incumbent was at least
one grade lower than that of the position as an upstretch assignment, with
one exception: According to State officials, tenured Foreign Service
generalists with a position grade of 04 are not considered in an upstretch
assignment if they encumber a position with an 03 grade because
tenured 04 grade officers are expected to fill positions with an 03 grade, if
possible. We, therefore, did not consider tenured 04 grade officers to be
in an upstretch assignment when they filled positions graded as 03. We
considered senior-level positions at the Career Minister, Minister
Counselor, and Counselor level to be of a comparable grade and,
therefore, did not consider officers with any of these grades to be in an
upstretch assignment. According to State officials, the department does
not consider any employee in an entry-level position to be in an upstretch
assignment. However, for the purposes of our analysis, we defined any
assignment in which the position’s grade is higher than the incumbent’s
grade to be an upstretch assignment. Therefore, because State assigns
different grades to positions within the entry levels, we considered entry-
level assignments where a position’s grade was higher than the
employee’s grade to be upstretch assignments.

We eliminated a small number of positions from our analysis of each data
set because we could not clearly or completely identify where the
positions were located. We also eliminated 57 Security Protective
Specialist positions from the 2011 data because, according to State
officials, it was a new job category and was not intended for permanent
Foreign Service Officers, but rather employees hired under short-term
limited noncareer appointments. In total, we did not use 88 positions, or
about 1 percent of the total, from the September 30, 2008, data and 207
positions, or about 2 percent of the total, from the October 31, 2011, data,
which we determined did not substantially affect our findings.

We also conducted an analysis of the likelihood of overseas positions
being vacant or filled through upstretch assignments based on the various
characteristics described above. For a detailed discussion of the
methodology and results of that analysis, see appendix II.

We obtained staffing and position data from State’s GEMS database.
Since we have previously checked the reliability of this database, we
inquired if State had made any major changes to the database since our
2009 report. State indicated that it had not made major changes to the


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Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology




system. We also tested the data for completeness, confirmed the general
accuracy of the data with select overseas posts, and interviewed
knowledgeable officials from the Office of Resource Management and
Organizational Analysis concerning the reliability of the data. Data from
Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan (AIP) posts often show higher vacancy
rates than actually exist at the post; however, it does so because State
relies heavily on short-term assignments to fill positions in these
locations. These short-term assignments do not show up in GEMS, and
the position, therefore, appears vacant. Positions in GEMS represent a
need for full-time, permanent Foreign Service employees, and, therefore,
we determined that the GEMS data accurately reflect State’s ability to fill
positions in these locations with full-time, permanent Foreign Service
employees. Additionally, because State often pulls staff from other
overseas assignments to fill short-term temporary assignments in AIP
countries, the vacancy rate for all overseas positions is most accurately
captured when all posts are included. Therefore, based on our analysis of
the data and discussions with the officials, we determined the data to be
sufficiently reliable for our purposes. However, when referring specifically
to vacancy rates in AIP countries, we reference other State sources,
which include positions filled through both permanent and temporary
assignments.

To assess State’s approach to addressing midlevel Foreign Service gaps
through expanded use of Civil Service employees, retirees, and
mentoring, we

•   reviewed GAO and State Office of Inspector General reports;

•   reviewed relevant State documents, such as State’s Quadrennial
    Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), State’s Five Year
    Workforce Plan, and the Bureau of Human Resources’ Bureau
    Strategic and Resource Plan;

•   reviewed federal laws, policies, and regulations governing Limited
    Non-Career Appointments (LNA) of Civil Service Employees,
    conversion from Civil Service to Foreign Service, and hiring of retired
    Foreign Service and Civil Service annuitants; and

•   interviewed officials in State’s Bureau of Human Resources, Bureau
    of Consular Affairs, and six regional bureaus, the American Foreign
    Service Association, and the American Academy of Diplomacy
    regarding overseas experience gaps and the potential to address
    gaps through the use of Civil Service, retirees, and mentoring.



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Methodology




We collected and analyzed data on the retirees hired with dual
compensation waivers in calendar year 2011. We also collected and
analyzed data on the use of retirees hired for temporary, short-term
assignments, referred to as “When Actually Employed” (WAE) in fiscal
year 2011 from each of the six regional bureaus and the Bureau of
Consular Affairs. We analyzed that data based on the number of
assignments made, rather than the number of retirees used, as State
officials noted that some individuals may be used in multiple assignments.
In addition, we collected and analyzed data on overseas LNA
assignments of Civil Service employees for fiscal years 2009 through
2011 from State’s Bureau of Human Resources. Because these
assignments may be for multiple years, the number of assignments made
does not necessarily reflect the number of Civil Service employees
serving overseas at any one time. We also collected data on the results of
State’s 2010 and 2011 Foreign Service Conversion Program, including
the number of positions available, the number of Civil Service applicants,
and the number offered conversion opportunities. We found the data on
the use of retirees and Civil Service employees overseas to be sufficiently
reliable for our purposes. We focused only on efforts related to expanding
the use of Civil Service employees, retirees, and mentoring because they
were highlighted in State’s QDDR as key means of addressing overseas
midlevel gaps.

To supplement our other analysis, we met with officials in Amman,
Jordan; Kyiv, Ukraine; New Delhi, India; Santo Domingo, Dominican
Republic; and Sao Paulo and Brasilia, Brazil, to obtain firsthand
knowledge about experience gaps and use of Civil Service, retirees, and
mentoring at overseas posts. We conducted this work in conjunction with
a separate study on visa fraud and selected posts that met criteria
established for both studies, including the size of staffing gaps and the
level of visa fraud.

We conducted this performance audit from June 2011 to June 2012 in
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.
Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain
sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our
findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that
the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and
conclusions based on our audit objectives.




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Appendix II: Analysis of Factors Associated
               Appendix II: Analysis of Factors Associated
               with Vacancies and Upstretch Assignments



with Vacancies and Upstretch Assignments

               In this appendix, we describe the methods we used to determine what
               factors were related to whether positions at the State Department were
               vacant as of October 2011 and those that were filled by upstretch
               assignments—employees whose grades were lower than the grades of
               the positions filled. We first considered a set of bivariate tables (or two-
               way cross-classifications) that indicated what percentage of positions
               were filled and left vacant, across categories that reflected

               •   the level of the position (entry level, midlevel, and upper level);

               •   the hardship category associated with the position (least, medium,
                   and greatest); 1

               •   the type of position (generalist versus specialist);

               •   the Overseas Staffing Model ranking and type of post where the
                   position was located (embassies ranked 1 or 2 were combined and
                   contrasted with embassies ranked 3, 3+, 4, 5, 5+, and nonembassies
                   of any rank); 2

               •   region (Africa, East Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Eurasia, Near
                   East, South and Central Asia, and Western Hemisphere); and

               •   whether the position was in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Pakistan (collectively
                   referred to as AIP) or elsewhere (non-AIP).

               We then calculated odds and odds ratios from the observed percentages
               in these tables, which allowed us to summarize the differences in the
               likelihoods of positions remaining vacant across the different types of
               positions, and conducted a series of bivariate and multivariate regression
               analyses to estimate the significance of those differences when we
               considered each of these six factors one at a time, when we considered



               1
                “Least hardship” included posts with a hardship differential of 10 percent or less; “medium
               hardship” included posts with hardship differentials between 15 percent and 20 percent; and
               “greatest hardship” included posts with hardship differentials of 25 percent or more.
               2
                State’s Overseas Staffing Model assigns embassies a ranking of 1 through 5+, based on
               the requirements of the embassy. These levels are closely associated with the
               department’s foreign policy priorities, with higher numbers representing higher foreign
               policy priorities. Because nonembassies are provided functional rankings that are not
               necessarily associated with a location’s priority, we included them as a separate group.




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five of them simultaneously (all but AIP), and finally when we considered
all six of them simultaneously. Finally, we conducted parallel analyses
that involved looking at the same types of two-way tables and estimating
the same bivariate and multivariate regression models to determine,
among those positions that were filled, whether they were filled by
upstretch assignments as opposed to officers at or above grade. We
describe these analyses as follows.

The first three columns of numbers in table 3 show the percentage of
positions that were filled and vacant across the categories of the six
factors just described, and the numbers of positions in each category on
which those percentages were based. A slightly smaller percentage of
upper-level positions than entry-level positions were vacant (12.6 percent
versus 14.9 percent), and a much larger percentage of the positions in
the greatest hardship category (20.5 percent) than in the least hardship
category (10.4 percent) were left vacant. While there was little difference
between generalist positions and specialist positions, there were some
sizable differences across different posts with different rankings, with
positions in the highest-ranked embassies (20.9 percent) and in
nonembassies (16.4 percent) showing the highest percentages of
vacancies. Higher percentages of positions in the Near East (22.3
percent) and South and Central Asia (24.2 percent) were left vacant
compared with other regions, and positions in AIP countries were much
more likely to be vacant than those in non-AIP locations (39.5 percent vs.
11.4 percent). 3




3
 State relies heavily on temporary assignments—which do not show up as filled, in State’s
personnel database—to fill positions in AIP. Additionally, State continuously fills positions
in AIP throughout the year, so vacancy rates may differ greatly at different points in time.
According to State data as of February 2012, over one-quarter (27 percent) of the
positions at AIP posts that were filled were filled with temporary assignments.




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                                         Appendix II: Analysis of Factors Associated
                                         with Vacancies and Upstretch Assignments




Table 3: Percentages of Positions with Different Characteristics That Were Filled and Vacant, and Odds and Odds Ratios
Indicating the Differences between Categories

                             Percentage of positions
Position characteristic            Filled        Vacant               Number of positions                    Odds on vacant                        Odds ratios
Position level
  Entry level                        85.1                 14.9                               2,330                             0.18                       1.04
  Midlevel                           85.6                 14.4                               5,727                             0.17                       REF
  Upper level                        87.4                 12.6                                 999                             0.14                       0.86
  Missing                            50.0                 50.0                                   2
Hardship category
  Least hardship                     89.6                 10.4                               3,993                             0.12                       REF
  Medium hardship                    86.4                 13.6                               2,280                             0.16                       1.36
  Greatest hardship                  79.5                 20.5                               2,785                             0.26                       2.22
Type of Position
  Generalist                         86.0                 14.0                               5,173                             0.16                       REF
  Specialist                         85.2                 14.8                               3,885                             0.17                       1.07
Post type/ranking
  Embassy 1 or 2                     89.2                 10.8                                 742                             0.12                       0.46
  Embassy 3                          87.1                 12.9                               1,407                             0.15                       0.56
  Embassy 3+                         90.0                 10.0                               1,718                             0.11                       0.42
  Embassy 4                          89.8                 10.2                                 509                             0.11                       0.43
  Embassy 5                          90.7                  9.3                                 814                             0.10                       0.39
  Embassy 5+                         79.1                 20.9                               2,074                             0.26                       REF
  Nonembassy                         83.6                 16.4                               1,621                             0.20                       0.74
  Missing                            79.2                 20.8                                 173
Region
  Africa                             91.0                  9.0                               1,182                             0.10                       0.78
  East Asia and Pacific              87.7                 12.3                               1,446                             0.14                       1.10
  Europe                             88.8                 11.2                               2,231                             0.13                       0.99
  Near East                          77.7                 22.3                               1,347                             0.29                       2.25
  South and Central Asia             75.8                 24.2                               1,085                             0.32                       2.51
  Western Hemisphere                 88.7                 11.3                               1,767                             0.13                       REF
AIP
  Non-AIP                            88.6                 11.4                               8,121                             0.13                       REF
  AIP                                60.5                 39.5                                 937                             0.65                       5.07
Total                                85.7                 14.3                               9,058                             0.17
                                         Source: GAO analysis of State Department Global Employee Management System Data on overseas positions, as of
                                         October, 31 2011.

                                         Note: For each characteristic, we use one category as the referent category (REF). The resulting
                                         odds ratios can be interpreted in relation to that category. For example, midlevel positions are the
                                         referent category for position level. The odds ratios for entry-level positions indicate that those
                                         positions had slightly higher odds of remaining vacant than midlevel positions, by a factor of 1.04,
                                         while upper-level positions had slightly lower odds than midlevel positions of remaining vacant, by a
                                         factor of 0.86.




                                         Page 34                                                         GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
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In the last two columns of table 3, we show the odds on positions being
vacant, and odds ratios that indicate the proportional differences in those
odds across the different categories of positions. The odds on positions
being vacant are calculated by dividing the percentage of positions that
are vacant by the percentages that are filled, within each of the categories
of the different positions. For entry-level positions, for example, we divide
14.9 by 85.1 to obtain 0.18, which indicates that 0.18 positions were
vacant for every one that was filled or, alternatively, that 18 were vacant
for every 100 that were filled. Similar calculations for midlevel and upper-
level positions yield slightly smaller odds (equal to 0.17 and 0.14,
respectively), and odds that differ quite substantially across other
categories of positions, such as those with the greatest hardship (0.26)
versus least hardship (0.12), and those in South and Central Asia (0.32)
versus the Western Hemisphere (0.13).

The odds ratios in the final column of table 3 indicate the proportional
differences in the odds of positions remaining vacant across the
categories of each of the position characteristics. To estimate these odds
ratios, we choose one category of each characteristic as the referent
category (indicated by REF in the table), and divide the odds for the other
categories by the odds for the referent category. For example, we chose
midlevel positions as the referent category with respect to position level,
divided 0.18 and 0.14 by 0.17, and the resultant odds ratios indicate that
entry-level positions had slightly higher odds of remaining vacant than
midlevel positions, by a factor of 1.04, while upper-level positions had
slightly lower odds than midlevel positions of remaining vacant, by a
factor of 0.86. Similar calculations using the different categories of the
other position characteristics reveal that positions with greatest and
medium hardship were more likely to be vacant than those with least
hardship, by factors of 2.22 and 1.36, respectively, while specialist
positions had only slightly higher odds than generalist positions of
remaining vacant, by a factor of 1.07. Also, all of the lower-ranked
embassies had roughly half or less than half the odds of embassies
ranked 5+ of remaining vacant, and nonembassies had odds that were
lower than the highest-ranked embassies by a factor of 0.74. Finally,
positions in Africa had lower odds on remaining vacant than positions in
the Western Hemisphere (by a factor of 0.78), positions in East Asia and
the Pacific and in Europe had odds that were very similar, and positions
in the Near East and South and Central Asia had higher odds on
remaining vacant than positions in the Western Hemisphere, by factors of




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2.25 and 2.51, respectively. As the final multivariate model in table 4
shows, some of these regional differences were because AIP countries
were more than five times as likely as those in other areas to be vacant. 4

Odds ratios identical to those just discussed, apart from slight rounding
error, are shown in the first column of table 4. The unadjusted odds ratios
in the first column of table 4, however, were estimated using a series of
bivariate logistic regression models, which allow us to test whether the
different contrasts specified by the various odds ratios are significantly
different than 1. Significant odds ratios are bolded in the table, and we
can see the unadjusted ratios reflecting the differences in the odds on
positions remaining vacant across position level categories and between
generalist and specialist positions are not significant; in addition, the
differences between positions in the East Asia and Pacific region, Europe,
and the Western hemisphere are not significant. All of the other
unadjusted (or bivariate) odds ratios are significant, though our judgment
about both the size and significance of these differences is only tentative
since they are unadjusted and fail to take into account that the different
position characteristics—for example, hardship level and region—may be
related to one another and, as such, the estimated unadjusted effect of
one characteristic may be accounted for by the effect of another.

Table 4: Unadjusted and Adjusted Odds Ratios Indicating the Differences in the
Odds on Positions Being Vacant between Positions with Various Characteristics

                                                                   Adjusted odds ratios
                                                                     Without
                                                   Unadjusted             AIP  With AIP
Categories contrasted                              odds ratios      indicator  indicator
Entry-level vs. midlevel positions                        1.04           1.22        1.36
Upper-level vs. midlevel positions                        0.86           0.87        0.88
Medium hardship vs. least hardship                        1.36           1.21        1.22
Greatest hardship vs. least hardship                      2.22           2.25        1.44
Specialist vs. generalist positions                       1.07           1.06        1.06
Africa vs. Western Hemisphere                             0.78           0.54        0.67
East Asia and Pacific vs. Western Hemisphere              1.11           0.85        1.09



4
 State relies heavily on temporary assignments—which do not show up as filled, in State’s
personnel database—to fill positions in AIP. Additionally, State continuously fills positions
in AIP throughout the year, so vacancy rates may differ greatly at different points in time.
According to State data as of February 2012, over one-quarter (27 percent) of the
positions at AIP posts that were filled were filled with temporary assignments.




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                                                                                           Adjusted odds ratios
                                                                                             Without
                                                                     Unadjusted                   AIP  With AIP
 Categories contrasted                                               odds ratios            indicator  indicator
 Europe vs. Western Hemisphere                                              0.99                 1.00        1.08
 Near East vs. Western Hemisphere                                           2.26                 1.54        1.23
 South Central Asia vs. Western Hemisphere                                  2.52                 1.28        0.90
 Rank 1 or 2 embassy vs. Rank 5+ embassy                                    0.46                 0.61        1.00
 Rank 3 embassy vs. Rank 5+ embassy                                         0.56                 0.62        1.14
 Rank 3+ embassy vs. Rank 5+ embassy                                        0.42                 0.49        0.85
 Rank 4 embassy vs. Rank 5+ embassy                                         0.43                 0.62        0.87
 Rank 5 embassy vs. Rank 5+ embassy                                         0.39                 0.57        0.87
 Nonembassy vs. Rank 5+ embassy                                             0.74                 0.87        1.20
 AIP vs. non-AIP positions                                                  5.07                             4.12
Source: GAO analysis of State Department Global Employee Management System data on overseas positions, as of October 31, 2011.

Note: Bolding indicates odds ratios that are statistically significant at the 0.05 level.


In the middle column of the table, we show the results of re-estimating
these odds ratios using a multivariate model that estimates the effects on
positions remaining vacant of all of these factors simultaneously, except for
the AIP indicator. Under this model, most of the effects remain significant,
though the difference between nonembassy positions and embassy
positions is diminished and insignificant, and the difference between entry-
level and midlevel positions increases and becomes significant.

In the final column, we show the results of re-estimating these odds ratios
using a multivariate model that estimates the effects of all six factors
simultaneously, including the war zone indicator. As can be seen, the
adjusted difference between AIP and non-AIP positions is sizable (OR =
4.12), and allowing for that difference accounts for all of the differences
between embassies of different ranks and nonembassies, and most of the
differences between regions (the exception being the difference between
positions in Africa and the Western Hemisphere). In summary, when all
factors are considered simultaneously and the associations between
characteristics are taken into account, the differences that are statistically
significant are as follows:

•     entry-level positions have higher odds of remaining vacant than
      midlevel positions, by a factor of 1.36;

•     positions in the greatest hardship and medium hardship categories
      are more likely than those in the least hardship category to remain
      vacant, by factors of 1.44 and 1.22, respectively;



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•   positions in Africa are less likely to remain vacant than those in the
    Western hemisphere, by a factor of 0.67; and

•   AIP positions are slightly more than four times as likely to remain
    vacant as non-AIP positions.

Table 5 shows similar bivariate results in which these six characteristics
are cross-classified by whether the position was filled by employees
whose grades were lower than the grades of the position they filled, and
table 6 shows the significant and insignificant odds ratios from bivariate
and multivariate models used to estimate the effects of those
characteristics on this outcome. While there is no need to labor over a
discussion of all of the percentages and odds and odds ratios in table 5,
which show the unadjusted and sometimes sizable differences across
categories of position in the likelihood of being filled by a lower-graded
employee, they are there for the reader to see. Our bottom-line findings,
from the multivariate model coefficients in the final column of table 6 in
which all position characteristics are considered simultaneously and the
effect of each is estimated net of the others, are as follows:

•   Upper-level positions are more than twice as likely as midlevel
    positions to be filled by upstretch assignments.

•   Positions in the greatest hardship and medium hardship categories
    are more likely than those in the least hardship category to be filled by
    lower-level employees, by factors of 1.81 and 1.47, respectively.

•   Specialist positions are less likely than generalist positions to be filled
    by employees whose grades are lower than the positions, by a factor
    of 0.75.

•   Positions in East Asia and the Pacific and Europe are less likely to be
    filled by upstretch assignments than those in the Western
    hemisphere, by factors of 0.80 and 0.72, respectively.

•   The lowest-ranked embassies (ranks 1 and 2) are only about half as
    likely as the embassies ranked 5+ to be filled by upstretch
    assignments, while embassies with other ranks and nonembasssies
    are not significantly different from embassies ranked 5+.

•   AIP positions are half as likely to be filled by upstretch assignments as
    non-AIP positions.




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                                         Appendix II: Analysis of Factors Associated
                                         with Vacancies and Upstretch Assignments




Table 5: Percentages of Positions with Different Characteristics That Were Filled by Employees Below Grade Level Versus at
or above Grade Level, and Odds and Odds Ratios Indicating the Differences between Them

                           Percentage of positions filled by employees
Position characteristic     At or above grade level Below grade level Number of positions                                 Odds on below              Odds ratios
Position level
  Low level                                    84.1                           15.9                           1,983                         0.19                 1.16
  Mid level                                    86.0                           14.0                           4,905                         0.16                 REF
  Upper level                                  73.1                           26.9                             873                         0.37                 2.26
  Missing                                     100.0                            0.0                               1
Hardship category
  Least hardship                                86.8                          13.2                           3,578                         0.15                 REF
  Medium hardship                               81.9                          18.1                           1,969                         0.22                 1.45
  Greatest hardship                             81.6                          18.4                           2,215                         0.23                 1.48
Type of position
  Generalist                                    82.8                          17.2                           4,451                         0.21                 REF
  Specialist                                    85.7                          14.3                           3,311                         0.17                 0.80
Post type/ranking
  Embassy 1 or 2                                89.4                          10.6                             662                         0.12                 0.64
  Embassy 3                                     84.2                          15.8                           1,226                         0.19                 1.02
  Embassy 3+                                    82.9                          17.1                           1,546                         0.21                 1.12
  Embassy 4                                     84.5                          15.5                             457                         0.18                 0.99
  Embassy 5                                     79.0                          21.0                             738                         0.27                 1.44
  Embassy 5+                                    84.4                          15.6                           1,641                         0.18                 REF
  Nonembassy                                    84.9                          15.1                           1,355                         0.18                 0.96
  Missing                                       84.7                          15.3                             137
Region
  Africa                                        80.9                          19.1                           1,076                         0.24                 1.10
  East Asia and Pacific                         84.5                          15.5                           1,268                         0.18                 0.85
  Europe                                        87.4                          12.6                           1,981                         0.14                 0.67
  Near East                                     83.6                          16.4                           1,047                         0.20                 0.91
  South and Central Asia                        83.3                          16.7                             822                         0.20                 0.93
  Western Hemisphere                            82.3                          17.7                           1,568                         0.22                 REF
AIP
  Non-AIP                                       83.9                          16.1                           7,195                         0.19                 REF
  AIP                                           86.1                          13.9                             567                         0.16                 0.84
Total                                           84.1                          15.9                           7,762
                                         Source: GAO analysis of State Department Global Employee Management System data on overseas positions, as of October, 31 2011.

                                         Note: For each characteristic, we use one category as the referent category (REF). The resulting
                                         odds ratios within that characteristic can be interpreted in relation to that category




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Appendix II: Analysis of Factors Associated
with Vacancies and Upstretch Assignments




Table 6: Unadjusted and Adjusted Odds Ratios Indicating the Differences in the
Odds on Positions Being Filled with Below-Grade Employees between Positions
with Various Characteristics

                                                                                         Adjusted odds ratios
                                                                  Unadjusted            Without AIP             With AIP
 Categories contrasted                                            odds ratios              indicator            indicator
 Entry-level vs. midlevel positions                                          1.17                   1.04               1.02
 Upper-level vs. midlevel positions                                          2.27                   2.24               2.23
 Medium hardship vs. least Hardship                                          1.45                   1.48               1.47
 Greatest hardship vs. least hardship                                        1.47                   1.62               1.81
 Specialist vs. generalist positions                                         0.80                   0.75               0.75
 Africa vs. Western Hemisphere                                               1.10                   1.07               1.02
 East Asia and Pacific vs. Western                                           0.85                   0.84               0.80
 Hemisphere
 Europe vs. Western Hemisphere                                               0.67                   0.74               0.72
 Near East vs. Western Hemisphere                                            0.92                   0.88               0.93
 South Central Asia vs. Western Hemisphere                                   0.93                   0.77               0.86
 Rank 1 or 2 embassy vs. rank 5+ embassy                                     0.64                   0.56               0.49
 Rank 3 embassy vs. rank 5+ embassy                                          1.02                   0.93               0.79
 Rank 3+ embassy vs. rank 5+ embassy                                         1.12                   1.12               0.97
 Rank 4 embassy vs. rank 5+ embassy                                          1.00                   1.13               1.03
 Rank 5 embassy vs. rank 5+ embassy                                          1.44                   1.41               1.25
 Nonembassy vs. rank 5+ embassy                                              0.96                   1.05               0.95
 AIP vs. non-AIP positions                                                   0.84                                      0.57
Source: GAO analysis of State Department Global Employee Management System data on overseas positions, as of October, 31 2011.

Note: Bolding indicates odds ratios that are statistically significant at the 0.05 level.




Page 40                                                          GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
Appendix III: Comments from the
              Appendix III: Comments from the Department
              of State



Department of State




              Page 41                                      GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
Appendix III: Comments from the Department
of State




Page 42                                      GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
Appendix IV: GAO Contact and Staff
                             Appendix IV: GAO Contact and
                             Staff Acknowledgments



Acknowledgments

                  Michael J. Courts, (202) 512-8980 or courtsm@gao.gov
GAO Contact
                  In addition to the contact named above, Anthony Moran, Assistant
Staff             Director; Howard Cott; Kara Marshall; Grant Mallie; Doug Sloane; Martin
Acknowledgments   De Alteriis; Karen Deans; and Grace Lui provided significant contributions
                  to the work.




(320849)
                  Page 43                                   GAO-12-721 Foreign Service Workforce Gaps
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