As the Secretary said when he announced our efforts to modernize American diplomacy – the State Department is determined to win the competition for talent and serve as a model employer because that is the only way we can effectively advance America’s interests and values in the 21st century. I share his sentiment that we are committed to do all we can to support, empower, and care for our workforce so that “a career at the State Department is not only meaningful and rewarding, but sustainable and family-friendly as well.”
Now that we have concluded the first year of the Biden-Harris Administration, I want to highlight some of the accomplishments that respond to the needs and wants of today’s workforce. These accomplishments are intended to lock in many of the flexibilities and innovations we have adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic, expand opportunities for employees and their family members, and make it easier and faster to hire new and diverse talent – all of which make the Department stronger, more responsive, more effective, and better able to deliver for the American people.
Recruiting the Next Generation
As the Secretary has said, we need to step up our game – doing more to build diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) into our system, so that “talented people from all walks of life see the State Department as a place where they can belong and they can thrive.” We have several initiatives that will help us build the workforce of the future:
Our Recruitment Division conducted more than 3,000 recruiting activities, including over 900 events specifically targeting DEIA prospects. These DEIA-focused recruiting events engaged over 15,000 individual prospects.
We established a 500-person Volunteer Recruiter Corps with representation from all affinity groups, which participated in more than 150 events. These groups mirror the makeup of our workforce and help strengthen and support its diversity.
We streamlined the security clearance review process, reducing the average time it takes to finalize a clearance for new and transferring employees.
Looking ahead, we will continue to urge Congress to authorize and fund paid internships.
A Focus on Retention
We are focusing on creating and sustaining workplace flexibilities, to support our people and their families, modernize our performance management system, and promote professional development and career mobility for all our employees. In the last year, we have:
Expanded remote work and telework eligibility. The Department needs to keep pace with the private sector in enabling greater flexibility, and we are committed to enhancing and institutionalizing many of the changes we have implemented in response to the pandemic.
Expanded student loan repayment eligibility criteria.
Established the first Veterans Services Coordinator position, to better support our more than 5,000 veterans at the Department.
Created a Retention Team. In addition to reviewing the data and talking with the workforce to understand why people stay and why they leave, the Retention Team will develop the first Department-wide retention strategy.
These steps are important and are intended to support positive change across the Department. But we are not finished. In early 2022, in addition to announcing performance management reforms, we expect to roll out new professional development opportunities as well as long overdue initiatives aimed at helping our Civil Service employees build rewarding careers.
Building Critical Skills
As we reorient U.S. foreign policy to focus on 21st-century challenges that most directly affect Americans’ lives, we need to build our capacity and expertise in areas critical to our national security. To that end, we have:
Established a Talent Sourcing Unit to more effectively identify, reach, and target individuals for recruitment, especially in fields requiring specialized skills.
Conducted our first Department-only career fair, focused on STEM-and engaging diverse candidates.
Established new Foreign Service climate diplomacy positions in all geographic regions and key overseas missions and embassies.
Eliminated degree requirements for Foreign Service IT specialists and hired for several Civil Service data scientist positions.
Going forward, our plan includes offering a new STEM fellowship and expanding critical skills training opportunities at the Foreign Service Institute that will enable more employees to gain new skills and experience without compromising our ability to fulfill our mission.
While we have made progress in these areas and others, we still have more work to do on workplace flexibilities, remote work options, and pay and benefits. These efforts continue.
I thank all my colleagues for their continued service, and I hope the efforts highlighted here are helping to make a difference now and for the foreseeable future. We will continue to do the work and make necessary changes to attract and retain the talent needed to achieve our foreign policy objectives and advance our nation’s security, prosperity, and values.
Visit careers.state.gov to learn more about careers with the State Department.
About the Author: Brian McKeon is the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources at the U.S. Department of State.