The Bureaucracy Has No Memory

A significant part of my pay could be “performance pay” now that I am in the Senior Foreign Service (Senior Executive Service) and don’t get automatic increases.  I didn’t get to compete for performance pay for 2007/8 because of a technicality – Congress acted too late on my class’ promotion and we were not in grade long enough to qualify according to the State Department’s arcane rules.   (Ironically, however, they acted quick enough that I lost my overtime pay in Iraq and ended up taking a pay cut because of my promotion. It won’t be until the middle of next year that I make up the money I lost by being promoted.) This year I just didn’t get performance pay.  I am a little surprised.  

This was the last performance report that included Iraq.  Next year my Iraq experience will be buried under the relative obscurity of this Washington assignment.  If I didn’t deserve performance pay for Iraq, I certainly should not get it for Washington, so my prospects don’t look good. Iraq was about the best I can do.  I am beginning to feel unpopular.

In fairness, my colleagues are doing lots of important things in Embassies overseas and in Washington.  I don’t doubt the merit of those on the list. 

But being a PRT leader in Iraq seemed a bigger deal to the Department when they asked me to take the assignment. They dragged me out of the job I had and made me feel that delay of even a couple of days was disastrous.  It sure seemed important. Of course, the perceived value of a service declines rapidly after that service has been performed and there has, anyway, been a shift in priorities.   You get little advantage being tied to yesterday’s urgency, no matter how important they told you it was at the time.  

I said when I signed on for Iraq that I did NOT do it for career advancement and I was telling the truth.  I remain glad that I volunteered.  I derived immense satisfaction from doing the job there. I worked with great colleagues and I am convinced that there are people alive in Iraq today who would not be had we not done the work we did.   I would not change my decision.

Nevertheless, it bothers me a little to conclude that I would likely have been in a better career position, at least in terms of contacts & assignment prospects, had I not volunteered, had I kept and built on the good job I had in September 2007. Things moved along w/o me while I was literally wandering in the desert.  It is my own fault too. I did a poor job of reconnecting.   I thought I could just pick up where I left off; I was mistaken. 

Chrissy says that I don’t get mad enough about these sorts of things and that I need to develop a stronger sense of entitlement. Sometimes the people who make the most noise get the most recognition. I tend to downplay hardships and achievements and I am not prone to anger. I am mad about not being recognized for my Iraq service, but this is about the extent of my rage.

“Do it because it is the right thing to do, but remember that the State Department talks a lot about the importance of the mission and the people who do it, but the bureaucracy has no memory.”  That is what I will tell the people who ask my advice on taking on hard assignments.

It is a dreary, depressing day, both in terms of the weather (as you can see from the picture above) and my outlook, but the sky will brighten up and so will my situation.    I plan to wallow in self-pity for a little longer; then I will stop and try to do something useful again.