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June 22, 2011
Dissent: USAID’s New Direct Channel
BY FRANCISCO ZAMORA
On Nov. 7, 2011, the U. S. Agency for International Development’s Administrator announced the creation of our very own dissent-type channel, called the “Direct Channel,” modeled after the State Department’s Dissent Channel.
While the Dissent Channel is and always has been available to U.S. direct-hire USAID employees, we now have the ability address our concerns directly to our Administrator. And, unlike State’s Dissent Channel, which is open only to U.S. direct hires, the Direct Channel is open to all USAID employees, including Foreign Service nationals, third-country nationals and personal services contractors.
This event signals an increased willingness and openness to hear opinions, input and, I dare say, constructive criticism, from USAID employees. The extent to which we will benefit from this new development is up to us. But first, let’s take a closer look at what this channel is and what it is not. As with the State Dissent Channel, use of the USAID Direct Channel is limited to dissent of a substantive nature; it is to be used as a last resort. It is an opportunity to comment on our development programs and to have our comments taken seriously. The intent of the Direct Channel is to promote uncensored, open, creative and alternative opinions; ideas that merit high-level attention, but fail to reach our top leadership.
The new Direct Channel is not an avenue for discussing issues for which an alternative mechanism already exists. Personal complaints (including promotions or assignments), crime, unethical behavior, security or management issues can and should be handled by the Office of the Inspector General, the Office of Security, the General Counsel or the Office of Human Resources, as appropriate.
For those who are worried about being labeled malcontents or troublemakers, it is also important to note that (in addition to being assured that all comments will be held in the strictest of confidence) safeguards have been developed to prevent any reprisals or retaliation against employees. All submissions will be handled directly by the Deputy Administrator’s office, where they are forwarded to the Administrator.
In line with the State Department’s Dissent Channel regulations, USAID supervisors are prohibited from mistreating or negatively evaluating an employee for using the Direct Channel.
We at AFSA welcome this development. The Direct Channel will test whetheror not the Administration is serious about engaging in a discussion of sensitive policy issues with USAID employees. I can think of several topics that need high-level attention, such as consolidation of administrative services and the difficulties we face in implementing USAID Forward Reforms. I am sure there is no end to the issues, suggestions and improvements USAID employees will raise using this process.
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