Foreign Service Officer

A Foreign Service Officer (FSO) is a commissioned member of the United States Foreign Service. As diplomats, Foreign Service Officers formulate and implement the foreign policy of the United States. FSOs spend most of their careers overseas as members of U.S. embassies, consulates, and other diplomatic missions. Within the Foreign Service they are also known as Generalists. Foreign Service Generalists comprise most of the top tiers of the Foreign Service (excluding the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, and are distinguished from the other category of Foreign Service employees known as Specialists (e.g., Special Agents of the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service).

The leadership roles at U.S. embassies are filled almost exclusively from the FSO ranks. Two-thirds of U.S. Ambassadors are career Foreign Service officers. The remaining third are mostly political appointees. FSOs also fill critical management and foreign policy positions at the headquarters of foreign affairs agencies in Washington, D.C.

The Foreign Service has unique status in the U.S. government. Applicants for FSO jobs go through a highly competitive written exam, oral assessment, and security investigation process before they are hired. Of the more than 100,000 applicants for State Department FSO positions between 2001 and 2006, only 2,100 became Foreign Service Officers.


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