United States Foreign Service

The United States Foreign Service is a branch of the government of the United States under the aegis of the United States Department of State. It consists of approximately 11,500 professionals carrying out the foreign policy of the United States and aiding U.S. citizens abroad.

Created in 1924 by the Rogers Act, the Foreign Service combined all consular and diplomatic services of the U.S. government into one administrative unit. In addition to the unit's function, the Rogers Act defined a personnel system under which the United States Secretary of State is authorized to assign diplomats abroad.

Members of the Foreign Service are selected through a series of written and oral civil service examinations. They serve at any of the 265 United States diplomatic missions around the world, including embassies, consulates, and other facilities. Members of the Foreign Service also staff the headquarters of the four foreign affairs agencies: The Department of State, headquartered at Harry S Truman Building in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, D.C.; the Department of Agriculture; the Department of Commerce; and the United States Agency for International Development.

The process of being employed in the Foreign Service is different for those applying for Generalist positions and those applying for Specialist positions.

Generalist candidates take the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT), a written exam testing their knowledge of U.S. and world affairs. Those who pass the FSOT (25 to 30 percent of candidates) have their resume and life experiences screened by the Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP). After the screening process, less than 10% of those that pass the FSOT are invited to an oral assessment, administered in person in Washington, D.C. and other major cities throughout the United States. Approximately 3% of the original applicants at the written exam will ultimately pass the oral assessment.

Since the 1950s, Foreign Service Officer applicants who passed a full-day written exam were invited to an oral assessment. In mid-2007, the full-day written exam was shortened and information on a structured resume was also considered. The structured resume along with the Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP), which is composed of three current Foreign Service Officers, was one of the most significant changes to the Foreign Service hiring process in decades. To be invited to take the Oral Assessment an applicant must not only pass the FSOT but also the QEP interview. The Department of State's Board of Examiners can find some candidacies unacceptable despite the fact that they passed the FSOT.

Those candidates who receive official offers of employment must attend a 5-week training/orientation course known as A-100 at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in Arlington, VA. Starting in March 2011 A-100 will be 6 weeks.

Foreign Service Specialist (FSS) candidates are evaluated by Subject Matter Experts for proven skills and recommended to the Board of Examiners for an oral assessment based on those skills. FSS positions are currently grouped into seven major categories: Administration, Construction Engineering, Information Technology, International Information and English Language Programs, Medical and Health, Office Management, and Security.

Even when a candidate passes all of the required examinations, several other conditions of employment must be met. Foreign Service candidates undergo a security background check for a TOP SECRET Security Clearance and must obtain a Class 1 (Worldwide Available) Medical Clearance. Failure to obtain a TS clearance or a Class 1 medical clearance can result in a candidate's eligibility being terminated. It can be difficult for a candidate to receive a TOP SECRET clearance if they have extensive foreign travel, dual citizenship, non-United States citizen family members, foreign spouses, drug use, "detrimental views of U.S. foreign policy", financial problems or a poor record of financial practices, frequent gambling, and allegiance or de facto allegiance to a foreign state. Additionally, it can be difficult for anyone who has had a significant health problem to receive a Class 1 Medical Clearance.

Previously, the Foreign Service automatically rejected anyone with HIV. However, the landmark case of Taylor v. Rice mandated that the Foreign Service cannot discriminate against applicants who have stable chronic medical conditions. Taylor v. Rice allows HIV-Positive applicants to become Foreign Service Officers, provided they meet the other criterion required for employment. Other conditions, such as mental illness and diabetes, are still considered severe enough to warrant rejection for the Foreign Service.

Once an applicant passes the security and medical clearances, as well as the Final Review Panel, they are placed on the register of eligible hires, ranked according to the score that they received in the oral assessment. There are factors that can increase a candidate's score, such as foreign language proficiency, Veteran's Preference, and Peace Corps service. Once a candidate is put on the register, they can remain for 18 months. If they are not hired from the register within 18 months, their candidacy is terminated. Separate registers are maintained for each of the five Generalist career cones as well as the 23 Specialist career tracks.

All Foreign Service personnel must be worldwide available-that is, they may be deployed anywhere in the world based on the needs of the service. They also agree to publicly support the policies of the United States Government.

Service terms and conditions

Members of the Foreign Service are expected to serve most of their career abroad, working at embassies and consulates around the world. By internal regulation the maximum stretch of domestic assignments should last no more than five years before resigning or taking a foreign posting. By law Foreign Service personnel must go abroad after eight years of domestic service. The difficulties and the benefits associated with working abroad are many, especially in relation to family life.

Dependent family members usually accompany Foreign Service employees overseas. The children of Foreign Service members, sometimes called Foreign Service Brats, grow up in a unique world, one that separates them, willingly or unwillingly, from their counterparts living continuously in the states.

While many children of Foreign Service members become very well developed, are able to form friendships easily, are skilled at moving frequently and enjoy international travel, other children have extreme difficulty adapting to the Foreign Service lifestyle. For both employees and their families, the opportunity to see the world, experience foreign cultures firsthand for a prolonged period, and the camaraderie amongst the Foreign Service and expatriate communities in general are considered some of the benefits of Foreign Service life.

Some of the downsides of Foreign Service work include exposure to tropical diseases and the assignment to countries with inadequate health care systems, unaccompanied tours of duty, and potential exposure to violence, civil unrest and warfare.

Attacks on US embassies around the world—Beirut, Islamabad, Belgrade, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, and Baghdad, among others—underscore the considerable danger these public servants face. FSOs stationed in nations with inadequate infrastructure risk injury or death due to natural disasters that would be relatively minor in the U.S.; for instance, an FSO was one of the first identified victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

For members of the Foreign Service, a personal life outside of the U.S. Foreign Service can be exceptionally difficult, especially when it comes to friends or relations that qualify as Foreign Contacts. Personal relationships with foreign nationals in countries that are considered high-level Human Intelligence threat posts are even more rigorously enforced by Diplomatic Security. In addition to espionage, there is also the danger of personnel that use their position illegally for financial gain. The most frequent kind of illegal abuse of an official position concerns Consular Officers. There have been a handful of cases of FSOs on Consular Assignments selling visas for a price.

Members of the Foreign Service must agree to worldwide availability. In practice, they generally have significant input as to where they will work, although issues such as rank, language ability, and previous assignments will affect one's possible onward assignments. All assignments are based on the needs of the Service, and historically it has occasionally been necessary for the Department to make directed assignments to a particular post in order to fulfill the Government's diplomatic requirements. This is not the norm, however, as many Foreign Service employees have volunteered to serve even at extreme hardship posts, including, most recently, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The State Department maintains a Family Liaison Office to assist diplomats, including members of the Foreign Service and their families, in dealing with the unique issues of life as a U.S. diplomat, including the extended family separations that are usually required when an employee is sent to a danger post.

Foreign Service career system

The Foreign Service personnel system is part of the Excepted Service and both generalist and specialist positions are competitively promoted through comparison of performance in annual sessions of Selection Boards. Each foreign affairs agency establishes time-in-class (TIC) and time-in-service (TIS) rules for certain categories of personnel in accordance with the provisions of the Foreign Service Act. This may include a maximum of 27 years of commissioned service if a member is not promoted into the Senior Foreign Service, and a maximum of 15 years of service in any single grade prior to promotion into the Senior Foreign Service. Furthermore, Selection Boards may recommend members not only for promotions, but for selection out of the service due to failure to perform at the standard set by those members' peers in the same grade. The TIC rules do not apply to office management specialists, medical specialists, and several other categories but most members of the Foreign Service are subject to an up or out" system similar to that of military officers.

This system stimulates members to perform well, and to accept difficult and hazardous assignments


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