Foreign Service Officer - FSO

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 Officers occupy most of the top tiers of the Foreign Service and are distinguished from the other category of Foreign Service employees known as Specialists. There are five career tracks (called cones) for State Department Foreign Service Generalists:

* Consular Affairs
* Economic Affairs
* Management Affairs
* Political Affairs
* Public Diplomacy

FSOs of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Commercial Service, and Foreign Agricultural Service are selected through processes specific to the hiring agency, and follow career tracks separate from those of State Department officers. In 2009, there were about 6,600 FSOs working at the Department of State, 1,000 at the Agency for International Development, 220 at the Department of Commerce, and 180 at the Department of Agriculture.

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 almost all political appointees. FSOs also fill critical management and foreign policy positions at the headquarters of foreign affairs agencies in Washington, D.C.

Foreign Service Officer Hiring process

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 eligible to be hired. Of the more than 100,000 applicants for State Department FSO positions between 2001 and 2006, only 2,100 became Foreign Service Officers. Once a candidate has completed the application process, received a top secret security clearance, been medically cleared for worldwide deployment, and has passed a final suitability review, they will receive a score and be placed on a hiring register for their career track. New candidates are appointed from the top of the register (highest score), and candidates who are not appointed within 18 months will be removed from the register. Candidates may decline one offer; declining a second will strike their names from the register. Some candidates go on "do-not-call" status until they are ready to receive offers, however the 18 month timer still continues to toll. It is not uncommon for a candidate with a low score to simply expire from the register, thus making the process even more competitive. In the end, less than 2% of initial applicants will matriculate as Foreign Service Officers.

Foreign Service Officers are commissioned by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate. New entrants are hired on a career-limited appointment, not to exceed five years. They must demonstrate foreign language proficiency and the ability to advance through the ranks of the Foreign Service before earning tenure.


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