2017: Year in Review and Implications for FSO Applicants

Jan 5, 2018 | Becoming a FSO

It’s the start of the New Year, and with it an opportunity to review what has happened over the last 12 months.

It is no secret the Department of State is being minimized both in personnel and its influential capacity. You need only walk down memory lane:

  • Diplomats and staff members are being “incentivized” to leave the State Department with a $25,000 buyout;
  • Top leadership is being depleted at a heightened rate:

There is no denying that our leadership ranks are being depleted at a dizzying speed, due in part to the decision to slash promotion numbers by more than half. The Foreign Service officer corps at State has lost 60 percent of its Career Ambassadors since January [2017]. Ranks of Career Ministers, our three-star equivalents, are down from 33 to 19. The ranks of our two-star Minister Counselors have fallen from 431 right after Labor Day to 369 today—and are still falling.

  • The number of individuals who are available to advise the Secretary of State has minimized drastically. Some are resigning, some positions are purposefully not being filled, and some have been fired. [News from Jan ’17, Jun ’17, Jul ’17, Aug ’17, and the Political Appointee Tracker];
  • External communication between the Department of State and the White House has been contradictory at times;
  • Secretary of State Tillerson may have called President Trump a “moron“, he did not deny or confirm;
  • The hiring freeze continues, though EFMs are now eligible to be hired [here, here, here, and here];

[In fact, along with the Foreign Service, my employment at State in 2017 could not be completed twice due to the hiring freeze.]

The reason for all of this happening is also no secret. The United States inaugurated a new president. With the start of his term a new administration has had the opportunity to enact policy and implement the change they believe necessary.

Impacts

Though the long term impacts of these policies and changes are yet to be determined. The potential repercussions are already being expressed from senior political members, from both the left and the right. Madeline Albright mentioned in November that “the damage being done to America’s diplomatic readiness is both intentional and long-term. The administration isn’t hurting the State Department by accident”. Senators McCain and Shaheen wrote an open letter to Rex Tillerson saying:

Taken together, questionable management practices at the Department of State; the attitudes of some in the Administration on the value of diplomacy; declining morale, recruitment and retention; the lack of experienced leadership to further the strength and longevity of our nation’s diplomatic corps; and reports of American diplomacy becoming less effective paint a disturbing picture. These factors lead us to conclude that America’s diplomatic power is being weakened internally as complex, global crises are growing externally. These decisions ultimately will not only degrade the United States’ leadership role in the world, but will also impact our constituents who have come to rely on the Foreign Service to keep them safe while traveling overseas; to provide timely information and guidance in the event of a manmade or natural disaster overseas; and to lead our diplomatic efforts to address a myriad of international challenges, including emerging nuclear crises, the threat of war and outbreaks of global pandemics.

Overseas, these repercussions are indeed being felt (here are just some of the headliners):

For some, the actions made by the administration are just, necessary, and a much needed change from what has been deemed the “status quo”. For others, the actions of the administration are the complete opposite. Once more, we must wait to be able to analyze the long term impacts of such policies in order to ascertain their full affects.

Though all the information above is discerning, it does not have an immediate impact on you unless you currently work at State.

The Two Impacts that Affect You

However, there are two impacts on the Foreign Service that do affect you both in the short and long term, and these are best expressed in figures.

The first is 45%.

In 2017, there was roughly a 45% drop in the number of applicants who took the FSOT, from over 17,000 in 2015 to 9,519 applicants.

A 45% drop.

That is a huge decrease!

The second is 46.

In 2018, only 101 individuals will be allowed to go to an A-100 class, and so far only one has been approved for this year, in April (*Addition from the comments: An FSS A-100 class has been approved to begin in March). Of those 101 Officers in training, 55 of them are Pickering and Rangel Fellows (and this nearly didn’t happen). This means that only 46 people who took the Foreign Service Officer Test will be trained as Officers.

Only 46! This is a serious drop from the 366 new Officers (fellows and FSOT takers) who were trained in 2016, and well below attrition. This is the lowest number of newly trained Officers in at least a quarter century.

When you add everything up from above, the product is depressing.

Has the Department of State been in need of organizational improvements and reform?

Yes.

Is this the way to do it?

No, absolutely not.

What Does this Mean for you?

If you are like me, you are either in the application process (test, orals, background check, etc.) or are waiting to apply for an upcoming FSOT, and the current status of the Department of State does not liven up the spirit.

Your chances of becoming an Officer were already tough, now they are a lot tougher.

But DO. NOT. STOP. TRYING.

Perhaps not right now, but in one or two years there may be a rate increase. Perhaps in three years, if a new administration is elected, the State Department may see an increase in funding. Perhaps in six+ years, if the Foreign Service continues to see diminishing numbers of Senior Officers staying and new Officers coming in, there will be employee shortages in the field that require a wave of Officers to be hired (has happened a couple of times in the last 20 years).

The process of taking the FSOT to being offered a job as a FSO can last between one and two years. You do not want to wait to apply for the test when a wave of hiring is taking place, by then it will be too late. You want to be on the Register and ready to go when the time is called.

Study, prepare, and be patient, but take the FSOT nonetheless.

I wish all of us the best of luck in 2018!

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