Foreign Service Officer

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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, though some receive assignments to combatant command, Congress, and educational institutions such as the various U.S. War Colleges.

Foreign Service Officers, who occupy most of the top tiers of the Foreign Service, are one of five categories of Foreign Service employees. Other categories include Foreign Service Nationals and Specialists (e.g., Special Agents of the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service).[1]

FSO career tracks[edit]

Currently, there are five career tracks (called cones) for State Department Foreign Service Officer: Consular Officers, Economic Officers, Management Officers, Political Officers, and Public Diplomacy Officers.[2] Consular Officers are charged primarily with working with American citizens with activities such as adoptions and would be charged with evacuating Americans from the country in the case of a disaster. Economic Officers work with foreign economic agencies to facilitate economic issues as well as foreign policy dealing with technology and sciences. Management Officers are responsible for the affairs of an embassy or consulate and dealing with the personnel and budgets of the embassy. Political Officers have the responsibility of interacting with foreign governments on policy issues and negotiating policy. Lastly, Public Diplomacy Officers inform the citizens of their respective countries on the actions of the embassy, including meeting with the press and giving educational events.[3]

FSOs of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Commercial Service, Foreign Agricultural Service, and Broadcasting Board of Governors are selected through processes specific to the hiring agency, and follow career tracks separate from those of State Department FSOs. For example, within USAID, there are multiple technical "backstops" including:

  • Agriculture
  • Contracting
  • Crisis Stabilization and Governance
  • Economic Growth
  • Engineering
  • Environment
  • Executive
  • Financial Management
  • Legal
  • Population, Health and Nutrition
  • Private Enterprise
  • Program/Project Development

In 2009, there were about 6,600 FSOs working at the Department of State,[4] 1,000 at the Agency for International Development, 220 at the Department of Commerce, and 180 at the Department of Agriculture.[5]

Most leadership roles at U.S. embassies are filled from the ranks of career FSOs. Normally, about two-thirds of U.S. Ambassadors are career Foreign Service Officers primarily drawn from the Department of State, although all five foreign affairs agencies have produced Ambassadors from time to time. Almost all of the remaining third are political appointees, though a handful of State Department Senior Executive Service personnel have received Ambassadorships. FSOs also fill critical management and foreign policy positions at the headquarters of foreign affairs agencies in Washington, D.C.

Hiring process[edit]

The Foreign Service has unique status in the U.S. government. Applicants for State Department 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.[1] Once candidates have completed the application process, received a top secret security clearance, been medically cleared for worldwide deployment, and passed a final suitability review, they receive a score and are placed on a hiring register for their career tracks.

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, but the 18 month timer still continues to run. It is common for a candidate with a low score to simply expire from the register, thus making the process even more competitive. In the end, fewer than 2% of initial applicants to the State Department Foreign Service will matriculate as Foreign Service Officers.

Applicants for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) FSO jobs follow a somewhat different process. Because USAID has a strong technical focus in many of its overseas positions, FSOs are generally recruited for specific backstops. Most successful candidates will have an advanced degree (often a masters) and pertinent job experience related to their backstop and will undergo an interview and testing process tailored to that backstop, but otherwise it is similar to that for State Department applicants.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b H. Kopp and C. Gillespie, Career Diplomacy: Life and Work in the U.S. Foreign Service, 2008.
  2. ^ "Careers representing America – Foreign Service Officer". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 2010-09-02. 
  3. ^ "Career Tracks for Foreign Service Officers". United States Department of State. Retrieved 2015-02-21. 
  4. ^ "General Information – Our Employees at Work". U.S. Department of State. Archived from the original on 2010-08-31. Retrieved 2010-09-03. 
  5. ^ United States Foreign Service
  6. ^ "USAID Careers". May 17, 2010. Retrieved August 12, 2011.

External links[edit]