The New Specialists

Here is a look at the wide world of Foreign Service Specialists. We explore who they are, the many critical things they do, and how their work has evolved with our changing times.


Sitting at his desk in a mid-sized European embassy a few years ago, Llywelyn Graeme, the ambassador’s Office Manager, was awaiting word that the Secretary of State’s special representative had landed and was on her way to a packed day of meetings. Instead, Graeme got a call from State’s Operations Center connecting him directly to the high-level official.

“She was at the airport. At the VIP lounge. There was no sign of any embassy staff to meet her,” Graeme recounted. “Keeping her on my desk phone, I used my cell to determine that not only was no one there at the airport, but no one was on the way, either!”

Graeme quickly got the ambassadorial limo lined up. then, he says: “I dashed down three flights of stairs, hitting the parking lot as the driver came from the lounge at a dead run. We entered the car together and left at speed, clearing the barrier to the embassy by inches. I told him he absolutely could not cause any damage, but that he should drive at his top safe speed to the airport, a trip that normally took 45-50 minutes. That day we managed it in 18 minutes, getting the special representative’s bags into the trunk less than 30 minutes after her initial call.”

Information Resource Officer Henry Mendelsohn speaks to American Spaces Kenya coordinators during a workshop at Embassy Nairobi’s American Reference Center on April 23.
Embassy Nairobi

A typical day? No. Then again, specialist heroics are not uncommon, either—and they usually occur behind the scenes, earning few accolades.

Specialists have always been, well, specialized. But in recent years, under the dual drivers of terrorism and technology, their job descriptions have evolved rapidly. And yet, the more some things change, the more others stay the same. A lack of understanding about what, exactly, specialists do has plagued the Foreign Service for the past half-century. Even if you are a specialist yourself, you may well have no idea what a specialist in a different field does.

On the website, specialists are grouped into the following broad categories: Administration, Construction Engineering, Facility Management, Information Technology, International Information/English Language Programs, Medical/Health, Office Management and Security. However, these groupings don’t tell a complete story and, in the case of “Administration,” for example, can further muddy the waters. The 19 job titles are more telling.

For example, management counselors at missions can be generalists or specialists. General Service Officers can be specialists or generalists, but Financial Management Officers are always specialists. Facility Managers go through the same training as GSOs and act as GSO at some posts. Information Managers are called IM Specialists until they reach the grade of FS-2; then are considered IM Officers—managers, but still specialists. Similarly, Office Management Specialists become Office Managers, or OMs, when they reach FS-3 or FS-4 or are assigned to chiefs of mission, but cannot be promoted any higher.

Confused? Well, this is the State Department, after all.

So let’s clear the air. It’s time to review who the new specialists are and how their jobs have evolved along with our changing times.

Expertise and Education Are Essential

“Generalists and specialists each make up roughly 50 percent of the Foreign Service,” says Terry Davidson, who served, until recently, as Recruitment Outreach Division Chief for the Bureau of Human Resources. “We like to say that generalists tend to be outwardly focused, in work engaging the host country; and that specialists tend to be focused on making the embassy platform work.” Davidson, who is currently diplomat-in-residence for the Washington, D.C., metro region, adds: “Information Resources Officers and Regional English Language Officers are the exceptions.” (These two positions, originally part of the former United States Information Agency, are focused on outreach to the host country’s local population.)

That doesn’t mean, however, that specialists do not interact with local citizens. All specialist tracks require good communications skills, which often include foreign language ability. Since the Career Development Program for specialists was launched in 2005 by the Director General of the Foreign Service, foreign language and job-specific training are now requirements for promotion within the ranks of many specialties.

A lack of understanding about what, exactly, specialists do has plagued the Foreign Service for the past half-century.

Unlike generalists, specialists cannot enter the Foreign Service without expertise in their field. With a few exceptions, specialists hold undergraduate degrees, and quite often, advanced degrees or certification(s), along with years of experience. There’s a saying that’s gone around the specialist ranks for years: Specialists are hired on experience; generalists are hired on potential. There is some truth to that statement: Generalists, who are selected via the multitiered Foreign Service exam, do not, technically, need a college degree or specific expertise to enter the Foreign Service, while most specialists must have a bachelor’s degree and relevant experience even to apply.

For instance, the Office of Medical Services. “Many of our psychiatrists have had additional training, or are double-boarded in subspecialty fields such as child/adolescent psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry, addiction psychiatry, consult-liaison psychiatry and forensic psychiatry,” says Kenneth Dekleva, director of the Office of Medical Services’ Mental Health Department. “Several have MBA, Ph.D. and MPH degrees, as well. Languages spoken by our psychiatrists include Spanish, French, German, Russian, Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian, Japanese, Chinese, Turkish, Dutch, Greek and Hindi.”

Or take Diplomatic Security. As Supervisory Special Agent Ronnie Catipon, regional director for Afghanistan and Iraq in DS’s Directorate for High Threat Programs, notes: “There are lots of agents who are former military and former law enforcement. Their skill sets and experience are just tremendous. They’ve often served overseas and speak foreign languages.”

In recent years, most FS specialties have seen an upswing in both numbers and qualifications of applicants. This change was mentioned by almost every specialist we spoke with. And yet, these qualifications rarely lead to the very top levels of the Service. It is unusual for a specialist to become chief of mission, a fact that engenders some resentment. Some specialists, upon reaching the highest grade attainable, have then made the switch to generalist.

What’s In a Name?

If people do not know what specialists do, acronyms might be partly to blame. Saying you are a “political officer” or a “press attaché” is fairly comprehensible to the general public, whereas calling yourself an OMS, an IMS or an RELO conveys very little. Even longtime members of the FS community sometimes have to ask what these acronyms stand for.

It wasn’t always this way. Titles such as Foreign Service Librarian or Embassy Doctor—the terms of several decades ago—are dated, but at least they give us a better idea of specialists’ work than, say, IRO and RMO (Information Resource Officer and Regional Medical Officer, respectively). And if someone’s an FMO, how do we know if she’s a Financial Manager or a Facility Manager?

As technology has changed, specialist jobs—the required skill sets—have changed, as well. Often, this is reflected in their new titles. For instance, Information Technology Digital and Telephone Specialists have been combined into a new “unified communications” specialty, ITMS-UC, and Foreign Service Secretaries are now Office Management Specialists.

It was in the late 1990s, says Office Manager Llywelyn Graeme, that “we went from ‘Foreign Service Secretary’ to OMS, which I don’t think many of us liked. I have a heck of a time explaining my job title to host-nation staff.” OM Elizabeth Babroski adds: “A few years ago, they gave us a new job title; I’m still not sure why. So now all administrative support staff at the State Department are called OMSs. I call myself Executive Assistant to the Ambassador, or Personal Assistant, and usually Ambassador’s Secretary to my counterparts, especially in other languages. [Whatever the title,] everyone seems to know what I do.”

Division Director David Jesser, at left, from FSI’s School of Applied Information Technology, discusses curriculum changes for the Regional Emergency & Evacuation class with Instructor Tim Timmons.
Courtesy of David Jesser

Making a title clearer to people of other nations—as well as to U.S. citizens—is also part of the reasoning behind a potential name change for Foreign Service Health Practitioners. Jeri Lockman, director of the Office of Medical Services’ Foreign Service Health Practitioners Program, which oversees both nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants, laments: “We have been struggling for years to find a title that encompasses both professions and one that also clearly defines what we do and who we are.” That may soon change, she says: “The job title ‘Health Practitioner’ is not recognized by anyone outside of the State Department. We are considering ‘Foreign Service Medical Provider,’ so you may be seeing this title in future references to NPs and PAs.”

In the case of Information Resource Officers, not only has their title changed, but the places where they work have been drastically revamped. These former “Regional Librarians” used to be based in American libraries and press/cultural centers in capitals and other major cities around the world. Now IROs work with the newly minted American Spaces, which can take various forms, including American Corners—spaces in remote locations provided in cooperation with the host nation.

Agents of Change

The most compelling reasons for changes in the specialist field in recent years can be summed up in two words: terrorism and technology.

Terrorism. Specialist jobs were greatly affected by the African embassy bombings of the late 1990s, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with certain tracks hiring more people and others evolving to reflect needs of the Service.

Specialists employed through State’s Overseas Building Office, such as Construction Engineers and Facility Managers, have gone through a sea change in focus that began even earlier. This shift took shape in response to the 1983 bombing of Embassy Beirut and the subsequent release of the 1985 Inman Report on Overseas Security that focused on creating safer U.S. embassy buildings. Those overseas missions deemed too close to the street, or in the middle of a crowded inner-city area, were either given up or reconstructed.

“Since the East African bombings in 1998 in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Congress placed a much greater commitment towards funding security-driven construction at our diplomatic facilities,” explains Eric Rumpf, managing director for the Construction, Facility and Security Management Directorate in OBO. “This support enabled OBO to complete more new embassies and consulates for the department than at any other time in our history.”

Diplomatic Security, not surprisingly, has seen a growth in budget and personnel since 9/11. “When I entered the Foreign Service in 1997,” recalls DS’s Catipon, “there were 600-700 DS agents. Now it’s over 2,000.” He adds: “DS can be very picky because agent jobs are competitive. We’ll have a job opening for, say, a month, and get over 10,000 applicants for just a few dozen positions.”

With this rapid growth, Catipon has seen infrastructure and bureaucracy struggle to keep up: “There has been a big increase in all types of specialists, like Security Engineering Officers and Security Technical Specialists. The African bombings and other incidents, unfortunately, served as a catalyst for more funding from Congress for keeping us safe.”

One long-serving Diplomatic Courier agrees. “Since Benghazi [Sept. 11, 2012], there’s been direction from the very top that safety and security are more important. The evolution is slow, but it’s happening.”

Terrorism, warfare and other high-threat events have also caused MED to increase the number of Regional Medical Officers/Psychiatrists. Says Director of MED’s Mental Health Services Kenneth Dekleva: “While the RMO/P program began in 1979 following terrorist events such as the tragic assassination of Ambassador Adolph Dubs in Kabul, and the 1979 hostage-taking in Tehran, it has subsequently grown to encompass a larger clinical role, in addition to its traditional roots in crisis/disaster response and consultation to senior leadership.” Dekleva notes that the number of RMO/Ps has nearly doubled in the past decade.

Those specialists who reach out to local populations have felt the effects of terrorism, as well. “Before 9/11, I had the feeling that my job was almost ‘adjunct’ to public diplomacy; i.e., one of several cultural/educational resources provided by the State Department at U.S. embassies worldwide,” says recently retired Regional English Language Officer Michael Rudder.

Unlike generalists, specialists cannot enter the Foreign Service without expertise in their field.

After 9/11, Rudder recalls, there was a meeting of all cultural and press attachés assigned to a large South American country: “The Public Affairs Officer said, ‘Our top priority now is English language teaching.’ This comment somewhat startled me, but also made me aware of the new role our office was playing. From that moment, my job seemed to be given more attention and importance in the bigger picture, and the powers-that-be started noticing the work we were doing and its benefits to broader goals.”

Technology. At the same time, technology advances have greatly affected the work of FS specialists. It’s a given that those in information technology must stay abreast of the latest advances, but they can only move as fast as the State Department bureaucracy will let them. While BlackBerries have been State’s chosen method of telephony for many reasons, mostly to do with security, more and more iPads are being distributed in lieu of, or in addition to, laptops. As communications are now digitized, “sending in a cable” doesn’t actually happen these days, despite continued usage of the phrase.

David Jesser is an IT manager who joined the Foreign Service in 1988. Currently director of the Enterprise Technology Division/School of Applied Information Technology at FSI, he recalls: “Most of us were fresh out of the military, where we managed telex communications and operated radios. We already had top-secret clearances, and we started as FS-8/9s. I was very happy to transfer my military skill code for a position in the Foreign Service.”

But those days are gone. Jesser, who also serves as a subject matter expert for the Board of Examiners and holds a master’s degree in technology studies, has seen both the work and the caliber of specialists change dramatically. “The move to system networks meant a great change in skill codes, and communications staff members needed to embrace this change if they wanted to be successful in their careers,” he says.

IMS Robert Levay, now in Kabul, has also seen a rapid change in the department’s use of technology, claiming that State “is doing a tremendous job of catching up to the rest of the world.” But he admits that IMS personnel are “running ragged” to accomplish this.

Diplomatic Security is scrambling to stay one step ahead, as well, but at least budget increases have helped beef up both personnel and technology in that domain. DS’s Catipon speaks glowingly of some of the new technologies that both enhance the mission and keep personnel safe, such as Forward-Looking Infra-Red cameras. When attacks did occur in Afghanistan, where he was recently posted, personnel had “great imagery” at their disposal, he reports.

New technology doesn’t only affect information and security specialists. Regional Medical Officers have a growing telemedicine program for use in the field. And digital architectural design and engineering technology has become more sophisticated, aiding FS Construction Engineers and Facility Managers. Says one veteran Facility Manager: “New embassy designs have implemented the latest changes in technology, installing advanced equipment and systems. This has resulted in the need to recruit Facility Managers with technical degrees and experience in facilities with similar technology, and to develop training programs so that existing FMs can learn the skills necessary to operate our advanced embassy systems.”

Office Manager Elizabeth Babroski in front of OSCE headquarters in Vienna.
Inside a U.S. Embassy (2011)

OBO’s Rumpf has also observed the intertwined effects of terror threats and technological advances. “In 2000, OBO’s initial response to get our colleagues placed into safer facilities included retooling itself to simplify its construction methodologies and find ways to increase the speed of delivering new facilities,” he explains. There has been an added benefit to the public, too. “The department’s lessons learned and research and development efforts have also really helped the security and construction industries improve the materials and products sold on the market today.”

Technology has also changed the way specialists (and generalists) receive training. Jill E. Perry, Human Resources Course Chair at FSI’s School of Professional and Area Studies/Management Tradecraft Training Division, explains: “In the past few years, training and development for HR Specialists has moved far beyond the classroom. [FSI] promotes a climate of continuous learning for HROs by offering digital video conferences on demand, animated training clips and online games. The HR Bureau is also reaching out to HR Specialists via webinars to offer a forum for discussion and collaboration.”

High-Threat and Hardship Posts

The last decade has seen an increase in FS personnel at the world’s hot spots. In the past, an embassy caught in a sudden war zone might have been shuttered. Now, personnel are not necessarily evacuated unless the situation on the ground descends into chaos. For instance, as of this writing, Embassy Tel Aviv is still open despite hostilities between Hamas and Israel. Other missions, on almost every continent, are in a similar situation: still open, still maintaining diplomatic relations despite an unstable political scenario. This is due at least in part to increased DS specialist presence and resources.

The proliferation of high-threat and greater hardship posts puts pressure on specialists, just as on generalists. Both, after all, are “worldwide available.”

For Human Resources Officers, high-threat posts translate into “high alert,” says Perry. “I was the HRO in Cairo in 2011, and assisted during one of the largest State Department evacuations. So from my perspective, the biggest issue for HROs is maintaining a constant state of readiness for an evacuation at a moment’s notice.” She notes that “accounting for our people and their families, making sure they get to safety, and helping reintegrate them at post when the crisis is resolved is a huge challenge, but an incredibly important job.”

Foreign Service Construction Engineers are posted more frequently to high-threat posts, says OBO’s Rumpf. Those are the locations that the department identifies as “[having] the most vulnerable facilities to be replaced,” Rumpf explains. “With the challenges that these difficult environments present (e.g., violence, corruption, unskilled work forces, extreme weather), I consider the FSCEs to be some of the most determined, goal-oriented professionals in the department.”

The most compelling reasons for changes in the specialist field in recent years can be summed up in two words: terrorism and technology.

MED’s Lockman says, “Foreign Service Medical Providers are located around the globe. Eighty percent of the 99 FSMP posts are 15-percent or greater hardship posts. These posts have significant health risks, and the local medical facilities are often inadequate to cope with these health concerns.”

For their part, Information Resource Officers are working with American Corners—small U.S. cultural and information centers often located in remote areas.

Several Diplomatic Couriers have pointed out that working in hard-to-reach locations often involves a degradation of safety and security standards. Despite State Department policies dictating no-smoking zones on transport planes, for example, what does a courier do when he’s 30,000 feet in the air, surrounded by a local crew who are all chain-smoking? And who stays with the pouch on a two-person, 10-hour drive when the courier needs a bathroom break, and the driver is a local hire?

Career Development, Management and Morale

In 2005-2006, the Director General of the Foreign Service issued a series of cables detailing a new Career Development Plan for specialists. In essence, on a specialty-by-specialty basis, certain steps were outlined as prerequisites for promotion. These steps include language and other training, advanced certification and supervisory experience. For specialists, this was, in theory, a means of making the promotion process more transparent. In practice? Results vary.

Many of those in the OMS and IMS tracks—coincidentally, two of the specialties with the largest numbers—find promotion opportunities discouraging, but for different reasons. Some OMSs are particularly frustrated that they cannot be promoted above the FS-3 rank. However, promotion opportunities have improved in the past decade, explains Babroski, currently Office Manager to the ambassador to the Vatican. She points to perks such as mandatory training and a variety of assignments, including in the front office and hardships, over a career span: “I think it’s been a good thing because it provides more training opportunities. And it’s easy to meet the requirements to be eligible for promotion to FS-4, which is the senior tier, over a regular career span.”

While acknowledging that the OMS specialty has “extremely low promotion rates,” she keeps a positive attitude. “The naysayers think it restricts training opportunities, forces hardships and disadvantages those with medical/special needs. I’m living proof that’s not true, and I know I’m not alone. I think the CDP has brought order and reasonable expectations to the OMS career span.”

On a dissenting note, an OMS who wishes to remain anonymous did send FSJ a comment on the “horrible promotion rates” within the Office Management specialty. And Teresa Yata, a GSO specialist who started out as an OMS, maintains: “OMSs are still thought of as menial secretaries and are often treated as such.”

Overall, reviews of the CDP are mixed. One Diplomatic Courier says: “The CDP is meaningless; promotion is based on who management likes. Unless the promotion panel sees you sitting in a management/stretch position, you’re not getting promoted.”

A more prosaic factor that can affect specialist morale at post has to do with the Vienna Convention.

Yata, however, sees some good aspects to the new program: “One positive change I have seen over the past several years is ability to have language training. When I first came into the FS, specialists very rarely were considered for that. Now almost everyone gets some opportunity for some language.”

But one Financial Management Officer, who wishes to remain anonymous, feels more can be done. “All department personnel must be able to function in the countries they serve in. Language [instruction] has grudgingly been given to specialists, but [it is] still unnecessarily difficult to obtain.”

IMS personnel have strong opinions on promotion opportunities. Neeru Lal serves in the public affairs office within the Bureau of Information Resource Management. She came in as an IMS but is now an Information Technology Manager. When it comes to promotion for IMSs, “you can go all the way to senior FS, but only as a manager.” She adds: “We don’t appreciate highly technical skills—if you want to be a technical innovator, like a programmer, you aren’t able to do that past FS-3. Once you reach FS-2, you must demonstrate effective managerial and leadership skills.”

But Jesser asserts that “if people have really good technical skills, they will be utilized well. If you lead a section, you can still be innovative. I’m a manager, but I still work with technical programs. So I think we value technical skills quite a bit.”

Many we spoke with, especially in security and information specialties, cited bottlenecks in promotion, with few positions offered at the higher grades. One IMS posits, “A lot of people who might have retired by now have not, because of the poor economy.”

Diplomatic Courier Ed Bent, at right, manages pouches in Frankfurt, July 2009.
Inside a U.S. Embassy (2011)

IMS Terry Pozcak says, “I have read over the CDP, and like most career things in the department it does a poor job of capturing the difference [between the] IT specialty and other careers.” It might help with promotions over the long term, Pozcak acknowledges, but he’s not optimistic: “It takes an average of 10 years just to get to FS-3 for IMSs. When you compare the FSO promotion statistics to the IMS promotion statistics, it is a very gloomy picture and highlights how [little] the department values IT talent.”

Another IMS, speaking on background, says he’s been “surprised by how little focus there is on [teaching] good management skills.” An anonymous Diplomatic Courier’s management concerns have more to do with security practices: “I’m not able to name one person in management who has received training in logistics management, transportation safety or industrial security.”

These promotion issues are not limited to a few specialties. A Facility Manager told us on background: “Unfortunately, the Facility Manager career path is severely constrained when compared to the rest of the Foreign Service. While other specialist and generalist career paths have numerous counselor and minister counselor positions for advancement, the Facility Manager cone has only one OC position. This is puzzling in light of the responsibilities and resources of the Facility Manager overseas.” At a typical embassy, he adds, the FM manages the largest staff and budget.

Yata finds promotion within GSO specialist ranks “complicated by the fact that there are GSO generalists, GSO specialists and, now, ever more people from random cones doing GSO work, much as they were previously required to do consular work. This makes it difficult for specialists to get the ‘good’ posts as they tend to go to generalists.”

And, of course, there’s the omnipresent State Department bureaucracy. Although no one wants to think of himself or herself as a bureaucrat, both specialists and generalists roll out the red tape when needed—but often it’s the specialists who take the heat at post.

Specialists vs. Generalists

And that brings us to the elephant in the room: the rumored animosity between generalists and specialists. Is it a reality or a myth?

Much of the “caste system” seems to be disappearing, although some complaints of ill-treatment on both sides do pop up. Misconceptions about specialist job descriptions and background are a factor; but another is fueled by management, particularly situations where generalists are in positions where they manage specialists. As one FS community member puts it, “Management-coned people can be specialists or generalists, and there is some friction there.” In informal feedback to the Journal, several specialists complained anonymously that they feel generalists look down on them. “Not sure if they are breeding that attitude in A100 [orientation], but it persists,” one remarked.

Much of the “caste system” seems to be disappearing, although some complaints of ill-treatment on both sides do pop up.

A more prosaic factor that can affect specialist morale at post has to do with the Vienna Convention and its vaguely worded stipulation dividing diplomats posted overseas into two categories: those who hold diplomatic privileges and immunity, usually with the title consul or secretary, and “support staff” who do not receive the same privileges.

Explained a specialist who wishes to remain anonymous: “At many embassies [specialists are] not accredited and do not have the same diplomatic privileges as generalists. Without accreditation, specialists are not entitled to the same protection as diplomats. They are also not entitled to certain administrative privileges such as tax advantages, car registration benefits, etc.” Specialists who are managers of sections can sometimes, at the discretion of post management, get on the diplomatic list by being listed as vice consuls.

In 2004 then-IMS David Jesser won the AFSA Representative of the Year award for his work to attain duty-free status for specialists in Pretoria, using reciprocity as justification for the change in that post’s policy. “The one thing that really concerned me was that at many posts there were financial inequities between those on the Diplomatic List and those who were listed as Administration and Technical Staff personnel,” explains Jesser. “For example, as an FS-2 in Pretoria, I had no access to the duty-free stores, while a first-tour generalist automatically had that privilege.”

The Vienna Convention issue was the only one cited by Jesser as fostering a divide between generalists and specialists. He attests that shared activities, such as the scuba diving he has done with other mission personnel, eliminate any feeling of “us vs. them.”

OBO’s Eric Rumpf agrees. “At the end of the day, if one can catch a softball, barbecue a burger, help at an orphanage, or in some way contribute positively to the small communities we find ourselves in, those perceptions and labels fade immediately.” However, Rumpf does see “a lack of understanding between the two, and the expertise and services each provides. That chasm underscores the need for the department to continue investing in our newer Foreign Service cadre through mentorships, training and improved communications.”

Facility Manager Gary Hein stands in front of the chief-of-mission residence and embassy office building in Cairo.
Inside a U.S. Embassy (2011)

Humor helps. An anonymous Security Engineer, who blogs at, writes in his comic essay, “Nine Things You Need to Accept About Being a FS Specialist”: “In the first couple weeks of my first tour, I knew the RMO made sure I didn’t keel over, the GSO assigned me my housing, and the FMO could make my job immeasurably easier or harder as they controlled the cash. Oh, and I figured out pretty quickly that the OMS was a godsend. The SEO stereotype is ‘the tech guy,’ and gets approached as such. No, I cannot fix your microwave right now.”

Many specialists don’t notice any tension at all. “I find it interesting that this question continues to surface,” remarks HR Course Chair Perry. “I have not experienced any issues in the 12 years I’ve been with State.”

In fact, there are a number of other divisions, both real and imaginary, at overseas missions that don’t involve specialists and generalists. Military vs. civilian, employee vs. spouse, senior staff vs. junior staff, FS vs. FSN/LES: all are potential minefields. And yet, most people in the Foreign Service community do, in fact, move past these labels and act as a team, especially when the post atmosphere is imbued with inclusiveness and a sense of mission.

The Good News

It is much easier now to find information about specialists and what they do, starting with State’s site (complete with appealing but not overly informative videos of FS personnel in the field) and, for a bigger and more complex picture, through unofficial Internet sites and blogs. More transparency leads to increased knowledge and understanding of different officers’ skill sets—and how they contribute to the team.

Says GSO Crowder: “My personal experience has been that people treat me with the same respect and professional courtesy as they do generalists. Actually, unless the subject comes up in relation to bidding or promotion, it is not something that people generally talk about one way or the other. The focus seems to be on the quality of the work—which I think is a good sign.”

Despite promotion and morale problems, Foreign Service life still offers perks that can’t be found elsewhere, for both generalists and specialists. “I really do enjoy my job and count it as a privilege to be a support to the embassy where I am assigned,” says GSO Crowder.

The new specialists know their worth and have largely lost the old, stereotypical roles of the past century. Says OM Graeme, “I won’t make you coffee because I don’t drink it. Maybe tea?”

Francesca Kelly is a freelance writer, editor, college application tutor and former AFSA News editor. She is married to Ambassador Ian Kelly, an FSO since 1985.