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MARCH 2016



More Hemingway, Less Kafka, Please



ast November, the blogger known

as “Diplopundit” published a

story about the assignment of a

well-connected FS-1 as princi-

pal officer in a European Bureau post, a

Senior Foreign Service position.

Since the candidate was below grade

for the position, this was a “stretch

assignment,” which requires the divi-

sion in the Bureau of Human Resources

responsible for the career development

and assignment of officers who are FS-1

or higher (HR/CDA/SL) to cede the

position to the division responsible for

mid-level officers (HR/CDA/ML) after

canvassing its clients to gauge interest

in the position by currently unassigned


That no qualified Senior FSO bid on a

position as prominent as this one frankly

strains credulity. The episode under-

scores a serious perception problem

when it comes to Foreign Service assign-

ments. For all the State Department’s

carefully crafted standard operating

procedures, as well as the Foreign Affairs

Manual and Foreign Affairs Handbook

guidance—to say nothing of the atten-

tion paid to precedent and the needs of

the Service—when push comes to shove,

getting the best jobs depends far more

Most of the frustration leveled at HR over

assignments reflects the fact that so few

members of the Foreign Service know who

in HR is responsible for doing what.

Matthew Keene joined the Foreign Service in 1999 as a consular-coned officer, and

is currently in Arabic-language training in preparation for a tour as deputy politi-

cal counselor in Baghdad. His previous overseas assignments include Sofia, Dubai,

Jerusalem and, most recently, Cairo, where he was deputy consul general. He has

also worked in the Office of Career Development and Assignments in the Bureau of

Human Resources as a special assistant and an assignments officer, and as deputy director of the

Office of Maghreb Affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

on who you know than what.

Indeed, if you are fortunate enough to

breathe the rarefied air in the front office

of a highly regarded assistant secretary

or another sixth- or seventh-floor deni-

zen, there is almost no position to which

you cannot aspire.

FS Assignments 101

I had two stints in the Bureau of

Human Resources in recent years: first

as a special assistant in HR/CDA (the

front office) and then as an assignments

officer in HR/CDA/AD (the Assignments

Division). I find that most of the frustra-

tion leveled at HR over assignments

reflects the fact that so few members of

the Foreign Service know who in HR is

responsible for doing what. So here is a

quick guide to the process.

If you’re a mid-level officer, your

career development officer (CDO)

provides guidance on your career and

through the bidding process. Once you’ve

secured a handshake on a position, your

CDO hands you off to an assignments

officer (AO) in HR/CDA/AD. This indi-

vidual works with your losing and gaining

posts and bureaus to resolve any timing

issues, arranges any needed training and

brings your assignment to panel. Once

you are paneled and your Assignment

Notification (TM-1) goes out, your assign-

ments technician deals with the logistics:

orders, allowances and so on.

The biggest takeaway frommy time

in HR/CDA (under different Directors

General) is this: Despite all the grum-

bling I routinely hear about unrespon-

sive CDOs and AOs and all the kvetching

about the perceived inflexibility of the

system and HR’s dogged adherence to

regulation—which often makes it seem

unreasonable—the vast majority of HR

employees at State are hard-working,

well-meaning and determined to keep

the system transparent, fair and equi-

table. They work to meet the needs of the

Service, and their individual clients, as

fully as possible.

Now, you may snicker at my naiveté.

But the tenacity with which many CDOs

and AOs argue at panel on behalf of their

clients and their bureaus was a pleasant