Page 15 - Foreign Service Journal - May 2013

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MAY 2013
ost State Department
readers of
Te Foreign
Service Journal
will just
have wrapped up their
Employee Evaluation Reports when this
issue lands in their inbox or mailbox.
No doubt many of you are mulling over
parts of the process you would like to
change or abolish, since I think we can
all agree that the process is imperfect.
Even when written well, an EER
presents an incomplete picture of
an ofcer.
It also leads to imperfect results.
As objective and fair as the promotion
panels attempt to be, year after year
we all know deserving colleagues who
are passed over. Most of us also know
some unworthy ofcers whose observed
performance does not explain their pro-
motions. In particular, I’m sure many of
us have had occasion to wonder how in
the world some Senior Foreign Service
ofcers ever managed to get across the
With thousands of ofcers scattered
at hundreds of posts worldwide, the
State Department has had no alterna-
tive but to depend on performance fles
for our merit-based “up-or-out” system.
Tis means the only time an ofcer is
assessed in person is at the oral inter-
view prior to entry.
Perhaps this is unavoidable for most
career promotions, but the decision to
welcome an ofcer into the top ranks
of the most elite professionals in the
United States government should rely
on more than a folder full of reports of
uncorroborated praise. Tere should
also be a live interview to get at the real-
ity (from excellence to inadequacy) of
each ofcer, because the senior thres-
hold is at least as important as entry
into the Service.
Would the Department of State
hire new ofcers based only on writ-
ten statements? Never. So why should
acceptance to the Senior Foreign Ser-
vice be diferent?
The Value of Interviews
Te current senior threshold review
process gives promotion panels inad-
equate data for making crucial deci-
sions, even though the Quadrennial
Diplomacy and Development Review
emphasizes the importance of depart-
ment leaders in Chapter 10, Chief of
Mission Oversight :
“Given the wide array of U.S. agen-
cies at our embassies today and the cor-
responding need for coordination and
leadership, all chiefs of mission must
be both empowered and held account-
able as CEOs of multiagency missions.
We must select the best candidates for
COMs and for their deputies.
We must
prepare them fully for their positions,
empower them and hold them account-
.” (Emphasis added.)
How important is a 30-minute inter-
view? What would it add to the evalu-
ation process? Ability and potential
in some areas cannot be appraised
adequately from written reviews, but a
short interview would be very instruc-
tive in revealing each candidate’s ability
to live up to Senior Foreign Service
precepts such as the following:
Is an efective team motivator
and leader, who inspires staf to par-
ticipate and contribute.
Te ability to
motivate others requires clear commu-
nication skills and the ability to articu-
late the mundane and sophisticated.
To “inspire” requires presence, poise
and other intangibles that take years to
develop. None of these qualities can be
demonstrated beyond doubt in a writ-
ten text, but all of them become evident
(or remain absent) in a short interview.
Establishes and clearly communi-
cates organization-wide performance
Te DS-5055 form is a
It’s Time to Update the Threshold Review
Brian T. Neubert is currently economic section chief in Ho Chi Minh City. Since joining the
Foreign Service in 1998, he has also served in Kinshasa, Hong Kong, Antananarivo and
Washington, D.C.
I’m sure many of us have wondered how
certain Senior FSOs ever got promoted.