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Reforming Entry-Level Assignments



n April’s President’s Views column

“Building the Deep Bench,”


sador Barbara Stephenson brought up

the challenge that surging demand for

consular adjudicators poses to the career

development of entry-level officers.

With increasing frequency, non-con-

sular coned officers are being called on

to serve consecutive assignments out of

cone. This has resulted in more officers

entering the mid-level ranks without any

in-cone experience.

As Amb. Stephenson pointed out,

most officers can expect 90 percent

of their career development to come

from assignments and mentoring. The

consequences of officers never serving in

their assigned cone at the entry level are

real, both for individual officers seeking

to learn their craft and for the overall

health of a Service that depends on well-

rounded generalists.

Lately there has been much discus-

sion about reforming the assignments

process to make it easier for newly

minted mid-level officers to gain in-

cone experience. New positions have

been created and existing positions

have been re-graded. Both changes may

prove helpful in the short term, but are

Band-Aids on the larger issue of how we

handle consular adjudicator assign-


As long as our career development model

is so heavily slanted toward on-the-job

training, ELO assignments should be

viewed as just that—training—and not

simply as encumbered positions.

Andrew Kelly is an FSO vice consul inManila, where he also served as the ambas-

sador’s staff aide. Previously he held the rule-of-law portfolio in Sofia. Prior to join-

ing the Foreign Service he served two tours in Iraq with the Army’s 82nd Airborne

Division. He joined the Foreign Service in 2010 and is a member of the 157th A-100



A Model for Handling

Structural Imbalance

I propose that the manner in which

the U.S. Army handles a similar struc-

tural imbalance within its officer ranks

may offer a model for how to reform

entry-level assignments in our own


I joined the Foreign Service in late

2010 following four years as an active-

duty Army officer. At the time, there was

a one-year consular service require-

ment, though most officers could expect

to spend a full two years adjudicating


My first impression of the way the

Foreign Service assigns entry-level offi-

cers (ELOs) to vice-consul positions was

that it was similar to the Army program

of branch detailing junior officers. I

have since learned that while there are

many similarities, there are also impor-

tant differences.

Every year the Army commissions

more than 5,000 second lieutenants. As

in our own Service, those officers are

assigned to a specific “branch” in which

most will spend their entire career.

However, different branches have

different entry-level staffing require-

ments. For example, the infantry

requires a high proportion of lieuten-

ants to more senior officers, a situation

that is reversed in the military intelli-

gence branch.

To address this imbalance the Army

often details newly commissioned

intelligence officers to the infantry for

the first three years of their career. Prior

to arriving at their unit, these officers

attend the Infantry Basic Officer Lead- ers Course while their non-detailed col


leagues go on to the intelligence version

of the same school.

It is important to note that branch

details almost always involve detail-

ing an officer from a combat support

branch into one of the three combat

arms (infantry, armor, field artillery)

and almost never the reverse.