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F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / J U LY - A U G U S T 2 0 1 2
efforts to increase interagency
training, especially with the
Agency for International Develop-
ment, and to make FSI’s online
courses more user-friendly.
Foreign Service employees
who responded to AFSA’s survey
had numerous suggestions to ad-
dress training shortfalls. Stuart
Denyer, for example, says that his
own experience at State — he was
a civil servant for a decade before
joining the Foreign Service —
shows that the department could make better use of Civil
Service personnel by giving them short-term assignments
overseas when it has staffing gaps, perhaps resurrecting
the old idea of a Foreign Service Reserve.
Lisa Swenarski suggests offering more foreign lan-
guage training at post, creating an immersion experience
that will help officers learn more efficiently. And she says
the department would do well to add transfer seasons to
the existing summer and winter peaks. Staggered trans-
fers, she believes, would allow more time for training.
AFSA has long argued that State leaders need to wrest
more control over training from posts, whose interests
are focused on their immediate needs rather than on the
professional development of career officers. That hasn’t
yet happened, but AFSA was successful in inserting lan-
guage into the promotion precepts rewarding supervisors
who think in terms of developing their subordinates’
The surge of online course offerings, observes AFSA
State VP Daniel Hirsch, is not the solution, unless offi-
cers are given more incentive to take the classes. Given
the strain on officers overseas, “time is a valuable com-
modity,” he says.
“People are unlikely to take online courses without
compensation, such as overtime pay,” he comments.
“That is not because they are lazy, or greedy, or unwilling
to better themselves. It is because employees overseas
have far less free time than those in Washington, and they
have at least as much to do with that time — to take care
of basic needs — as folks back home.”
The American Academy of Diplomacy, in its 2010 re-
port, offered other ideas to improve Foreign Service
training. The department could make a clear statement
about the value of training, for example, by simply re-
quiring more of it, the report said
— if the resources are available to
carry out the training.
In AAD’s view, given the large
number of officers with less than
a decade of experience, it’s crucial
that training be given priority
over other staffing requirements.
Even with resource constraints,
the Academy believes the depart-
ment could strengthen the Office
of Career Development and As-
signments in its Bureau of Hu-
man Resources by bringing on new staff to better coor-
dinate assignment patterns with long-term strategic
“The personnel system needs to take a stronger hand
to ensure proper training,” says Ambassador Ronald E.
Neumann, the academy’s president. “Right now, it’s self-
monitored by the officer.”
Given the dearth of mid-career officers, a legacy of
the hiring drought in the 1990s, the Academy also sug-
gests creating a temporary corps of roving counselors,
drawn from recently retired officers who can remain
abroad for periods of several weeks or months, to pro-
vide counseling, advice and career guidance to new offi-
Neumann says that State has been blessed by the fact
that senior officers willingly mentor their juniors. But
now, given the gap in the ranks of mid-career officers,
even that approach is at risk. “We’ve essentially had an
apprenticeship system,” he says. “But when two-thirds of
your officers have less than 10 years of experience, it can’t
work that way anymore.”
Such challenges are real. Fortunately, FSI still has a
sizable budget to work with as it seeks to expand language
training and course offerings in leadership development,
project management and public diplomacy.
Likewise, the Foreign Service is still about 17 percent
bigger than before Diplomacy 3.0 launched in 2008. At
the same time, overseas staffing demands may finally be
ebbing as the United States reduces its commitments in
Iraq and Afghanistan. So, perhaps the long-awaited
training float will finally materialize.
But Whiteside cautions it’s still too early for the For-
eign Service to get its hopes up. “That’s not yet the world
we live in,” she points out.
About 160 FSOs are
currently taking long-term
training, while others
are pursuing details outside
State or taking after-hours
seminars or other courses.