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Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.


or (703) 302-7369

This issue’s State VP Voice is

by guest columnist and AFSA

Governing Board State Rep-

resentative Margaret “Nini”


If you have been in the

Foreign Service for three

tours or more, you have

been through the stress and

complexities of bidding and

lobbying for your onward

assignment. If you’ve been

in more than 20 years, as I

have, you’ve done this many,

many times—and it just

doesn’t get any easier.

I’ve been impressed by

the number of people who

have weighed in on the Oct.

6 Sounding Board post “Bid-

ding is Bad Enough Without

the Bureaus Breaking the

Rules” and by the cogent

arguments that many have

made. Clearly, this issue has

hit a nerve.

Both bidders and bureaus

face enormous challenges

during the bidding process.

Bidders are trying to get a

job that interests them and

will help further their careers

and/or meet family and per-

sonal needs. The bureaus are

trying to fill all their jobs with

the best people they can

find. In an ideal world, every

person would be slotted into

the right job for him or her

and for the bureau.

But we don’t live in an

ideal world and the Foreign

Service bidding and lobbying

process has gotten so

convoluted and complicated

that almost nobody is

The frustration that people feel and the

thousands of hours taken away from our

work are hard for bidders, burdensome for

the decision-makers and people providing

references, and bad for the Service.

Get a Job! The Challenges and Frustrations of Bidding

satisfied. The bidding season

is beginning to look like the

U.S. election cycle—it seems

to start earlier every year,

drag on forever, and generate

a great deal of stress.

The frustration and

anxiety that people feel

and the thousands of hours

taken away from our work

for the department and the

American people are hard for

bidders, burdensome for the

decision-makers and people

providing references and

endorsements, and bad for

the Service.

The system we have today

was perhaps more effec-

tive when the Service was

smaller and there were fewer

distortions (e.g. Priority

Staffing Posts linked assign-

ments). Now, thanks to

staffing challenges like the

“pig in the python,” competi-

tion is greater and extensive

lobbying has become the

norm. A seriously flawed 360

process has made the effort

even more stressful (See William Bent’s article in the September FSJ ).

Not all of these problems

can be fully eliminated. We

all know that people are

inclined to hire people they

know are good from per-

sonal experience, bureaus

want to “take care of their

own,” and plum jobs will be

heavily bid. We also know

that if we want to serve in

Paris, Sydney or Cape Town,

we probably should serve

in another position in those

bureaus to become known

first (though not always).

There have been a

number of interesting

proposals from colleagues

and those commenting on

the Sounding Board such

as: Do directed assignments

for all jobs; shorten the time

between issuance of the

list of available positions,

promotion lists, bid

deadlines and handshakes;

identify one point of contact

for compiling the short

lists and collecting bidders

resumes and employee

profiles; and go back to a

“reference” system whereby

three to five people are

asked about the suitability of

the bidder for the particular

job instead of using generic

“360 centers.”

Others propose

discouraging the practice

of asking additional “heavy

hitters” to weigh in on a

person’s behalf; compelling

bureaus to do a better job of

identifying up front the skills

and characteristics they

want for a particular position,

so as not to waste bidders’

time on jobs they have very

little chance of getting; and

giving the Bureau of Human

Resources a stronger role in

matching bidders and jobs.

These ideas merit discus-

sion. It’s a condition of our

Service that we rotate every

two to three years. That’s

how we build the deep bench

of experienced Foreign Ser-

vice leaders we need.

At AFSA, we are focused

on ways to make the Foreign

Service stronger. To that end,

we welcome a continuing

dialogue with the Director

General and our members

about how, collectively, we

can revamp this process.

Please send your ideas to


Margaret “Nini” Haw-

thorne is a career Foreign

Service officer, currently

serving as the director of the

Crisis Management Train-

ing Division at the Foreign

Service Institute. She was

formerly the deputy chief of

mission and chargé d’affaires

in Belize.