Joining the Foreign Service--then, now, and in-between.

Author:Earle, Renee

Editor's Note: A senior active-duty Foreign Service Officer examines the process of entering the Foreign Service, from the Rogers Act of 1924 to the present. She looks at how the changing needs of the Foreign Service have affected the examination-entry process, especially in regard to the present emphasis on Transformational Diplomacy. This essay will be extremely useful for anyone considering joining the Foreign Service. - JEW

The United States Foreign Service is a career like no other. Challenge and change are inherent in a Foreign Service Officer's professional life of service to his/her country. A diplomat can make a difference in the world. And, it's a lot of fun. The path to becoming a diplomat, on the other hand, has rarely been described as fun. Mastering the several steps that lead to a commission as a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) can be difficult, but it's generally agreed, among newer and seasoned officers alike, that the personal and professional rewards of this unique career are incomparable.

Since the first Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, working with a staff of seven "clerks," began officially looking after our relationships with other countries in 1789, the U.S. Department of State, now 50,000 people strong (Civil Service, Foreign Service, and Foreign Service National employees hired locally abroad), has been the lead agency for conducting our country's international relations. Nevertheless, President Bush only recently designated the Department of State as a "National Security Agency," and the responsibility of managing our international relations over the years has gone far beyond the exchange of diplomatic notes between governments to communication with broad audiences and the promotion of people-to-people contact with local leaders and civil society, entrepreneurs and NGOs. Diplomats implement crucial foreign assistance programs and work with colleagues in the military and other U.S. government agencies to coordinate our efforts to help build peace, stability, and prosperity around the globe.

Transformational Diplomacy

The world has changed, and our diplomacy with it. In addition to more robust inter-agency coordination, Secretary of State Rice has initiated significant Department of State restructuring and reallocation of resources, which is increasing our capacity for more active engagement around the world, dynamic diplomacy that is "transformational." FSOs are working to integrate better the work of peacemaking, peacekeeping, and democratic and economic development to address the dangers of failed states. This engagement is about working with U.S. partners and friends on common goals and forging strong bonds of like values through increased mutual understanding.

Secretary Rice defined the objectives of Transformational Diplomacy in this way: "To work with our partners around the world to build and sustain democratic, well-governed states that respond to the needs of their people and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system." She emphasized that the work is about partnership, not paternalism. Transformational Diplomacy, then, is the State Department's response to the new global demands on our diplomacy.

It's an exciting and challenging time to be in the Foreign Service. And the Foreign Service is seeking dynamic people from a broad range of backgrounds, ethnicities, races, and disciplines from all parts of the country to help make a difference in our relationships with the rest of the world. The five career orientations within the Foreign Service--Consular Affairs, Economic Affairs, Management, Political Affairs, and Public Diplomacy--are now called Career Tracks. They were previously known as "cones," a term that informally remains the current jargon. A Foreign Service candidate must choose one of them at the time he/she registers for the exam. Once chosen, the Career Track...

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