New @StateDept Authorization Bill Includes 3-Year Pilot Program For Lateral Entry Into the Foreign Service

Posted: 1:07 am ET
Updated: 4:15 pm PT
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On April 28, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the bipartisan Department of State Authorization Act of 2017  (see SFRC Approves the Department of State Authorization Act of 2017 #DOSAA17). One provision of the bill is a 3-year pilot program for lateral entry into the Foreign Service. The question is how would this affect the midlevel ranks of the Foreign Service, some of whom are on their 3rd or 4th assignment and have yet to serve in their own cones or career tracks?

If this bill passes, the new lateral entry employees will be hired above FP-04.  We imagine the new hires won’t be doing entry level work on the visa lines at AIP countries and/or Mexico, Brazil, China, India, and Russia where staffing demands are high (see Foreign Service Staffing Gaps, and Oh, Diplomacy 3.0 Hiring Initiative to Conclude in FY2023). The pilot program employees will only be required to do one directed assignment according to the proposed bill, presumably one two-year tour. The bill does not provide a number on how many individuals should be included in this pilot program. We should note that while this bill cleared the SFRC, a similar authorization bill last year which also cleared the committee, did not survive the congressional obstacle course.  The State Department authorization bill for FY2016 was actually wrapped in the deal that made the Jacobson confirmation possible; it was also passed by the Senate on April 28. (Thanks A!) The FY2017 bill is currently pending in the Senate. 

SEC. 207. LATERAL ENTRY INTO THE FOREIGN SERVICE.

(a) POLICY OF THE UNITED STATES.—It is the policy of the United States to maximize the ability of the Foreign Service to draw upon the talents of the American people to most effectively promote the foreign policy interests of the United States.

(b) FINDING.—Congress finds that—

(1) the Foreign Service practice of grooming generalists for careers in the Foreign Service, starting with junior level directed assignments, is effective for most officers; and

(2) the practice described in paragraph (1) precludes the recruitment of many patriotic, highly- skilled, talented, and experienced mid-career professionals who wish to join public service and contribute to the work of the Foreign Service, but are not in a position to restart their careers as entry-level government employees.

(c) SENSE OF CONGRESS.—It is the sense of Congress that the Foreign Service should create an alternative hiring mechanism to permit mid-career entry into the Foreign Service for qualified individuals who are willing to bring their outstanding talents and experiences to the work of the Foreign Service.

(d) PILOT PROGRAM.—Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall establish a 3-year pilot program for lateral entry into the Foreign Service that—

(1) targets mid-career individuals from the civil service and private sector who have skills and experience that would be extremely valuable to the Foreign Service;

(2) offers participants in the pilot program placement in the Foreign Service at a grade level higher than FS–4 if such placement is warranted by their education and qualifying experience;

(3) requires only 1 directed assignment in a position appropriate to the pilot program participant’s grade level;

(4) includes, as part of the required initial training, a class or module that specifically prepares participants in the pilot program for life in the Foreign Service, including conveying to them essential elements of the practical knowledge that is normally acquired during a Foreign Service officer’s initial assignments; and

(5) includes an annual assessment of the progress of the pilot program by a review board consisting of Department officials with appropriate expertise, including employees of the Foreign Service, in order to evaluate the pilot program’s success and direction in advancing the policy set forth in subsection (a) in light of the findings set forth in subsection (b).

(e) ANNUAL REPORTING.—Not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act, and annually thereafter for the duration of the pilot program, the Secretary shall submit a report to the appropriate congressional committees that describes—

(1) the cumulative number of accepted and unaccepted applicants to the pilot program established under subsection (d);

(2) the cumulative number of pilot program participants placed into each Foreign Service cone;

(3) the grade level at which each pilot program participant entered the Foreign Service;

(4) information about the first assignment to which each pilot program participant was directed;

(5) the structure and operation of the pilot program, including—

(A) the operation of the pilot program to date; and
(B) any observations and lessons learned about the pilot program that the Secretary considers relevant.

(f) LONGITUDINAL DATA.—The Secretary shall—

(1) collect and maintain data on the career progression of each pilot program participant for the length of the participant’s Foreign Service career; and

(2) make the data described in paragraph (1) available to the appropriate congressional committees upon request.

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4 responses

  1. Nothing to see here. Just more watering down of the Foreign Service by increasingly powerful civil servants and FS types like Pat Kennedy who can’t leave soon enough.

  2. Well, I’ve passed the Foreign Service Oral Assessment already, but awaiting final security clearance. Is there any hope I can jump on this program? I have 25 years of military service, a PhD in history and speak a few foreign languages….???

    • Congratulations for passing the orals! The bill passed the committee but has ways to go. We won’t have clear details about this pilot program until the bill passes Congress and signed into law.

  3. Nothing new under the sun. Something similar was done under the Special Manpower Act after World War II, when the Foreign Service roughly tripled in size. First-tour DCMs were not unheard of.

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