@StateDept Rolls Out New FSO Development Program, and Promotion Rules to Get Into the Senior Foreign Service

Posted: 4:49 am ET


On the last working day of 2017, the State Department quietly rolled out its new “Professional Development Program for Foreign Service Generalists.” This new program will reportedly “ultimately replace” the current Career Development Plan (CDP). The cable that went out to all posts says that the PDP “places greater emphasis on leadership and professional development, and requires “significant and substantial” supervisory and management experience.”    The current Career Development Plan principles are as follows:

  • Operational effectiveness, including a breadth of experience over several regions and functions
  • Leadership and management effectiveness
  • Sustained professional language proficiency
  • Responsiveness to Service needs

The new Professional Development Program principles are as follows:

  1. Operational effectiveness, including a breadth of experience over several regions and functions;
  2. Leadership and management effectiveness;
  3. Professional language proficiency; and
  4. Responsiveness to Service needs.


The PDP will be phased in over the next eight years, beginning in 2018. Through 2025, FSOs who apply for Senior Threshold Board (STB) review may elect to meet all of the CDP requirements or may instead elect to meet all of the new PDP requirements, depending on which complete plan they prefer. Beginning January 1, 2026, all FSOs who apply to open their windows must meet the requirements of the PDP.

The announcement notes that the PDP Service need requirement (see below) is designed to enhance the ability of FSOs “to lead effectively once they cross the Senior Threshold, ensure more equitable burden-sharing, and expand the pool of qualified bidders at historically-difficult-to-staff posts.”

On waivers for the PDP Service need requirement, the cable notes that they will include “limited medical clearances or needs of the Service – as is the case with the CDP – and will be expanded to include extraordinary circumstances that may affect an FSO’s ability to service in the required hardship postings.”

The Department has reportedly started “initial consultations with AFSA on this matter.” The guidance also says that “Once HR attests that an FSO has met the requirements to open his or her window – either through the CDP or PDP – he or she does not need to reapply or resubmit another application for consideration.”

One source called this “another pointless gimmick” rolled out during the holidays when no one was paying attention. We understand that this whole process is self-certified, so there is some doubt if HR even verifies anything. We’ve heard feedback that the Promotion Boards won’t even see this. If  you’re an HR ninja and knows more, let us know.

Career Development Plan/CDP

  • requires FSOs to serve three tours dealing with one region and two tours dealing with one region (Major/minor regional assignments from entry into service)
  • requires Generalists to test at the 3/3 level within seven years before opening their window for consideration of promotion across the Senior Threshold.

Professional Development Program/PDP:

  • requires a mix of domestic and overseas assignments in at least two different bureaus after tenure
  • FSOs who entered the service after January 1, 2017 must serve at least one tour in a global affairs bureau or in a global affairs position
  • requires Generalists to test at the 3/3 level (or at the 3/2 level for a hard or super-hard language) any time after tenure
  • requires Generalists to serve at hardship posts in order to be considered for promotion across the Senior Threshold
  • requires Generalists to complete a tour at a 25 percent or greater hardship/danger differential post from entry into the Foreign Service OR complete a tour at an unaccompanied post from entry into the Foreign Service, AND complete another tour at a 20 percent or greater hardship/danger differential post after tenure.

That requirement to test at a 3/3 any time after tenure instead of testing at the 3/3 level within seven years before opening their window for consideration of promotion — have folks thought that through? We don’t understand this actually. Language skills can quickly atrophy when not in used; this can’t be good for the Service, can it? The comment section is open.

There are also Foreign Service specialists, not many but some, who also get promoted into the Senior Foreign Service. When we asked about the PDP requirement for them, our source is not sure what requirement comparable to the PDP will be required.

The CDP notes that “perhaps the most important difference among the 17 separate specialist career paths lies in the fact that the Career Development Programs pinnacle is not always the grade of FE-OC, as it is for generalists. The pinnacle for specialists may be FS-04 as it is for the Office Management Specialists, FS-01 for the Facilities Management Specialists, or FE-MC for Physicians.”