@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.”



Tillerson’s Staff Reduction Plan Threatens Gains in Bridging @StateDept Language Gaps

Posted: 4:03 am ET
Follow @Diplopundit


The ability to speak and read foreign languages is a key Foreign Service competency. All FS Officers (Generalists) and some FS Specialists are required to reach general professional (3/3) proficiency in at least one foreign language during their careers. In 2016, the State Department said that its  success in staffing positions with officers with the required language proficiency was due, in great part, to the increased resources received in the Diplomacy 3.0 initiative.

Last year, the agency developed a plan to continue to bridge its language gaps — to “continue to expand the training complement, as resources are made available to enhance foreign language skills.” The Department said that it’s language requirements “are much greater today than before 9/11″ but it also noted that the budget environment threatens to reduce the significant progress the Department has made. Even before Rex Tillerson happened to the State Department, the agency already warned last year that “without funds to hire staff above attrition, the Department is not likely to make significant progress in increasing the number of LDPs [language designated positions] filled with fully qualified officers.”

A good number of our readers already know about language training in the State Department, but we also have readers who are not familiar with it, so this part is an explainer. The State Department’s Foreign Service Institute (FSI) grouped languages into four broad categories based on their difficulty to learn:

Category I Languages include the most English-like or the easiest languages for native speakers of English to learn. Included in this category are the Romance languages, such as Spanish and Portuguese, as well as other Western European languages, such as Swedish and Dutch. On average, these languages require 24 to 30 weeks of full-time study to achieve the 3/3 proficiency level.

Category II Languages generally take 36 weeks of full-time study to achieve the 3/3 proficiency level. Included in this category are Indonesian, Swahili, and German, among others.

Category III Languages generally require 44 weeks of full-time study to achieve a 3/3. These languages are substantially harder to learn because they are less like English. Among the Category III languages are Hindi, Dari, Persian, Russian, and Urdu.

Category IV Languages are the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn. This category includes Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, which require training for roughly 88 weeks, including a ten-month language immersion in country, to obtain the general professional (3/3) proficiency level.

The general professional (3/3) proficiency level means being able to use the language with sufficient ability participate in most formal and informal discussion on practical, social, and professional topics. It means being able to conceptualize and hypothesize. An 0/0 in speaking/reading indicates only a cursory level knowledge of the language while a 5/5 proficiency means highly articulate, well-educated, native-speaker proficiency. If you want to send a diplomat to a radio station to better explain U.S. foreign policy to host country nationals, you don’t send somebody with “basic” language skills. If you send a DSS agent to a high threat post without appropriate language training, it can limit not just his/her communication with the local guard force but also situational awareness and his/her ability to protect the mission.

The State Department defines priority languages as languages that are of critical importance to U.S. foreign policy, languages that are experiencing severe shortages or staffing gaps, or present specific challenges in recruiting and training.  So for example, Mandarin Chinese, Dari, Farsi, Pashto, Hindi, Urdu, Korean, and Arabic—all are languages spoken in China, Iran, India, Korea, and throughout the Near East—and are considered priority languages.

It took the State Department 12 years to get from 303 to 475 Chinese Mandarin speakers. Persian-Iranian speakers increased from 14 in FY2003 to 44 in FY2015, an increase of 214.3%. Persian-Afghan speakers went from 12 in 2003 to 85 in 2015, a 608% increase. Hindi speakers went from 12 to 75 or a 525% increase. The State Department’s Arabic speakers increased 47% between 2003-2015, from 232 to 341. Let’s not forget Korean speakers, where State had 76 3/3 speakers in 2003 and 102 in 2015.

In 2013, State/OIG estimated training students to the 3/3 level in easier world languages such as Spanish can cost $105,000 while training students in hard languages such as Russian can cost $180,000. Training in super hard languages such as Chinese and Arabic can cost up to $480,000 per student.  Students learning super hard languages to the 3/3 level generally spend one year domestically at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and then a second year at an overseas training facility.  The OIG’s estimates were reportedly developed based on the FSI weekly tuition rate, the standard number of weeks for 3/3 raining, the salary of a midlevel FSO, benefits based on Congressional Budget Office  figures, and per diem based on 14FAM 575.3 and Federal Travel Regulations. Cost estimates for super-hard languages were developed using the above methodology for the  domestic portion of training and data provided byEmbassy Beijing and NEA and data in State’s standard overseas support cost model for the overseas  portion of language training.

Is we use the OIG cost estimate of $480K to train a student in super hard language, it means U.S. taxpayers already spent $48M to train 102 diplomats to speak Korean.  We don’t know who are planning to take the buyouts, but let’s say for the sake of argument that all 102 Korean speakers take Tillerson’s buyouts. That’s $48M down the drain. How about the $163M taxpayers already spent on 341 Arabic speakers? Or the $228M spent to train 475 Chinese Mandarin speakers? Or $84M already expended the last twelve years to train 175 Japanese speakers?

What happens when they leave? Does the State Department then hire contractors on an “as needed” basis to track and report the goings on in the Korean peninsula and everywhere else where the U.S is planning to shrink its presence?

It is important to underscore that these gains in the Foreign Service’s language capacity did not happen overnight. And when people leave, as projected in Mr. Tillerson’s reported plan, replenishing their ranks, skills and experience will not happen overnight. Congress can appropriate new funds in the future, of course, but there is no currency that can buy the U.S. time.

  Related post: