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RQ: Conditional Offer of Employment, Worldwide Available

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I received two e-mails this week dealing with questions about the hiring process.

The first was from a reader asking,

Hey, I applied for a DS position and passed my interview.  They made me sign a Conditional Offer of Employment.  What exactly is that?  Do I have the job or not?

Here’s a few points of interest on the Conditional Offer of Employment (COE) that will hopefully answer your question.

The COE allows State to do two things.  It is required to start your security clearance investigation.  It also allows State to terminate your candidacy if you fail to obtain your security clearance, medical clearance, or pass your Final Suitability Review.  You should keep in mind that a COE is not an official offer, and does not mean you will get an official offer.  It’s really just a piece of paper that says State has found you eligible for employment if you meet all of the required conditions.

COEs are common throughout government agencies, but the handling of such is different.   In some agencies you’re allowed to start working as soon as you receive the COE, with the understanding that you don’t have a clearance and your capacity to work may be limited.  State, obviously, does not do this.  Since Foreign Service employees can be deployed overseas immediately after orientation, in some facilities you wouldn’t even be able to enter your work area without a full-time escort overseas.  While “interim” security clearances do exist, State hardly ever issues them.

The second e-mail asked,

What does “worldwide available” actually mean?

As much as I hate to give the standard, smarmy State Department answer, “it depends.”  “Worldwide availability” means two things.

  1. You (and your family) are willing to be posted anywhere in the world.  Not everyone gets to serve in London.
  2. You (and your family) are able to be posted anywhere in the world.

#1 is easy.  If you join the Foreign Service and expect to take the grand European tour, you are going to be miserable.  Not only will you be miserable, you’ll make all your coworkers miserable.  Word will get around that you’re difficult to work with and have a bad attitude, and then you won’t get promoted and quit.

#2 is a bit more challenging.  Receiving a worldwide-available medical clearance (Class 1) only means that you, the employee, has no urgent medical condition that would make serving in a certain post unnecessarily risky.  However, this does not apply to your Eligible Family Members (EFMs).  EFM medical clearances cannot be used as a factor in your employment, but you need to understand that if your EFMs cannot go where you are assigned for medical reasons you will either not take them or sign a waiver stating that you understand the medical risk you’re putting them into.

To make things more confusing, State can’t actually fire you for a medical condition once you’re in (imagine the red tape!).  If you’re in Nouakchatt and suddenly develop Type II Diabetes, you’ll probably get medically evacuated and reassigned.  The rest of your career will be spent at posts with adequate medical accommodations.  As much as people say that this won’t affect your career, the reality is that it does.  Those on the fast track to FS-01 aren’t schmoozing Cote du Rhone in Geneva or waltzing in Vienna tour after tour.

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