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Posts Tagged ‘foreign service officer

Cyberattackers Wanted!

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Reposted from threatpost, Northrop Grumman is advertising for a “Cyber Software Engineer 2” position whose job description includes to “plan, execute, and assess an Offensive Cyberspace Operation (OCO) mission.”  Interestingly it only requires a Secret clearance (to put this in perspective, all Foreign Service Officers are cleared to the Top Secret level).

Cybersecurity and cyberwarfare have been moving to the forefront of the public and government interest since the attacks on GoogleRSA, and numerous other  US technology and defense companies last year.   Various agencies have issued statements and publications about the growing trends of cyberattacks on US interests (example, PDF), and others like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have publically called for improved cyberattack capabilities.  On top of it all, the Defense Department considers cyberattacks an act of war.  Whether the United States is prepared or even able to launch an effective cyber-counteroffensive remains to be seen.


RQ: Private Sector

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This week, a reader asked,

I’m coming from the private sector.  What should I expect to be different from State?  The same?

While everyone has a different experience, I can share mine after coming from a brief stint in the private sector.  Keeping in mind that these are generalizations…

Differences:  State is a large bureaucracy, and things move slowly.  Painfully slowly, at times.  Most processes could be radically simplified but for whatever reason (regulations, accountability, turf battles) they usually aren’t.  Worrying about price is, despite what the news might say about the government cutting back spending, is not something that’s ingrained into the corporate culture.  Overseas you’ll not only be working with your colleagues, but in a lot of places you’ll be living right next door as well.  Security, both physical, information, and technical, are taken very seriously.  You will not be using the latest and greatest IT equipment, nor are you allowed to bring in your own or even install your own software.  Regulations always have the final word, but whether or not the regulation is met often depends on your ability to convince someone of their point of view.  Once you’re tenured you basically can’t get fired unless you really, really screw up.  People guard their turf jealously for whatever reason, and occasionally the attitude of “not my job” pervades the work environment.  There’s a very clear path in almost every skill code for promotion.  You get to travel and switch jobs every few years.

Similarities:  In general you’re surrounded by people who want to do the right thing.  Your coworkers and colleagues will be both good and bad.  Benefits and pay are pretty good.  If you choose well, your work will be interesting.  Excellent performance is rewarded, even though there’s a ton of chaff that makes it into the hopper as well.  E-mail storms and e-mail “oops”es still happen.  On short trips you get per diem. Your boss is still a toss up as to their competence and demeanor.  You still have performance reviews.

This was kind of an open-ended question, so feel free to disagree.  “Different in a good way” is how I’d summarize.

Be sure to check out past Reader Questions in the Archives.

RQ: Tandem Couples

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A reader asks,

What advice would you give a would-be tandem couple?

Disclaimer, I am not part of a tandem.

Tandem couples refer to couples in which both husband and wife are employed as direct hires in one of the Foreign Services (State, Agriculture, Commercial, or USAID).  Same-sex couples whose marriage is not recognized in the States also qualify as tandems, but situations in which one is a direct hire and the other is employed as an EFM at post does not qualify as a tandem.

The most obvious benefit from being a tandem couple is to have both adults bringing in an income and building on their careers.  You also get some preference for assignments if there is a good fit for both of you at a post.  The downside of being a tandem is that there aren’t many places that have open spots, so tandem couples wind up in Washington a lot more than their non-tandem counterparts or one half does an out-of-cone or out-of-specialty tour more frequently than they might like.   Since both parents work it is difficult to care for small children as a tandem, but this situation can be alleviated somewhat with a nanny or leave without pay.  Tandem couples face similar challenges that families with two working parents do with respect to “family logistics” at post.

My advice to a tandem couple would be to keep an open mind.  While this goes for any FS employee, tandems especially need to look at Washington DC as an opportunity and not a sentence.  Tandems should also start the bidding/lobbying process extra early, 2 years in advance (1 year before you actually bid) is not unheard of.  Pull every connection you have during the lobbying process and make it obvious to the assignments panel that the assignments you and your spouse want are obviously the assignments you are going to get.

Finally, if you both are brand-new to the Foreign Service you must be married before A-100/Specialist orientation to be given consideration as a tandem couple.  There are no exceptions to this rule.

Since this post is more of an “outside looking in” perspective, I’d love to hear some perspectives from actual tandem couples.  Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Be sure to check out past Reader Questions in the Archives.

RQ: Calling the Registrar

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One question on many candidates’ mind is

How often is it appropriate to call the registrar to find out my standing?

While there’s no definite answer to this question, in my humble opinion I think you should call as often as you want to.  The registrar’s job is the manage the register and keep those on it informed of their place.  While it might be too much to call every day, I don’t think anyone should feel bad about calling once or twice a week, especially if there’s an upcoming A-100 or Specialist orientation (offers start going out 2-3 months prior).

Be sure to check out past Reader Questions in the Archives.

RQ: Spouse Employment

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A reader asks,

What opportunities are available for spouses to work while at an embassy?

Eligible Family Members often get preference for certain positions at an embassy or consulate.  Unfortunately they tend to be clerical or inherently unskilled, and the pay reflects this.  Some jobs that are common to many posts are security escorts, on-call roving assistants, community liaison officer (CLO), and consular assistant  positions.  Employment opportunities are more abundant at large posts.  Very few EFM positions are considered  “career enhancing.”  If your future EFM or current EFM is looking for a position that requires a college degree or advanced degree the odds are against them finding a desirable position with the embassy.

Spouse employment is a big issue in the Foreign Service, and things have improved a lot over my tenure with the Department.  Leave a question in the comments if you’d like more specific information on this issue.

Be sure to check out past Reader Questions in the Archives.

US Embassy Damascus Closes

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The US Embassy in Damascus, Syria has closed due to the ongoing violence in Syria.  The decision to close an embassy is not taken lightly, but thankfully employees working in Embassy Damascus had several months to prepare for the event.  Contrast that to the few weeks Embassy Tripoli had to evacuate entirely before shutting down.


Written by OSB

07/02/2012 at 00:08

12 Things for 2012

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Some end-of-year thoughts on Foreign Service life for those looking to join, those already in, and those retired.

1.  Living abroad is no picnic.  Occasionally I hear griping about how it’s not fair that FS employees can retire with full pension benefits after 20 years of service compared to 30 years in the Civil Service.  It’s 100% justified.  Living overseas causes numerous hardships even in the best of posts.  Cultural exposure, raising a family, moving with pets and kids every few years, it’s all simply exhausting.  It’s also exhilarating for those who embrace the always-on, constantly demanding, and rarely forgiving pace.

2.  Western business practices are an exception, not the rule.  In the US you’re used to paying a set price for an agreed-upon service.  Guess what?  Elsewhere in the world things are more… flexible.  Why yes, I’d love to tip the guard holding the AK-47 who lets us into the museum or site of interest.  No, I don’t mind paying a “guide” to take us back to our car after leading us through an hours’ worth of jungle on an elephant.  Sure I’ll pay double for a taxi ride after the meter “broke way bad” (in the words of one enterprising taxi driver).  Especially in the poorer parts of the world, people will milk you for every dinar, lek, takha, rial, baht, or peso they can.

3.  There are really only two Generalists in every embassy that a Specialist (and Generalist) should fear: The Ambassador and The Deputy Chief of Mission.  Do not assume they know who you are, do not assume that your position as staff assistant entitles you to special privileges, and do not ever mistake one for the other.  The consequences of each of these can range from comical to frightening.

4.  There is really only one Specialist in every embassy that a Generalist (and a Specialist) should fear: The Ambassador’s OMS.  Tread lightly.

5.  No matter how hard you think you are working, your Marine Security Guard detachment is working much harder.  Give them the respect and kindness they deserve.  Address them as “sir” or “ma’am” (until you learn their names, of course), invite them to your happy hours (even if it’s just for snacks), and go out of your way to ensure that they are invited to your social functions.

6.  There’s no such thing as a “typical” embassy.  Each has its own character and characters.  Searching for a “relaxing” tour is folly.

7.  Locally Employed Staff run the embassy.

8.  You cannot do everything.  As such, do not alienate your entire local staff by lecturing a 30-year LES on your first overseas tour as I once witnessed.  Some things are unforgivable, and since your EER often depends on how well your local staff members can make you look, you’d better treat them right.

9.  Foreign Service families bear disproportionate hardships when abroad.  Do your significant other a favor and go to the social events she/he wants to go to without complaining; they are making significant sacrifices for you, the least you can do is go to a party once in a while.  Same with children – don’t miss their school plays, no matter how bizarre their role is (for example: first toucan).

10.  The answer to the question “Why is this so different than in America?” is almost always “Because it’s not America.”  It’s obvious, you say – but you’ll hear it every day.  Every. Single. Day.

11.  Your time at post is short.  Make the most of it, no matter how isolated the city, no matter how poor the local  economy is, no matter how much you hate your neighbor with the screeching cat.

12.  Always, always be thankful.  You are the commissioned representative of the best country on Earth.  You have a roof over your head, pay that probably puts you in the 99% of the world’s average income, and a support network that spares very few expenses to keep you happy.  What most of the world would give to be in your situation.

To all Foreign Service employees, Families, Marines, Seabees, Civil Servants, LES, local guards, and contractors in the DOS family, Happy New Year!  Here’s to a great 2012.