“Should I Join the Foreign Service?”

Peter Van Buren, the most recent State Department “white blood cell” looking to do to some institutional housecleaning at Foggy Bottom, commented in a recent Huffington Post article about choosing a career in the State Department:

Understand that promotions and assignments are more and more opaque.  State has recently determined that even promotion statistics cannot be released.  Changes in Congress will further limit pay and benefits.  Your spouse will be un/underemployed most of his or her life.  Your kids will change schools, for better or worse, every one, two or three years.  Some schools will be good, some not so good, and you’ll have no choice unless you are willing to subvert your career choices to school choices, as in let’s go to Bogota because the schools are good even if the assignment otherwise stinks.  You’ll serve more places where you won’t speak the language and get less training as requirements grow without personnel growth.  As you get up there, remember your boss, the politically-appointed ambassador, can arbitrarily be a real estate broker who donated big to the president’s campaign.  Make sure all these conditions make sense to you now, and, if you can, as you imagine yourself 10, 15 and 20 years into the future.

Is he right on these points? Absolutely.

But keep in mind that State is still a damn good place to draw a paycheck with great benefits to boost. As long as you’re resigned to holding out your hand for a paycheck every two weeks, State beats a lot of other employers out there. Every job has it’s draw backs and frustrations and State is not immune.  But few employers out there pay you to work overseas on expat packages.

Personally, I am still on the lower rungs of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, caught between “physiological” (food, water, sex) and “safety” (of body and resources).  If you live in the levels “self-acutalization” (morality, creativity), then ok, maybe you might not want to join State afterall.


2 Responses to “Should I Join the Foreign Service?”

  1. […] you say, you’re nothing like him. Or you will never be like Peter Van Buren, described in one blog as “the most recent State Department “white blood cell” looking to do to some […]

  2. Donny says:

    For you wannabes out there, as an example of how State treats its people, take notice of how our overseas housing is determined. Some non-FS types who only go overseas on junkets (e.g. to inspect smoke detectors and teach folks how to use fire extinguishers – seriously, one OBO Civil Servant I met has been to 120+ posts. That’s more than most real diplomats) sat back in DC and decided that the size of our accommodations should have a MAXIMUM amount of square feet. That’s right, diplomats overseas representing the USG don’t get a minimum size place, it’s a maximum. And if you have a real stingy housing guy more interested in saving taxpayer dollars rather than morale, you could end up with a pretty tiny place. But, you ask, what about LQA posts where we find our own housing? Yep, size maximum. So you may be this fabulous negotiator who negotiates a palace for himself within your LQA but will not be allowed to live in it because, by God, you’re only entitled to a maximum amount of space.

    It’s telling that DoD fought for its O-4′s to be included in the mid-level housing pool while an FS-3 is only entitled to the same amount of space as the E-6 in charge of the MSG. Oh yeah, that E-6 gets free lawn service paid for by DoD.

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