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What's up with hiring and the Foreign Service? (updated)

Updated: Mar 24, 2019

Is the State Department even hiring anymore? If you’re considering taking the Foreign Service exam, or you’re waiting to get hired like me, that’s a pretty important question. These are turbulent times for diplomats and hopefuls alike.


FINALLY GOOD NEWS!


In February of 2017, former Secretary of State Rext Tillerson announced a reduction in State Department staff and an immediate hiring freeze. For 15 months, nobody was hired and many aspiring Foreign Service officers saw their dreams fly out the window.

On 15 May 2018, however, everything changed again—this time for the better. Tthe State Department released an email authorizing Generalist and Specialist Foreign Service Officer classes for July, September, and November.


More importantly, the State Department leadership—as in, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—agreed to staff up to 2017 levels as directed in the 2018 appropriation bill from Congress (see language below). The idea that the State Department should be diminished in favor of the military seemed to have been trashed, partially because the military advocated for the State Department and partially because Congress would have none of it.


WHAT HAPPENED


When former Secretary of State Tillerson announced deep cuts in the State Department's budget and instituted a hiring freeze in February 2017, two of the four scheduled new orientation (A-100) classes for that year were canceled (July and September 2017). Also, overall hiring numbers within the agency dropped significantly.


Many people who were in the process of getting hired suffered from these sudden changes. Some people thought they had a job and were subsequently told they did not. Others, who were still in the hiring process, saw their chances of getting a job vanish. All were left wondering what would happen next. To make matters worse, it was hard to find timely and reliable information.


Throughout the ordeal, I managed to stay optimistic. The truth is that the State Department always needs new blood in the Foreign Service and it’s simply impractical to leave many vacancies unfilled. Also, hiring has never stopped altogether, because a lot of jobs are crucial to national security and the overall functioning of the agency.


WHEN CONGRESS STEPPED IN


Fortunately, the State Department has friends in high places. Many military officers came out in support of the Foreign Service, and in March of 2018 Congress decided to increase State’s budget rather than cut it. According to the American Foreign Service Association “The [budget] numbers also show that the personnel cuts at the Department of State are strikingly out of balance with the trust Congress has placed in us.”


In March 2018, Congress adopted an appropriation bill that bodes well for 2019 hiring levels. It states that in terms of hiring levels should increase to meet the pre-fiscal year 2017 rate. The following language is from the bill adopted on 22 March 2018:


Funds made available by the Act are provided in the amounts necessary for, and purposes of, hiring to attrition and maintaining the on-board Foreign Service and Civil Service staff levels at the Department of State and USAID as of December 31, 2017.

The agreement assumes that the USAID Administrator will be responsible for establishing all personnel levels and positions for USAID, pursuant to the existing agreement between the Department of State and USAID.

The agreement assumes sufficient funding for introductory classes for the Department of State Foreign Service (A-100 classes) at the pre-fiscal year 2017 rate, and the Secretary of State shall continue such classes in such manner.

The Secretary is directed to report to the appropriate congressional committees not later than 45 days after enactment of the Act on the schedule for the A-100 classes.


2017/2018 FSO HIRING STATS


The total number of people who take the FSOT in recent years is between 10,000 and 20,000. In February 2017, former Secretary of State announced a Department-wide hiring freeze. As a result, the number of FSOT takers dropped to around 8,685 that year.


Hiring of Generalist FSOs went down from 353 in fiscal year 2016, to 220 in fiscal year 2017. In early 2018, the Department announced their intention to hire only 101 new Foreign Service officers (including 55 Pickering and Rangel Fellows) for the year. For 2018 the target number was 273 (273 Generalists and 273 Specialists).


And the good news is that hiring levels are not expected to "plummet" again in the near future. The proposed FY2020 budget for Foreign Affairs is a 25% cut from the previous year, but State’s Bureau of Budget and Planning guy said, “the last two budgets [...] included reductions to State and AID personnel. This budget does not propose that.”


2018 Generalist orientation classes (A-100s) for a total of 273 new hires:

- March 19 (approx. 38 people)

- July 9 (approx. 80 people)

- September 4

- November 5


2019 Generalist orientation classes (A-100s)

- January 7

- April 15

- June 24

- September 3


2020 Generalist orientation classes (A-100s)

- January 6

- March 30

- July 6

- August 31

(subject to change)


(UNOFFICIAL) STATS FOR ALL FSO CAREER TRACKS


So far this year, most of the hires that came off the Register (the list of people who passed the regular entry exams) were for the Political, Consular and Management career tracks; the available data shows that there were markedly fewer Public Diplomacy and Economic officers hired, although this may change for upcoming classes.


In 2017, most of the hires that came off the Register were Consular, followed by Management.  In 2016, the hires that were hired from the Register appeared more balanced, although the majority still seems to have been Consular, followed by Management.


Political is currently the biggest career track in terms of hired officers, so if the State Department intends to hire at least to attrition they are probably going to have to hire a lot of new ones soon.


SPECIALISTS & CONSULAR FELLOWS


I haven't looked deeply into the hiring situation for Foreign Service Specialists, Consular Fellows, or Civil Servants. However, it seems that hiring has resumed for most (although state's website still suggests otherwise). Here are the reported classes:


In 2018, a Specialist class began on April 2nd. The next classes are scheduled to begin on July 23 and November 19.


In 2018, a Consular Fellows classes began on February 13 and April 30. The next class is scheduled for August 20.


ELIGIBLE FAMILY MEMBERS (EFMs)


On 12 December 2017, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced lifting of the hiring freeze in per 7 January 2018 for Eligible Family Members (EFM) and announced the expansion of the Expanded Professional Associates Program (EPAP).


In February 2018, an additional 2,449 EFM positions were authorized (this is in addition to the limited number that was allowed to remain during the partial hiring freeze). Hiring seems to be getting back to normal.


WHERE TO FIND UPDATES:


If you want to continue to follow what’s up with hiring, some good places to check for news and updates are:


Reddit – the perfect place for any and all questions around the Foreign Service. There are active discussions about hiring, and any new information about hiring is usually posted here immediately.


Foreign Service Forum is open to anyone who has a specific question and is usually answered, within a timely manner, by a Foreign Service Officer.


Diplopundit is typically a great source for finding the latest news, particularly on policy, complete with numbers and analysis.


Path to Foreign Service is a great blog/website that collects, and actively requests, information on State Department hiring. There are some good stats overviews on hiring too.


The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) tends to post longer articles that include analysis and insights from FSOs and their spouses. It also has an active Twitter account.


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