Foreign Service Officer FAQ

1. What does a Foreign Service Officer do?

Through their dedication, technical skills, and creativity, Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) drive American foreign policy towards its objectives of global peace, stability, and prosperity. USAID FSOs are responsible for developing and managing foreign assistance programs that encompass economic growth and trade, agriculture and the environment, education and training, democracy and governance, stabilization and conflict mitigation, global health, and humanitarian assistance.

USAID FSOs work in close partnership with the governments and people of more than 100 countries in five regions of the world, a with private voluntary organizations, universities, private businesses, trade and professional associations, other donor governments, faith-based organizations, and other US government agencies. They assess country needs, prepare strategic plans, design and evaluate programs, oversee budgets and contracts, and report on results.

Foreign Service Officers are the core of our overseas mission staffing, working alongside locally hired and contracted personnel.

2.     What is the Junior Officer Program?

The Junior Officer (JO) program is USAID's entry-level program into the Foreign Service. The JO program seeks the best-qualified professional candidates who are willing to make a long-term career commitment to the Foreign Service and international development. 

JOs begin their careers in formal and job-based training programs in Washington, which may include foreign language training. After completion of Washington training, JOs are assigned to an overseas office and receive additional broad-based training. 

The total JO training plan is approximately three years and, upon completion, candidates may tenure as Foreign Service Officers.

3.     What is the DLI?

The Development Leadership Initiative (DLI) is a multi-year effort to double the size of the USAID Foreign Service workforce by 2012. To reach this goal USAID plans to hire 300 new Foreign Service officers per year until 2012. The primary goal is to increase the size of USAID’s overseas presence, enhancing the Agency’s capability to effectively deliver U.S. foreign assistance. 

4.     How do I Become a Foreign Service Officer with USAID?

To become a Foreign Service Officer with USAID, candidates must complete an on-line application to an announced vacancy by the closing date of the announcement. Applications are first screened to ensure that candidates meet the basic qualifications for the specific vacancy, and then rated and rank ordered relative to the qualifications specified in the announcement. The best-qualified applicants are requested to come to Washington for on-site assessment and undergo reference checks. Following notification of pre-employment selection, candidates enter pre-employment processing and must pass the following in order to be considered for an appointment into the Foreign Service: 

  • Background Investigation 

A comprehensive background investigation, conducted by USAID in cooperation with other federal, state, and local agencies, will provide the information necessary to determine a candidate's suitability for appointment to the Foreign Service and for a Top Secret security clearance. The process considers such factors as: failure to repay a U.S. Government-guaranteed loan or meet tax obligations; failure to register for the Selective Service; past problems with credit or bankruptcy; unsatisfactory employment records; a criminal record or other violations of the law; drug or alcohol abuse; and less than honorable discharge from the armed forces. Candidates who hold dual citizenship, have had extensive travel, education, residence and /or employment overseas, or who have foreign contacts, a foreign-born spouse, immediate family members or relatives who are not citizens of the United States, should be aware that the clearance process will take longer to complete. The background investigation includes interviews with current and previous contacts, supervisors and coworkers. Candidates who do not receive a security clearance are ineligible for appointment. Potential candidates who have any serious issues that may prevent them from receiving a clearance should give some thought to the likelihood of their being found ineligible before starting this process. 

  • Medical Clearance

The Office of Medical Services of the Department of State determines a candidate's medical fitness and ability to serve overseas. Many Foreign Service posts are located in remote areas with extremely limited medical support; therefore, each candidate must meet rigorous medical standards in order to qualify for the required worldwide medical clearance. Medical clearance determination by Medical Services is based on its thorough review of each candidate's medical history and physical examination, including an individual assessment of his/her specific medical needs and the medical capabilities of Foreign Service posts to meet those needs. 

All potential candidates, especially those with current or chronic medical conditions, should be aware of the possibility that they may not qualify for a worldwide medical clearance. Medical Services may be unable to issue a worldwide clearance to a candidate based on its determination that an individual's medical condition requires specialist monitoring or follow-up care unavailable at some Foreign Service postings, that service in a particular geographic area or climate would pose a significant medical risk to the individual, or that adequate emergency facilities for treating life-threatening complications of an individual's specific medical condition is not available at all posts. 

While the candidate must be medically cleared for worldwide service, USAID does not consider the medical condition of eligible family members for pre-employment purposes. It does, however, require that each eligible family member have a medical clearance before they can travel overseas at U. S. Government expense when accompanying an employee on assignment. Please note that employees with a family member who has been issued a limited medical clearance (not worldwide) may be assigned to posts where that family member cannot accompany them. We strongly advise candidates to consider this situation as they pursue employment with USAID. For more information visit the link below. 
http://careers.state.gov/officer/join/medical.html

  • Worldwide Availability 

Worldwide availability is both an affirmed willingness to serve anywhere in the world and a matter of being medically qualified to do so; both are essential requirements for appointment to the Foreign Service. Worldwide availability also means that, while members of the Foreign Service are expected to serve anywhere in the world, due to political instability and/or security concerns, in some cases family members cannot go to post (unaccompanied tours) or must leave post as security deteriorates (evacuations).

5.     What is the screening process for Foreign Service positions and how long does it take?

Applications for Foreign Service positions are initially screened to ensure that candidates meet the basic qualifications for the specific vacancy announcement. Applications passing the first screening are rated and rank ordered, relative to the qualifications specified in the announcement, by a Technical Panel composed of subject matters experts. The highest ranking applicants are requested to come to Washington D.C. for a structured interview. Upon completion of all the interviews, reference checks are undertaken and final selections are made. At this time the pre-employment procedures are initiated for selected candidates. Pre-employment procedures include the completion of security and medical clearances.

From the time an applicant initially applies to entry on duty, the complete process can take from four months to a year or longer. 

6.     Does USAID require the Foreign Service examination like the U.S. Department of State?

No, we do not require a written Foreign Service exam. Applications are accepted only for specific vacancy(s) when announced and posted. Our process involves a series of reviews of the candidate’s application and written responses to job specific questions and general development issues. Following the screening, selected applicants are invited for a personal interview with a technical panel. Candidates are evaluated on their academic credentials, related overseas and/or domestic development professional experience, their technical knowledge and related skills such as management and leadership, representational and communication (oral and written). 

7.     What are the basic qualifications needed for employment?

  • U.S. citizenship at the time of application
  • Must be between 18-59 years old at the time of appointment
  • Must be willing to accept assignments at any USAID location
  • Must meet minimum educational and work experience requirements for the specific position advertised.

 

8.     What are the minimum federal qualification requirements?

All FSO candidates must have an academic degree related to the specific job opening; most positions require advanced degrees (MS, MA, PhD, JD, MD). Candidates for mid-level positions must also have relevant work experience, which may include experience working abroad. 

9.     Must I have a graduate degree?

Most FSO positions require a graduate or advanced degree (MS, MA, PhD, JD, MD), although a few accept candidates with a Bachelors degree and relevant work experience in lieu of an advanced degree

10.   I received my degree from a non-US college or university. Does that meet your education requirements?

Education completed in foreign colleges or universities may be used to meet federal qualification requirements if the applicant can show that the foreign education is comparable to education received in accredited educational institutions in the United States. It is the applicant's responsibility to provide such evidence when applying for Federal jobs. Your on-line application should include such evidence either in a narrative or as an attachment. 

Education received in foreign colleges or universities will be considered acceptable based on any of the following. This information must be submitted to the contact identified in the vacancy announcement, within the time limits specified in the vacancy announcement. 

  • The specific courses have been accepted for college-level credit by an accredited U.S. college or university because they would be creditable if the student were to further his or her education at that institution.
  • An evaluation of the education by an accredited U.S. college or university shows that the education is equivalent to that gained in an accredited U.S. college or university.
  • An accredited U.S. State university reports the other institution as one whose transcript is given full value or full value is given in subject areas applicable to the curricula at the State University.
  • The applicant submits an evaluation of the coursework from an organization recognized for accreditation by the Department of Education that shows that the coursework is equivalent to that gained in an accredited U.S. college or university.
  • The education completed outside the U.S. has been submitted to a private organization that specializes in interpretation of foreign educational credentials and such education has been deemed at least equivalent to that gained in conventional U.S. education programs.

A list of private organizations prepared by the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES) is available. NACES evaluates foreign educational credits for employment and other purposes. All organizations on this list operate for a fee, based on the extent of the education to be evaluated. This reference is provided for your general information and may not be all-inclusive. USAID does not endorse any particular service. 

Please refer to the specific open vacancies for more information regarding qualifications of each program. 

11.   Does your agency have a minimum and maximum age limit?

Career appointments in the Foreign Service are covered by the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as amended, which requires an applicant to be 18 years old at time of application and which directs mandatory retirement at age 65. Given this mandatory retirement age and the fact that five years must be allowed to achieve tenure in the agency, there is an upper age limit of 59 at time of appointment to the Foreign Service. 

12.   Are non-citizens eligible for Foreign Service employment?

No. Only U.S. citizens may apply for an appointment to the career Foreign Service, i.e., you must be a U.S. citizen at the time of application for or appointment to a direct hire position. However, non-citizens may be employed as contractors in our overseas missions. You must apply directly to the missions since they know their staffing needs, and budget levels, and have contracting authority. To apply for a position, please follow instructions as described within the vacancy announcement and visit http://www.usaid.gov/careers/missions.html to learn more about non-citizens at USAID. 

13.   Does a green card or permanent resident qualify me as a U.S. citizen?

No. You must be a U.S. citizen at the time of application for or appointment to a direct hire position. 

14.   Does the U.S. Agency for International Development consider lesbians and gays for employment? What if I have a live-in partner?

It is the policy of the U.S. Agency for International Development to provide equal opportunity and fair and equitable treatment in employment to all persons without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap, political affiliation or marital status, or sexual orientation. Under recently-enacted changes to regulations, same-sex domestic partners of Foreign Service Officers may qualify as family members for a variety of benefits and allowances, including being added to travel orders and use of medical facilities at posts overseas. 

15.   I have worked some summers in various capacities — does that time count, and is that experience creditable?

Yes, it counts as experience if it is related to the position for which you are applying. 

16.   What is the entry-level salary for a Foreign Service Officer?

The entry-level salary for Junior Foreign Service Officers ranges from the high-thirty to the high-fifty thousand dollar range, depending on prior compensation. Additionally, foreign service officers will receive an increased percentage of their base salary to adjust for the higher cost of living while posted to Washington.

Foreign Service Officers posted overseas may also receive an overseas pay differential. Assignment to certain countries can include an additional pay differential to account for hardship or high cost of living. 

The Junior Officer program provides for two administrative promotions within the first two years based on meeting successful service standards, which increases the salary to the mid-fifty to mid-sixty thousand dollar range by the end of the second year. 

17.   What are the benefits of being a Foreign Service Employee?

The greatest benefit of being a Foreign Service Officer is the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that comes from serving our country in helping people overseas to make a better life, recover from a disaster or create a free and prosperous society. USAID FSOs and their families lead interesting and fast-paced lives as representatives of our country overseas. On a practical level, the benefits of the position include: 

Health Benefit Plans
Choice of extensive array of Federal Employment Health Benefits Plans, with costs shared by the Government. Employees are eligible to enroll in a wide variety of health insurance plans, including fee-for-service plans and health maintenance organizations. The employee's portion is paid through payroll deductions. For more information on Federal Employment Health Benefits Plans visithttp://www.opm.gov/insure/health/index.asp

Thrift Savings Plan (equivalent to 401(K) with Government matching) 
Foreign Service Officers may participate in the Thrift Savings Plan; a long-term savings and investment program for federal employees designed to provide retirement income. For more information on the Thrift Savings Plan, visithttp://www.opm.gov/benefits/correction/faq/Thrift.htm

Life Insurance
Foreign Service Officers are eligible to participate in the Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance plan (FEGLI). The FEGLI plan offers low rates that are paid through payroll deductions. The U.S. Government pays one-third of the cost of this insurance. Participation in the FEGLI plan is voluntary. The plan is intended as a form of immediate protection against financial hardship or loss in the event of death. It is not offered as a form of term life insurance with a cash value, such as might be purchased through private insurance agents. 

Long Term Care Insurance
Long Term Care Insurance is offered and carries into your retirement. For more information on Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP), visit http://www.opm.gov/insure/ltc/index.asp

Annual Leave
Vacation/Personal Leave; maximum ceiling or limitation of accrual is 30 days per leave year. 

  • 4 hours per pay period (bi-weekly) or 13 days per leave year for less than 3 years of federal service
  • 6 hours per pay period or 20 days per leave year after 3 years of federal service but less than 15 years
  • 8 hours per pay period or 26 days per leave year after 15 years of federal service

Sick Leave
Accrued at a rate of 4 hours per pay period, 13 days per leave year. 

Family Medical Leave
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 provides Federal employees with an entitlement of up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for the following purposes: 

  • The birth of a son or daughter of the employee and the care of the newborn
  • The placement of a child with an employee for adoption or foster care
  • The care of a child, spouse or parent of the employee with a serious health condition
  • A serious health condition of the employee that makes an employee unable to perform the major functions of the job.

For more information on The Family and Medical Leave Act, visit http://www.opm.gov/oca/leave/html/sicklv.asp

Home Leave
Accrued at the rate of 8 hours per month for every month of overseas service. To be used in the United States between overseas tours of duty or when returning to the United States for assignment 

Ten Paid Holidays Per Year 
(In addition to federal holidays, the U.S. Government also observes some local holidays celebrated at overseas posts of assignment)

Employee Consultation Service
Staffed by licensed clinical social workers to provide counseling and referrals for personal and family concerns. 

MetroChek Transit Subsidy

Overseas Benefits
At overseas posts, all USAID employees receive non-taxable government housing and, where applicable, a non-taxable cost-of-living allowance. They may also receive a "school-away-from-post" allowance for the education of their dependent children. A taxable differential of 5-25% of basic salary may be paid for service at designated overseas hardship posts where living conditions are difficult; and employees may receive a “rest and recuperation” travel benefit from such posts. Other benefits include paid home leave; medical care and hospitalization overseas; transportation to and from post; shipment of authorized weights of household effects, and, where permitted, shipment of a motor vehicle.

18.   Will I receive orientation and training after I am hired?

Newly-hired Foreign Service Officers begin their careers with a five-week orientation program. The focus of orientation is to introduce new employees to the structure and function of the Agency and its role in the development and implementation of U.S. foreign policy; to develop an understanding of the terms of employment; and to enhance core skills needed by all Foreign Service employees.

The five-week orientation program is conducted at Ronald Reagan Building (RRB) in Washington DC, and is primarily a classroom experience. However, this orientation also includes trips to Capitol Hill as well as an offsite component at the Foreign Affairs Training Center in Arlington where you will hear about the role the State Department's Medical Office plays in your career, be briefed on the services offered by the Overseas Briefing Center to Foreign Service Officers (FSOs). In addition to guest speakers and U.S. Agency for International Development officials, the orientation program also includes a series of practical exercises and case studies, as well as optional presentations by various organizations and stakeholders.

Following Orientation, new Foreign Service Officers complete a series of the on-the-job and formal classroom trainings in Washington, including language training if required to meet foreign language requirements for tenure, prior to departure for their first overseas assignment. The new Junior Officer remains in training status through the initial two year overseas assignment, and will continue to receive on-the-job and classroom training.

USAID offers extensive opportunities for continuing and in-service training throughout an officer’s career, including through the on-line USAID University. 

19.   How are initial assignments determined?

After an initial orientation and training period in Washington, the newly-hired Foreign Service Officer is assigned overseas. Language testing or training for meeting tenure requirements by the fifth year of service are met while still in Washington. The first overseas assignments are directed assignments selected to provide an opportunity to develop the new officer's and ensure that he or she has attained required Foreign Service skills. The officer will go through a series of rotations in various jobs in addition to gaining a firm basis in their areas of specialization. 

Decisions on initial postings are made by the Agency. Personal and professional goals, training requirements, and medical and educational concerns for family members are some of the factors taken into account when assignment decisions are made. All officers are considered worldwide available and must be prepared to go where needed. The needs of USAID and placing the new officer in the best training opportunity remain paramount in making initial assignments.

20.   If I decline an offer of employment, will my candidacy continue? Am I likely to get another offer of employment in the future?

If a candidate declines an offer of employment he/she may reapply to available positions. Competitive candidates may receive another offer of employment in the future. 

21.   My situation has changed. Can I defer my candidacy for entry into the Foreign Service?

The appointment process to become a Foreign Service Officer requires strong commitment. Occasionally, candidates request deferral of their candidacy. Active or reserve military personnel serving abroad, or U.S. civilian government employees serving abroad, including Peace Corps, may request deferrals for the period of their overseas service for up to one year and one orientation class from the time of selection. Requests for deferrals from any other candidates will be considered on a case-by-case basis; however, candidates should be aware that only truly compelling deferral requests can be approved 

22.   Do I have to accept every assignment that is offered?

Foreign Service personnel express their preference for postings, but must be willing to serve worldwide according to the needs of the Service. 

23.   Does the system tolerate dissent?

As public servants, Foreign Service Officers must publicly defend U.S. government policy, despite personal reservations. There is an internal channel through which an employee may present dissenting views on specific foreign policy issues. If an officer cannot publicly defend official U.S. policy, he or she has the option to resign. 

24.   Are there employment opportunities for spouses overseas?

Yes. Employment opportunities for spouses vary by country of assignment. The State Department's Family Liaison Office maintains a listing of job opportunities at most posts and may be contacted directly once an assignment is known (see http://www.state.gov/m/dghr/flo ) USAID and the State Department have a growing number of "tandem couples" in which both spouses work for a foreign affairs agency of the U.S. government. USAID also hires spouses under contract to meet short-term specific needs. 

25.   Will my family get to travel and live overseas with me?

Spouses and children under the age of 21 may accompany Foreign Service employees to most countries at Government expense. Even though family members are not required to be medically cleared before an offer of employment is extended, family members must be medically cleared before traveling overseas at U.S. Government expense to accompany Foreign Service Officers on assignment. 

Security concerns and lack of adequate educational or health facilities at certain posts may dictate against eligible family members accompanying the officer to such posts. In those countries where dependents are not allowed, there are various allowances offered by USAID to employees such as the Separate Maintenance Allowance (SMA), the School-Away-from-Post Allowance, etc. 

26.   Where can I learn more about the Foreign Service and my family?

Since this career track affects you and your immediate family, you probably have a lot of questions about what can be expected and what support systems are in place to ease your transition to a global lifestyle. Visit the Family Liaison Office link below which helps Foreign Service families prepare for and make the most of their global lifestyle. http://www.state.gov/m/dghr/flo/

27.   Do many FSOs bring their own vehicles on assignment?

Yes. They might opt to bring their own car, or they might buy one from a departing colleague when they arrive at post. There are a number of possibilities. Just keep in mind though that you are limited sometimes by certain restrictions - right-hand drive cars, sometimes limitations on retractable headlights, emissions, etc. All of this information about a particular country’s restrictions is readily available to you as part of the assignment bidding process so you can be well informed. 

28.   What is the status of my application? Did you receive my application?

Applicants will receive acknowledgement that their application was received. 

After logging in, please go to “Jobs I have Applied For,’ click on the specific USAID vacancy, and then click on “Vacancy Status. 

Applicants will also be notified when they do not meet basic qualifications, if they are to be interviewed, and if they are selected or not selected for the position.

29.   What is the mailing address and hours of operations for your agency?

Our official mailing address is: U.S. Agency for International Development
Office of Human Resources
Foreign Service Personnel Division
Room 2.08, RRB
Washington, D.C. 20523-2808

For hand delivery or appointments, the building address is:
The Ronald Reagan Building
1300 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.
Washington D.C.
(Federal Triangle Metro Stop)

Our hours of operation are 8:45 AM to 5:30 PM, Monday through Friday.

 

Last updated: October 16, 2014

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