Activist state

The State Department reduces its diplomatic candidacies

The Foreign Service – the US State Department’s on-ramp for career diplomats – is watering down its application process with a change that critics say could have troubling national security implications.

“I’m afraid we’re sending good community activists to Baghdad and Beirut who don’t have the depth of knowledge they need to conduct American diplomacy,” said Brett Bruen, a former Foreign Service officer who was director of President Barack Obama. of global commitment.

“We could end up creating unnecessary crises,” he warned.

For nearly a century, since 1924, the department has weeded out candidates for its coveted overseas posts with the Foreign Service Officer Test, or FSOT — essentially, an SAT for aspiring diplomats.

The notoriously difficult test, with a pass rate rumored to hover around 20%, has set the bar high for the US diplomatic corps. Only those who passed the FSOT participated in a panel interview and other in-person assessments.

But next month, the department will give all FSOT participants — even those who fail the three-hour computerized quiz — a full exam by the department’s assessment board.

The change is part of an effort “to modernize its hiring process to create a more inclusive workforce that hires the best talent and represents America’s rich diversity,” the agency said in a note of April 25 to candidates which has since been publicly released.

Beginning with the June test, the FSOT’s “single gateway” will be eliminated, the memo says. Instead, the test result will be just one of many factors – the essays, the candidate’s “personal story”, work history, etc. – that the jury will take into account.

Steps to enter the foreign service.

“A narrow focus on a pass/fail Foreign Service exam … failed to consider the candidate’s overall qualifications,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said. said in a recent briefing. “We are confident that this restructured and revised process will help us select a pool of qualified, experienced candidates who leverage the talent and diversity this country offers.”

But the new selection rules “risk being perceived as overly subjective and subject to partisan influence”, according to the American Foreign Service Association, the union of diplomats, complained.

At least a dozen test prep manuals are aimed at would-be diplomats preparing for the exam’s 60 “professional knowledge” questions – covering topics such as economics, world history, math , geography, management theory, and American government—and a 65-question section on English grammar and use. The State Department provides a reading list of 74 books to help candidates prepare.

With up to 20,000 candidates competing for as few as 400 foreign service slots each year, the test and its strict cut scores have brought a small measure of transparency to an otherwise opaque system, argued former US diplomat Dave Seminara.

“This decision will only make the process even less meritocratic,” said Seminara, who served in US embassies in Macedonia, Trinidad and Hungary. “My concern is that the state is now discriminating against applicants from disadvantaged groups — particularly white males, but other demographic groups as well — all in the name of fairness.”

Bruen said: “This job is fundamentally about the security of our country. Removing the test decreases the type of experience and the type of knowledge and skills needed to do diplomacy.

“You have to know the world, the history and the cultures,” he said. “With this policy, Antony Blinken’s State Department says it doesn’t matter as much.”


The following are sample questions from the Department of State’s test for foreign service applicants:
In 1964, the U.S. Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution authorizing:

A. the partition of Vietnam.
B. an American invasion of North Vietnam.
C. a US military alliance with South Vietnam.
D. Presidential discretion in the defense of US forces in and around Vietnam.

Which three countries exercise de facto administrative and military control over Kashmir?
A. India, China and Pakistan
B. India, Pakistan and Afghanistan
C. Pakistan, Afghanistan and China
D. India, Nepal and Pakistan

Three employees earn $8 per hour, $9 per hour, and $10 per hour, respectively. If the salaries of the three employees are increased by $1 per hour, the range will increase by:

Answers: D; A; A
Source: United States Department of State, Foreign Service Officer Test Information Guide