State Dept seeks mid-career experts to join Foreign Service in ‘lateral entry’ pilot

The State Department is calling on mid-career experts in the private sector to join the Foreign Service through its Lateral Entry Pilot Program.

The State Department is calling on mid-career experts in the private sector to join the Foreign Service.

Rather than start out at an entry-level rank, the Foreign Service, through its new, Lateral Entry Pilot Program, is looking to hire these experts at mid-level FP-03 and FP-02 ranks.

The congressionally mandated, five-year pilot is a departure from the Foreign Service’s focus on recruiting prospective hires early in their careers, and retaining them for the duration of their career.

Lucia Piazza, the deputy assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Global Talent Management, said the department under the pilot is taking a new approach to filling in some of its workforce gaps.

“Especially as things change so rapidly, there’s a real need to bring in folks who are also interested in diplomacy, who want to be Foreign Service officers, but who come with this wealth of experience in these very, very specific areas,” Piazza said in an interview last Friday.

The State Department is currently accepting applications for its inaugural cohort. The vacancy announcement closes on Feb. 10. Piazza said the department is looking to hire about 35 experts across seven specialty areas in the first year of the pilot, and about 30 experts each following year.

The Foreign Service is looking for mid-career experts in the following fields:

  • Experts in cyberspace and emerging technologies
  • Climate, environment and energy
  • Global health security and diplomacy
  • Strategic competition with China
  • Economic statecraft
  • Multilateral diplomacy
  • Consular management

Language proficiency requirements vary for each job category.  Congress required the department to conduct the pilot under the FY 2017 Department of State Authorities Act.

“We are moving very, very fast because we have a need — and because Congress is expecting us to deliver. And we’re going to deliver,” Piazza said, adding that about 4,000 people signed up for an informational webinar on the pilot program last week. “We’ve had a tremendous response —more than we had expected.”

The American Foreign Service Association, however, has raised doubts about the pilot.

AFSA President Tom Yazdgerdi said in a statement that association is concerned about the potential effects on morale among career diplomats, “who may see their years of dedication and gradual ascent through the ranks overshadowed by hires brought in at mid-levels without the same entry-level, on-the-job training.”

“We have consistently opposed mid-level entry programs, advocating that the best way to fill these critical gaps in diplomatic capacity is through developing existing talent within the Foreign Service,” Yazdgerdi said.

AFSA, he added, will press the department for metrics to determine the success of the pilot.

“This is a workforce rich in experience, cultural knowledge, and skills, eager to be trained in new, critical needs areas that can enhance the capacity of the modern Foreign Service.  Moreover, given the anecdotal experiences we have heard from similar programs in the past, the department has struggled to retain these mid-level hires,” Yazdgerdi said.

Candidates applying to join the Foreign Service through the pilot program will go through much of the same screening process as entry-level candidates – with one notable exception.

Lateral-entry candidates don’t need to complete the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT).

“The Foreign Service Officer Test is what we use, essentially, in place of minimum qualifications,” Piazza said. “So, it’s just a different pathway.”

The State Department already offers several pathways to becoming a Foreign Officer without taking the FSOT written test. Among them, the department allows employees in its Civil Service workforce and Foreign Service specialists to join the entry-level ranks of the Foreign Service through its Mustang Program, which launched in 1970.

All candidates who meet the Foreign Service’s minimum qualifications will then go through a Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP), which will score each candidate based on their educational and work background, as well as responses to personal narrative questions.

The panels are comprised of individuals who typically vet Foreign Service officers, as well as subject-matter experts in which the department is looking to build up its capacity.

“The qualifications evaluations panel is going to help us narrow the number of people we invite to the Foreign Service officer assessment to the ones who are the most competitive,” Piazza said. “So, there will be qualified candidates who don’t get invited, because we are only going to focus on the very top candidates.”

Piazza said candidates will receive an invite to participate in the Qualifications Evaluation Panel in April.

From there, candidates will complete the Foreign Service Officer Assessment.

“Everyone has to meet and pass that incredibly rigorous examination in order to join,” Piazza said.

Candidates who are successful on the assessment will receive a conditional job offer. Candidates still need to complete medical, security and suitability clearances before they start.

Once hired into the Foreign Service, mid-career professionals under the LEPP program will be deployed to their first assignment, based on their area of expertise. After that, they’ll be able to bid on assignments the same as any other members of the Foreign Service.

“The expectation is that they will follow the same career path as the entire Foreign Service — so promotions, over time, based on performance, and increasing responsibility over time,” Piazza said.

Piazza said the department expects to open a second-round vacancy announcement later this year.

“The beauty of the pilot program is we’re going to run this iteration. We’re going to see what worked. We’re going to find out what didn’t work. Were we able to attract the skill sets that we need?” Piazza said. “We’re going to tweak it as necessary.”

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