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Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) are commissioned members of the U.S. Foreign Service. They are diplomats who formulate and implement the foreign policy of the United States. FSOs spend most of their careers overseas as members of U.S. embassies, consulates, and other diplomatic missions. Within the Foreign Service they are known as Generalists. FSOs are the top tier of the Foreign Service, and they are distinguished from the other category of Foreign Service employees known as Specialists (e.g., Special Agents of the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service).[1]

The leadership roles at U.S. embassies are filled almost exclusively from the FSO ranks. Two-thirds of U.S. Ambassadors are career Foreign Service Officers. The remaining third are mostly political appointees (often individuals who have made large financial contributions to the President's campaign). FSOs also fill critical management and foreign policy positions at the headquarters of foreign affairs agencies in Washington, D.C.

The Foreign Service has unique status in the U.S. government. Applicants for FSO jobs go through a highly competitive written exam, oral assessment, and security investigation process before they are hired. Of the more than 100,000 applicants for State Department FSO positions between 2001 and 2006, only 2,100 became Foreign Service Officers.[2]


FSO Career Tracks

There are five career tracks (also referred to as "cones") for State Department Foreign Service Officers:

  • Management Affairs
  • Consular Affairs
  • Political Affairs
  • Economic Affairs
  • Public Diplomacy (Public Affairs)

FSOs of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Commercial Service, and Foreign Agricultural Service are selected through processes specific to the hiring agency, and follow career tracks separate from those of State Department officers. In 2009, there were about 6,600 FSOs working at the Department of State, 1,000 at the Agency for International Development, 220 at the Department of Commerce, and 180 at the Department of Agriculture.


Foreign Service Officers are commissioned by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate.[3] New entrants are hired on a career-limited appointment, not to exceed five years. They must demonstrate foreign language proficiency and the ability to advance through the ranks of the Foreign Service before earning tenure.


  1. ^ H. Kopp and C. Gillespie, Career Diplomacy: Life and Work in the U.S. Foreign Service, 2008.
  2. ^ H. Kopp and C. Gillespie, Career Diplomacy: Life and Work in the U.S. Foreign Service, 2008.
  3. ^ Constitution of the United States, Article II, Section 2, Clause 2; and Foreign Service Act of 1980, Section 302.

External links

See also



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