The United States Foreign Service refers both to the primary personnel system within the diplomatic service of the government of the United States, under the aegis of the United States Department of State, and to the service itself, comprising approximately 12,000 professionals carrying out the foreign policy of the United States and aiding U.S. citizens abroad.
The personnel system was first created under the Foreign Service Act to serve as the principal personnel system under which the United States Secretary of State is authorized to assign diplomats abroad. Members of the Foreign Service are selected through a series of written and oral civil service examinations. They serve at any of the 265 United States diplomatic missions around the world, including embassies, consulates, and other missions. Members of the Foreign Service also staff the headquarters of the four foreign affairs agencies: The Department of State, headquartered at Harry S Truman Building in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, D.C.; the Department of Agriculture and Department of Commerce, and the United States Agency for International Development.
On September 15, 1789, the First Congress passed an Act creating the Department of State and appointing duties to it, including the keeping of the Great Seal of the United States. Initially there were two services devoted to diplomatic and consular activity. The Diplomatic Service provided ambassadors and ministers to staff embassies overseas, while the Consular Service provided consuls to assist United States sailors and promote international trade and commerce.
Throughout the 19th century, ambassadors (or ministers, as they were known prior to the 1890s) and consuls were appointed by the president, and until 1856, earned no salary. Many had commercial ties to the countries in which they would serve, and were expected to earn a living through private business or by collecting fees. In 1856, Congress provided a salary for consuls serving at certain posts; those who received a salary could not engage in private business, but could continue to collect fees for services performed.
The Rogers Act of 1924 merged the Diplomatic and Consular services into one Foreign Service. An extremely difficult Foreign Service examination was also implemented to recruit the most outstanding Americans, along with a merit-based system of promotions. Since the Rogers Act, about two-thirds of U.S. ambassadors appointed by the President of the United States have come from within the ranks of the Foreign Service. The Rogers Act also created the Board of the Foreign Service and the Board of Examiners of the Foreign Service, the former to advise the Secretary of State on managing the Foreign Service, and the latter to manage the examination process.
In 1927 Congress passed legislation according diplomatic status to representatives abroad of the Department of Commerce (until then known as "trade commissioners"), creating the Foreign Commerce Service. In 1930 Congress passed similar legislation for the Department of Agriculture, creating the Foreign Agricultural Service. Though formally accorded diplomatic status, however, commercial and agricultural attachés were civil servants (not officers of the Foreign Service), until July 1, 1939, when they were transferred to the Department of State under Reorganization Plan No. II. The agricultural attachés remained in the Department of State until 1954, when they were returned by Act of Congress to the Department of Agriculture. Commercial attachés remained with State until 1980, when Reorganization Plan Number 3 of 1979 was implemented under terms of the Foreign Service Act of 1980.
In the meantime, in 1946 Congress at the request of the Department of State passed a new Foreign Service Act creating three classes of employees: Foreign Service Officers, Foreign Service Reservists, and Foreign Service Staff. Officers were expected to spend the bulk of their careers abroad and were commissioned officers of the United States, available for worldwide service. Reserve officers often spent the bulk of their careers in Washington but were available for overseas service. Foreign Service Staff personnel included clerical and support positions. The intent of this system was to remove the distinction between Foreign Service and civil service staff, which had been a source of friction. The Foreign Service Act of 1946 also repealed as redundant the 1927 and 1930 laws granting USDA and Commerce representatives abroad diplomatic status, since at that point agricultural and commercial attachés were appointed by the Department of State.
The new personnel management approach was not wholly successful, which led to an effort in the late 1970s to overhaul the 1946 Act. During drafting of this Act, Congress chose to move the commercial attachés back to Commerce while preserving their status as Foreign Service Officers, and to include agricultural attachés of the Department of Agriculture in addition to the existing FSOs of the Department of State, U.S. Information Agency, and U.S. Agency for International Development.
The Foreign Service Act of 1980 is the most recent major legislative reform to the Foreign Service. It abolished the Foreign Service Reserve category of officers, and reformed the personnel system for non-diplomatic locally employed staff of overseas missions (Foreign Service Nationals). It created a Senior Foreign Service with a rank structure equivalent to general and flag officers of the armed forces and to the Senior Executive Service. It enacted danger pay for those diplomats who serve in dangerous and hostile surroundings along with other administrative changes. The 1980 Act also reauthorized the Board of the Foreign Service, which "shall include one or more representatives of the Department of State, the United States Information Agency, the United States International Development Cooperation Agency, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Labor, the Office of Personnel Management, the Office of Management and Budget, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and such other agencies as the President may designate."
This board is charged with advising "the Secretary of State on matters relating to the Service, including furtherance of the objectives of maximum compatibility among agencies authorized by law to utilize the Foreign Service personnel system and compatibility between the Foreign Service personnel system and the other personnel systems of the Government."
While employees of the Department of State make up the largest portion of the Foreign Service, the Foreign Service Act of 1980 authorizes other U.S. government agencies to use the personnel system for positions that require service abroad. These include the Department of Commerce  (Foreign Commercial Service), the Department of Agriculture (specifically the Foreign Agricultural Service, though the Secretary of Agriculture has also authorized the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to use it as well), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID, Commerce, and Agriculture senior career FSOs can be appointed to ambassadorships, although the ranks of career ambassadors are in the vast majority of cases drawn from the Department of State, with a far smaller sub-set drawn from the ranks of USAID Mission Directors.
The total number of Foreign Service members (excluding Foreign Service Nationals) from all Foreign Service agencies (State, USAID, etc.) is about 13,000. State Department Foreign Service employees number approximately 11,500: 6,500 Foreign Service Officers and 5,000 Foreign Service Specialists. The USAID Foreign Service currently numbers about 1,200 and is scheduled to double in size by 2012. USAID recruits new Foreign Service Officers for specific job openings competitively on the basis of professional qualifications, including post-graduate degrees and experience in development programs. USAID does not recruit through the State Department's examination process. Members from the other Foreign Service agencies number about 300.
Admission to the Foreign Service is different for those applying for generalist positions and those applying for specialist positions
Candidates for generalist positions take the Foreign Service Officer Test, a written test testing their knowledge of U.S. and world affairs. Those who pass the Foreign Service Written Exam (about 25 to 30 percent of candidates) have their resume and life experiences screened by the Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP). After that screening process, about one third of the original takers are asked to continue on to the next phase, the oral assessment, which is administered in person in Washington, D.C. and other major cities throughout the United States. Only approximately 10% of the original applicants at the written exam will ultimately make it past the oral examination.
For fifty years, Foreign Service Officer applicants who passed an all-day written exam were invited to an oral assessment. In mid-2007, the all-day written exam was shortened and information on a structured resume also began to be considered. The structured resume along with the Qualifications Evaluation Panel, or QEP, which is made up of three Foreign Service Officers, was one of the greatest changes to the Foreign Service Exam in decades. In order to be invited to take the Oral Assessment the applicant must not only pass the Written Exam but also the QEP. The Department of State's Board of Examiners can find some people unacceptable despite the fact that they passed the Written Exam.
Those persons who receive offers to become officers of the Foreign Service must take part in a training/orientation course known as the A-100 Class.
Foreign Service Specialist candidates are evaluated by Subject Matter Experts for proven skills and recommended to the Board of Examiners for an oral assessment of those skills. Foreign Service Specialist jobs are currently grouped into seven major categories: Administration, Construction Engineering, Information Technology, International Information and English Language Programs, Medical and Health, Office Management, and Security.
Even when an applicant passes these hurdles, it does not necessarily mean that they will be selected to become a Foreign Service Officer. Instead they immediately undertake a Security Background Check for a TOP SECRET Security Clearance as well as take a medical test in order to receive a Class 1 Medical Clearance. Failure to pass both of these parts of the exam can result in a candidate not making the List of Eligible Hires. It can be difficult for a candidate to receive a TOP SECRET Clearance if they have extensive foreign travel, dual citizenship, non-United States Citizen family members, foreign spouses, drug use, "detrimental views of U.S. Foreign Policy", financial problems and/or a poor record of financial practices, frequent gambling, and allegiance or de facto allegiance to a Foreign State. Additionally, it can be difficult for anyone who has had a significant health problem from receiving a Class 1 Medical Clearance. The Department of State mandates that all candidates must be able to receive a Class 1 Medical Clearance.
Previously the Foreign Service automatically rejected anyone with HIV; however, the landmark case of Taylor v. Rice mandated that the Foreign Service cannot discriminate against applicants who have stable chronic medical conditions. Taylor v. Rice did allow HIV Positive applicants to become Foreign Service Officers. Other conditions, such as mental illness and diabetes, are still considered severe enough to warrant rejection for the Foreign Service.
Once an applicant passes the Security Clearance, the Medical Clearance, and final suitability review, they are put on the List of Eligible Hires, ranked according to the score that they received in the Oral Assessment. There are certain factors that can increase a candidate's score, such as knowledge in a especially needed foreign language and prior military service. Once a candidate is put on the List of Eligible Hires, they can only remain on it for 18 months. If they are not selected from the list after 18 months, they are removed and have to start the process over again from scratch. Separate lists are maintained for both officers and specialists.
All Foreign Service personnel must agree to worldwide availability—that is, they may be called on to serve anywhere in the world. They also agree to publicly support the policies of the United States Government.
Members of the Foreign Service are expected to serve most of their career abroad, working at embassies and consulates around the world. By internal regulation the maximum stretch of domestic assignments should last no more than five years before resigning or taking a foreign posting. By law Foreign Service personnel must go abroad after eight years of domestic service. The difficulties and the benefits associated with working abroad are many, especially in relation to family life. Dependent family members usually accompany Foreign Service employees overseas. The children of Foreign Service members (sometimes called Foreign Service Brats), grow up in a unique world, one that separates them, willingly or unwillingly, from their counterparts living continuously in the states. While many children of Foreign Service members become very well developed, are able to form friendships easily, are skilled at moving frequently and enjoy international travel, other children have extreme difficulty adapting to the Foreign Service lifestyle. For both employees and their families, the opportunity to see the world, experience foreign cultures firsthand for a prolonged period, and the camaraderie amongst the Foreign Service and expatriate communities in general are considered some of the benefits of Foreign Service life. Some of the downsides of Foreign Service work include exposure to tropical diseases and the assignment to countries with inadequate health care systems, unaccompanied tours of duty, and potential exposure to violence, civil unrest and warfare. Attacks on US embassies around the world—Beirut, Islamabad, Belgrade, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, and Baghdad, among others—underscore the considerable danger these public servants face.
For members of the Foreign Service, a personal life outside of the U.S. Foreign Service can be exceptionally difficult, especially when it comes to friends or relations that qualify as Foreign Contacts. The rules regarding listing of Foreign Contacts is ever-changing, as the latest information from the American Foreign Service Association indicates. Personal relationships with foreign nationals in countries that are considered high-level Human Intelligence threat posts are even more rigorously enforced by Diplomatic Security. Many FSOs at posts like this give up on personal relationships outside of fellow US Citizen Employees of the Embassy. This can sometimes make living in an overseas post that fits this definition feel like living on a space station with a bunch of other Americans as your only friends. In addition to espionage, there is also the danger of personnel that use their position illegally for financial gain. The most frequent kind of illegal abuse of an official position concerns Consular Officers. There have been a handful of cases of FSOs on Consular Assignments selling visas for a price. This practice is not only illegal but dangerous for national security.
Another factor of Foreign Service life is the heavy probability of being monitored by Foreign Intelligence Services. In some countries FSOs may be followed by Foreign Government security apparatuses. Residences can be wiretapped. Hotel rooms can have cameras in the bathroom mirror. Some married Foreign Service members may run across a "Honey Trap"  at some point in their careers. A successful Honey Trap by a Foreign Intelligence Service results in the target becoming an agent of the Foreign Intelligence Service. In addition, the Department of State is legally allowed to monitor any personal communications that are made using U.S. Government equipment.
If a Foreign Service member is posted to a country in the so called "Developing World", it is possible that the member will employ domestic help. Domestic help can also work for Foreign Intelligence Services as demonstrated by an incident involving British Ambassador to the Soviet Union Sir Geoffrey Harrison, who was caught in a Honey Trap with his maid.
Members of the Foreign Service must agree to worldwide availability. In practice, they generally have significant input as to where they will work, although issues such as rank, language ability, and previous assignments will affect one's possible onward assignments. All assignments are based on the needs of the Service, and historically it has occasionally been necessary for the Department to make directed assignments to a particular post in order to fulfill the Government's diplomatic requirements. This is not the norm, however, as many Foreign Service employees have volunteered to serve even at extreme hardship posts, including, most recently, Iraq and Afghanastan.
The State Department has a Family Liaison Office to assist diplomats, including members of the Foreign Service and their families, in dealing with the unique issues of life as a U.S. diplomat, including the extended family separations that are usually required when an employee is sent to a danger post.
The Foreign Service personnel system is part of the Excepted Service and both generalist and specialist positions are competitively promoted through comparison of performance in annual sessions of Selection Boards.  Each foreign affairs agency establishes time-in-class (TIC) and time-in-service (TIS) rules in accordance with the statutory provisions of the Foreign Service Act, including a maximum of 22 years of commissioned service if a member is not promoted into the Senior Foreign Service, and a maximum of 15 years of service in any single grade prior to promotion into the Senior Foreign Service. Furthermore, Selection Boards may recommend members not only for promotions, but for selection out of the service due to failure to perform at the standard set by those members' peers in the same grade. Thus, the Foreign Service is an "up or out" system similar to that of military officers.
This system stimulates members to perform well, and to accept difficult and hazardous assignments.
|Name||Assumed Office||Left Office||President served under|
|Selden Chapin||November 13, 1946||April 30, 1947||Harry S. Truman|
|Christian M. Ravndal||May 1, 1947||June 23, 1949||Harry S. Truman|
|Richard P. Butrick||September 7, 1949||April 1, 1952||Harry S. Truman|
|Gerald A. Drew||March 30, 1952||October 18, 1954||Dwight D. Eisenhower|
|Raymond A. Hare||October 19, 1954||August 29, 1956||Dwight D. Eisenhower|
|Joseph C. Satterthwaite||May 6, 1957||September 1, 1958||Dwight D. Eisenhower|
|Waldemar J. Gallman||November 17, 1958||January 31, 1961||Dwight D. Eisenhower|
|Tyler Thompson||May 14, 1961||February 15, 1964||John F. Kennedy|
|Joseph Palmer II||February 16, 1964||April 10, 1966||Lyndon B. Johnson|
|John M. Steeves||August 1, 1966||July 31, 1969||Lyndon B. Johnson|
|John H. Burns||August 1, 1969||June 15, 1971||Richard Nixon|
|William O. Hall||July 5, 1971||September 30, 1973||Richard Nixon|
|Nathaniel Davis||November 13, 1973||March 17, 1975||Richard Nixon|
|Carol C. Laise||April 11, 1975||December 26, 1977||Gerald Ford|
|Harry G. Barnes, Jr.||December 22, 1977||February 8, 1981||Jimmy Carter|
|Joan M. Clark||July 27, 1981||October 24, 1983||Ronald Reagan|
|Alfred Atherton||December 2, 1983||December 28, 1984||Ronald Reagan|
|George S. Vest||June 8, 1985||May 3, 1989||Ronald Reagan|
|Edward J. Perkins||September 22, 1989||May 7, 1992||George H. W. Bush|
|Genta H. Holmes||September 7, 1992||August 18, 1995||George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton|
|Anthony C. E. Quainton||December 29, 1995||August 22, 1997||Bill Clinton|
|Edward Gnehm||August 25, 1997||June 14, 2000||Bill Clinton|
|Marc Grossman||June 19, 2000||Bill Clinton|
|Ruth A. Davis||June 15, 2001||June 30, 2003||George W. Bush|
|W. Robert Pearson||October 7, 2003||February 27, 2006||George W. Bush|
|George McDade Staples||May 25, 2006||June 27, 2007||George W. Bush|
|Harry K. Thomas, Jr.||September 21, 2007||August 2, 2009||George W. Bush and Barack Obama|
|Nancy Jo Powell||August 3, 2009||Barack Obama|