Be Awesome

Look, our forefathers died for the "pursuit of happiness," okay? Not for the "sit around and wait of happiness." Now if you want, we can go to the same bar, drink the same beer, talk to the same people every day or you can lick the Liberty Bell. You can grab life by the crack and lick the crap out of it.
--Barney (HIMYM)

Monday, August 14, 2017

A fancy certificate, aka. Commission

Another milestone in the foreign service career is called commissioning. This a step in the career that is frequently misunderstood and confused with the other process of tenure. For most practical purposes, it really isn't that different. But there are some of the unique aspects to what commissioning means.

What is a commission?
Wikipedia has a pretty good answer for this stating that it is a document used to appoint individuals to a position or for providing rank and status to military officers. It then goes on to say that the process is required also for a wide range of civilian officials such as Supreme court judges, heads of departments, and members of the Foreign Service.

The documents are generally issued and signed in the name of the President or delegated official and include the seal of the United States or by the particular department issuing the appointment.
So for the FS, a commission certificate is a document and it is signed by the President.

Commissioning of Foreign Service Officers is authorized under the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as amended, and defined as a legal recognition granted by the President, with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate, to Foreign Service Officers. Each member commissioned receives an appointment commission certificate signed by the President. Whereas tenure is an internal Agency administrative process, commissioning is both an internal and an external process requiring extensive clearances, Presidential nomination, Senate confirmation, and Presidential attestation.

What are the requirements?
The USAID Agency policy of "ADS 435 Commissions, Titles and Rank" provides the following two requirements for USAID Foreign Service Officers to be eligible for commissioning.  The officer 1) must be tenured and 2) must be at the class of FP-03 or above.

While I'm not so sure about why the requirement for being FP-03 or above, the other requirement to be tenured before beginning the long commission process (almost a year for myself) makes sense for the Agency to ensure the individual is at least tenured which indicates they have the demonstrated potential for a full career with the Agency.

What does the commission do?

  1. Diplomatic titles
    • When assigned abroad, the State Department has the Foreign Affairs Handbook policy (3 FAH-1 H-2430) which discusses the usage of diplomatic titles and what may or may not be used depending on if the individual is commissioned or not. For example, a title of a "Second Secretary" is considered a diplomatic title in which the individual must be commissioned.
    • Technically, the commissioning enables FSOs to take on these diplomatic titles while assigned overseas and assume associated roles reserved for commissioned officers. 
    • Do these titles make a difference at the end of the day? Not really so much. As to whether you are commissioned or not, or considered diplomatic or administrative/technical staff, you will still be performing the particular functions of your position for the post and that's mostly it. There are some very specific instances in terms of some privileges in a particular country granted to one type, but not the other, but it is all mostly the same.
  2. Ineligibility of Overtime Pay
    • Per ADS 472 "Premium Compensation", commissioned officers are no longer eligible for overtime compensation. May not make a big difference as the culture or provision of overtime generally comes down to Mission policy, culture, or supervisor expectations which tend to trend more to managing working hours to make sure everything is accomplished versus counting hours and seeking overtime.
    • There are some specific cases, like being posted to Afghanistan, where commissioned officers are currently provided a 20% incentive differential to base salary which is unavailable to non-commissioned officers. Non-commissioned though instead have the ability to request and receive overtime compensation. But doing the math, I mostly calculate it as a near wash in terms of which would compensate higher, and this is an incentive that could go away at any time.
Reappointment Rights
When commissioned, I've heard some say it provides special reappointment rights into the Foreign Service if you leave (not retirement). Per policy however, only being tenured affords this possibility, being commissioned is not required. This is discussed in ADS 414 "Foreign Service Appointments"

Unless my career takes me to the potential of entering the Senior Foreign Service (which provides another commission certificate), I anticipate being in the rat race of promotion up to the FS-01 for years to come. I look forward to the new adventures, experiences, and challenges along the way.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Star Trek or the Foreign Service?

FS Blog, SuitUpFSO, 2016 July 18.  I have returned successfully from Afghanistan to Indonesia to provide support to the Mission before moving to my next assignment in Thailand.  I found Afghans to be resilient people and I hope my time there will make some meaningful difference as they continue against with strife and conflict.  I look forward however to new challenges to come.
A colleague of mine will sometimes admit to seeing her work in the Foreign Service, and particularly of USAID, in a comparison to Starfleet of the Star Trek universe.  Thinking on this and with the pending release of the next Star Trek film, I felt this was an interesting concept to consider.

The Star Trek mission is one of exploration and adventure.
Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.
However, the themes in Star Trek often involve humanitarian and diplomatic challenges with a healthy mix of issues such as human rights, racism, economics, and politics.

USAID's mission has a similar vein as follows:
We partner to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies while advancing our security and prosperity.
The joint mission of State Department and USAID is:
To shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just, and democratic world, and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere.
Personnel of USAID undertake 1, 2, or 4-year tours versus Star Trek's 5-year voyages, and the work involves meeting foreign government and host country people to learn their culture, perspectives, and languages while addressing very local issues such as economic development, governance and rights, or environmental issues.  USAID also frequently works in the more challenging developing countries with ways of living very different than that of the United States fitting the aspect of exploration and adventure.

But a key component to the comparison is the sense of community and togetherness, in cases called "esprit de corps", of the foreign service.  It's having a common purpose and circumstance where this small group of Americans are bound together in the Mission to achieve the objectives of our programs in strange and faraway lands.

Of course, there are many contrasts like how Starfleet is more of a United Nations organization but USAID is representing a single nation, albeit the US is a nation made up of a conglomerate of ethnicities and people with backgrounds from all over the world.  But I think there are still some strong, similar threads to the analogy.

Comparing the foreign service and Star Trek is a fun exercise that really helps highlight to me some of the most interesting aspects I find in the profession.  The camaraderie, the sense of mission, the travel to new and exciting places, and the challenge and adventure in trying to understand and make a difference for other people.

Well enough that.  I don't think this analogy was too highly illogical and I'm done givin' her all she's got.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Home Stretch

My tour in Afghanistan is rapidly coming to a close with just a couple weeks left.  The many goodbye parties have already begun and this will be the time to focus on finishing outstanding work and begin to transition away responsibilities and hopefully establish tools to improve continuity for those to come.

This second year was challenging in that many of the colleagues with whom you became close with and spent so much time suddenly switch out and you begin the process of starting over with the new people who have come.  Fortunately, there were great people, new friends and old, that arrived and I'm glad to have had the opportunity to meet, work, and live with all of them.  Kabul really is a unique place where you can form such close-knit relationships in a brief amount of time.

The last few months have been busy and exciting.  I took a trip back to the US and went on the first trip in a decade with my brothers, saw lots of friends, explored several of the national parks in the southwest, and had some great experiences at work.

The next chapter of my foreign service adventure will take me back to Indonesia where I will help support my old office for nine weeks on temporary assignment.  It will be great to see old colleagues and friends and it will reunite me with my wife.  Then, it will be a brief home leave back to the US for a couple of weeks and then off to the next big chapter beginning in Thailand.

I'm excited and anxious.  Let's do this!
The flowers are blooming!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

In the Moment

Working in Afghanistan, there is a probability you are away from your family and that sucks.  While nothing can replace your family, what I've found is that the community can really pull together and you'll find that you create strong bonds with the colleagues and friends who serve with you.

Over the past couple of months, I'm now settling into the new position at post and enjoying learning things from a more managerial perspective.  Managing multiple American staff has been interesting and work assignments such as staffing, hiring, and more strategic planning has been definitely a change of pace.  But I still remain close to the programs and, while I hold a special fondness for the infrastructure work, I'm branching out to cover areas like agriculture, economic growth, and audits.

I've also started to adapt to the new social groove with all the new people that make up the Mission and the new routines I've established.  It'll be a good year.  Different, but definitely will be alright.

Afghanistan being typically only a one year tour and a less than ideal work/life location, it's easy to always be thinking about the next "thing".  Like the next posting after Afghanistan, the R&R away from post, or maybe even the next big crisis to tackle (there's always something new here!).  But it's also because the time spent in Afghanistan is so short and so the time being with some of the amazing people around is so brief that I must make continual efforts to really appreciate the unique experiences and the people here.

As the holidays quickly approach, I'll anxiously anticipate seeing my family but still look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving here with this amazing cast of characters who make up my other "family".  Happy Thanksgiving!

Carpet Lunch - A favorite Friday activity

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