Week 1 of the USAID orientation is complete. As a summary, the week included much administrative in-processing and introductory lectures on the organization, the Development Leadership Initiative (the program I'm in), and Q&A sessions regarding how long we'll be in DC, when we will be posted, how assignments are determined, and how language training assignments are determined. In this post, I'll answer those questions based off what I have learned.
How long will I be in DC? When will I be posted?
Most likely, I will be in DC until about the Summer of 2012. The average tour for new DLI's in DC typically averages about a year. It varies depending on your functional backstop (position), and for mine, Contracting, they typically have the longest stays in DC. However, for my incoming class, this length of stay will be for almost everyone due to the backlog in assignment availability.
How are assignments made?
There are various factors used in making assignments. These are:
-Coach input (each function has their own assigned coach to help guide through the process as well as advise on where they should be posted for their development)
-Backstop Coordinator (this is the functional manager. For example, it would be the equivalent of the M-Level Contracts Manager at Boeing that did most of the HR assignments and Core functional issues)
-Personal Preferences (On Tuesday, my personal preference form is due in which I list experiences and preference for assignment. This form also includes personal information such as family status that would need to be taken into account in making assignments)
-Language abilities (They take into account what languages you currently know and what is needed by the organization)
-Posting Availability (This is the most important factor in the assignment process. If there is no space at that post or no supervisors available for training incoming DLI's there, then they will not assign you there. We are obviously limited to the supply available)
Lastly, everything is also influenced by the strategy of the organization. USAID said in "USAID Forward" (the strategic plan forward for the agency which is available on their website) that the focus is now Africa, Asia, and the Middle-East. So while positions in Latin America or Eastern Europe are still available, there is the overall push for the priority areas.
How are language assignments made?
There are two considerations for DLI's regarding language assignments.
1) Language Tenure Requirement
--All Foreign Service Officers are required to reach proficiency in at least one foreign language within 3-5 years of coming in order to reach tenure. If they are unable to, then they would be released from service. Typically, this requirement is usually not a major hurdle as most people interested in this career already have some language proficiency or at the very least an eagerness to learn one. Additionally, the agency will do what they can to give that opportunity to learn one.
--Essentially, if you already have a language ability, REGARDLESS of it's relevancy to the agency or its missions, then you will be encouraged to take the proficiency test for that language to complete the tenure requirement.
2) Assignment Language Requirement
--Each assignment carries with it a required language ability in order to be placed there. Some could have no language requirement. But if the position you are assigned to requires a certain language, then you will have to go to language training to reach the needed proficiency.
So potentially, a person could fulfill the language requirement by testing out for tenure purposes but still need to go to language training to meet the requirements of their assignment.
For my situation, I believe I may be assigned to a post without a language requirement. However, I may also go to language training in order to "top off" my current proficiency in Mandarin in order to fulfill the tenuring requirement. However, this is all guessing so I won't know for sure until later down the line.