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)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Junior Officer Training

With my DC based assignment coming soon to a close, I'd like to reflect back and explain the training for new FSOs while in Washington.

New FSOs coming in can typically expect a timeline such as:
  1. Orientation (5 weeks)
    • USAID brings in new Officers in classes.  Classes are composed of a mixture of Officers of various functions (backstops) that the Agency is needing at that point in time.   
    • During these 5 weeks, new employees complete administrative paperwork for in-processing and benefits; obtain mandatory briefing on various USAID policies; are introduced to USAID programs, operations, and structure; are briefed on career development and leadership; and are given the opportunity to network and bond with classmates.
    • At the end of these 5 weeks, a ceremony is held to "graduate" from orientation.  This is a family and friend event and typically features the Administrator as the keynote speaker.  Before, they used to present overseas assignments at this time, but due to a backlog in the assignment process, that is no longer done.
  2. Move to functional office (1 week)
    • After the 5 week orientation, Officers spend a week in their home Office of their backstop.  During the time in DC, each new FSO will have a supervisor whom they will report to and work under to obtain on-the-job training (OJT) and familiarity with operations of DC.
  3. Consolidated Training (1 week)
    • A week away in their home office, the class is brought back together again to receive additional mandatory training.  This includes working across cultures, training on the Automated Directives System (ADS - internal policy and regulations of USAID), and others.
  4. Functional Training (~10-16 weeks)
    • Each backstop has a plethora courses and training that are specific to them.  Plus, there are additional mandatory trainings on things like Programming Foreign Affairs, Environmental Compliance, etc. that all Officers must take.
  5. Language Training (~24 weeks)
    • Depending on if you have language ability that can be tested at the required level at the Foreign Service Institute to make tenure and if you are going to language designated position for your assignment, then most Officers spend some time here.  
    • I found language training to be a pretty enjoyable experience.  It's great meeting people from all different Agencies and language learning, if one is so inclined, can be fun.
  6. OJT/Rotations (It depends but perhaps about 2-4 months)
    • Between functional training and before/after language training, then new Officers work in their home offices practicing their trade.  Some people have a mixed experience here depending on their supervisor and the work going on at the time.  It's difficult for the supervisors because if an Officer schedules training so they are gone every other week, then they really can't provide substantial responsibility to be completed and then some DC based personnel view incoming FSOs as too transient to give responsibility.
    • Generally, I think it was important plan out trainings to be well spaced apart to give adequate time to integrate to the team and demonstrate capability.  Additionally, this is also the opportunity for Officers to rotate to whichever Bureaus they feel would be beneficial to their experience.  So one could work as an assistant to the desk officer of your assignment country, spend a month learning how to award contracts or grants, or work with one of the bureaus on new program design.
  7. Temporary Duty Assignments (TDY)
    • In additional to all this, there are also various opportunities for new Officers to take details to different Missions for assignments.  These range from assisting Missions in developing their new long-term strategies, evaluating cooperating countries' financial systems, or reviewing portfolios and compliance of Missions.  Mainly, these assignments must be unique opportunities that could not be obtained in Washington or your onward assignment.  That and budget, of course.  But these opportunities tend to arise more often than one thinks.
The average time most people spend in Washington is probably about a year if they need language training.  But there are some cases where individuals move to their overseas assignment almost immediately.  For me, it will be about a year and a half, but the last few months are mainly just working in Washington until I can replace the person in my onward position.

I feel fortunate that I had a pretty good team to work with in Washington and anticipate being fairly capable when I move on, though I still tend to learn something new every day!  There are also many different people to meet around the home office and you never know when that network could help in the future.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Protocol and U.S. Representation Abroad

Spent my Saturday attending a course at the Foreign Service Institute on the basics of protocol and representation.  It was an interesting class with near 40 people giving up their Saturday.  The majority of the class was made up of representatives from State but there were also a handful of other agencies represented.  I was the only officer there from USAID, as it is a recommended but not mandatory class.

The "protocol" portion is defined as the "set of rules prescribing good manners and customs internationally recognized by diplomats".  Diplomatic protocol, it seems, came about during the Congress of Vienna in 1815 where diplomatic titles were agreed upon as well as general guidelines of protocol (ex. addressing others, introductions, hierarchy, formal entertaining/representational events).  This included fun exercises such as a coffee reception exercise where each person had the objective of making contact with a designated person they did not know; practice introducing another person; and arranging seating for a formal dinner. 

Diplomatic Titles Established by the Congress of Vienna in Use Today

Diplomatic Ranks
Consular Ranks
Consul General
Vice Consul

Attache (military and civilian)

First Secretary

Second Secretary

Third Secretary

The U.S. Representation portion basically meant the emphasis of good etiquette and the importance of appearance for U.S. officials abroad.  This included basics such as dining etiquette (very much mirroring business dining etiquette) and entertaining others.  I felt some great refreshers were with business card etiquette, RSVPing (always within 48 hours!), working representational events, and the importance of appearance (dress appropriately, be confident).

I felt the class was a pretty good use of time.  It was a good reminder of good etiquette at the very least and I think would be a useful class for anyone, going abroad or not.

As a sidenote, USAID just put up their new website which looks pretty sharp.
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